Hammond’s jumping the gun by pledging a £350m contract to signal the Tories’ embrace of a Trident replacement should be met by a resolute pronouncement from Labour that neither the arguments nor the figures stand up to any serious scrutiny. At the present time the biggest danger we face is the threat of terrorism on our mainland, and against that nuclear weapons are useless.
The only basic argument used by the government to justify the Trident replacement is that we may face at some point in the future either ‘rogue’ states or a re-emerging nuclear Russia or a nuclear-armed superpower such as China. There are three strong counter-arguments to that which profoundly undermine it plus a very strong opposing argument.
First, it is not, as everyone knows, an independent British deterrent. We depend on the Americans for warheads, fuse and firing systems, nuclear explosives, warhead casing, and missiles (‘rent a rocket’). We cannot fire missiles without US-supplied data and satellite navigation, so that if we ever needed to stand alone in a situation where we did not have US approval, we could not do so.
Second, we geta all this kit from the US at a high political price. The Americans offer it to us, not because they need us for the defence of the West, but because it makes us subservient to US foreign policy, as we see all too clearly over Iraq and Iran. I say that continuing that vassaldom for the next 30-40 years is an unconscionably high price to pay. Of course the proponents of Trident will say that it gives us political status, but to them I would say that we will get far more credit the day we cease being a US puppet.
Third, if on some creditworthy estimates the Trident replacement will cost the UK up to £100bn over the next 30 years, can that conceivably be the most apposite and efficient defence expenditure when it means that conventional forces are squeezed by continuing cuts to the point where, for example, essential equipment had to be denied to troops in Afghanistan?
In addition there is a very powerful counter-argument. One is: what have nuclear weapons ever achieved or are likely to achieve? None of our wars was ever won by them, and none of the enemies we fought was ever deterred by them. General Galtieri was not deterred from seizing the Falklands, though we had the nuclear bomb and he did not. The US had nuclear weapons, but that didn’t prevent their defeat in Vietnam. The French had nuclear weapons, but that didn’t stop their being ejected from Indo-China and Algeria. Israel has nuclear weapons, but that didn’t prevent their defeat by Hezbollah first in 2000 and then in 2006.