|V.V.V.V. big reasons for UK to stay nuclear
By Charles Moore
Every minute of every day since 1969, a British nuclear submarine has been at sea. As you read this, one of our four subs - Vanguard, Victorious, Vengeance and Vigilant - is beneath an ocean. She carries up to 48 warheads on up to 16 missiles. One warhead has more than eight times the capacity of the bomb that hit Hiroshima.
At the order of 10 Downing Street and the commanding officer, and without the agreement of the United States or any other power, a missile can be fired at any target in the world.
It is interesting how little thought most of us have given to this fact, particularly since the end of the Cold War. Yet our status in the world, our sovereignty, our security and therefore our way of life, depend, if you believe the doctrine, on this sleepless protection.
Most of the time, our lack of interest may not matter much, but roughly once in a generation, we must decide what to do next.
Before Christmas, the Government produced a White Paper setting out its policy for replacing the submarines and extending the life of the missile body, a programme that would bear fruit in the mid-2020s.
On March 14, Parliament will vote on what the White Paper proposes. It will decide whether Britain should or should not remain a nuclear power.
Quite a lot of people think we shouldn't. Anglican bishops, who nowadays may safely graze only in the pages of the Independent, speak of the use of nuclear weapons as "anti-God acts", and voted against replacement at their General Synod this week. As in the early 1980s, when an act of national will was needed to accept cruise missiles on European soil, CND is back, sapping it: "We simply won't stand by and watch this madness happen."
Although the Government has been uncharacteristically frank and full in setting out its policy, the noise is coming from the other side.
After its electoral disasters with unilateralism, the Labour Party shut up about disarmament, but now discontent is stirring. Expect it to grow louder still as Labour agonises about what it stands for in the period of succession to Tony Blair.
Opinion polls show that a roughly constant 70 per cent of the British people support our possession of nuclear weapons so long as other countries have them, but there is a sense that the arguments are a bit rusty.
So here is a quiz question: "Only one country has ever given up the atom bomb after possessing it. Which is it?" The answer is white South Africa. And the reason is instructive. When the Afrikaners saw that they would lose power, they did not want the Bomb in black hands. In other words, disarmament is a recognition of defeat.
By the same token, sadly, getting the Bomb is a sign of success. In recent months, North Korea has successfully tested a nuclear weapon, Iran has pressed ahead with its Bomb programme, refusing Russia's offer of uranium for civil purposes only, and China has destroyed a satellite using a ballistic missile.
Like the character in When Harry Met Sally, North Korea and Iran have looked at the nuclear powers and said: "I'll have what she's having."
Quite a lot of people say, "Why shouldn't they?" Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, and therefore the man charged with trying to keep Iran on the straight and narrow, made this point recently: "How do they expect this system of haves and have-nots to be sustainable?" Mr ElBaradei's solution is not to let every aspirant have a weapon - though he seems weirdly insouciant about what Iran is up to - but to create a universal "taboo" against possessing the Bomb. He says nuclear weapons should be treated like genocide or slavery.
It is an interesting comparison. Genocide and slavery are, indeed, evil things, but they persist in our world despite international laws which forbid them. If the Bomb were "abolished", the same would apply. Only the bad people would have it.
There is no particular need to criticise these would-be nuclear states, even if they are part of "the Axis of Evil", for wanting to go nuclear. Nations naturally seek more power.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran says he wants the Bomb for disgusting reasons, such as the annihilation of Israel. But even if he said he wanted it for much the same reasons as we and France and the United States want it - to guard ourselves against the threats of others - he shouldn't be allowed to get it.
The reason lies not in our moral superiority, although I feel a pre-modern certainty that we are, in our political culture, morally superior. After all, the nuclear club contains Russia and China, nations without a trace of Boy Scout virtues. No, it lies in the way that nuclear weapons keep the peace: a strange combination of certainty and uncertainty.
The certainty lies in the fact that, if you are hit by a nuclear weapon, the scale of death and destruction is virtually unbearable. The uncert