The bargain

When someone, such as shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith, speaks of getting “value for money” from weapons of mass destruction then it is time to question, not merely the political acceptability and military wisdom of the Trident project, but the mental well-being of those who promote it. How would one begin to measure “value for money” in such a context? What exactly might represent “value for money”?

The idea of “value for money” suggests the possibility of an optimum balance between what one pays and what one gets in return. In the case of Trident, what is paid is a figure so enormous as to baffle the imagination. It is, broadly speaking, an amount sufficient to run a country the size of Scotland for a year. Enough to provide at least a reasonable level of public services such as education, healthcare and public safety.

And what do we get in exchange for this enormous outlay? We get a (supposedly) independent nuclear deterrent. Something which can never be used because to use it would be to destroy, not only the ‘enemy’, but ourselves and probably all of human civilisation and maybe even all of life on this planet. We cannot use ‘our’ deterrent because of the existence of other deterrents. The only people who won’t be deterred are those who would actually welcome the obliteration of human civilisation and who would regard global extinction as a bonus.

So, we get a deterrent which only works against those who don’t need to be deterred and which actually acts as an incentive rather than a deterrent to those who need to be deterred. What would be a reasonable price to pay for something which is, at best, useless and, at worst, counter-productive?

Even if it cost nothing, Trident would be an obscenity. The squandering of resources piles insanity on top of obscenity.

So, what else do we get in exchange for this prodigious expenditure? We get to be a “tier-one nation”. Which means only that the British ruling elite get to indulge their pretensions to global significance. They get to strut the world stage alongside the other ‘major powers’. They get invited to the meetings. They get to cling to something vaguely resembling past imperial status. By maintaining a nuclear deterrent, they get to be the kind of power that needs to be deterred.

And, given the dubiousness of the concept of deterrence, that’s pretty much all we get. In return for depriving ourselves of the resources needed to make our country work better, we get to watch as the British political elite plays in the ‘big game’. In exchange for accepting that real people will suffer and real lives will be less than they might be, we get to be vaguely associated with people who are made more than they ought to be.

It seems that, for British Labour as much as for their Tory counterparts, getting “value for money” means maximising privilege for the few while minimising provision for the many.

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