This year Parliament will vote on whether or not to renew Trident, the UK’s independent nuclear defence system. Acquired under the Thatcher government, it was to act as a deterrent from any Soviet nuclear strike. Fast forward 30 years; the Soviet Union has been dismantled and the question now repeatedly being asked- does the UK need Trident?
Opponents of Trident will argue that with the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) the danger no longer exists. The NPT is an international agreement with the goal of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and can now boast nearly 200 member states, of which only five are officially recognised as possessing nuclear weapons. Is this not compelling evidence of the UK’s security from nuclear attack? Maybe, but maybe not. There are several key countries, such as North Korea, that are not signatories and so it could be argued that we still live in a world of political uncertainty. Perhaps then it is better to have this last line of defence and not need it, rather than to need it and not have it.
The most fervent opponents, such as the SNP, will then argue that Trident is “unusable” and would not protect us from attack. An example of this is France. As one of the five “nuclear states” under the NPT their possession of nuclear weapons sadly did not prevent the tragic terrorist attacks of the past year.
The danger then becomes that Trident will simply become an expensive monument to cold war hysteria; the government currently estimates renewal between £15bn and £20bn. Indeed, the 5 year “procurement phase” preluding the renewal decision has itself cost £3bn. A perfectly reasonable question then becomes in times of budget cuts can we really afford Trident if its function is not altogether obvious?
Perhaps its purpose is more subtle than this. The UK is also a “nuclear state,” the other 4 being France, USA, China and Russia. Membership of such an elite group of world superpowers demonstrates the punching power and stature of the UK. Resignation might be an admission that the UK’s global influence is waning and we will then become more susceptible to intimidation on the international stage. A disagreeable prospect for the nation’s foreign interests.
For some the issue of Trident resonates to the core of UK identify and its place in the world pecking order. For others it is simply an issue of practicality and economics. Regardless, given the Conservative’s long pro-Trident stance it is likely that renewal will be given the green light later this year. Then the debate can continue for another 30 years…