“If the third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the fourth will be fought with bows and arrows.”
The decision of whether or not to renew Trident, Britain’s sea-based nuclear deterrent, threatens to tear apart an already deeply divided Labour party. It is an issue that puts Jeremy Corbyn, a long time believer in unilateral disarmament, at such odds with the rest of his party that his shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said that getting an agreed party position “may be impossible”.
Whilst he Conservatives and the vast majority of the parliamentary Labour party (including twenty shadow cabinet ministers according to The Telegraph) want to renew Trident,the SNP, and more notably Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn do not support renewal. Mr Corbyn even said that even if there were a replacement system, he would never it them as Prime Minister.
Should we renew it?
When considering whether or not to renew Trident an initial concern is the cost. While estimates vary from as little as £15bn according to the government, to 34bn according to Greenpeace, one thing is for certain: it will cost a lot. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament estimates that over the replacement’s 40 year lifespan it will cost £100bn.
To put that cost in perspective, the CND estimates that it would be enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5 million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools, or cover tuition fees for 4 million students. It does seem ironic that the Tories, who seem to have an insatiable fetish for government cuts, are so quick to splash out on what is in many ways a redundant expenditure.
On the other hand having an active nuclear deterrent is a crucial component of any country’s military program in the nuclear age. It allows us to continue to play a active role in global affairs and ‘punch above our weight’ as we have done for so long. I am a firm believer that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has made and continues to make the world a safer place.
However my main issue with renewing Trident is that I cannot foresee a situation where we in particular will ever really need it. The Cold War is over, and although the Soviet Union’s successor under Vladimir Putin continues to be a menace, it certainly does not present a nuclear threat to anywhere near the same degree. I for one do not believe that Putin, the leadership of China or Iran, or even the megalomaniacal Kim Jong-un would ever launch a nuclear strike unless circumstances changed unrecognisably.
The leaders of all our potential nuclear enemies are fully aware that launching any sort of strike a would result in an annihilation of their countries by secondary strikes. As a member of NATO, any attack on the UK constitutes an attack on all NATO members, including our nuke happy younger brother the USA. We can sleep easy knowing that no country will dare attack whilst Uncle Sam watches over us.
Of course, it is not good to be so reliant on foreign protection, and the world is a rapidly changing place. Although at the moment I do not see us needing Trident, the fact is the geopolitical landscape will look very different in thirty or even three years. It will only take one election of a Donald Trumpor Ted Cruz, or one strategic miscalculation from Vladimir Putin to spark a global conflict. Furthermore as global temperatures increase, sea levels rise and fossil fuels run out countries will pursue ever more aggressive foreign policies and the world will become a far more dangerous place
It is for that reason that although I do not see us needing a nuclear deterrent in the near future, I think we should err on the side of caution, and renew Trident. However I think we should renew it in a different form. I’m not proposing anything as moronic as Jeremy Corbyn’s missiles without warheads, rather a “step down the nuclear ladder” with a smaller nuclear weapons system providing a minimal yet credible deterrent.
Not only would this cut costs which could be spent elsewhere, it would also send out an important message to other countries that our deterrent is just that: a deterrent, and that we only intend to use it for defensive purposes.
What do you think? Should we renew Trident? Who is right, Jeremy Corbyn or his parliamentary party? Will Labour split over renewal?
Comment below and have your opinion heard