What's the Point of Nuclear Weapons?

17/07/2013 11:55 BST | Updated 15/09/2013 10:12 BST

Britain is the member of a club. Not a big club, only a select few are allowed entry. And one that means we are at the table with the big boys in the world. You know, America, France, China, India, Pakistan... Israel... North Korea... Countries with nuclear weapons.

Why do we have them? Why for that matter do any of those nations have them? Why are some nations keen to spend fortunes on programmes developing these weapons - whilst their people go hungry? Because it means they are in that club - vanity. The ultimate in 'willy-waving'; saying I have the ultimate weapon, I am on par with you. I am the same as you. I can stand up for myself, and stand up to you.

But what about if you don't actually have an enemy any more? The world has changed from when the atom was first split and Oppenheimer quoted from the Bhagavad Gita about becoming 'the destroyer of worlds'. We live in a much more uncertain place, where the nature of conflict is very, very different. The stakes are much higher for a start, and the enemy is often not a country, but a few select, often deranged individuals. They may get covert (and sometimes not so covert) support from a nation, but wars today are fought by proxy. By stealth. By means that are difficult to see and harder to understand.

And here we are. Sitting with four nuclear submarines nearing the end of their life. They need to be replaced. We need to defend ourselves. We need a deterrent.

Or do we?

Who are we actually deterring? How does spending a fortune on a vanity project defend us? How does buying something that we are never, ever actually going to use, make us safer?

People say that the nuclear deterrent is a national insurance policy which isn't there to be used. It's nice to have and nice to know it's there, defending us, after all it defended us through the Cold War. It defended us against the Soviets. It kept the peace.

But it didn't. Our 'independent' nuclear force (not that it actually IS independent - can you ever actually foresee an instance where we would use nuclear weapons on our own, without agreement and consent from the USA?) has always existed alongside the American's arsenal and has been under it's shadow. Currently we have somewhere between 160 and 200 warheads. The US 10,000. Russia has 15,000. Our inventory is next to negligible. So the British warheads didn't keep the peace. They didn't help win the Cold War.

'Ah,' but people say, 'We never know about the future. Look at Iran and North Korea getting the bomb. They could hold us to ransom. They could hold the world to ransom...' Really? With 10,000 American bombs pointing in their general direction? Our 160 are not really going to make a difference. And anyway, why would either of those two countries decide to pick on us, Britain, without looking at the West in toto, and again, at the American's in particular.

If we were held to ransom, we would be under the umbrella of Article 5 of the NATO treaty - which states that an attack against one nation is an attack against all - and again the American's 10,000 bombs come into play. As stated above, we'd never actually be allowed to use it anyway. Not that either of those two countries pose a threat to us. They are simply too far away to make a difference to us here.

So why do we need to spend between £83-130billion on this vanity project. There are no reasons. None that stack up. None that make real sense in a country where half a million people are using food banks anyway. Other than of course vanity...

Let's take a moment to hypothesise. If for some reason the 1950s hadn't happened and we didn't develop our own nuclear weapons, would we, now as a non-nuclear state, say, 'Hang on, a country 6000miles away is allegedly developing bomb technology. We need to have our own bombs and missiles that will defend us from people who aren't actually our identified enemy'? Is that what Canada is doing? Is Germany thinking that it needs nukes? Of course not. They are thinking that over the next 50 years, £100billion or so could be better spent elsewhere in the national and defence budget. Defending against cyber attack. Defending against the prospect of a 'dirty bomb' being detonated by terrorists. Because, for the foreseeable future our enemies are not nation states which we can identify and point the finger and blame and posture against. We need to have a proper think about our future defence policy.

The recent Strategic Defence and Security Review was a sham, that much was clear - a set of defence cuts by another name. We need to have look at the future and the possible geo-political landscape. We shouldn't look to the past and say that we should replace nuclear weapons because we have always had them. We shouldn't be saying that we need these weapons need them. The idea of saying that if North Korea has them, we should too, is quite frankly ridiculous. So what if someone else has them. It means nothing if we forge alliances and friendships around the world. Again, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada don't seen to need them because of North Korea potentially having them. And those countries have the same allies as us.

What we need is a leader to say what our priorities are and what they should be. We are no longer a true world power. We should not look back at our colonial and imperial history and pretend that we are major players wielding influence on the world stage. We need a leader to say, no. Enough is enough, we can't pretend any longer and we have a better use for our money, and we should point the defence of this nation at where the enemies actually are.

Our enemies are unseen. They are those deranged few. They are the ones who we need to be thinking about combatting, by use of a clever foreign and domestic policy that reduces the risk of terror on our streets. Our current and future enemies are the ones who we can't aim a nuke at and press a button and vapourise. The deterrent doesn't match the threat. The defence doesn't even point at the enemy. Truly the idea of a replacement for the Trident nuclear weapon system is pointless.