Friday, 17 September 2010

Assessing Value

The report that David Cameron remains committed to replacing Trident was hardly a surprise. The conversion of the Lib Dems during the last election campaign to support for nuclear weapons was rather more of a surprise; probably especially so to many of their members.

What interested me in this report, though, was that the MoD will try and "ensure that the renewal of the deterrent provides value for money". It's a worthy aim, of course, and something which should apply to all government expenditure. Calculating the monetary cost is one side of the equation, and is probably the easy part, although based on most MoD procurement exercises, the final cost will no doubt be many times the initial estimates. But how will they assess 'value'?

If the 'deterrent' ever has to be used, then its 'value' could presumably be assessed in terms of the number of people killed and amount of damage caused, but the whole point of a 'deterrent' is that it is never actually used.

However, it isn't enough to argue that because it has never been used, that must prove it deterred people who might otherwise have attacked the UK. It could equally be the case that they wouldn't have attacked anyway, in which case the actual value delivered is a big fat zero.

So, where is the evidence that the UK's possession of a nuclear weapons capability over the past 60 years has ever actually deterred an attack on the UK? I understand the argument that the nuclear arsenals of the US and USSR were so massive that any nuclear attack by one on the other would result in the utter destruction of both (and an extreme case of 'collateral damage' for the rest of us). It meant that only a lunatic would ever launch such an attack, thereby making it less likely (although I have to confess to occasional concerns about the sanity of certain occupants of both the White House and the Kremlin during the cold war).

But 'mutually assured destruction' never really applied to the UK's stockpile; it was never big enough for any other hostile nuclear power (with the possible exception of France, with whom the UK hasn't always been the best of friends!) to feel certain that they couldn't 'win' a nuclear exchange. So, what have Polaris and Trident actually deterred? If, as I suspect, the answer to that is nothing at all, then the 'value' of possessing them is also zero. And the 'value' of the proposed replacement is likely to be of the same order.

1 comment:

Peter Freeman said...

I have many reasons to keep reading your blog John, not the least is the way it feeds the hiraeth of this exile. One reason though is the memories you invoke.
I remember the days when being a member of the Liberal Party was synonymous with membership of CND. It changed when the Lib's came close to being an influence in government and their opposition was seen as a disincentive to vote Liberal. David Steel gave a speech to his party conference I believe I remeber it correctly;
"I am not at all interested in power without principle and only vaguely interested in principle without power."
That was how he moved his party away from their traditional cold war position and it seems they have kept on moving. Speaking at a Plaid conference I once described them as "The wishy-washy liberals with their forked tongues." I see that nothing has changed.
I also recall that the great enemy of Nuclear weapons and champion of the CND was the president of the Young Liberals, one Peter Hain. Turn, Turn and Turn again.