The Ludicrously Patrician Position of Trident’s Nationalist Opponents

To some extent, both Welsh and Scottish nationalists are playing to their respective galleries when it comes to the UK’s nuclear deterrent.

They want to get rid of Trident and spend the savings on welfare, schools and hospitals. You know the sort of thing, scrap the subs and we can have this many nurses, that many teachers and so on, as though doctors and nuclear weapons were seamlessly interchangeable, like the options you get when buying a new car.

These are the politics of the indulged. They are the politics of those who have lived so long under the protection of a powerful military that they can no longer see it. Even when a nuclear-armed nation like Russia helps itself to a portion of its neighbour, their song remains exactly the same. For them, government is effectively social work and little more - any concept of it as guardian of the battlements, long gone.

What we have now is a minimum credible deterrent, with the accent on minimum

It is perhaps strange that such proponents of state power elsewhere should be so leery about what must surely be its ultimate expression.

But let’s take a look at the unilateralist argument.

We can abandon once and for all the idea that if Britain were to give up the bomb it would provide some sort of moral lead for other nations. This was always a ludicrously patrician position. As though the likes of India, Pakistan or Israel spend much time wondering what Britain’s lead is on any issue, never mind on what, for them, are essential matters of national survival.

And here’s the thing. Britain is already the poster child for disarmament among the declared nuclear powers. Say it again and keep saying it. For reasons of finance, admittedly, as well as principle, our explosive nuclear power now stands at a bare fraction (somewhere between five and ten per cent) of its full, Cold-War horror.

What we have now is a minimum credible deterrent, with the accent on minimum.

No other member of the nuclear five has come even close to this level of reduction, a disparity our home-gown unilateralists never raise. Surely the logical position would be to say that once they have all followed, we can talk again.

As for the financial implications, in the context of Britain’s health and welfare budget, Trident’s two billion or so annual running cost is hardly likely to be transformative. New subs would amount to another £14 billion or so over time (that’ll probably go up, of course) and then it’s reasonable to assume about the same annual running costs as Trident. Scrapping that won’t save public services from demographics and rising public debt. It won’t even make a dent.

unilateral disarmament would do nothing except weaken Britain

What it would do, however, is increase calls for the UK to lose its ‘permanent’ place on the United Nations Security Council, a spot already in some jeopardy. Now, loss of prestige aside, we can’t know what indirect economic benefits the country enjoys from its lofty position at the world’s supreme international council table, but we can bet that Ms. Sturgeon and Lord Wigley don’t either.

But there’s more at work here. On the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, can anyone seriously suggest that a nation as prominent in the development of modern democracy and the rule of law ought to abandon the most powerful weapon mankind is ever likely to possess to the likes of Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and, yes, the Communist Party of the People’s Republic? Make no mistake, that is the de facto unilateralist position - anyone but Britain can have the bomb. The self-loathing on the British left which Orwell wrote about long ago is clearly still with us.

No one likes these things. How could we? They are monstrous blasphemies against any concept of religion, if you have one, and against life and hope itself if you don’t. But they’re here now. One only has to read through Peter Hennessy’s superb look at Britain’s nuclear history, “Cabinets and the Bomb” to see the horror and distaste with which politicians and civil servants calmly shouldered the awesome responsibility of formulating a nuclear doctrine.

But responsibility it was, and responsibility it remains. A world without any nuclear weapons would have been wonderful. Perhaps, with a little imagination and more goodwill it might even have been possible in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s fall. But that glorious prospect was left to decay in that vast, depressing plot where the ungrasped nettles of global politics flourish.

Now unilateral disarmament would do nothing except weaken Britain, weaken liberal democracy and embolden those who think the decline of the West is unstoppable. 

Believe it or not Labour party titan and father of the NHS Aneurin Bevan dismissed unilateralists as suffering from 'an emotional spasm.' Amen Aneurin, amen.

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