There is an episode of the Simpsons that I always remember whereby a bear is seen entering the street occupied by everyone’s favourite yellow residents. The bear is shooed away but the lingering feeling is that this kind of ‘attack’ might happen repeatedly again in the future and so the reasoning goes from Homer that more should be done to deter said future attacks and thus comes in to affect a gloriously effective neighbourhood watch program with planes, trucks, surveillance vans, drones etc. You name it, they pay for it. And it works. No attacks happen again in that leafy suburb named Evergreen Terrace.
As ever, Lisa, the seemingly only thinking person in Springfield, asks her father why the ‘Bear Patrol’ works so well? He answers that as you can’t see any bears around, it therefore must be doing a stand-up, stellar job – well worth the money and a sound investment. Much to Lisa’s dismay and the audiences amusement, she then offers to sell a rock to her father that repels tigers and with the specious reasoning on offer, and as you can see no tigers it is obviously a rock that deter tigers from entering the neighbourhood. Like a deluded government with pride and prestige on their mind, Homer buys the rock, and Lisa, like the disillusioned objectors of Trident, grumble away.
At least in a make-believe world where the bears and tiger threats are false and the laughs are innocent, it plays out with perfectly written aplomb. Although we don’t have any threat of tigers and bears in the UK, we are apparently at odds with the world outside of the West who see us as a hegemonic power hanging on to the coattails of our stronger allies. Most notably the USA, but also the EU. Despite the vote for Brexit amid the insistence that we have a seat at the top table it has been the EU and Angela Merkel who has dealt best when confronted with a desperate and erratic Vladimir Putin.
So what are the benefits of Trident, especially at such astronomical cost? We don’t have any apparent nuclear threat on our doorstep. We don’t see the nuclear weapons flying in the air to these rainy hazy shores, so surely it must be working, right?
To put it in numbers, how many threats has the Trident system stopped since the idea of a submarine carrying nukes came in to practice in the 1980s (although one could also include the Polaris system within this time as Tridents predecessor)? But that’s where the Homer/Bear Patrol logic comes in to play. Supporters of the system could name any number they wanted, but we wouldn’t know either way if they’re correct or not. But let’s look at the things that Trident hasn’t stopped.
Russia in Crimea, Russia in Afghanistan, the Falkland War and continual bleating for control of them, the rise of ISIS, the re-emergence of al-Qaeda, Russia pushing its weight behind Assad, a belligerent North Korea testing weapons over Japanese waters and recently testing another weapon, that caused an earthquake, the terror attacks in Paris, Nice, Munich, or any of the wars that have occurred since Tridents induction in the early 80s. Open your web browser and search for the number of conflicts that have happened regardless of all the 20k nukes in operation in the world. Trident has absolutely no effect whatsoever on world politics, no matter whichever way you look at it.
Yes, I can hear you say. The disturbances and conflicts I mentioned aren’t exactly what the Trident system is in operation for. But then, what scenario are they for? An all out nuclear war? A nuclear strike on mainland Great Britain or Northern Ireland from North Korea?
People forget that any nuclear strike conducted by a foreign power would mean mutually assured destruction. The concept is pretty simple that whoever strikes first would ultimately be shooting themselves in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun. Any attack would be detected within minutes and an easy retaliation would be enacted not just by the UK, but also its allies, namely the USA, who also has more control over the system that many think, given that they are responsible for their provision and regular servicing.
Secondly, there are only 9 countries with the capability to deliver untold destruction on the UK or its allies, and yet on the list only one – or two at a stretch – could be described as hostile directly to the UK. According to icanw.org, who work towards the proliferation of all nuclear arms; Russia and the USA lead the quantity table by several thousand with enough missiles to destroy the entire planet a hundred times over. But again, with parallels to Article 50, which dummy is going to pull the trigger first? In the fifty years of the Cold War, there were times when this nearly happened, but we’re not in these times now. The world has moved on.
What would happen if a clandestine terrorist group or group of religious nut-bars managed to get their hands on a weapon and managed to blast it off? The closest or easiest option would be the American weapons at the Incirlik airbase in Turkey, some 250 kilometre drive from Aleppo. But again, have ISIS got the military means to not only fight their way through Syria and then through the much stronger and powerful Turkey, before killing off all of the American soldiers based there to get their hands on the nuclear weapons? I just can’t see it happening. You’re living in a dreamland if you think that it’s possible.
Sadly there might be people who can see that scenario, however unlikely, but then where would the retaliatory shot go to? You can’t kill a terrorist group or extreme religious ideology – the biggest cause of European and Western grievance today – with nuclear weapons. They are Cold War weapons for should be left on the scrap heap.
The other thing to note is the prestige that comes with having such a set of weapons in your arsenal and the logic that by having them they entitle you a seat at the largest of international tables, the UN. With this comes the desire of others to develop weapons so they too can have a seat at the top political tables in the future, which is what we’re currently seeing in North Korea. They want to be noticed. They want to be listened to and respected and what better way than getting a bunch of nukes under your mountains and letting them blow up around your neighbours to get attention.
By placing missiles on the mantel-piece as a must have trophy of a modern, completely protected, admired and independent country, you’re only encouraging others to follow suit in the hope that they too will be one day seen as a political and military power.
We live in a modern world but with old world ideas and the renewal of the Trident system is just one part of that. How things could be different if we didn’t spend so much money on a system we’re never going to use.
How many students could go to university, how many staff could we have helping the elderly, the sick and the needy in the NHS or how many jobs could we create in the towns and cities the Tories wanted to call the ‘Power House’ of the North? Do we really want to trade all that in for a bunch of stupid rocks?