Monday, December 04, 2006

Weapons of Mass Delusion

Why, when our army is over-stretched and under-equipped and fighting on two fronts right now this minute, are we are we spending £25 billion on weapons we hope to never use in the future?

Why are we lecturing ''rogue states'' on how they must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons and then busily upgrading our own?

Who do we think we are ''deterring''? What do we think we are deterring them from? Why do we think they will take a blind bit of notice of a Northern European island which has spent billions on some flash new submarines?

Why not put the big boys toys away, Mr Blair and think about what we could do with the money - our money - this is equivalent to over £800 per taxpayer - that might genuinely be useful and make us more secure in the future?

If this is part of Tony Blair's bloody legacy on which he hopes'' history'' will judge him, then he needs to consider that the history books will be concerned with the twenty-first century, not the twentieth.

6 Comments:

Blogger Tom Tyler said...

My impression of this (and I may well be completely wrong, I don't know how this stuff works, I'm just guessing) is that it is not really up to Mr Blair (or Mr Cameron/Brown/Menzies) to make the final decision in long-term military strategies such as this.

I have a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to this sort of thing, military Generals advise the government on defence issues, and the government of the day "has to" go along with it. If you think about it, since the 1950's, generally speaking, Labour has been against a unilateral nuclear deterrent, while the Tories have been for it. Labour and the Tories have been alternatively in and out of power from 1960 to 1990. How could Polaris (and then Trident) have ever come into being in the first place, when every five years or so there was a change of government and thus a complete change of defence policy? It would never work.
So (and I'm just guessing), I think that there are some issues, such as long-term defence policy, where there is an implicit understanding that whichever party is in power at the time, they must be guided (and indeed, overruled) by the advice of military strategists.

Actually, you can see this if you look back at American policy towards Iraq during the span of G Bush Snr / Clinton / GWB's presidencies. It seems to me that the 2003 Iraq war was always on the cards since 1990. Although of course it was GWB who launched the final "Gulf War #2" on Iraq, it has to be remembered that Clinton kept up the no-fly-zones, and ordered several sustained bombing campaigns inside Iraq, during his Presidency. Was it the case that all three Presidents' policies on Iraq coincided, or was it that senior military commanders were effectively telling the government what to do? (I'm not trying to be a conspiracy theorist here, but merely suggesting that there may be some policies which it is unwise to leave in the hands of whichever Party is in power for five years).

On that (guesswork) basis, I'm not sure if Tony Blair can be entirely faulted for making the decision to upgrade Trident. It may be out of his hands.

Nevertheless, your point "who do we think we are deterring?" is a good one. If you think of Russia, then perhaps "balancing power" is a better word than "deterring". We're not really deterring their interests, but at least they know there would be retaliation. However, are we deterring Al-Q'aieda? No, I don't think even the threat of nuclear retaliation provides us with security against people who proclaim "we glorify death, just as you glorify life". Would the threat of the death penalty have deterred the 9/11 hijackers, or the 7/7 bombers? How could it, when their actions entailed their own deaths?

December 06, 2006 3:15 am  
Blogger Rachel said...

That is a good point Tom. It doies strike me as such an odd thing to do. Especially when Putin is sat the re at the G8 and the constant talk of al Qaeda and terror makes it an Emperor's New Clothes Moment - 'why do we need nuclear weapions then, if the new enemy is suicide bomnbers and assymetric warfare', rogue states and criminal ganags?

December 06, 2006 11:40 am  
Blogger J Bonington Jagworth said...

Why indeed? So a soon-to-be mortally irradiated TB can stagger from his bunker shortly after the start of WWIII and announce to the smoking wreckage that our Navy can still retaliate?

December 06, 2006 2:53 pm  
Blogger Jeremy Jacobs said...

Disagree with you all.

The world is not ready to go "non-nuclear". We live in very difficult and dangerous times.

This country needs the ultimate deterrent.

December 08, 2006 10:07 am  
Anonymous RK said...

Bare in mind that this deterrent will see us through to 2040 and possibly beyond.

Can anyone tell me there will be no threat this kind of weapon could deter in 2010 nevermind 2040. Also that £800 per taxpayer is split over the same timescale. It would be foolhardy in the extreme to unilaterally dispose of a nuclear deterrent because there is no existential threat ranged against us at this precise moment in time. Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran and North Korea all have or are about to have nuclear weapons. Some are in a position to deploy them using IBMs and I expected them all to be able to within a decade. It’s amusing to note that the CND argument for disarmament during the cold war was that we should disarm because there was just that kind of threat and maintaining weapons incited war. Now that it’s gone that too is apparently a reason to disarm.

Also Russia has the semblance of a reasonable international power now but it looks more like the skin deep normalcy of Weimar Germany than a proper functioning democracy.

Tom: Part of the effect you describe can be put down to the “realities of office”. An opposition can take a position on principle but a Government must way up the consequences more seriously. Obviously the advice of the military and civil service play a part in this by explaining their positions on certain issues. There are many policies adopted in opposition that are dropped or diluted when in Government, not just military or security related ones.

December 08, 2006 2:23 pm  
Anonymous Robert Newsom said...

Rachel:

Thank you for the generous offer of political asylum in response to my comment on your "hajib" entry (by the way, I will post some additional comments, with two links, there that you might find interesting).

I think this discussion about UK defense expenditures is fascinating. One strange thing (to me) is why UK dense planners would choose to spend resources IN THIS PARTICULAR WAY. It seems at odds with the relatively pratical and parsimonious decisionmaking the UK defense policymakers are so admired for here in the States.

My son is a Captain in the US 10th Mountain Division, and is currently serving in Afghanistan, where he commands combat resupply convoys, so I get my "defense analysis" from an "in house" expert (I think he is an "expert" because, unlike Rumsfield, Bush, Blair, et. al., he actually gets shot at). He has served with UK troops around the world and I gather he thinks they are, soldier for soldier, the most effective soldiers in the world, getting maximum results for their nation's expenditures, and that this has been accomplished by emphasizing training, leadership and really thoughtful weapons development and aquisition rather than applying the "throw money at the problem" US appoach.

Of course, this same debate goes on over here in the US. How many many multi-billion dollar attack subs does our Navy need, when marines and soldiers are going overseas without all of their body armour, and without fully armoured trucks and other vehicles?

Come to think of it, how many nuclear warheads does the Anglo-American alliance need? We already have, between us, more than enough to vaporize any conceivable enemy, and certainly more than Iran and North Korea could ever dream of building. And why worry about unilateral deterrence? The problem for the UK is NOT "will the US blow someone up on our behalf?" It is,rather, keeping us from blowing up other nations whether you want us to or not.

I believe I read somewhere that, in addition to these subs, the Royal Navy will be building some bigger carriers in the future.
That actually DOES make some sense, especially in light of how effectively it has deployed and utilized the smaller ones it has now.

In fact, the carrier example makes my point. UK carriers cost only a fraction of what US carriers cost, but have successfully completed many missions every bit as effectively as US carriers could have (the Falklands comes to mind as an example).

So, one does wonder. Why not spend the defense dollars (sorry, pounds?) on ships the Royal Navy will likely actually have to fight with - nifty, efficient little carriers that will use the new joint strike fighter, frigates and destroyers, and far less expensive attack subs to protect the surface vessels?

Your nation has the best trained and led soldiers and seamen in the world, why not give them the stuff they can really USE (and will definitely NEED) to protect you, as opposed to buying expensive stuff that will probably never be fired in anger. Come to think of it, don't people like my son and his UK counterparts DESERVE to have us INSIST that our leaders spend the money that way?

December 11, 2006 8:33 pm  

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