Britain’s muddled thinking

Posted by Ivan Rendall on 17 January 2016 in Blogging

The debate over Trident is now so entangled with the debate over J Corbyn’s suitability as Leader of the Labour Party they are now almost inseparable and impenetrable. Since this has come about largely because the press/ TV/ commentariat/ unions/ business have used unilateral nuclear disarmament up as a convenient stick with which to try and beat Corbyn to a pulp. He has, apparently, at least until this morning, stuck to his guns, as it were. Good for him.

Colours to mast: I am an unreconstructed supporter of Multilateral Disarmament from which it follows that I am a supporter, pro tem, of keeping a UK nuclear deterrent. It does not have to be Trident and the time may have come when that does need to be reviewed very carefully, by serious people. A much cheaper form of deterrent might be appropriate, and we certainly should not be building a second generation of Vanguard submarines, Trident missiles and warheads, at vast cost, until we have thought it through.

We certainly should not be building some of the most advanced and expensive subs in the world to sail them around without missiles or warheads. You can’t even argue that it would be good deterrence practice, i.e. never admitting to having or not having them on board and at the ready. As an aside, I doubt you would be able to recruit submarine crews for such a risky, but pointless mission, given the anticipated advances in anti submarine warfare over the next ten to fifteen years.

Putting conventional warheads on them. Well, apart from the fact that they would deter nobody, why spend Vanguard plus type money on delivering something that could be delivered by a off the shelf drone for one ten thousandth of the cost. This wouldn’t be a half pregnant solution, more a fantasy pregnancy solution.

That suggests this new idea is about jobs rather than strategy. Are we really going to build white elephants, at vast cost again, simply to preserve jobs in Barrow as Concorde was built to preserve jobs in Bristol? That is equally fatuous and costly.

Surely the loudest unilateralist argument has been the moral one, but after that, scrapping the deterrent has been about saving money, so why would a unilaterist waste billions to sail around underwater to no strategic purpose whatsoever . 

The UK deterrent, having arrived as an issue just as new anti-submarine technologies based on drones may make them about as much use as a paddle steamer on a wet Bank Holiday, it would be compound incompetence not to have a rethink at this point. But rethought by Corbyn, Thornberry, McConnel and Livingstone – perleese!

We should take a serious look at a much more technologically advanced,  safe and more flexible delivery system which meets all the criteria of deterrence and more, given that technologies such as stealth, hypersonic, AI, etc are already coming of age and could make the subs obsolete before they are even launched. Putin is way ahead of the west, at least on R&D.

We, the public, don’t know what the alternatives are but we all remember Reagan’s SDI, or Star Wars as it was known at the time. Its sheer cost was a major factor in ending the Cold War. Well what was dismissed as a fantasy is now closer to reality on and under water, on land and in the air. Unless there are some kind of talks about the future, what is now a theoretical debate will become a new arms race of the kind we had in the 50s and 60s.

However, we may all be missing the point completely. By entangling ourselves with the barren wastes of the national politics of Trident and Labour, rather than reviewing the future of strategic defence, we might be missing a golden opportunity to initiate a proper, international, multilateral nuclear arms discussion, aimed at getting rid of them all, while also avoiding the most expensive arms race ever.

In a few years, some nations may start going down a very different strategic defence route: very high tech, very new thinking, very info tech based, very secret, very capable, very pricey. And because it is/will all be done in total secrecy, the basic and ongoing R&D will be duplicated, triplicated, quadricated – decacated?

This could be a point at which we should open a serious multilateral window rather than sit in an institutionalised, Cold War bunker, comforting each other by talking about an unaffordable “massive armies and nukes”, MAD, fug and pretend that letting fresh air in would be bad for us.

Opening that window presupposes that our potential nuclear aggressors – Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Wahhabism – are serious about multilateralism and could be persuaded to join in. Showing the cost would be one way to persuade them, like Star Wars in the 1980s.

Instead, we could leave it all to a combination of human nature and history which is likely to prove intransigent, making it impossible to disinvent a new way of waging war or invent a new way of stopping war.  After all, that has been the pattern for millennia and will take a lot of breaking.

 If 10-odd countries could get round a table for serious discussions about avoiding a future dominated by nuclear/ stealthy/ high tech/ robotic weapons, then there really would be worthwhile moral purpose served and cash savings made which could be used for positive purposes such as rebuilding urban areas wrecked by conventional weapons and terrorists,  and build a new, man-made but safe environment – AND SAVE LIVES.

Ban all nukes by all means. But is is really worth all this debate in a country now at the bottom of the nuclear pile anyway in the context of Mr Corbyn and his acolytes. The current world order is making a pretty good job of killing people by reducing the Middle East to rubble, making it uninhabitable as well, using gas, explosives and smart weapons invented decades or even centuries ago.

You don’t need nukes to kill people, just rifles, bullets, knives, dumb bombs, Paveway, Hellfire and Brimstone missiles.

Hundreds of thousands of people are being turned into refugees, dispossessed, enslaved, tortured, brutally starved on frozen hillsides, and casually killed – DAILY.

Of course H bombs would kill hundreds of thousands, or more likely millions, or billions of people. That’s why we need to get rid of every nation’s nuclear weapons. But its not a pressing or burning issue in réal-politique at the moment: they have not been used, unlike the guns, IEDs, gas, box cutters and knives of AQ/ ISIS/Daesh/ Syrian Civil War/ Taliban/ Boko Haram/ Al Shabab; they  may only manage to kill a few hundred people a day, but that simmering brutality is more debilitating to humanity than half a dozen advanced nations not using nuclear weapons and which have debilitate humanity not one jot compared with their conventional cousins. Talking about how to stop that would be much more worthwhile than pontificating about Trident.

Which debate should we have? The moral argument against nuclear weapons is losing its power and relevance in the face of the current inhumanities meted out by the likes of Daesh, Taliban et al: nukes have been used twice, killed fewer civilians than some conventional bombing raids in WW2, and then not used in 70 years during which time they have contributed to saving millions of lives from more world wars.

Mixing the nuclear debate with terrorism and the visceral, local, eccentric, even comical politics of the UK, five or ten years before it is even relevant, is not helping a serious debate about Trident or Labour.

We need a CREDIBLE deterrent until we don’t need one AND we need a CEDITABLE Loyal Opposition, not an INCREDIBLE, back-of a-fag-packet amalgam.

We need a new way of thinking, unmuddled, rigorous and purposeful.

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