Apart from any card-carrying member of the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I can’t think of a worse candidate to proffer advice about the future of Trident, spearhead of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, than Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander.
With the possible exception of Paddy Ashdown, a Special Boat Service veteran, the Lib-Dems generally don’t do defence any more than I crochet doilies No, they’re far comfier on non-martial issues – gender equality; ASBOs instead of hard time for lags; more Europe, not less, etc. – so stick to what you (think) you know, I say.
I mean would you canvass Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne’s opinion on curbing pub opening hours or task Top Gear petrolhead Jeremy Clarkson to say why bicycles are better than cars? Neither would I.
So asking Red Danny – that’s an allusion to his politics, not hair colour – to provide a circumspect overview of whether Britain needs to replace all four of its nuclear-tipped, ageing Trident submarines seems a rather redundant query.
Predictably, in what he modestly claimed last week was ‘the most comprehensive study ever published’ on the Royal Navy’s formidable defensive shield, he pronounced that Britain should ‘step down the nuclear ladder’ and described Trident as the ‘last unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking’.
Perhaps as an afterthought – some would say a wobble on his lofty, moral perch – Alexander recommends we only need three new, Trident-class subs, not the four currently deployed, 24/7, that need de-commissioning by 2024.
What the Lib-Dem military mastermind fails to appreciate, though, is that for 45 years the Tridents have lurked, submerged and unseen in undisclosed locations. This has helped NATO gain a tactical edge against anyone tooled up with land-based missiles, which can be ID’d in a flash by spy-in-the-sky satellites (and read this column from 10 miles high).
Nonetheless, Alexander is right that the saving in beaching a single Trident would be a not insignificant £4bn.
However, taken as part of a £40bn defence budget – 2.5% of Britain’s GDP – it is a relative drop in the ocean, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Money, though, is not the issue for those far-Left and piously-principled residents of La-La-Land, for whom the very mention of Trident and its nuclear, Cruise missile payload is anathema.
So they’ll regard the loss of even one super-sub as partial vindication for all the energy they expended on hot air, placards, sit-ins and demos from the 1950s onwards that got them precisely nowhere.
Today’s postcard to them from the real world is that, though the stalemate between the communist East and democratic West may be technically over, we inhabit a planet where the omnipresent threat of atomic Armageddon is a worsening.
Russia might have shrugged off its Soviet mantle, but it’s still sufficiently paranoid to invent two new types of undersea-launched ballistic missiles, a new class of ballistic submarine, a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, a new bomber and deadlier Cruise missiles.
As the military historian Sir Michael Howard warns, ‘The nuclear dragon is asleep, not dead’.
So clearly Moscow’s nationalist tsar, Vladimir Putin, doesn’t buy into any post-Cold War peace posturing, even from a US President as malleable and hands-off as Barack Obama.
And, at the risk of going boss-eyed, Putin is looking both ways…in fact, further east rather than west.
The danger posed by Iran’s quest for a nuclear armoury heightens by the day, as the mad mullahs’ subterranean centrifuges churn out increasingly greater amounts of fissile material while they slyly dodge full, UN accountability.
Meanwhile, those inane enough to be seduced by the smiling visage of the nation’s new president, Hassan Rohani, are overdue for an alarm call. Because, like his odious predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he’s merely a puppet of the tyrannical Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who’s fixated on becoming a nuclear bullyboy.
Not that such capacity doesn’t already abound throughout Asia, often in the hands of maverick regimes, nowhere more unhinged than Stalinist North Korea, where the crackpot dictator would rather starve his people than forsake the prestige of being a nuclear power.
Increasingly flexing its regional supremacy muscles, China long ago joined the nuclear club, as did India.
Pakistan even has a thriving export industry in nuclear hardware and that’s where Sunni Saudi Arabia will shop for an off-the-peg, super-bomb when – no longer if – their arch enemy and Shiite neighbour, Iran, cracks the technology.
As a prelude to its final development, the turbaned maniacs have threatened to blow Israel off the map. And heaven help the world, let alone the Middle East, if they try such mind-boggling stupidity.
The tiny Jewish state refuses to confirm or deny it packs a nuclear punch, so take it as read it has one. However, unlike Iran, it threatens no-one, but relies on the power of ambiguous mystique to discourage wannabe attackers.
So back in the La-La Land of Westminster, inhabited by the party of pacifism, Lib-Dem Danny Boy sounds off about slashing Britain’s nuclear submarine fleet by a quarter.
And this in the wake of the Coalition decimating the army and having to live with the former Labour government’s reckless spending of £7bn on two aircraft carriers, one of which is likely to be mothballed on completion in 2020 to save money.
The loss of a single Trident, though, would be a heftier blow, according to many defence analysts, who say the super-sub fleet provides NATO with a far superior deterrent than anything on or above water.
Therefore, even under the clunking fist of austerity, many in Britain believe £4bn is price well worth paying at time when the world totters on the brink of cataclysm.
Hopefully, then, Danny Boy’s recommendations will receive the consideration they richly deserve…and be filed in an appropriate receptacle, like the one under the Prime Minister’s desk.