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Case for removing obscene anachronism that is Trident

Not that I have a Govian view about national innumeracy but it does seem some of the political classes have a pretty slender grasp of arithmetic.

According to the Royal United Service Institute's (Rusi) report this very week, moving Trident submarines to the south-west coast of England would cost something of the order of £2.5 billion pounds, the likely worst-case scenario being £3.5bn.

This is not small change even for a Ministry of Defence where failing to deliver on time, on budget and with a functioning IT system has become the default modus operandi. But it is one-tenth of the budget the doom merchants were predicting in one of their many warnings of an all-purpose Armageddon following a Yes vote.

The Rusi figures also suppose that moving the full suite of submarines, support services, and high security bases from the Clyde to Devonport and Falmouth would probably not be possible by the 2020 deadline as envisaged by the Scottish Government.

They cite 2028 as a more plausible deadline, not at all co-incidentally the date the upgrades would be ready to deploy. This raises interesting questions as to who would pick up the £4bn a year bill for the new fleet and more profound questions as to why, at a time when all the service chiefs are in collective mourning over radical cuts in conventional services, the nonsense of Trident Mark Two continues to enjoy special and protected status.

If you examine the threats and conflicts costing half the world its sleep, it's difficult to see how Trident could be deployed in any meaningful way. It is irrelevant to cyber warfare, one of the risks most exercising the intelligence community, and irrelevant to suicide bombers unlikely to be deterred by the promise of annihilation since that's also their game plan.

Max Hastings, that ubiquitous armchair general, last week bemoaned the inability of the British army, at current numbers, to mount anything more fearsome than Trooping the Colour. This raised a cheap laugh but, stripped of the hyperbole, his point is well made.

The reason so many young men and women have been deployed to war zones so often with minimal rest periods is because the MoD has consistently salami sliced troop numbers whilst continuing to insist Trident remain sacrosanct.

Modern warfare in all its grotesque forms and humanitarian intervention in all its unpredictable demands depend on the ability to be flexible and fleet of foot. Trident is neither of these.

It was commissioned for another era with other imperatives and, in the context of 2014, it remains little more than an horrendously expensive virility symbol; a ticket letting UK defence ministers sit round a table at the UN pretending they still have the clout of an imperial power. And the arguments, of course, go beyond the strategic.

Five-star generals are fond of intoning the language of smart bombs with pin-point precision as they dispatch drones to take out the designated bad guys. And if the bad guys in question happen to be around their wives and families at the time, well that's just damn bad luck.

But the "collateral damage" from misdirected bombs is small moral beer compared with the civilian carnage that would result were any small part of the Trident's weaponry unleashed (eight missiles on each of the four submarinjes and up to 40 warheads). And each warhead, for those able to contemplate the horror of it all, delivers the equivalent of eight Hiroshimas. With what part of that thought can any of us be comfortable?

It's not just a matter of human queasiness. The Trident fleet cannot deliver its massive destructive power in a way that distinguishes between civilian and military targets. Of late, we've looked on in horror as small children were bombed as they slept in the Middle East. Multiply that carnage by thousands of times and ask to what ends could that be justified. Just as importantly, reflect that such lack of discrimination is completely illegal under any number of international conventions.

At this point we should refrain from going down the route of suggesting other countries might break the same laws with impunity. Destroying everything we hold dear in a civilised society in the name of protecting civilisation is a fast route to anarchy and immorality. It is the same kind of argument that somehow concludes that using torture is defensible on a suspect from a country guilty of similar practices.

If your humour is of the warped variety, you might have noticed in commentaries on the Rusi report mention of the fact that relocating weaponry from Coulport on the Clyde to a basin near Falmouth could result in a certain amount of resistance from the locals. There are, it seems, a quarter of a million people resident within an hour or so of the proposed site. But, the text magisterially notes, the MoD has the ability to over-ride such objections in the name of national security.

Indeed. That ministry has consistently failed to take into account the Faslane Coulport complex being adjacent to Scotland's major centres of population. Substitute the Thames estuary for the Clyde sea lochs and you might readily imagine a verbal World War Three breaking over the heads of MoD civil servants, should they suggest a location in the south-east of England. Presumably they think the natives less restless in the far south west of England.

Then again, unlike Rusi, the MoD continued to tell us, as late as yesterday, that it has no plans to move Trident from the Clyde, and no plans to talk to anyone about the possibility.

This is known as the ostrich school of political thought; or it would be if I believed the ministry. As it happens, I live within 10 minutes of Coulport and 15 of Faslane. I have the cold comfort of knowing that leaves my neighbours and me not just first in line for annihilation (perhaps no bad thing) but also a 24-carat target for the more entrepreneurial terrorist.

Many of my friends and neighbours view the bases as a necessary evil, given that they are a source of considerable local employment. That is a natural instinct in a world where young people are looking for a job in an over subscribed marketplace, or one where wages from the base put food on the table. I respect the argument but it can't take precedence over all the manifold reasons why Trident is an obscene anachronism.

The bases will not go regardless of what Scotland decides next month. They will house whichever national defence forces a Scottish government of whichever hue thinks appropriate to the needs of a small, modern, European, peace-loving nation with no ideas above its geopolitical station.

Many politicians are wringing their hands and saying: but what if Rusi is wrong? What if we can't move nuclear weapons anywhere else in Britain? What if we have to disarm?

I find that a seductive prospect on every possible level.

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