Alphen, Netherlands. 29 February. Last Saturday was ‘déjà vu all over again’. Indeed, I was cast in a trice back to my 1970s youth as London saw the largest gathering of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) since the 1980s. The “Stop Trident” rally attracted the usual array of colourful political characters from the loony increasingly green left present in strength to ‘raise awareness’ of a whole raft of nuclear-related (and not-so-related) issues, to the considered, knowledgeable and principled activists who have always populated Britain’s anti-nuclear weapons movement. Saturday’s principle aim was to stop the British Government committing to a so-called ‘Main Gate’ decision to replace Britain’s four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missiles submarines with four more by the late 2020s via the so-called ‘Successor’ programme. In fact, the rally was about so much more…
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those commentators who dismiss such events or the people who attend them as a bunch of ‘disarming’ naïfs. By dint of its very secrecy the British nuclear establishment is far too comfortable in its self-reinforcing ‘certainties’. Indeed, as someone who has studied both nuclear deterrence theory and strategy in depth (excuse the pun) and written about it, there are serious questions to be answered by London as to the cost, utility, and long-term viability of four state-of-the-art nuclear ballistic missile submarines.
As with most British ‘big ticket’ defence projects cost is spiralling out of control with over £40 billion of public money likely to be spent on ‘Successor’. Moreover, my November 2015 evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) demonstrated to effect that the 2010 decision to move the cost of paying for the nuclear deterrent within an already over-stretched defence budget left Britain with the strategic Hobson’s choice it faces today. On current levels of defence investment Britain can either afford a strategic nuclear deterrent, or a global reach conventional expeditionary force. It cannot afford both. Indeed, Britain’s continually-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) is already vulnerable due to the lunatic 2010 decision to cut up brand new maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), a gap will only be plugged in the early 2020s with the purchase of eight Boeing P8 MPA at great cost.
Furthermore, concerns about the credibility of the Successor system over the fifty years of its planned in-service life are both real and reasonable. This week a report will be presented to HCDC by the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) that will suggest advances in drone technology, in particular so-called ‘gliders’, could render Britain’s future submarine fleet vulnerable to detection and attack. The threat to the force is more than the ‘old science fiction’ ascribed to this threat by one commentator.
However, few if any of these arguments of strategy and capability seemed to resonate at the CND rally. Even less so with grand attendees Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party Nicola Sturgeon. However, it was Lianne Woods, leader of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalists, who really gave the game away. For her the ‘Stop Trident’ rally was merely a political metaphor and should really have been entitled; “Stop the world we want to get off”.
In a spectacular misunderstanding of history Woods claimed that the Cold War had been a narrow self-interested fight between the US and the USSR, and suggested that Britain should never have had any part of it. In fact, the Americans were persuaded by the Western Europeans with Britain to the fore, to return in strength to Europe in the late 1940s to defend a broken and broke Europe from over 300 of Stalin’s Soviet divisions which were sitting just across the River Elbe on the then inner-German border. Read my Oxford book on the subject!
Worse, to suggest some level of moral equivalency between the United States and the Soviet Union insults not just the Americans, but my own intelligence. It also insults the millions of American servicemen and women who defended Europe from Soviet aggression and writes off the huge investment the Americans continue to make in the defence of Europe today. It is a commitment made all the more remarkable by the unwillingness of Europeans to pay for their own defence. Woods reinforced her strategic illiteracy by suggesting that Britain’s nuclear weapons did nothing to deter terrorists. Derr!
And herein lies the ultimate irony of Saturday’s CND rally. The refusal of Europeans to make a reasoned link between the strategic dangers Europeans face from other states and conventional defence investment INCREASES the importance of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons exist to force the cost of any state aggression over a threshold that is so unacceptable that said aggression is deterred. In the absence of sufficient investment in conventional defences the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons actually falls. In the dangerous world of today there is every reason to believe that nuclear deterrence will continue to function for Europeans as an alternative to conventional defence investment. A Europe that cannot defend itself nor deter threats is appeasing reality.
Which brings me to the real point of Corbyn, Sturgeon, Woods and their like; to disarm completely and remove Britain a top five world military power from the collective defence of Europe. Scrap Trident and ‘Successor’ and CND and their supporters will soon call for the scrapping of NATO. This must be music to the Kremlin’s ears. Indeed, it is the late 1970s and the Euromissile saga all over again. And, like the late 1970s I have no doubt Moscow, which is increasing its European nuclear strike forces, is doing all it can to encourage such well-meaning, but utterly strategically-misguided dissent.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament is appeasement – pure and simple. Saturday’s rally was not about Trident, Successor, or even British unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was pure strategic denial. The only way to rid the world of ‘nukes’ is multilateral disarmament. Any other approach makes the world less, not more safe.
For the sake of peace in freedom these disarming appeasers must be resisted.