When we’ve reached the point where even the Daily Telegraph is calling the British Prime Minister a liar, it’s probably about time someone laid out the facts about the UK’s nuclear weapons, and in particular how they relate to Scotland.
Let’s see if we can keep it brief.
“We need nukes because we’re at risk of a missile attack from North Korea.”
No we’re not. North Korean missile technology is primitive and plagued by failure – it turns out rocket science IS quite a tricky business after all – and even their next generation of rockets, if they ever get them working, wouldn’t be able to get anywhere near Western Europe. David Cameron’s claim has been ridiculed on all sides.
(It’s perhaps also worth pointing out that it’s extremely difficult to get long-range missile technology working, not just for technical reasons but also simple logistical ones. If you’re a geographically tiny little country like North Korea is, how do you test a missile with a range of thousands of miles? The USA and Russia can manage it because their countries are thousands of miles wide with huge uninhabited areas that you can safely fire a rocket at. North Korea’s barely one-and-a-half times the size of Scotland, but with five times the population.)
“But the North Koreans are MENTAL!”
That does seem to be the case. But you know who they threaten most? You know who they’re actually technically at war with right now? You know who they can DEFINITELY reach with a missile? South Korea. Yet the South Koreans don’t feel any need to have an independent nuclear deterrent. So why on Earth are we more scared of the North Koreans than they are?
“But anything could happen in the future.”
Well, yes. Similarly, we don’t KNOW that the Earth won’t one day be menaced by 900-mile-high robot dinosaurs from space with lasers for eyes, but we don’t spend hundreds of billions of pounds building anti-dinosaur defences on the Moon just in case. That’s because such an attack is only fractionally less likely than North Korea committing mass national suicide by launching a nuclear attack on anyone.
If all the terrifying uncertainty, mad dictators and terrorist loonies in the world mean it’s too risky for the UK not to have nuclear weapons, how come nobody’s bombed Denmark or Finland in the last 60 years? What’s protecting them?
Why hasn’t super-rich Norway been held to ransom by terrorists threatening its oil-rigs? Why has nobody invaded Italy? Why hasn’t there been an Islamic revolution in Holland? Have they just been riding their luck all this time?
“But thousands of jobs depend on Trident.”
No they don’t. The number dependent on the missile system specifically is about 500, according to the Ministry of Defence. Even the Unionists have stopped pretending otherwise – on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, Labour’s David Whitton was careful to say that “the defence industry” at Faslane supported 12,000 jobs, not Trident.
It seems a reasonably safe bet that £403m a year – the actual cost of Trident to Scotland in the coming decade – could create an awful lot more than 500 jobs in the Helensburgh area if used for some other purpose. (It’s enough money to pay 1,000 people a whopping £403,000 a year each, after all.)
“But nuclear weapons keep the global peace by deterring war.”
Then how come the nation with by far the most nukes has also been involved in the most wars? The USA has been at war with someone or other in pretty much every year since the end of WW2. The PM cited the supposed danger of “nuclear blackmail”, but the US’s enormous armoury of missiles doesn’t seem to have deterred anyone from getting in a scrap with them – perhaps because they’ve never been used, even when the US got its backside kicked in Vietnam. (See also the Russians spending a decade being humiliated in Afghanistan without nuking Kabul to dust.)
Not only do nukes not stop you getting into wars, they don’t even guarantee that you’ll win, even when you’ve got thousands of them and the other guy hasn’t got any. They didn’t stop Iraq invading Kuwait. They didn’t stop Argentina invading the Falklands. They didn’t save Tibet from China. And a weapon everyone knows you’re never going to use is no good for anything.
“But it’s undignified and cowardly to rely on bigger nations for protection.”
Is it? Unless you’re personally in the army or the police, you do that every day of your life. If your house catches fire you call the fire brigade, you don’t try to put it out yourself. If you have a heart attack you call an ambulance to take you to hospital, you don’t get a kitchen knife and start hacking around in your own ribcage. If the USA has elected itself the world’s policeman, we might as well let them get on with it. They seem more than happy to do the job.
And if, as was rather comically suggested on last night’s Newsnight Scotland, the USA ever did decide to get rid of all its nukes – something which is considerably less likely than the 900-mile-high robot space dinosaurs scenario – then see above. If the hawkish USA wasn’t prepared to use nuclear weapons even when it was losing a war against a non-nuclear enemy, why would any other country that still had them do so?
(Clue: the fact that nobody particularly wants to conquer an uninhabitable radioactive wasteland is a substantial part of the answer, and the multinational corporations that dictate most of the actions of governments these days also don’t see any great benefit in murdering hundreds of millions of actual or potential customers.)
“Ah, but missiles are a bargaining chip in global disarmament.”
If you believe there will ever be complete nuclear disarmament, do us a favour – go and borrow a cup of sugar from the fairies at the bottom of your garden for us, we’re making tea. Nuclear weapons can’t be uninvented, and the world’s superpowers will never, ever do away with them completely for that reason. And the UK’s arsenal isn’t big enough to be worth anything in negotiations – it’s around 1.3% of the world’s total stockpile.
So the idea that any UK government of any political stripe would surrender every last Trident warhead in return for Russia giving up less than 3% of its own is absurd. The official Labour position that it’s “against” nuclear weapons, but will keep them in order to pursue multilateral disarmament, is as much of an insult to the intelligence of anyone able to tie their own shoelaces as David Cameron’s ludicrous assertion that we need them because of the deadly menace from Pyongyang.
“But if North Korea ever DID nuke us, we’d feel stupid.”
Well, maybe. But Trident’s only possible actual use is as a weapon of vengeance. And if there were sirens howling overhead warning that we were about to be incinerated in a North Korean fireball, to be honest the knowledge that we’d be massacring millions of innocent North Korean civilians (their mad leaders safe in concrete bunkers, of course) in retaliation would be a pretty poor compensation.
And even that argument only really works for little rogue states. If the Russians or Chinese ever went completely doolally and thought there was something to gain by obliterating the UK, do you think they’d be put off by the prospect of a few million casualties from the UK’s one operational Trident submarine?
Russia lost 30 million of its citizens in WW2 and survived just fine. Indeed, even after the unimaginable carnage of the war the USSR felt able to confidently do away with millions more of its own people in a series of brutal purges. It was supposedly Stalin, after all, who said “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”.
(And before the ever-tiresome Quote Nazis appear, it doesn’t really matter if he actually said it or not, or whether he was the first to say it – his actions demonstrate unequivocally that he followed the principle.)
The fact is, if the UK was in conflict by itself against Russia or China, our “deterrent” would scare them about as much as a cardboard javelin. And if we were in conflict alongside the USA, our tiddly little one sub’s-worth of missiles would make no meaningful difference to anything. So either way they’re completely pointless.
Have we missed anything? As we’ve seen above, the case for the UK’s nuclear “deterrent” is complete nonsense. When even Michael Portillo says it’s “completely past its sell-by date”, it’s probably time for everyone else to let go.