Why, with a heavy heart, I think renewing our nuclear deterrent is probably the best choice
Though Being Human is not a political site, our being human inevitably intersects with the world of politics. So that is why, from time to time, I will venture into the realm of politics — particularly when there are issues that have clear resonance with what it means to be human. And that’s why today as I want to process my thoughts on Trident.
Trident is the name given to the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons programme. Come the early years of the 2030’s, our four submarines that house these weapons on rotation will need to be replaced. Or decommissioned.
The cost of replacement is currently estimated to be £31 billion, plus a £10 billion contingency fund. Today our Members of Parliament are voting on whether or not to go ahead with this renewal.
Inevitably, the debate we hear about in the media is a black and white one. We hear only from those who are passionately for the renewal, or passionately against it.
I suspect most of us though are, like me, somewhat torn.
Do I want to live in a world free of nuclear weapons? Absolutely.
Do I want to live in a world without war? Of course.
But there’s the world we long to live in and the world we live in now.
War and violence are never desirable outcomes, but in a world where flawed humans exist, it always remains a possibility. And any good government should want to look after its people and keep them safe.
The theory behind Trident is that the mere fact we could retaliate with a nuclear strike will serve as a deterrent should another other nation or group be inclined to send a similar weapon our way.
So Trident, if it serves its intended purpose, is only successful by its never having to be used.
But how would we know for sure whether it was truly Trident that was the reason for there being no attacks of that kind? Answer: we can’t.
In other words, this is a judgment call. A horrible one that I don’t envy our MP’s having to make.
Of course this money could go to other places.
Of course it could seem like a waste of money if it never needs to be used.
Of course many of the most pressing threats to society are no longer nuclear.
But the fact that it’s no longer the cold war, and terrorism seems to be the bigger challenge facing us today, doesn’t mean the nuclear threats can just be ignored. They may not be front and centre, but they’ve not gone away either.
And that is why, ever so slightly, I am veering towards thinking that renewal is the best option.
I would love for that money to go to the National Health Service instead. Or to modernising our armed forces so they are better equipped for twenty-first century military challenges. It would be wonderful for that money to be able to go towards better educating our children.
Thankfully, it’s not a black and white case of either-or, but there’s no doubt that renewing Trident will mean there isn’t scope for increasing investment elsewhere.
That’s what makes this so hard. Who wouldn’t much prefer to invest in health and education over defence?
I want to be the kind of human who champions peace and who stands up for our NHS and our schools. We should be heavily investing in these areas.
But, much as I would love to be, the pragmatist in me can’t be a full-on pacifist. I hate war and I hate violence and I long for our world to be free of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see a place for defending ourselves in certain situations.
That said, even if we were hit by a nuclear bomb, I hope we wouldn’t respond like for like. Clearly a hit would mean that Trident had failed, but wiping out potentially millions of civilians in retaliation would be horrific and wrong.
That is why it feels strange to say I’m veering towards supporting the renewal of something that I don’t want us to ever use — even if we are attacked with a nuclear weapon.
I can just see that, for a country or group to know that we could hit back with the same devastating weapon they’re considering using against us, could stop that weapon ever coming our way. And what price do you put on that?
I realise this is an awful lot of if’s, but’s, and maybe’s to spend £31 billion on, but that’s the reality of this: it’s a judgement call that may or may not pay off.
For me, I think it may, on balance, be worth the investment. I accept that many will disagree with me, and this isn’t an attempt to persuade anyone to my may of thinking. As is often the case with my writing, it’s a chance to process my own thoughts. And this reflects where I’m at with my thinking about Trident at the moment.