Whatever Gordon Brown’s rhetoric on the need for nuclear weapons, the reality is that Trident is now a major issue in the general election. Not suprisingly it surfaced again at the second leaders’ debate, and Nick Clegg persisted with the issue, in spite of being exhorted by Gordon to ‘get real’. In fact there is now some real discussion about the issue and emergent consideration of the options.
The BBC website today featured a piece in the Reality Check column (!) by Defence Correspondent Caroline Wyatt, entitled ‘Trident: is there a cheap alternative?’ Having considered nukes on cruise missiles, on ships, planes and so on, she tended to conclude that it couldn’t really be done cheaper. She also appeared to favour its inclusion in the post-election Strategic Defence Review. In fact she concluded: ‘arguments over Trident may well prove attractive to voters – not least those who ask if the UK should remain a nuclear-armed state at all.’ Before long there will be a sufficient groundswell of opinion that it just makes sense to include Trident in the SDR, that the government won’t be able to say no.
The key issue is that getting rid of nukes altogether must be one of the options under consideration, not just other systems. Interestingly, a LibDem spokesperson on the post-debate news coverage last night referred to the so-called ‘virtual’ nuclear option, sometimes also termed the Japanese model. This is where you don’t actually have nuclear weapons but you have the technology so you can just whip one up if ‘necessary’. Unless the spokesperson was just showing off his knowledge, this would be a further step on for the LibDems than nuclear cruise missiles.
Meanwhile today the totally sensible position – have no nuclear weapons whatsoever – was advanced by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, at a press conference in London, with the Green Party expressing agreement. This is what we really need to hear, and what we really need to make sure gets a full hearing in this election. Nuclear weapons are just not an option.