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The Times They Are A-Changing

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Matt Rahman
Matt Rahman

Given recent debate about the cost of replacing the UK’s nuclear deterrent, do we actually still need it in the 21st century?

There’s recently been a great deal written and spoken about Britain’s nuclear capability and how are we going to keep it going. Apparently the UK MoD are outraged that they are expected to pick up the bill for replacing the UK’s current nuclear deterrent; I think which consists a clutch of submarines and some stuff the Americans probably left behind when they cleared out a few years back (very hard to pack for transport, your average intercontinental ballistic missile).
The MoD thought someone else was going to be paying for Trident’s replacement. Who and why did they think that? The clue surely is in their name Ministry of, erm, DEFENCE? Why they thought they wouldn’t be expected to pay is beyond me. Maybe they thought the bill would get picked up by the Ministry of Attack.
The cost of replacing the ageing Trident system will be in excess of £20bn – roughly about what the UK banks owe government for bailing them out in the past few years. Now I’m not saying that UK banks should finance nuclear weapons (can you imagine their logos on the side of them?), what I am saying is surely its time to re-think the whole “Do we, don’t we need nukes” question.
It would be somewhat ironic, that if we end up scrapping our nuclear weaponry, it was as a result of Government budget cuts, rather than a wave of idealism, or just in fact ‘sensibilism’ sweeping through Whitehall.
Political commentators in the UK wrote recently, “Prudence cannot be at the expense of prestige when it comes to the Trident nuclear deterrent”. Back in the new and exciting Atomic Age of the 1950’s, having nukes may well have generated prestige, when the US and Soviet Union measured their might in terms of nuclear mega-tonnage and numerous delivery mechanisms, and there were only three nuclear powers (including Britain.)
But that was then; times have changed, and is the same really still true of the much more complex international theo-political world at the start of the 21st century?
Asymmetric warfare is all the rage (big guys against little guys); gone are the days of huge armies sweeping over the plains in tanks running headlong into a barrage of exploding shells; its not about being able to darken the skies with the shear numbers of long-range bombers en route to flatten cities or jungles anymore. It’s all about precision strikes by unmanned drones and Special Forces, who cause extreme amounts of damage in the shortest possible time, causing maximum disruption and all getting out before anyone knew what the hell just happened.
Again, I’m not advocating warfare – we hear too often of young men who have been killed in a confusing and ultimately pointless struggle in faraway countries. If we do have to put young men and women in these places, let us at least make sure that they have the correct equipment to do their jobs and keep them safe. By scrapping nukes completely, we could easily prepare soldiers for the job their doing properly. Rather than have them take the local bus to the front, or stuff copies of the Yellow Pages under their jackets, lets give them state of the art body armour and helicopters to get the in an out of scary places quickly and easily. And, I bet we’d still have some change to fix up a few hospitals and schools.
One of the central arguments for having nuclear weapons is to act as a deterrent. I’m not that sure they are; they never stopped the Argentineans invading the Falkland’s, they never stopped the Iraq throwing their weight around in the 1990’s. I’m not sure that we’d ever launch them anyway, as the public backlash would mean the end for the governing party that pressed the button.
There’s also a more strategic move from kinetic warfare to intelligence gathering and cyber warfare. In the 21st century, the mouse is mightier than the missile at bringing down a country.
But take care if you think you can hook up to the internet and cause mayhem. A 2009 review of U.S. policy and doctrine publications does imply “that the United States will regard certain kinds of cyber attacks against the United States as being in the same category as nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and thus that a nuclear response to certain kinds of cyber attacks (namely, cyber attacks with devastating impacts) may be possible.”
Oh FFSakes, Uncle Sam, just calm down will you, please? Do what you always do…infiltrate them with your culture, false dreams and desires and kill them from the inside. Then there’s no nasty radioactive fallout or nuclear winter to contend with.
As far as I’m concerned, Trident can ‘fork’ off. We can spend £20bn on much better things and I bet no-one even notices the difference, except those people’s lives that we might be able to save as a result of spending it more wisely.

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