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Scrap Trident - Thinking The Unthinkable

26/05/2015 18:44 BST | Updated 26/05/2016 10:59 BST

I'm a Blairite. I'm tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. I want a strong military and I'm big on national security. Up until about two weeks ago, I'd always laughed when someone said they wanted to scrap Trident. Then I realised that actually I was Pavlov's dog: I hear 'Keep Trident' and bark 'Yes', every time. No thought involved in this response. So I started doing some research.

I was pretty sure that I couldn't be persuaded to back scrapping Trident. After all, we need it right? Everyone knows having nuclear weapons keeps us safe. Everyone else has these nuclear weapons, including all the scary countries, and without them we're a defenceless target, unable to defend ourselves and open to blackmail by states with massive nukes. And anyway, we've got them now, so why scrap them?

My first research stop was the website Time To Move On: Trident. And that's where my journey began. I actually didn't really want to read the argument for scrapping Trident, so sure was I that I'd got it right. After all, I knew a thing or two. Nukes loom large in my childhood. I just caught the end of the Cold War, the do-it-yourself nuclear bomb shelter booklets and the 'Where The Wind Blows' animation. I endured lectures by old people about how dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was all for the greater good. These disarmament people have to be nutters, right?

I read the Move On website with growing alarm. It's not easy to realise that you might not only be wrong but also wildly out of date. I tried to reason the arguments away but they stuck in my head. There were two arguments that I just couldn't ignore. First, the everyday, on-going threat to the UK is no longer coming from nation states. It's coming from fanatics organised into loose groups driven by religious ideology. They don't have nuclear weapons. They don't need them. They are more than capable of killing us and our neighbours in Europe without them. We can't use nukes against religious fundamentalists and they're no deterrent because, for them, death holds no fear. We are much more likely to suffer a hideous mass terrorism attack than we are to suffer a nuclear strike.

Ah, I hear you cry. That's only because we have Trident. And that's the second argument: if we didn't have Trident then Russia or Iran would bomb us without a backward glance. But let's be honest, is that really likely these days? Nukes are a mid-century solution to a problem that really no longer exists. Russia is not going to bomb London. Putin can be unhinged at times but Russians own half of London already so he doesn't need nukes to take over. Just cash. And he's got plenty of that. But what about Iran? Well if Iran wanted to bomb us they would just do it, Trident or not. Any future hard-right Iranian leaders who did want to bomb the West are not frightened of death, so a nuke fired back isn't going to worry them. They wouldn't care about their people. They would just assume they'd done them a favour by letting them get to 'Paradise' that much quicker. Ditto North Korea but instead of 'Paradise', on death you get to be reunited with Kim Il-sung and be with him forever. Evidently, this is akin to Heaven.

It's worth remembering that in Europe only the UK and France actually have nuclear weapons. Everyone else doesn't have a nuke to their name and many of them, such as Sweden, work actively to irradiate them. They realise that just having a bigger stockpile of nukes is no guarantee of safety in this modern age. So you could argue that by having nukes, the UK is actually pinning a big fat target on this country. Why nuke Sweden? Go for the UK first.

Once I'd got my head round the fact that Trident wasn't necessarily a must-have national accessory, it allowed me to think about the money side of it all. CND says Trident costs £100bn. But that's debatable. The true on-going figures are hard to pin down but you can bet on about £20bn to replace Trident in the short term and then possibly as much as another £100bn over the next 30 years to maintain it. Whatever the figures, it's a gigantic amount of cash. A sum so large that you'd be mad not to wonder what we could do with it if we weren't buying nukes.

And that's the crux of it. We could use the cash to build new infrastructure, to educate young people better, to fund more teachers, doctors and police officers. And, before you take a stab at calling me a lily-livered lefty, we could spend more - much more - on the kind of national defence that matters: tackling the growing threat from international terrorism which starts and proliferates online. At the moment we are just about keeping our head above water when it comes to keeping ourselves safe from terrorists and terrorist states. If we had more money we could focus on, and get ahead of, the real threat.

In my view, those countries with a nuclear deterrent are putting themselves more at risk from today's threats. We're not spending our money wisely. We're taking the heat off those countries without nukes. They're letting us spend the cash on Trident while they focus on what matters: tackling terrorism and stopping the growth of terrorist groups. I do fear that if we don't move with the times, one day, rather than keeping us safe, we might well regard Trident as a massive mistake.