Strategically: HS2 is more important than Trident

10 Oct 2016

 Although the Prime Minister's insistence that she would be prepared to use Trident if necessary sparked furore with many and there is undoubtedly, a long overdue debate on the morality of Trident, this article suggests that it is Britain's best security interests to fork out billions on improving the railways rather than on nuclear warheads. HS2 and Trident are not mutually exclusive but cash-strapped Britain has to prioritise what the country needs strategically.

 

HS2 was always a long-term project but many have criticised how much the project is costing. £90bn according to some estimates, is too much to spend on a railway network that only the well-off will be able to afford. 

 

Among policy-devisers, there is a growing trend that  money should only be devoted to projects that bring benefits before the next election. This is worrying: there is a definite value in long-term strategy and planning for the future, not just in the political sphere but in general life.

 

Over the last few years, short-sighted politics has done more harm than good, the decision to sell-off council houses and failing to replace them has contributed to the current housing crisis.  This and the whirlwind of the 2008 financial collapse has demonstrably shown us the importance of thinking strategically and planning for the longer-term.

 

HS2 is part of a long-term national vision which is about generating jobs, encouraging scientific and engineering development, encouraging trade and building a strong national infrastructure. It may not be fiscally accessible immediately to everyone, and public charges for all rail services do need to be addressed, but the benefits are, and always have been, specifically designed to be long-term. It is the one project that was thought to unify both the left and the right; that Britain's fiscal security in the next 20-30 years would be intrinsically tied to our infrastructural development and connectedness.

 

In an increasingly sophisticated security arena in which most experts predict that rapid technological procurement from a broader range of actors will far outpace traditional defence industry productivity, our security lies in our ability to harness these technologies and industrial franchises and put them to use. Britain's calibre in terms of infrastructure will not only be a matter of boosting trade but will displace investments in traditional defence stock as threats.evolve in the digital and cyber spheres of influence. 

 

Compared to HS2, Trident's budget has no limit: politicians solemnly commit to further spending and the public offer no opposition. The reason is because it has been sold as the ultimate security, a view that has never seriously been challenged since the collapse of CND as a serious national movement. Since the programme was announced in 1980 the UK has had over 25 terrorist attacks and been involved in ten separate conflicts including the Falklands, the Gulf, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

 

The argument that the weapons system is keeping people safe is increasingly watery in light of recent terror attacks in other parts of Europe, especially France. How much of a deterrent is Trident proving to be? Now many of these conflicts, people could argue, would have been avoided because of a nuclear deterrent. If Britain is going to invest such significant sums of money into a security strategy, shouldn't be as effective as possible. 

 

If this strategy would not have deterred these conflicts and attacks and threats, it must surely be logical and efficient to seek out a security strategy that would have? That is not to say that global pacifism is an answer; in fact, investment in the growing target areas of concern would be wise; intelligence services, cybercrime, the dark web and human trafficking all need additional funding. But a weapons system designed in the 1980s seems increasingly obsolete when the major threats identified by the world's primary defence and security agencies are technological procurement and cybercrime.

 

Our understanding of security has fundamentally changed. Wars are fought on computers, using sophisticated technologies and programmes. Terrorists are caught using surveillance, intelligence networks and hackers. Coding is used to monitor the dark web for dangerous activity. Brexit threw a further spanner in the works by ending the intelligence sharing programmes we conducted through the EU. This all needs to be renegotiated and coordinated. It also raised the spectres of the last economic crisis by raising question marks over various economic and financial mechanisms, especially in terms of job security and housing markets. In this growing uncertainty, the UK cannot afford to let ideology take priority over strategy.

 

The argument is not that security investment should not happen, as Labour's current crop of leaders would seem to suggest, but rather that it should be a lot more thought-through than simply redeploying a strategy, designed at the height of the Cold War mindset, that misjudges the predicted security landscape of the next 20-30 years.

 

India is due to encompass at least 5 so-called "Megacities" by 2050 at current projections by the  World Economic Forum, yet the Kashmiri conflict does not show any signs of dying down, resulting in a hugely expanded population with the potential for a proportionally-increased conflict. It is considerations for this and examples like them that need to be made and so far there is little evidence that the presence of nuclear weapons will play a significant part.

 

Our strategy in Britain needs to be longer-term. Our science, engineering and technology industries need investment, jobs and growth. The UK's infrastructure needs updating to encourage this and make transport quicker and easier to remain competitive.  Our intelligence services and cybercrime operatives need to be recognised as the essential part they are in our security strategy. These ideas are not new and they are not, perhaps, ambitious. However, ultimately, our children will see a lot more tangible benefit from a boost to the STEM industry and jobs in terms of their stability and security than they will an ageing nuclear submariner fleet. Strategically, we need HS2 more than we need Trident. 

 

You can read more by this commentator here.

 

 

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