Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Britain’s Trident nuclear weapon has reignited an old argument about what role we should play as a world power. Corbyn, along with the SNP, believes that Britain should abandon the independent nuclear deterrent and instead spend the money on education, health, and re-nationalisation.
This belief does have credence. There is undoubtedly some degree of injustice in the government cutting tax credits while at the same time spending billions on a nuclear missile system that we have never once needed.
However, part of leadership is having the courage to make the tough decisions even when they are unpopular. Corbyn’s plan, while justified, ultimately lacks pragmatism. It preaches to popular sentiments, rather than political and military realities.
Indeed, even if our existing armed forces were reinforced by reallocating the funds from Trident, this simply would not meet Britain’s defence requirements. In eastern Europe alone, Putin has moved 40,000 Russian troops to ithe nation's western borders. The Russian President has a conventional standing army of around 766,000 men and nearly 2.6 million in reserve. It is unlikely that, even with all the money reinvested from Trident, Britain would be able to raise an army of that size and put it into the field to be able to halt any Russian advance.
In few weeks, Downing Street will publish a strategic defence spending review, in which I suspect it will outline (as America’s did) that Russia is presently the most dangerous threat to our national security. Trident provides the ultimate deterrent to Russian aggression. It sends a clear and distinct message to Putin that mass warfare on Europe’s eastern border could produce severe consequences.
In response, many SNP and Corbyn supporters would reply that this kind of thinking is simply war mongering; that Russia would never dare challenge NATO or Britain in eastern Europe. However, Russia is already challenging NATO indirectly across the region. Moscow has for some time been actively blocking the West from gaining access to the energy reserves of Central Asia. It has invoked the principles of Civis Russiannus Sum to justify intervention in order to protect Russian speakers across the region. This strategy is designed to undermine NATO’s presence. It also has the intention of provoking ethnic tensions between Russian speakers and non-Russians, thus creating crises that Moscow can exploit in the name of humanitarian intervention.
Whether Putin is actually preparing to challenge NATO's authority is certainly unclear, but there is very little doubt that he holds expansionist aims for Russia in eastern Europe. There is clear evidence that Putin intends to re-draw the geopolitical map of the region; an endeavour that the Russians have already expended considerable force to achieve.
While British parties debate this issue, others have already recognised the need to bolster their nuclear and regular forces in the East. Earlier this year, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter announced that 40,000 NATO troops would be deployed to the region, while the Russians themselves have announced that they will be adding a further 40 ballistic missiles to their nuclear arsenal. This accumulation of conventional arms in the region means that Britain, as the major European NATO power, must follow suit in order to send a clear message that she will continue to play a central role in world affairs.
Jeremy Corbyn has questioned our role in global affairs on many occasions, having stated in an interview that he sees no reason why a small little island on the north-west edge of Europe should possess transcontinental military capabilities. Yet, this kind of insular thinking is totally unfounded. The growth of introverted nationalism has created power vacuums across the world. It was Edmund Burke that said “all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. A decision not to oppose the dangerous intentions of Russia, Iran, ISIS, North Korea and China may not have an immediate knock-on effect for northern European democracies, but it will catch up with us eventually. Right now, the influence of democracies is receding across the world; tyranny and repression is triumphing. The first step towards countering the growth of these dictatorial states is to match NATO spending requirements and to maintain Trident. Otherwise, we may be unable to proactively defend our security, and indeed the security of other democracies, across the globe.