Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Dr Strangelove gets redundency papers

As the former head of the International Atomic Energy Authority Mohamed ElBaradei put it: "It is very hard to preach the virtues of non-smoking when you have a cigarette dangling from your lips and you are about to buy a new pack"

That short extract from today's letter in the Times is possibly the most relevant in the whole missive from four senior Army officers who question the future of our Trident missile armaments. Their concern is
"It is to be welcomed that all the leading political parties are committed to conducting a comprehensive strategic defence review after the election. This clearly must follow a detailed evaluation of the threats that this country faces today and in the future.

However, it is of deep concern that the question of the Trident replacement programme is at present excluded from this process. With an estimated lifetime cost of more than £80 billion, replacing Trident will be one of the most expensive weapons programmes this country has seen. Going ahead will clearly have long-term consequences for the military and the defence equipment budget that need to be carefully examined."
The Editorial in the same issue of the paper includes "The irreversible alternative to continuing Trident would be for Britain to abandon its nuclear capability and expertise. Trident has become the fulcrum in the national debate of how to reduce the deficit. Wilder and wilder figures for its lifetime cost are being bandied around, with the state of public finances cited as a pretext for scrapping it. The truth is that Trident represents -- at most -- 5 per cent of current defence spending."

But the debate about Trident is not really about cost - any saving would most likely be transferred to another project - the Generals have a number of suggestions as to who and what should benefit - "It may well be that money spent on new nuclear weapons will be money that is not available to support our front line troops, or for crucial counter-terrorism work; money not available for buying helicopters, armoured vehicles, frigates or even for paying for more manpower"

The question should not be whether we should replace Trident but taken right to the basic - if we were offered Trident for the first time today, do we see a case for buying it? Even with the recent agreement between Russia and America to reduce their nuclear holdings, we still have enough capability to destroy the planet and all on it many times over. Why add to that? Any confrontation likely to involve nuclear armaments must surely involve either or both of these nations at some time and they pull far more rank than Britain in it's parlous financial state or ranking as a military power following neglect under Brown's ministry.

Why would we need one? - just think back over our recent escapades that have not involved either of the two major powers. Rescuing military hostages in some dark African Nation comes to mind. We solved that with the good old military boot Mk I - Trident'ing there would have laid waste to the whole job lot including our guys and would have drawn universal condemnation.

The other thing is that it is not 'ours' A Commons Defence committee asked "How could the software stop a Trident launch? General restrictions. Preventing the use in all circumstance except tests, or preventing the missiles from being fired Westward, towards the US from the normal patrol areas, should be possible." There were other scenario but the final conclusion says it all really - "The only way that Britain can guarantee that the Trident software has not been modified would be to produce it all ourselves. But we do not currently have the expertise to do this" The nonsense of having inadequate equipment was illustrated in the procurement of the SF helicopters.

We saw how this coding can be used in the Falklands when Mrs Thatcher hand-bagged the French into divulging the software for missiles they had sold to Argentina.

So it seems that any discussion of Trident replacement and up-dating will start from the standpoint of can we afford it. The precedent of having it has been set and it will be hard to overturn that fact. Already, within hours of the letter appearing we have the imputations that it is all part of some inter-service plot to hold onto budgets and this will just muddy the waters. Personally speaking, I would not lose any sleep worrying about us doing without it. British Army stores sheds used to have all sorts of items 'just in case'. They rationalised this situation. Someone needs to apply the 'just in case' test to Trident.

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