Wrote to The Herald last week. Emailed them on Thursday and was published on Friday – instant gratification! The topic – Trident.
Living, as I do, 25 nautical miles – as the ballistic missile flies – from Coulport, the biggest repository of nuclear warheads in Europe, I take great interest in the Trident debate. Incidentally, Coulport’s a bit grim. The drive from Glasgow down the Clyde Estuary (doon the watter as we say) is very beautiful. But shortly after you leave Rhu the intimidating mile after mile of barbed wire starts. This is Faslane. Continue round the Kilcreggan peninsula and it’s once again the most beautiful place on earth. There’s not much to see at Coulport; a roundabout beside an escarpment and, opposite, the entrance to a modest MOD installation. I believe most of it is underground. Spookiest place in Britain.
Anyway Lord Robertson the erstwhile NATO boss wrote an “Agenda” article for The Herald last week in support of the retention and upgrading of the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent. I wrote a response, which was published the following day.
I find the Trident dichotomy of views fascinating, because both sides appear to have a strong case. The argument in favour of the dismantling of Trident goes like this: the effects of these weapons of mass destruction are so indiscriminate and so horrendous that there is no conceivable set of circumstances under which you would deploy them. The argument in favour of maintaining and upgrading Trident goes like this: the reason why there has been no major conflict in Western Europe for seventy years now is that NATO has a nuclear deterrent. It would be dangerous and naive to upset the delicate balance of the status quo. Trident is, according to the Prime Minister, an “insurance policy”.
Trident may be a deterrent, but one thing it is not, is an insurance policy. I have an insurance policy on my house. I pay into it regularly, but the policy is not activated unless my house is damaged or destroyed, at which point the policy kicks in and allows me to repair, or replace my house. A deterrent is the exact opposite of an insurance policy. A deterrent is only active so long as that which it purports to protect remains undamaged or undestroyed. At the moment of destruction, the deterrent ceases to function and thus demonstrates that it has never functioned.
Much has been said about the risks of abandoning nuclear arms. On Question Time, from Stockton-on-Tees last week, Lord Heseltine called the policy of dismantling Trident “irresponsible”. Much less has been said about the risks of retaining nuclear capability. In the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, writers were very fascinated by the idea of nuclear war occurring by accident. It’s an extension of Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Various nightmare scenarios were envisaged. In the film Failsafe, a computerised order to attack turns out to be irreversible. In Dr Strangelove, a rogue general goes mad, takes over an air force base, and launches a “pre-emptive strike”. (As we say in Glasgow, get your retaliation in first.) In Thunderball, a criminal organisation acquires two nuclear weapons and holds the world to ransom. I sense a gap in the market here. The time is ripe for the launching of another dystopian nuclear farce. The nightmare scenario for our time would be that World War III comes about as a result of a managerial initiative. We sleepwalk into it. The military-politico-industrial complex slowly wake up to the fact that their industry has been taken over by a bunch of young, sharp suited, computer-savvy graduates of The Apprentice who take our submariners off on a retreat to play a paint-ball game in aid of “team building”, going forward. They introduce a hugely complicated system of managerial oversight with “targets” (literally), Key Performance Indicators, and an audit trail. They create a monstrous nuclear “umbrella” and dub it with the acronym “GAMP”. GAMP stands for Generally Assured Mutual Pulverisation.