Defending the United Kingdom against potential attack has allowed the armed forces – and the industries that supply them – to get away with spending hefty amounts of money over the years, easily justifying Eisenhower’s caution against “The Military-Industrial Complex”.
And there is no finer example of how our money has been sunk than the UK’s now sole nuclear deterrent, the Trident Missile System. In return for an investment of several billion pounds, we get four submarines, carrying sufficient numbers of missiles and warheads to lay waste to a significant amount of the planet’s surface, of which just one is on patrol somewhere – all the time, mind.
But, with Trident replacement – life extension or no – coming into view over the horizon, questions are being asked as to whether we need to spend so much on this particular bringer of Armageddon, just to remain in the nuclear club. And that question was put this morning on the Andy Marr Show to Liam Fox, minister with special responsibility for keeping foot out of mouth.
The Fox response was all too predictable: we need nuclear weapons because of North Korea ... and Iran ... deterrence ... by which time I had been distracted by the need to finish my second daily cuppa. The North Koreans won’t break wind without the Chinese causing them to desist, and Iran’s target list, if they ever get a nuclear weapon, is unlikely to have our name on it.
But maybe we could, even should, retain some sort of nuclear deterrent? The debate should at least be had. Then, if a case for nuclear capability is made, there would come the question of cost. And the likelihood is that some kind of air-delivered bomb or missile would give, for want of a better expression, the biggest bang for the available buck.
Unfortunately, this would not be the end of the matter. Why so? Ah well. Trident belongs to the Royal Navy. Anything air-delivered would belong to the Royal Air Force, and if the RAF were to lose its independence, then anything in their domain would become part of the Army. And for the Senior Service to lose out to the RAF would be bad, while losing to the Army would be unthinkable.
To this end, there has been, and will continue to be, furious lobbying on behalf of the Royal Navy in support of keeping the nuclear deterrent with them. In this, they will be supported by weapons manufacturers, suppliers, and maintainers, all of whom have a corner to fight and their eyes on the largest possible prize.
That the country cannot afford another Roller does not enter. Eisenhower was right.