Trident is weird

by Tom Miller

Jeremy Corbyn had a good night in this evening’s debate, but had a really tough time over Trident, where he refused to commit to retaliatory use. Tough gig.

Cards on the table, I am against Trident and Britain keeping nukes, an indefensible use of public money in my opinion. I’m coming at this from the point of view of being disappointed that they even exist so long after the cold war, which doesn’t seem very modern, and doubting the honesty of many self-declared multilateralists about changing that. I know my union won’t be happy.

This hasn’t always been my view, and from a Labour point of view I also think if the public rate them or want Labour to keep them (not the same thing), we are right to concede to renewing. My views aren’t always popular, and besides, this is party policy. If we go down this line though, what would be the point in having them but not putting a serious retaliatory threat behind it, or stepping away from NATO’s involvement in this?

I’m pleasing no-one here, am I. At least my union will be happy.

But Trident is weird, in its emotiveness. It’s fully understandable that something so awful gets an emotional reaction. But the fact that the emotive side of the Trident argument is all about some quite distant hypothetical scenarios which in reality would generally result in nothing nuclear happening, even if we were stupid enough to get into them.

Mutually assured destruction works as a deterrent and prevents nuclear war. The whole point is that the ability to use them means you don’t get into that situation without first strike, so people who argue for saying we should be prepared to use trident in retaliation should actually be seen as arguing we would never to have to. An acceptable reason to have nukes.

Not having nuclear weapons has been shown to be pretty much comparable in terms of results and also gets you ‘not nuclear bombed’. There’s no strategic incentive. You can’t get much out of occupying or exploiting a destroyed or irradiated country, so the real danger is becoming a third party to someone else’s nuclear conflict. People who favour nuclear disarmament should also be seen as arguing we should never really need to use nukes. An acceptable reason to go without nukes.

Despite opposing Trident I can admit that both logics work and that both are motivated by achieving safety.

More broadly I think there are good enough arguments from many angles of Trident for me to be convinced that our country can manage defence and avoid any kind of nuclear annihilation with it or without it. I think therefore that the real and usually ignored issue is actually mostly an argument about public spending and employment, or wider foreign policy issues such as power projection and the role it plays in modern strategy.

Given this, I’m not very susceptible to the emotional arguments which suggest that millions of humans here or elsewhere will shortly all be vaporised because Britain has nuclear weapons/no longer has nuclear weapons. In reality, we are not going to get drawn into using them either way, are we?

Despite the power of these things and the polarity of the debate, it doesn’t really matter all that much unless we are talking about public spending, skilled jobs, or much wider geopolitical strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be the shibboleth it gets made out to be, and in any event, if you’re going to get angry about something, it might as well be something more immediate and relevant to your life, closer to home. Call me parochial but I’m more worried about whether kids are going hungry.