DEUTSCHLAND ’83 on Channel 4 is a thoughtful Cold-War drama with a strain of black humour and a great period sound track. It follows a reluctant East German spy as he burrows through the Nato high command in the 1980s reporting on plans for a “pre-emptive” nuclear strike against the Warsaw Pact.
American generals discuss how the annihilation of East (and West) Germany might be a price worth paying to win a nuclear war. It tells you a lot about why unified Germany decided never to develop its own nuclear weapons, even though it has the technology. Mutually Assured Destruction (Mad) never sounded madder.
The world was on a hair trigger in the 1980s, while we were rocking ignorantly to Spandau Ballet and Haircut 100. Scotland was high on the collateral damage list, since we house Britain’s supposedly independent nuclear deterrent. Simply put, it’s a miracle we’re all still here.
It might only be thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev, who made a dramatic gesture of unilateral nuclear disarmament at the Reykjavik Summit in 1986, that war was avoided. Someone always has to make the first move.
The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are history. Yet Trident is still poised to launch Armageddon on a four-minute warning. And every year, we still transport nuclear weapons from RNAD Coulport on the Clyde along some of the dodgiest roads in Britain to Aldermaston in Berkshire where they are serviced.
As readers of this column will know, I have long advocated giving the nuclear warheads a one-way ticket and I am glad to hear Jeremy Corbyn taking decommissioning seriously as a step towards disarmament. Trident is a relic of the 1980s, as obsolete as the Walkmans that are the must-have consumer item in Deutschland ’83.
The Trident D5 system was designed to obliterate Russian cities and to irradiate half of the planet in the process. In none of today’s many conflicts, real and potential, in the Middle East and North Africa, could Trident conceivably play any role. North Korea tests primitive nuclear devices but lacks any delivery system.
We keep being told that we live in a dangerous world and that is true. But nuclear weapons clearly have not deterred Vladimir Putin’s expansionism in Ukraine. This is because no one in their right minds believes that we should destroy Ukraine to save it, and leave Europe a radioactive wasteland.
Britain’s Trident submarines float off to sea from Faslane, without any targets, and sail around aimlessly testing various systems before returning to base. The very act of aiming nuclear weapons would ignite a diplomatic storm and a possible military response. So why carry nuclear warheads?
Of course, no one can rule out another superpower confrontation happening in the future. However, the beauty of Mr Corbyn’s proposal is that it leaves open the possibility of re-commissioning the nuclear weaponry. The technology will still be there, along with the submarines.
The only difference is that the warheads would remain quarantined in England, where public opinion is much less hostile to nuclear weapons than in Scotland. We’ve had them here for more than years, so I’m sure the people of the home counties would be only too happy to take their turn. And if not, well …
It would certainly end the dangerous transport of nuclear warheads on the public highway,which represents an obvious terrorist target. And many jobs would remain in Faslane, where the nuclear submarines could remain part of Britain’s conventional defence.
The reaction to Mr Corbyn’s ruminations on the Andrew Marr Show have been dismissive. “He’s off his warhead” was The Sun’s response.The Conservatives said it confirmed that the Labour leader is “a threat to national security”. The Labour MP for Barrow, John Woodcock, said sending the boats out on patrol without warheads would be “like having an army with broken rifles and no ammunition”.
But those Labour MPs who claim to be in favour of multilateral disarmament need to take ideas like these seriously. Kezia Dugdale should certainly embrace it. Decommissioning honours Britain’s commitment to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, under which we should be moving “in good faith” towards disarmament. Renewing Trident is not acting in good faith.
It would be much easier to persuade countries like Iran not to develop their own nuclear “deterrents” if they believed we were serious about disarming ours. Here is a chance for Britain to take a moral lead. And let Trident rust in peace.