Arms race has new obstacles
13 July 2009
The nature of conflict has changed, but the mentality of ‘biggest is best’ still seems to prevail.
I have written columns before about military electronics and my slightly liberal, sandal-wearing approach tends to split our readers. My thoughts that the best way forward for world peace was to stop the international trade in weapons and therefore indigenous military manufacturing was only for that country’s defence (Arms trade is no defence), was greeted with some vociferous support and some equally vociferous and patronising outrage, complaining that I was…well…a wishy-washy, sandal-wearing liberal. And that is fair enough, you don’t talk about such subjects without raising conflicting emotions.
While my arguments for this were, to my mind, perfectly reasonable, I have no intention of revisiting them at this moment, but rather take a similar view of a more defined issue – Trident. Again, by stepping well back from a complex image a clearer picture can emerge and the Trident argument seems, once you have stepped well back, to have little going for it. Trident is the UK’s ageing fleet of nuclear powered submarines armed with nuclear warheads. Their age means that it is proposed to replace them with four new submarines at an initial cost of £20 billion (about $32.5 billion), but at a time when the British government is struggling to make ends meet it makes it even more of a contentious issue.
A further backdrop is the American and Russian agreement to drastically cut nuclear arms to a level where they could only destroy the world several hundred times over, which really signifies nothing other than reduced maintenance costs for these two nuclear superpowers.
What has changed is the nature of conflict. All countries have a certain degree of interdependency and all speak the same language in terms of technology and consumerism – or if they don’t already then they will do as soon as they can afford it. Modern day conflicts are local skirmishes. They are tribal. There is not one of them that could possibly have been resolved by nuclear weapons. Now that so many countries have nuclear weapons, there is also no prospect of any conflict in the future being resolved by nuclear weapons. In some ways this is because they are a welcome victim of their own success, but also they have no place in modern local wars – you don’t set one of those things off on your own doorstep!
So while I would be delighted if the UK government cancelled Trident, and saved that £20 billion, it would leave a huge dent in the military electronics contractors’ workload. But what has emerged through the conflict in Afghanistan (and Iraq before it), is that British troops are lagging behind their NATO colleagues in terms of the equipment and technology at their disposal. Lives have been lost, it is claimed, because soldiers have poor equipment, and particularly vehicles, for the ground combat that is typical of every war going on around the world.
My thought would be not necessarily to cut military budgets, but to take a step back and decide what is important and what is useful – and my belief is that Trident is neither important nor useful, while equipment for the NATO troops in Afghanistan is both.
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