Monday, 5 October 2015

Under what circumstances would the Prime Minister fire a Trident missile?

Like many people, I groaned when Jeremy Corbyn stated that there are no circumstances under which he'd unilaterally fire a Trident missile. I am a pacifist, but it is always possible that such a situation could arise. The trouble is that the more I think about it, the harder it is to actually envisage one. There are several science fiction scenarios where I suppose a nuclear strike may be appropriate. For instance a Zombie apocalypse engulfing Birmingham may warrant such a strike as a way to protect the rest of the country. Or possibly the discovery of a hostile alien race living off the Outer Hebredies.

But those sort of scenarios aside, what scenarios are there? Trident was devised in the days of the cold war. The idea was that Great Britain needed a nuclear arsenal to deter the USSR from invading or attacking us. Given that the USSR doesn't exist and it would be far easier for Russia simply to turn off the gas to Europe in the middle of winter, it seems a far from realistic proposition. If Vladimir Putin did launch a nuke at London, he'd simply wipe out the assets of many of his rich mates. The truth is that London is awash with Russian money. The idea that Putin would see us as a threat which warrants a nuke is quite frankly bonkers. What other countries have nukes? Well the French do, but can anyone really see a situation where we have a nuclear spat with our next door neighbours? That would be simply bonkers as the fallout of any nuke launched at Paris would soon contaminate London. Or the USA? Even with a nutter like Trump in charge, is there any scenario where we'd want to start a nuclear war with the Yanks? I suppose if you believe the Daily Mail, it is actually quite reassuring that Jeremy Corbyn doesn't want to nuke them! Then there are the Chinese. For China to pose a realistic threat to the UK, they'd either have to come through India, Pakistan, Russia and France to reach us. All of who have nukes of their own and one has to assume would be less than thrilled with the prospect of a Chinese invasion. Given that the Chinese really don't seem to have any expansionist ambitions, again this is not exactly realistic. What about India and Pakistan? Can anyone see a scenario where we'd start a war with either of these Commonwealth countries which we get on rather well with most of the time? North Korea? Well yes, the latest lunatic dictator there is a tad unpredictable, but is there really any serious prospect of the UK getting involved in a nuclear spat with them? I could foresee a Donald Trump inspired scenario where bad things happen, but the UK would do very well to stay well away from that particular argument. Israel? Again, given that the Daily Mail and many commentators claim Corbyn has "antisemitic mates" I suppose it is quite reassuring to know he's ruled out nuking the Israelis. I can't see any scenarios where were any sane Prime Minister would nuke them.

So having looked at the list of credible nuclear threats, one has to conclude that Trident isn't much use. What about rogue terrorists in caves in Afghanistan or elsewhere? Is there a scenario where a Trident missile is the only realistic way to prevent them attacking the UK. I have friends in the airforce, who tell me that a far better solution would be to scrap the Trident replacement and invest the money in a fleet of nuclear capable bomber aircraft. These clear could also drop non nuclear bombs and would be far more adaptable to the credible threats we really face. The armed forces budget is hugely under pressure. Scrapping Trident is one way to ensure that the Aircforce, Army and Navy have the resources required to actually deal with real life issues we face.

So although I suspect that Corbyn has made a bad technical blunder in stating that he'd never press the button, nothing in the debate has actually addressed the real issue, which is whether we are spending our defence budget in a sensible manner that addresses the real threats we face. Ever since the cold war ended, there has been no sensible debate as to what the armed forces should be doing. If someone can make a credible case for a Trident replacement, based on evidence and a rational analysis of the situation we face, I'd support that case. As far as I am concerned, that case has not been made.

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