A terrible letter to the Independent earlier this week complained about the awesome destructive capabilities of Trident. The author could only assume that Trident was a dreadful weapon of revenge, but so dreadful that no one would be able to assume the moral burden of unleashing it. Perfectly correct points – but the letter put them in the wrong part of the argument. A better (pro-Trident) letter pointed out two days later that the whole point of Trident is that it is dreadful. It’s not meant to be used: it’s meant to deter people from attacking us in fear that it should be used. The active part of Trident is the fear. This correspondent concluded that the UK would be unwise to give up its weapon of fear in such an uncertain world climate.
This might be a good point if we could somehow abstract the UK from the rest of the world, if all the uncertainty in the world could be shown to be utterly independent of our own actions, while still being something that we should guard against. But there is no such independence. Our actions are partial causes of the global climate, and our actions can contribute to its transformation. The hope is that by giving up Trident we might persuade some other nuclear-seekers to give up likewise. Whereas if we keep it we in effect say to the rest of the world that we’re looking for trouble; trouble which will – if the nuclear non-proliferation treaty breaks down entirely – not be so long in coming.