OK, let’s cut to the chase – let’s not get bogged down in statistics or projected spending figures or discussions about “initial gates” and “main gates” (more about them later): Trident is a nuclear weapons system and nuclear weapons are WRONG. Wrong enough to be the primary justification for the war in Iraq. Wrong enough for the International Court of Justice to state, in 1996, that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would, in most cases, violate the Geneva Convention, the Hague Convention, the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for Rabinder Singh, QC and Christine Chinkin of Matrix Chambers to argue, in December 2005, that “the replacement of Trident is likely
to constitute a breach of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.
Wrong enough, in fact, to get me nodding in agreement with the words of a Catholic priest – and that doesn’t happen often, I assure you. On 29 June, Cardinal Keith O’Brien wrote in the Times: “We must simply ask ourselves, ‘Are nuclear weapons useable?’ The inherently indiscriminate and devastatingly powerful destructive force of a nuclear weapon makes it qualitatively different from any other type of ordnance. Their first use, under any circumstances whatsoever, would be . . . a crime against God and humanity. Likewise, a counter-strike in retaliation would be just as immoral, even more so, because it would be motivated not by defence, but by the hollow and hellish vengeance of the vanquished.” Keith, mate – I couldn’t agree with you more.
So, we’ve established that the mere possession of Trident is morally wrong. But if it’s always been morally wrong, why all the fuss now? Because it’s up for replacement. That is going to cost a staggering amount of money and mean that the UK will continue to have a nuclear deterrent right up to the end of this century. Just who exactly is Trident meant to “deter”? There is an arguable position that, when the system was first conceived in 1982, it was intended to help maintain the balance of power between the west and the Soviet Union (although any solution that involves millions of innocent people dying while the people who started the trouble in the first place can shelter in a bunker is flawed, to say the least). But now – when the “enemy” is not a country but rogue terrorist cells – where do you aim your missile? And if the major threat to world peace comes from people who believe that martyrdom is a fast track to paradise, how are missiles supposed to “deter” them?
Don’t just take my word for it. In January this year, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach all publicly branded Trident “completely useless” in terms of modern warfare. So there.
Now, let’s get back to the “initial gate” and the “main gate”. The “initial gate” is the deadline for the government to give the go-ahead for the
replacement scheme, which was going to be this month but has been postponed until after the Non-Proliferation Treaty meeting in May 2010. That bit will cost between £2bn and £3bn. The “main gate”, when things go into production, is likely to push the total costs up to around £76bn – £76bn for something we could never realistically use. That’s why scrapping Trident now seems a complete “no-brainer” to me: not only do you save loads of cash at a time when the country is horrendously in debt; you also send a clear message of intent to the rest of the world.
There’s a parallel here with the debate on climate change: how can we seriously expect developing countries to cut their carbon emissions if we in the west (who created the problem in the first place) don’t take the lead? How can we demonise other countries for daring to have nuclear weapons development programmes while maintaining our own arsenals? In the end, it’s simple – scrap Trident, save loads of money and feel really good about yourself the next morning.
So what to do with that pesky submarine fleet? Personally, I’d like to see them form a kind of aquatic equivalent to the Red Arrows – the “Blue Whales”, maybe. They could sail up the Thames on public holidays and fire extravagant firework displays out of their torpedo launchers. Aaaah . . . what a beautiful dream. Please, Uncle Gordon, can you make it come true?