"Somewhere in the world, deep beneath the waves, a British nuclear submarine is on patrol. There is always one moving silently through the depths, ready to fire. If the command comes today, a hatch will open and a Trident ballistic missile will be propelled upwards, through the waves and into the sky. Covering thousands of kilometres at great speed, it will read the stars to find a position from which each of its four warheads can fall independently to their targets.
The warheads will explode without warning among men, women and children, each one with a power five times greater than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in 1945. Hundreds of thousands of people will die immediately. The environmental devastation will be vast. Many more deaths will follow as a result, in the target nation and across the world. Meanwhile the submarine will continue its underwater patrol, the crew barely able to imagine the mayhem unleashed above the surface as fallout spreads and retaliation is ordered.
But surely nobody would ever risk such an apocalypse, would they? Britain has the Trident system - 200 nuclear warheads carried in four submarines - so that anyone who threatens this country knows they will suffer greatly in return. Trident is a deterrent. That is the theory, anyway: a theory forged in the days when two superpowers stood nose to nose, East versus West. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction was, literally, MAD.
But the world has changed. The Soviet empire was crumbling even as Trident was being planned. So who are those missiles aimed at now? Is their doomsday force any protection from the rogue states and terrorists that threaten us? Is it worth spending the estimated £25bn it will cost to replace Trident before the end of its working life in 2024?"
The answers to those last three questions:
- who knows (France would be my guess);
- none at all; and
- emphatically not.