One of the very few achievements of the Liberal Democrats in the UK coalition has been the decision to review the replacement of Trident. Nick Clegg said during the election campaign that he was opposed to renewing the weapons system. But someone seems to have forgotten to tell the defence secretary, Liam Fox. This week he announced, not only that he was ordering the steel to build the next generation of Trident, but that the country needs four Trident submarines, not three as the former prime minister, Gordon Brown, believed back in 2009. Presumably the extra one is to cover for vessels that get lost in the Minch and end up colliding with the Isle of Skye.
Except that the decision on whether to renew Trident, whether with three or four boats, is not supposed to be taken until 2016. A commission of senior politicians and defence chiefs is reviewing the whole question of whether we need to renew our “independent” nuclear deterrent at all, given that Trident is designed to obliterate Russian cities and Russia is no longer an enemy. But you wouldn't have known, hearing Mr Fox interviewed for Sally Magnusson’s through-the-porthole look at life in a Trident nuclear submarine on BBC Scotland . Gosh, they’re so fit.
You may wonder why the MoD has decided that now is the time to throw a media spotlight on Trident, the focus of anti-nuclear feeling in Scotland for three decades. Could it be that they believe the SNP, which opposes nuclear weapons in the Clyde, is no longer a threat? Or at any rate, that Alex Salmond has given up on attempts to banish Trident by creative use of planning laws or environmental regulations? Whatever, the fantastic Mr Fox seems totally unconcerned that he is buying parts for a weapons system that may never be ordered in a country which doesn’t want them. Holyrood voted overwhelmingly against renewing Trident in 2007, and so did a majority of Scottish MPs.
But it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to see what’s going on here. The Liberal Democrats - who insisted on the delay on Trident renewal as part of their coalition agreement with the Tories - are being taken for a ride once again. By the time they come to taking the decision in 2016 on whether to renewed Trident, a lot of it will already have been renewed. Not just the steel, but the weapons themselves, the delivery system, navigation, nuclear powerplants etc.. We’ll be told that the North Koreans are developing nuclear weapons and so are the Iranians. Who knows how long the Russian bear will behave itself? It’s a dangerous world out there...
Indeed it is. However, Trident isn’t going to make it any safer. It is inconceivable that the Russians will ever want to obliterate Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Birmingham, the cities targeted by the Soviet Union. Yes, North Korean leaders make nuclear threats and Iranian religious leader appear dangerously unstable. But the trouble with inbred communist dictators and apocalyptic Ayatollahs is is that they aren’t easily deterred - by anything. Lord Bramall, and the leading military think tank, the Royal United Services Institute, agree that there is no logic to spending £100bn over the next thirty years on a weapons system that is not fit for any conceivable military purpose. Especially when we are scrapping rather useful pieces of kit like Nimrod surveillance reconnaissance aircraft, losing £4bn in the process.Indeed, there may be doubts about the wisdom of keeping our troops in Afghanistan, but surely we should be using what money is left in the MoD budget after the 10% cuts on giving them proper equipment and vehicles.
Iran, if and when it acquires nuclear weapons is likely to use them against Israel, which in turn is quite prepared to use its nuclear weapons to devastate them. Nor will India and Pakistan be deterred from obliterating each other because we have Trident. What the world needs now is not new weapons of mass destruction but an end to the proliferation of them. A the day of the dictator passes in North Africa, it is surely time to give a moral lead and seek to remove the nuclear threat. It is illegal under International law to target civilians with weapons of mass destruction - which is what Trident does. Under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, we are supposed to be getting rid of nuclear weapons. Mr Fox confirmed that we are reducing the numbers of warheads, but we will still have around 200 of the things. Enough to destroy a third of the planet instead of half of it.The only residual justification for Trident is a geopolitical one: it supposedly allows Britain to be part of the Security Council of the UN and hang out with the big boys. But even that is in doubt. Anyway, does Trident have to be operational? At present one of the boats goes into the Atlantic and pootles about for a bit in no particular direction, and then comes back to the Clyde. Why not let them pootle about without the weapons. Indeed, why go to all the dangerous expense of sending nuclear warheads by road between Coulport and Aldermaston six times a year? If the politicians really really need these abominable symbols of power, and if the English voters insist on having them (Scots have always said they want Trident removed from the Clyde) why not keep them safe (ish) and out of the way in the Atomic Weapons Establishment?
It is a miracle that there has been no serious accident at the Clyde Naval Base - though there have been many minor ones. Okay, the £1.2 nuclear sub that ran aground last year, HMS Astute, wasn’t a Trident boat - but one of the Trident fleet, HMS Vanguard, did manage to hit a French sub, Le Triomphant, in the western atlantic in 2009. Another nuclear submarine, HMS Tireless, suffered an explosion under the Arctic in 2007 that killed two sailors. Given the rate of attrition, it’s jolly sensible of the defence secretary to get the steel order in now for the next generation of Trident vessels, as he announced this week. Well, you never know when you might need it. HM Naval base, Clyde is an accident waigint to happen. The Sundary Herald revealed in May that, since 2007, there have been 167 nuclear safety incidents, 17 of which led to releases of radioactivity or had the potential to do so. There have been numerous road incidents involving the covoys that carry nuclear warheads to and from Coulport. Keep the boats for Sally Magnusson to gawp at, but decommission the nuclear hardware as part of multilateral disarmament negotiations. It’s the only conceivable use Trident will ever have.