Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A fork in the road...

A visual metaphor for the Trident debate. Yesterday
I'm kinda conflicted about the Trident debate. On the one hand I've always been in favour of the idea of the programme, believing that it was important for Britain to have a quasi-independent nuclear deterrent. But I'm becoming less convinced. None of the arguments put forward now seem to have much in the way of sense.
Argument 1: Nuclear weapons are a deterrent.
The original justification for nukes was that people will think twice about messing with you if you've got them. The problem with this idea now is that the principle only really applies to state actors and, unless you count France, there are no nuclear armed states who are likely to have a nuclear quarrel with us specifically. I can't envisage a re-run of the Opium Wars with China, nor yet the Marathi Wars with India. Any looming conflagration is very unlikely to be aimed at us in isolation. And even if it were the 200 warheads we currently possess are dwarfed by the 2,000 or so our biggest ally has. Whereas in the Cold War, the British nuclear presence was, as much as anything, a symbol of our alignment alongside the States against the evil, Godless communist oppressors, these days support for the US, if that is the aim, can be much better achieved through other methods.
Argument 2: Nuclear weapons are our ticket to the top table.
Unconvinced by this one too I'm afraid. This was certainly true in the early days of the Cold War, with Churchill declaring the hydrogen bomb to be the ticket of admission to the world elite. Is this really true now? Is Pakistan really going to be considered a bigger world player? I'm not convinced. I'm certainly not convinced that this is a clincher.
Argument 3: Nuclear weapons are insurance.
OK, this is the most convincing argument of the lot. We can't predict what the global position will be in 30 years time, we can't rely on existing arrangements and we may need a nuclear deterrent then. This is fine as far as it goes, but it's essentially a 'we might as well' argument: not very strong when you're talking £20 billion or so.
So, I might be tempted to veer towards the Matthew Parris line, especially when you think what else that money could do. I'm not talking here about shovelling it into the NHS's gaping maw, nor of reducing taxation (in general, yes of course, just not with this bit). Our armed forces are chronically over-stretched and under-funded. Our surface navy is smaller than France's for the first time since the 17th century, our army can't even afford flak jackets, and tends to buy its own boots, and our air-force's best plane is still the Harrier.Maybee the money should be spent on a re-equip of our armed forces and (per Eu-referendum, far and away the best source for defense spending) lets get Richard North as Minister for Procurement (at least he wouldn't have bought his job, eh Lord Drayson?).
Unfortunately, as with all arguments, I tend to look at the people on either side of the debate as a guide to where I should be. Apart from Parris, the antis are a godawful shower of bastards, albeit fewer of them than when Moscow was meeting the bills. Their arguments are fatuous, suggesting as they do that North Korea might disarm if we did first, or that we cannot object to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons if we have them. So reluctantly I'm having to support Trident, through sheer repulsion at the side opposing. Oh well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Argument 4: France has them.

That's the clincher I'm afraid. Could you really stand those lot having them and us not. My God how patronising they would become then. £100bn would be a small price to pay, so actually we're getting it cheap.

2:50 pm  

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