The situation developing on the Korean Peninsula is close to the fulfilment of the nightmare scenario. A genuinely crazed regime, controlling a serf population, is on the verge of acquiring viable weapons of mass destruction.
It must be stressed that North Korea is not there yet. It is one thing to create a static nuclear explosion. It is quite another to miniaturise the mechanisms down to warhead size, with a viable trigger and reliable delivery system. It is understood North Korea has enough material for about five warheads. Its missiles are erratic. It has no missile ready mechanism.
How to deal with North Korea is an extremely difficult question. It has a regime which is completely despicable. Wishing it would behave well is pointless. Evidently the attitude of China – which appears still to see the continuance of the regime as preferable to the consequences of its collapse – will be crucial. There is no good solution. I am sorry to say that I tend to the view that least evil may have been done if we had not offered palliative aid to save North Koreans from the consequences of a disastrous form of communism.
Put harshly, if we had let large numbers of North Koreans starve to death, at some stage – and I realise a very late stage – the remnant would realise the regime wasn’t doing such a good job after all and string the Dear Leader up. That would have been horrible, but less horrible than the possibility of a war with nuclear elements which could engulf the whole peninsula and have the potential to become at least a US/China proxy conflict.
But I want this morning to concentrate on just one aspect of the problem in relationship to what the UK can do. That is to point out that the Trident missile system, for which New Labour are committed to buying an incredibly expensive replacement, thus smashing the Non-Proliferation Treaties – is absolutely no use whatsoever.
A casual observer dropping in from Mars would look at the UK’s massive nuclear arsenal, compared to the size of the country and its economic problems, would look at New Labour plans to replace our nuclear arsenal with something still more massive, and conclude that Gordon Brown was much more of a crazed militaristic nutter than the Dear Leader. And perhaps the martian might have a point.
Those who argue for Trident 2 no longer make a public case that we need to be able to obliterate Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. They tend rather to emphasise that we need to be able to deter rogue states which acquire nuclear weapons.
But now we actually do have the hawks’ favourite scenario playing out before us, and what use is our massive nuclear arsenal in this situation? Have you seen a single commentator refer to our Trident missiles as a factor? Of course not. They are, in point of fact, the most expensive chocolate teapot in the world, and quite possibly the universe.
Indeed, where are our Trident missiles targeted this morning? Do they still point at St Petersburg, Moscow and Ekaterinburg? Have they had the Pyongyang coordinates fed in? Two of our Trident submarines will be at sea today. What are their instructions? The truth is, the question is the world’s most expensive irrelevance.
The problem with deterrence theory is that you cannot deter a madman, particularly one who is going to die very soon anyway and may think a mass immolation sounds glorious. Let us look at the ultimate worst case scenario. North Korea somehow gets five warheads onto missiles, and fires them – let’s say at Seoul, the US and Japan. So this really is the worst case scenario, let’s say in two or three cases neither the missile nor the warhead malfunctions. The result is hundreds of thousands dead and environmental devastation.
Do we then obliterate North Korea with nuclear weapons and kill tens of millions of people and create untold further environmental damage?
North Korea poses the problem of asymmetric nuclear warfare. It may soon possess a very small number of low quality nuclear missiles, but is potentially mad enough to use them. That madness means that our possession of vastly more and vastly superior nuclear weapons does not deter. North Korea has the potential to be the nuclear State equivalent of the civilian suicide bomber, who can inflict casualties on the most sophisticated army in the world. We have got some understanding of the dilemmas posed by asymmetric warfare. What we have here is just vast difference of scale; the asymmetry remains.
Let me be plain. I am not predicting any of these disastrous outcomes. I am running through the very scenarios that are used in theory to justify the spending of huge sums in my taxes, and those of my children and grandchildren, in government borrowing mind-blowing money to acquire Trident 2.
North Korea shows just how pointless that is.