In the eighties and nineties, when the Polaris and its successor the Trident nuclear strategic defence system was brought into operation, its purpose was unambiguous. The missiles were targeted against the principal cities of the USSR, in order to deter an attack through the threat of an overwhelming response. It is probably the case that the balance of MAD (mutually assured destruction) did indeed prevent the cold war between the western and eastern blocs from breaking out into open warfare. However, the world has changed. In June 2006 the House of Commons Defence Select Committee published its report 'The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent'. It pointed out that deterrence against potential aggression might take various forms: economic, diplomatic, or through conventional forces. "The UK will need to examine whether the concept of nuclear deterrence remains useful in the current strategic environment." (para.55). It is interesting to note that in 2006 the Ministry of Defence refused to take part in the proceedings of the Select Committee, and the report stated "We believe that it is essential that, before making any decisions on the future of the strategic nuclear deterrent, the MOD should explain its understanding of the purpose and continuing relevance of nuclear deterrence." (para.56).
While the claim is that Britain must have its own independent deterrent, the truth is that as long as the UK uses Trident missiles as the delivery vehicle for its warheads, the system is hardly independent. There is a huge difference between being a nuclear power that has independence of acquisition as opposed to independence of operation. In 2015 it is still unclear as to whether Britain has independence of acquisition or whether it possesses operational independence or not.
The truth is renewing Trident will be massively expensive and militarily pointless as it will not deter terrorists or nuclear blackmailers and will make it far harder for Britain to encourage nuclear disarmament around the globe.
What about the politics of all this - would a nuclear disarmament policy be politically damaging to Labour? A poll last year clearly showed – by a margin of 58 to 35 per cent - that the public wants Britain to scrap the Trident nuclear missile system. Such a policy would not necessarily lead to a charge of being soft on defence, since a significant proportion of the saved resource could and should be devoted on enhanced expenditure on conventional forces serving in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
In my view, be it on military, political, economic, legal or ethical grounds, the case for the renewal of Trident lacks credibility. Labour - my party - should think again