Thursday, March 15, 2007

Renewing Trident: good, bad, or indifferent?

So, despite some last minute shenanigans that make it look like Her Majesty Government are kicking Trident down the park (don't actually try this at home, you'll either hurt your foot or start WWIII...) for the next Parliament to really deal with, Blair got the vote to renew the UK's nuclear forces, embarrassingly having to rely on the Tories to do so. A couple of colleagues had asked me what I think about the issue and despite having written about UK nuclear policy in the past, I've been somewhat sitting on the fence. We have been having a good discussion on UKclimbing about it, so I will nick what I wrote there and post it here:

I've been trying to work this one out in my head over the last few days and to be honest, beyond the cost issue, it's six of one and half a dozen of the other. Firstly I should say that nuclear weapons are, I think, inherently immoral devices that should never have been invented in the first place. But having said that I see the question of if, how and when to disarm now we do have them in utilitarian light - the greatest good for the greatest number.

If we disarm what happens? Nothing really. Blair might get an award from some very worthy arms control group that 99% of people have never heard of, but beyond him being smug in his memoirs, not a lot else would result. A question for you all: name one country that independently built nuclear weapons and then unilaterally disarmed?* Some people will know without googling but I suspect not many. The leaders of that country were known for the moral courage in other fields. Unilateral disarmament was by-the-by over all. It was a great act of moral and political courage, but one that had very little impact on the world.
No other country around the world sees the UK nukes as a threat, so us getting rid of them will change nothing. Pakistan isn't suddenly going to say "look at those Brits disarming! What a great idea!" because their missiles are aimed at Delhi not London. The Israelis and the Iranians will continue to glare at each other and rattle sabers, regardless of what is bobbing about in Faslane docks. Exactly the same argument applies to keeping them. It won't change the security situation anywhere else directly. If we keep them we have to find 20 billion quid over the next twenty years. It sounds a massive amount, lots of schools or hospitals, but Googling "NHS budget" I found that according to the Adam Smith Institute, the NHS got £68.7 billion in financial year 2003/4. Anyway - would the money go to schools and hospitals or just other bits of the military? On the other side, if we do keep them it remains a very important tie to the US. It doesn't really matter if you think US international policy is awful or wonderful - being able to at least get yourself heard in Washington is important and the closeness of the US and UK militaries due to the nuclear ties helps this. Is it worth twenty billion quid though? Who knows... Finally, if we do keep them, we have something to negotiate disarmament with at some point in the future when hopefully the world looks better. At the moment we should be focusing on diplomatically stopping the next round of proliferation. Maybe in future years the UK and France could set an example to say the middle east by disarming? You pay your money (or not); you take your chances.

*The answer is South Africa.

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