I make no secret of the fact that I believe in the nuclear deterrent. I hope for a day when there will be iron-clad multi-lateral nuclear disarmament but, until then, I want the deterrent, held on behalf of NATO and only to be used in the event of aggression, as a warning to anyone who might want to launch a nuclear attack.
Last week a letter appeared in a national newspaper. Why, the writer asked, did Britain maintain the deterrent when the other twenty-plus members of Nato didn’t see the need to do the same? I thought the question completely stupid. Surely the reason our fellow-Nato members didn’t need to maintain a deterrent is that we maintain it on their behalf. In other words, they shelter under the umbrella we are holding because we are pledged to come to the aid of any fellow Nato member when attacked.
But that letter set me thinking. We accepted responsibility for operating the deterrent but was there no discussion of the cost being shared among those members who would benefit from it? If not, should there have been? Do we hold it purely to protect the UK or on behalf of our fellow Nato members?
At present, Nato has 28 members, among them Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States. The United States also operates and pays for the deterrent but are the other countries getting insurance against nuclear attack on the cheap, worse still free?
Ministers have said replacing Trident would cost up to £20bn, but key factors the government has left out of the calculation could push the final cost up to more than twice that. If we really are standing guardian to the other Nato countries in the event of their suffering nuclear attack, isn’t it time to suggest that they chip in?