I started life in the Young Liberals somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan in the spectrum of the organisation’s political stance. My first attempt at making policy was to propose a more effective weapons procurement policy in order to utilise the savings to… yes, you guessed it, buy more, more efficient, more effective, weapons. It seemed obvious to me at the time, and would doubtless have passed but for the fact that I wasn’t surrounded by Young Conservatives at the time (it was 1987, and the Falklands were still a key driver in terms of defence policy).
Naturally, I was a firm supporter of nuclear weapons, as they gave you significant ‘bang for your buck’ (an unfortunate phrase in so many ways as it turned out), and were the very acme of efficiency. Over the years though, I’ve begun to see the other sides of the argument. They don’t always sit together comfortably, though.
The first problem is, that in a world where danger doesn’t generally come from other countries, a nuclear weapon is a remarkably inefficient way to strike at your opponent. Admittedly, you’ll probably kill them, but the collateral damage of murdering say, the entire population of Rawalpindi, is, even for George Bush and his neo-con friends, probably too embarrassing for words (remember, boys and girls, we aren’t dealing with Mr Compassion here…). And naturally, in an era where global concern about the environment is so important, creating a glowing wasteland is soooooo not good in terms of polluting the water supply, reducing plant uptake of carbon dioxide, and generally ruining peoples’ days.
The second problem is that our enemies know that, except in almost unthinkable circumstances (the Conservatives taking a 5% lead in the opinion polls, for example), this Government would never countenance the first use of nuclear weapons. Second use, certainly (“What the hell, we’re all going to die anyway, and we can always blame Douglas Alexander, can’t we…”), but not first use. Now if they know that, and we know that they know that, and they know that we know that they know that… what’s the point of having them? You can’t display them (although they would certainly draw a crowd at the Tate Modern!), they have to be kept in rather ugly, high security facilities (and wouldn’t those submarines look so much better in a green chartreuse flock pattern?), and the chances of them gaining some positive coverage by rescuing a small child from drowning, or raising funds for cancer research are less than optimal.
Finally, they really aren’t very efficient in financial terms. I understand that we’re talking about £15 billion here, or enough money to buy Chelsea, if you’re looking for something easier to get your head around. Whilst I suspect that the nuclear weapons would bring greater pleasure to more people than Chelsea do (although their defeats do bring a smile to my face, I admit), there are clearly better uses for the money. For example, funding a rapid response force to support legitimate UN-supported missions would be good. Or investing in debt relief for the poorest countries, so that their peoples can stay at home and build a better nation for themselves and their communities, making us all safer.
Oh well, maybe I should have turned up at the Trident debate instead of sitting in an English Candidates Committee meeting… but seriously, I have to admire Chris Huhne’s stance on Trident. The weapons themselves are merely a symptom of political penis envy, and what’s the point of having a penis that someone else controls?
So, one each in the contest to decide my support. Not easy, this decision-making…