It seems innocuous enough: a spending review mindful of the slump, talking about ‘savings’ in areas like the Joint Strike Fighter and Astute class subs. But I just can’t believe Britain’s civil servants – senior military among them, including a former NATO secretary and ex-SBS Paddy Ashdown – are actually considering abandoning Trident.
War has changed, and the ability to wage it should rightly change too. But getting rid of the one thing that lets Britain sit at the top table? It’s just four submarines out of Scotland, soon to have just three tubes each that are capable of launching nuclear-tipped missiles. They cost billions, but not many billions, and for decades they’ve meant that any maniac acquiring a nuke, from Korea to Iran, will think twice about chucking one at the UK. Keeping Trident was one of the Big Changes in New Labour that made people think it could govern effectively; well, it couldn’t, but it was reasonable at the time to give them a chance.
Some of the report’s other conclusions are odd too. I mean, a ‘top-heavy military’? Do you know how many boats the Navy has that are actually capable of fighting? It’s about 25, and a few of them are little more than dinghies! I don’t know about planes, but I’d doubt the UK has a hundred fighter jets that could take off today. And as for the troops in boots – ask any squaddie about bad equipment and unhardened Land Rovers. It’s obscene.
Defence is one of the few things that marks out a patch of land as a nation. Britain has lost industry; lost credibility; and with the nannying police state that’s grown up under Blair and Brown, it’s lost any sense of its own destiny too, individual ambition and responsibility suffocated by red tape, bossy surveillance, and an ever-expanding public sector that fosters a culture of not-my-fault and victimhood.
In an increasingly dangerous world, Trident is the one thing that might make a maniac think twice. It’s the one part of defence we need more than ever, more even than during the Cold War. While it may be politically expedient to talk budget cuts and slump spending, this recession will have gone away in two years; the Kims and Ahmedinajads won’t. Let’s fight for our nukes.