MAD - but a place at the table - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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MAD - but a place at the table

This page was written on 24 September 2015

As I have written elsewhere on my website, I have been going through my annual diaries from 1948 to digitise them for posterity. I have just come across a piece I wrote exactly six years ago today. That piece, written on 24 September 2009, was mostly about the future of Trident, a hot topic even today. Here is an extract of what I wrote in 2009 about the then Prime Minister’s intention to reduce the Trident submarine fleet from four to three:

“During my years in the RAF V Bomber Force in the early 1960s at home and in the Far East, I was convinced that the British independent nuclear deterrent served a useful purpose. Those were the days of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the rest of the world. Whether we like it or not, the UK is no longer a world power. I believe we should phase out the Trident fleet as and when the submarines and/or their missiles reach their ‘best before’ date and we should not spend billions of pounds the country cannot afford to update or replace them. What a pity though that Gordon Brown had to make a cynical political point by insisting that his decision to reduce the Trident fleet from four to three was nothing to do with making financial cuts but was because he believes in worldwide nuclear reductions. If he really believes that, why not disband the entire Trident fleet and its missiles? In fact I believe Gordon Brown’s decision is everything to do with ‘cutting the deficit’ but he cannot bring himself to admit that cuts will be necessary to get us out of the financial mess his government has got us into. I think that another reason he wants to keep an independent nuclear force is for the clout that it gives him at the Top Table on the world stage.”

Six years on and a different lot of politicians are still arguing about the future of Trident and the cost is, presumably, still rising. My view is the same as it was in 2009. In the years of the Cold War the real, but rarely mentioned, argument for retaining a UK independent nuclear force was the so-called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) concept whereby no country was thought likely to launch a nuclear war if their own country would be annihilated in the inevitable riposte. No-one, least of all the RAF’s bomber crews, believed that the UK would ever contemplate launching a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union independently of the Americans. Had we done so the entire United Kingdom would have been laid waste – probably while the RAF crews were still en route to their own targets. We in the RAF's V Force were not so sanguine, however, about the Americans. Indeed many of us believed that some American generals were quite likely to launch the massive destructive force of Strategic Air Command (SAC) either accidentally or deliberately, and with or without Presidential approval – and also without first mentioning it to the British Prime Minister even though many of their bombers were then based in England. If my memory is correct, it almost happened in the Cuba Crisis of 1962 when the Vulcan and Valiant crews at RAF Finningley, where I was based in 1962, and all the other V Bomber bases, spent about 10 days on a very high state of readiness until, thankfully, it all fizzled out.

Now, in 2015, the current debate on the future of Trident has nothing to do with maintaining a UK independent nuclear deterrent but everything to do with jobs at Faslane in Scotland, keeping the United Kingdom united, and keeping a place ‘at the international table’ for UK Prime Ministers, irrespective of the colour of the ruling party. I have this ridiculous vision of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, one by one, voting for independence from the UK leaving the 'English' Prime Minister of the day still insisting, despite the cost, on maintaining the independent Trident force – perhaps based somewhere in the Thames Estuary? Now that, if it were to come to pass, really would be MAD!

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