Skipper’s call to abandon a Trident replacement and save £60bn is a little simplistic. To portray the argument primarily in terms of cost is to risk appearing naive: you can’t put a price on a national security.
Nevertheless, Britain’s nuclear deterrent appears increasingly redundant.
Nuclear weapons are a hangover from a time when the world appeared to be a much simpler place. The cold war had fairly clearly defined sides and both interfered with other conflicts around the world as they strove to protect and extend their spheres of influence. Neither side worried too much about ethics, both were happy to turn a blind eye to brutal dictatorships which pledged allegiance. In this way, East and West happily sacrificed human rights across Africa, the Middle East, South America and Central Asia to the apparently greater cause of defeating the enemy. It was war, after all.
For Britain, the nuclear debate has also been about buying a place at the top table. The 1945 Labour government had to be seen to be preserving the country’s major power status and that meant getting a bomb with a union jack on it.
But now that we have enemies prepared to deploy suicide bombers, the threat of mutual destruction looks like a bluff that might too easily be called. (If it were a bluff; in The Fog of War, Robert McNamara reveals an exchange with Fidel Castro, in which the Cuban leader made it clear that he would have sacrificed his country to nuclear war.)
Simply scrapping Trident would not in itself make the world a much safer place. Nuclear weapons belonging to Pakistan or Israel would seem far more likely candidates for early detonation; one could imagine Pakistani weapons falling into the hands of extremists or Israel putting a stop to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent would not in itself make the world a safer place. It should instead be used to put meat on the bones of Barack Obama’s vision for a nuclear weapons free world. Delaying the re-development of the British bomb, would be a significant gesture. Britain could halt the nuclear weapons programme – effectively disabling its nuclear deterrent – for a limited, but significant period; say five years.
Apart from saving a lot of money in the short term (to fund our much needed economic stimulus package without putting so much pressure on the bonds market) we would retain our seat at the negotiating table and gain some credibility with those countries – like Iran – who understandably argue that if we’re allowed to have the bomb, they should be allowed to have one too.