I hadn't intended to return to the subject of Pete Hitchens and his daft views, but in the process of checking to see whether he'd had the guts to publish my comment (guess what?), I noticed a new bunch of rather silly guff in his column. Perhaps for me, the most irritating feature of Pete's mind is his amazing capacity to correctly identify important issues and then come up with the most absurd solutions to the problems. In his blog on the Mail today, he's at it again.
Skip the nonsense about Theresa May. That is stock in trade Pete trying to be contrversial. He seems to think he's the only real Conservative in Great Britain with a public platform. Most people with such delusions are on happy pills, but as we know from our previous spat, Pete thinks these are dangerous, so wisely avoids them. Anyway, unless your happy to lose five minutes of your life that you'll never get back, my advice is to skip that bit.
What he has to say about Trident is actually quite interesting. Pete agrees with me that it is a monumental waste of money, designed to fight an enemy that disintegrated 25 years ago. He is quite right. I also quite like his solution of keeping a few nuclear bombs as insurance and spending some of the cash saved cancelling Trident replacement on the air force. Whilst I am not a fan of nuclear weapons, the world is a dangerous and hostile place and the concept of a bit of insurance is not altogether stupid. The advantage of this is that in most conceivable real world combat situations, an adaptable air force is a huge asset. I read an article by an ex RAF officer that stated a force of 250 bombers would be required, but this would be about a quarter the cost of Trident and give us a hugely flexible solution for any threat. Whilst there are very few scenarios where we would realistically nuke anyone, there are plenty where sadly we bomb them. We've been doing it constantly for the last few years. If we had a force that could do it properly, maybe we'd actually see some results. When I read that we've sent 6 planes to bomb Syria, it is clear that all this does is raise our profile as a target, whilst not making the slightest real difference to the political situation in Syria. If it did, ISIS would be long gone. So up to here, I am with Pete. He ends his blog with the following "All we need to do is to hang on to a few
H-bombs and the planes to drop them and we can have all that Trident
gives us, for 100th of the cost. We might also be able to afford a Navy
and an Army again, not to mention boats to patrol our coasts, which we
haven’t got at the moment."
This is where it all goes wrong. Firstly his figure for a credible ariel alternative is a gross underestimate (as detailed above). This is important, because if you make a proposal, it has to have a degree of reality. To have a credible ariel nuclear presence, you need to have multiple bases, and a 24 x 7 squad of planes in the sky. You also have to have enough planes to get through. This was wherethe figure of 250 came from. At any one time possibly 1/4 would be being overhailed. You'd have a rotation of maybe five shifts per day, to ensure that pilots were fresh. You'd have to be able to approach from multiple directions, and have all manner of countermeasures. You'd have to build a whole new generation of air launched bombs. You'd need new and state of the art facilities, rather than the run down neglected bases we currently have, which have been underfunded for decades.
The upside of all of this is that it would create far more jobs, help local economies, put us back into the forefront of aerospace. After the war, the UK was the worlds leading Aerospace centre. Now we make wings for the airbus. planes such as the Vulcan and th Harrier have no peers. They are unique and I believe the Conservative government committed a crime by scrapping them, without a viable alternative. Now I am not a militarist, but if we are being pragmatic and we say that there is a consensus in the UK for a nuclear deterrent, lets make it work for the UK. Pete is correct that a Trident system is not even in our control. Who knows what could happen if a future US president decided he didn't like the UK. I think it is unlikely, but in reality the US is the only power on earth that could realistic pose a military threat to the UK. We are there allies, but of we had a Prime Minister Corbyn and a President Trump, do you really think we'd have the keys to the Trident safe? I am not saying I think the US would attck the UK in a military sense, but I for one don't think Trump would sit idly by and ignore Corbyn, if he decided to disentangle us from NATO, which is a very realistic scenario, if he gets his way. For Corbyn, the ideal scenario is that by 2018, he deselects most of his Blairite foes in Labour. At the moment, the Tories look to be unbeatable, but Brexit could go horribly wrong. Four years is a long time in politics, who thought just a year ago that Cameron and Osborne would be toast?
Which brings me to the main point, the big black hole in Pete's argument. He talks about a beefed up army and navy and a fleet of patrol boats to secure our shores. To me this is complete nonsense. Of course we should fund the army and navy to meet the challenges we present them. The Chilcott inquiry laid bare the fact that we'd sent the army into a war semi naked. They must be given the tools of the trade to do their job. Likewise with the navy. They have aircraft carriers with no aircraft. As I mentioned above, the decision to scrap the Harriers was perhaps the worst decision ever taken by a modern British government. An aircraft carrier without aircraft is like a car without petrol. It may look great but it is useful for nothing.
But as far as I am concerned, all of these toys are outdated. If there is a World War III it won't be fought on the battlefield as we know it. We won't see the trench warfare of World War I or the Blitzgrieg of World War II. The next world war, should one occur will most likely be a cyber war. If an enemy of the UK were to bring down the Internet, the country would cease to work in short order. Supermarkets use what are called "Just in Time" techniques, where they keep only enough on site to fill shelves. Their POS systems automatically reorder and lorries arrive daily from out of town warehouses to restock. A cyber attack would mean that the shops were bare in a day or two. Then there is money. How much cash do you have in your house? A cyber attack would cut you off from your cash. If an enemy could trash the UK banking system., we'd all become skint overnight. CAn you imagine if you couldn't pay for anything by card. It would be pretty irrelevant as most supermarket checkout tills would cease to work. Then there is your heating. Just suppose a cyber attack occurred in the winter during a cold snap? No heat, no light. How many modern luxury flats have a coal fire? How many candles do you have? Even the water that comes through your tap is controlled by computers, networked on the internet. So you are faced with a situation where you have no food, no water, no money, no electricity and it's freezing cold outside. How long could you get by? What would our government do, if a hostile nation, terror group or evil mastercrook pulled that stunt off? Now of course, the Internet is designed to be resilient, but in a battle between the sword and the shield, who wins?
During the second world war, the Allies launched a two year bombing offensive to shut down Germany. This involved thousands of bombers flying nightly to wreak havoc on Germany. 67 major cities were destroyed, yet the Germans still managed to survive. Yet the world we have created, if the internet was shut down, we'd be on our knees, freezing and starving in a matter of days or weeks. does the government have a plan? Do the Banks? Do the electricity companies? Does the MOD? After World War I, the French spent more money on defence than any other nation in the world. They built the Marginot line. The Germans simply went around it. My greatest fear is that Pete and all his friends are simply encouraging us to build the modern equivalent of this edifice, with armies, navies and airforces, when the next great war will simply be the download of a mega virus onto the internet, that locks us all out of our computers.
Now I am not one of these Nevada style survivalists, who say everyone should have 60 gallons of diesel, a years supply of water, 500 tins of sardines and a can opener in the shed. It would be nice, however, to see someone, anyone in government or in the media asking the question "What plans are there for a total takedown of the net". It seems bizarre that, as Pete rightly points out, we can spend £100 billion on something that addresses a threat that doesn't exist, whilst a real and present threat that could stop our nation in its tracks in minutes can be ignored. We've never even had a leaflet through the door to give us the faintest idea what will happen. There would be no radio or TV to guide us. Unless like me, you've got a barbeque in your shed and a bag of charcoal, who will you be cooking dinner? I must admit the idea of making a cup of tea from water in the pond isn't great, but I'd actually be one of the lucky ones in that scenario.
How likely is it that such a thing could happen? I've no clue, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty out there who would love to inflict such a cyber winter on us. How well prepared are we to deal with it? Well I wouldn't expect the government to tell us. I may be wrong, but I happen to think that of all the conceivable threats to our way of life, a Cyber Winter could be the greatest. I also don't think it will necessarily come from the direction we expect. It isn't just the North Koreans and ISIS who'd love to stop us in our tracks. There are Eco Ultras, various strange Apocalyptic fundamentalists and even common criminals, who could see the opportuinty to make a quick buck. So when Pete talks about securing our borders, he may have a point, but the real borders he needs to worry about are not necessarily our coastline.
How ironic would it be if we had the worlds best equipped army, navy and air force, yet the Prime Minister had to hand over the keys to someone who'd used a virus on our own computers to shut down the UK, without firing a shot?