Trident has to go. It’s the dusty relic on the mantelpiece; the second watch on the wrist.
It’s a burden. I realised this only recently, having once been quite impressed by arguments made in defence of Trident. I thought Trident was the baseline of our great power status and I took it for granted that the tactical logic behind it had not yet been lost in the pre-Cold War world. My case rested on ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ which in theory reveals threats to be bluffs at the very first hurdle. But while in theory deterrence seems to work – we are still here, after all – in practice there remains some problems.
Less and less people have lived through the 1960s and that most educative year when the game of chicken almost lost its head. Time will further diminish the horror of the Cuban Missile Crisis, because, unlike WWII, it never actually happened. And now we have a world of increasingly irrational actors. We have the anti-intellectualism of Trump in America and we have the Mullahs in Tehran who could still hold a zero-sum game. More must be done to encourage non-proliferation amongst states not only because these factors in isolation make the theory friable, but also because the rise of non-state actors is here to stay which means that nuclear strikes are an ineffective threat and response. Traditional arguments have become obsolete.
I admit that Trident still gives us a diplomatic edge. Schelling said of it, that, “in addition to weakening an enemy militarily, it can cause an enemy plain suffering.” It gives us an impressive capacity to hurt others. I say ‘impressive’ not in the moralising sense, but in the strict sense of the word – that Trident impresses upon those who would wish us harm. The value lies not in inflicting the hurt but in what opponents must do to avoid the hurt at all costs. It is a psychological chip of immense coercive value which makes it important that Theresa May says “yes” when questioned about using such weaponry, even if she doesn’t mean it. Pacifism is immoral, and I am not one of those immoral pacifists, but one doesn’t have to be a pacifist to oppose Trident. I think that Trident is crude for four reasons:
First. A less postulating Europe is exactly what might drain the support away from jingo-jolly Putin. However, I do accept that, given the present climate, the timing of this first point is unfortunate. It stays as a point of interest.
Second. Deterrence is a very hard thing to measure, due to the often insoluble problem of working out cause and effect: a lack of aggressors might mean deterrence is working, but might also be the result of other factors which have nothing to do with deterrence.
Third. We live in a much changed and globalised world, where our enemies of today are quite unlike our enemies of yesterday.
Fourth. In other ways the world hasn’t changed, we still owe our security to America and as long as we can be glad that they haven’t relinquished their nuclear capacity, then why not let them pick up the tab (again, this point stands proud and cheap on the assumption that the wrong person isn’t in the White House after the election).
The world needs more nuclear non-proliferation. This does not mean a world free of nuclear weaponry. The genie is already out of the bottle, and to get rid of them entirely you would need to get rid of nuclear technology entirely which is less impossible than it is undesirable because to achieve it you would have to do away with nuclear power. We cannot uninvent nuclear technology. We can disarm Trident and invest in our NHS. It’s time that we sank our geriatric delusions of grandeur to the bottom of the sea. Then we should turn Poseidon’s Trident upside down and watch it be put to better use as a crutch along the ocean floor.