On the way home from work tonight I listened to “The Human Button” on Radio 4. It was a fascinating programme.
It was not necessarily a report into the pros or cons of the British Nuclear deterrent but a short history of those who job was (and still is) to carry out nuclear Armageddon if ordered and the politicians who would have had to make the final decision.
One of the first tasks that Gordon Brown would have carried out when he became Prime Minister would have been to have written in long hand letters to the commanders of the 4 British nuclear armed submarines.
In these letters (called "last resort")he would have ordered them what to do if he was dead and the country had been destroyed by an enemy nuclear strike. These letters are secret and destroyed when a new Prime Minister is appointed.
The programme carried interviews the only two British politicians who have indicated how they would have responded. Denis Healey made it clear that he would have not had ordered nuclear retaliation since deterrence had obviously failed and the deaths of 20 million Russians would have changed nothing. While Jim Callaghan indicated he would have probably done it but never forgive himself for doing so.
You might have thought that the famously aggressively minded Healey would have been the one to support retribution rather than “Sunny Jim”. Maybe we also ought to be cautious about politician's memoirs? But I suspect that with Denis it was always bluster and that he would not have done it. Jim would have because he would have thought it was his duty to have done so? Who really knows? I do wonder what Gordon Brown has written?
The modern day Royal Navy Commander of HMS Vanguard the Trident armed submarine on patrol in the North Sea as we blog made it perfectly clear that he would follow orders and launch an immediate strike if properly ordered to do so.
Here is also a visual slide show with excerpts from the programme. The programme is repeated on Sunday and available on the “listen again” facility for the next 7 days.