Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who needs nuclear weapons anyway?

A heavily-guarded nuclear facility 150 miles south west of Tehran is now an active production plant, according to information obtained by The Telegraph. Photographs show a cloud of steam rising from the location, to which inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have been denied access for the past 18 months. This evidence may indicate the ‘heavy-water’ production through which a nuclear rector can generate the plutonium required to produce a bomb. Either that, or someone is making an awful lot of tea.

Although Iran is not yet believed to have the technology needed to reprocess plutonium, as required for weaponry, this development will be causing headaches in high places. The Telegraph quote Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, as suggesting that Iran might acquire the required reprocessing technology from North Korea.

If Mr Fitzpatrick had any evidence as to why a reclusive totalitarian regime, communist in all but name, would ably assist an Islamic Republic almost 4000 miles away, he was not letting on. However, the implication is that people we don’t like must all know each other. Worryingly reminiscent of when we were told that Saddam Hussein was best mates with al-Qaeda, so we should attack him, or them, or preferably everybody, and we all remember how that one turned out.

Back home, it seems likely the Labour Party will echo Conservative commitments to support a like-for-like replacement for Trident. The Independent report that Ed Miliband will include the maintenance of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent in his election pledges, leaving just the Liberal Democrats ploughing a lonely furrow of cheaper alternatives.

Robust rhetoric about defence of the realm will play well in the shires, but may not be music to every ear in times of austerity. With the UK losing its AAA credit rating, national debts of £1,111 billion and counting, stalling growth and a flat-lining economy, can we really afford to spend £25 billion replacing something we never used in the first place? Germany has no nukes, but has retained its AAA rating, has a higher GDP per capita than us and a significantly more successful football team.  

Granted, with rogue states doggedly pursuing a nuclear narrative, we need major players on the world stage with suitably armed sabres to rattle when required. That is what America is for, that and the West Wing. Only nine out of 195 sovereign states on the planet have nuclear weapons, and one of them is an island just 500km across, ranked just 23rd richest in the world by the IMF, who really can’t afford them. It’s time to have a serious conversation about whether we really need an independent nuclear arsenal. Britain isn’t a bulldog anymore, it’s a Jack Russell, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s lower maintenance.

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