Trident and Me: A reflection on our strategic nuclear deterrent

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by Gary Logue

As a young lad in the early 90s I was taken to the coast one brisk autumnal afternoon and had the privilege of catching a glimpse of the most technically advanced ship in the Royal Navy’s fleet. HMS Vanguard made an impressive sight as she silently glided through the Firth of Clyde, orbitted by a flotilla of smaller craft containing machine gun toting guards.

I confess a certain amount of pride went through my pre-adolescent mind that Britain still had the wealth and status to build such a thing; the ultimate expression of – my dad’s got a better car than yours. I can forgive my youthful delight that my country still ruled the waves, driven by the James Bond fantasy of a Britain not completely devoid of power.

Although I was aware even as a child that the use of such a weapon would always be morally wrong, I felt then that it was necessary as a deterrent. If we did not have it then those countries who did would invariably tell us what to do and ultimately invade or annihilate us. Tragically, proponents of Trident still use that exact argument without any greater attempt at sophistication, despite the massive shift in the global political landscape.

As a Cold War deterrent these submarines may have had their place. Perhaps it was a worthwhile investment of the nation’s wealth, showing those pesky Reds that good old Blighty would never surrender the waves to their morally inferior economic system by letting them nuke us unanswered. The current Trident system, commissioned in those days but delivered after the wall came down, could be viewed, sympathetically, as an unfortunate anachronism.

Designed to last for a few decades, you could say we simply have to let them die a natural death and be consigned to history, a relic of 20th century stupidity. With no viable nuclear power being hostile to Britain you would expect our wise Westminster superiors to protect our borders with a well-equipped conventional armed force, and dare I say it – sensible foreign policy.

However, last week (was there really no decision been taken prior to May 5?), the coalition Minister of Defence announced the replacement of this crazy outdated system with a crazier still, even more outdated, and more expensive system. At a time of unprecedented cuts to all segments of civil society we are going to create another Cold War system for use in the 21st century. Against who exactly? Who is the enemy now? Against which sovereign nation, and under what circumstances, is the ‘United Kingdom’ prepared to launch an attack of such criminal ferocity that the US atrocity over Hiroshima would seem like a bonfire in comparison?

I would hope that no government could come to power on this island that would ever be foolish enough to consider a nuclear attack on another nation, but that cannot be guaranteed. Sadly, a new generation of Trident is to be built whether we like it or not. Our leaders at Westminster say we need them – just in case. In case of what exactly? They offer no protection against terrorism, supposedly the greatest threat since the Cold War. The most heavily-armed nuclear power in the world was attacked ten years ago by an enemy who were apparently undaunted by the threat of nuclear retaliation.

Supporters of such destructive power argue they must be built to ensure our safety. The most sensible among them say we should not use them except in an emergency. Forgive my bluntness, but that exact same argument could be used to suggest we should build Auschwitz-style extermination camps – just in case certain segments of society get out of hand. We may at some point have a government that wants to gas civilians, so why not? We have Trident in case a future government wants to immolate foreign civilians so why stop there? In what way is it morally acceptable to build machines capable of destroying millions of lives in an instant but not to design smaller, more targetted, atrocity mechanisms?

Genocide is genocide. There is no such thing as genocide lite. There is no point in commemorating history if we are not prepared to learn from the atrocities of the past. Some may think it reeks of sensationalism or even poor taste to compare our nation’s choice of genocide machinery with that of the historical Third Reich. They may argue that bullets have proven just as effective a tool of genocide as a gas chamber.

Well, the efficient German engineers of the day felt otherwise. The stark truth is to ruling Germans of that era, human life was less valuable than the preservation of bullets. In purely financial terms it made sense for them to commit their genocide in the most cost-effective way. Nuclear weapons are the ultimate extension of that disgusting logic. Despite their enormous economic cost, there exists currently no cheaper way to annihilate millions of people in a short period of time than the deployment of nuclear weapons. To that end they are simply a refinement of genocidal technology; descendents of the Vernichtungslager.

What is most appalling is how little the Great British people seem to care about this. The media interest has been minimal and aside from a few principled souls who maintain a constant vigil at Faslane, the majority of the populace seem to have bigger things on their mind. Perhaps for the majority of them Trident is simply out of sight and, therefore, mind.

They have the ‘cuts’ to worry about and where do multi-billion pound nuclear submarines fit in to that? My moral stance on this would not be altered if these genocide machines were based on the Thames, though would it seem less immediate were I not within 20 miles of the most horrific instruments of death ever conceived by mankind?