Why a new Trident offers the cheapest nuclear deterrent
Sir: Colin Brown (27 November) highlights Dr Hans Blix's call for nuclear powers to do more to eliminate their arsenals under their obligations to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Article VI, while stating that signatories should undertake to pursue "negotiations ... on effective measures" designed to halt the nuclear arms race and enable nuclear powers to disarm, does not commit individual nations to make unilateral reductions.
Most importantly, the international framework of "measures" which the NPT prescribes does not yet exist, whereas - as Colin Brown himself points out - there are now nine nuclear powers, while others such as Egypt, Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and South Africa may be considering developing nuclear weapons programmes. Hardly the ideal circumstances for the UK to undertake unilateral disarmament.
Colin Brown also argues that a new submarine-based deterrent would be "the most expensive replacement"when "a cheaper alternative such as nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on planes" exists.
The UK has a submarine-based deterrent because sea-launched ballistic missiles deployed on submarines provide the credibility of a survivable system whose use cannot be affected by anyone else, and provide the most value for money.
Air-based, nuclear-tipped cruise missiles would need permission from other nations for the aircraft or missile to transit their airspace. Such a system would require a new base somewhere on the mainland UK (one which could be targeted), a new missile (current UK Tomahawk and Storm Shadow cruise missiles are not designed for nuclear use), a new warhead (you cannot just fit the UK's current nuclear warhead to any old missile), new supporting infrastructure, and the development of considerable design, construction and operational expertise in the Ministry of Defence and industry.
Neither the US nor France for that matter have any new air- or land-based nuclear weapons programmes under way, so the UK would need to develop any such programme on its own, from the ground up, paying for it all - unlike in its current arrangement with the US, where the UK shares in a state-of-the-art deterrent system which offers considerable value for what the UK pays for it. A like-for-like replacement of a submarine-based system is highly likely to be the cheapest and - because we have it already and know how to use it - most cost-effective option.
DR LEE WILLETT
HEAD, MARITIME STUDIES PROGRAMME, ROYAL UNITED SERVICES INSTITUTE FOR DEFENCE AND SECURITY STUDIES, LONDON SW1
How our society breeds criminals
Sir: Deborah Orr says that we must face the fact that criminality is, for many, a lifestyle choice (29 November). This frightening situation, she says, can't be put down purely to bad parenting or deprivation. Indeed not. We all, society, have created the problem.
We have allowed, since the early 1980s, a society to develop where discipline is defunct; where adults fear getting anywhere near children and young people in case they are accused of some dreadful crime (no wonder no one is running youth clubs any more); and where children view all adults as potential child molesters.
I have worked all my life with children and I know that they not only need discipline; they thrive on it. Without discipline being imposed at an early age so that parameters are learnt, they can never learn self-discipline. As a result, they cannot study, read for the enjoyment of reading or, most importantly, learn to think in any meaningful way.
Thus locked out from the wonders and beauty of this world and human society, they can only seek vapid fulfilment such as "celebrity" and the instant gratification which, seemingly, street violence gives them. Tony Blair's quest for "respect" and the ever burgeoning CCTV cameras which civil libertarians are so worried about would be redundant if we had simply continued giving our children and young people the tools to equip them for life.
What do we do about it? I don't know. Even I, a pinko leftie, find myself thinking that maybe some sort of National Service is the only way to get us out of this mess.
Sir: As a volunteer of some 18 years both in prisons and with organisations involved with rehabilitation, I was most impressed by your coverage of the subject (30 November). What was not addressed was how some of the proposed solutions could be funded.
If there was a general attitude that only criminals who were a potential danger to the person or who were persistent offenders were jailed, then the prison population could be dramatically reduced. The saving of £38,000 per annum per prisoner (say £750m per annum), together with the savings made because no further prisons need be built, would pay for the enlarged probation service that would be needed to supervise punishments in the community.
POTTEN END, HERTFORDSHIRE
Hunt ban not meant to save foxes' lives
Sir: James Barrington (letter, 29 November) is wrong when he says that the Hunting Act was passed to supposedly save animals' lives. As one of those who voted for the Act, I made it clear beforehand in many discussions with the pro-hunting lobby that I expected farmers to shoot more foxes (an acknowledged agricultural pest) after the Act was passed. By that time they would no longer need to keep the number of foxes up to ensure that there were enough to hunt.
It was not the number killed, but the method of killing, to which supporters of the Bill objected. Claims that the Act is failing are therefore wide of the mark. If we described every Act which was ever disobeyed a failure, no Act would ever be anything else. And the number of times that this Act is deliberately disobeyed will doubtless fall even further as more successful prosecutions take place.
Meanwhile more people than ever ride out with the hounds (good), many of them people who refused to go hunting while it still contained its cruel element. People can still enjoy the spectacle of the hunt (good). Because the hunts continue, job losses have been few if any (good), and point-to-point racing and therefore National Hunt racing have hardly been affected (good). There has been no mass extermination of hounds (good). In other words none of the dreadful consequences of the Act with which the hunting lobby threatened us has come about, but what seemed an unacceptably cruel method of controlling fox numbers has been reduced and can be expected to reduce still further in future. Excellent!
BUCKLEBURY, BERKSHIRE THE WRITER WAS MP FOR NEWBURY 1993-2005
Sir: Simon Hart's letter made interesting reading (29 November), particularly when he wrote: "Laws should have the consent of those they affect. In this instance, they do not, because it was not about cruelty to animals, but a thinly disguised assault on a section of society."
Where on earth did he get the idea that laws require the consent of those they affect? The Society of Murderers For The Right To Unlimited Slaughter? Thieves Against The Theft Act? He's also way off the mark about the purpose of the Hunting Act. It wasn't only about cruelty to animals, nor was it an assault upon a section of society, but an expression of civilised revulsion at the organised killing of animals purely for the purpose of human amusement.
Glamour of railway stations crushed
Sir: Most of London's railway termini have had their glamour wholly or partly removed ("If only airports had the glamour of railway stations", 28 November).
At Charing Cross, and all three stations in the City of London, Cannon Street, Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street, the trains are suppressed beneath a claustrophobic ceiling of ducting. These stations are the most potent symbols of the prevailing attitude to railways in this country; the architecture pretending that the railway itself isn't there. Cannon Street looks like a car ferry ready to set sail for the other side of the river.
Railway passengers arriving in the City of London deserve as much respect as those soon to arrive from Brussels and Paris.
Protect the climate and pursue growth
Sir: Your report on Eurostar (15 November) attributes to Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways, the view that protecting the environment is incompatible with economic growth. Mr Walsh has never expressed any such view - and said the precise opposite in a speech this week.
Referring to the recent Stern report, he said he had been encouraged by the fact that the report "made absolutely crystal-clear that there is no contradiction between tackling climate change and pursuing economic growth". British Airways is committed to reducing its environmental impact and securing the benefits to the whole UK economy which will accrue from the sustainable expansion of Heathrow.
BRITISH AIRWAYS HARMONDSWORTH, MIDDLESEX
Aids patients denied the drugs they need
Sir: It is important to highlight why many countries where the spread of HIV has led to a public health crisis still cannot afford those treatments which could save so many from premature death.
Patented drugs are approximately five times more expensive than generic versions (the same drugs made cheaper by different companies). Patents were introduced to allow researchers to know there would be a reward to make investments worthwhile. However the law is manipulated by pharmaceutical giants and the system needs to be changed.
Laws are in place which allow a "compulsory licence" to be issued for a patented drug in a developing country. This allows it to be purchased generically (from the cheapest manufacturer) in a public health crisis. However there are restrictions if such drugs are to be imported in from a different country.
India, Thailand and Brazil are among the few developing countries which have the manufacturing capability to actually produce drugs, so for countries in Africa the improvement to the existing patent laws could have been a life-saver.
No compulsory license for imports has yet been issued. The governments of rich countries are still allowing this deadly fiasco to be prolonged. More than 75 per cent of adults and 90 per cent of children who urgently need treatment for HIV or Aids are not receiving it.
The intentions of the G8 summit have been made clear: "Universal access to Aids treatments by 2010", but the likelihood of achieving this appears to be rapidly diminishing; the situation has actually got worse.
Grade exit prompts doubts about BBC
Sir: Michael Grade has every right to further his own broadcasting career but the key question that should arise out of his sudden resignation to join ITV is: what is happening within the BBC?
At this juncture in world politics when our domestic mainstream political parties are struggling to differentiate themselves it is crucial to have a publicly funded broadcasting television channel that has the democratic potential to provide a bit of balance and objectivity about events unlike the populist newspapers.
If the chairman of the BBC, supposedly committed to public sector broadcasting a moment ago, can suddenly uproot to join a struggling commercial organisation, one wonders what is, or will be the commitment of other leading executives within the BBC in the future.
School for celebrity
Sir: In the article about Lindsay Lohan's rambling tribute to Robert Altman (29 November) your correspondent writes, "Or was this Exhibit A for the indictment of America's education system?" If we are using Lindsay Lohan as the measure of the quality of an American education, should we be using Chantelle Houghton or Jade Goody as examples of British schooling?
Sir: It's hardly surprising that German officials should think that all British citizens are English (letter, 30 November). The great majority of Britons they meet will be English and most of these will share the English habit of saying "English" rather than "British". It would require a lot of patient explaining to reverse the effect of three hundred years of this error, and the typical English reaction to the problem: "Does it matter?"
GORDON PETER DUFF
Box-ticking in the NHS
Sir: It was with great sadness and shame that we read of the NHS "farce" that Patricia Balsom experienced during the year leading up to her death (Janet Street-Porter, 30 November). No doubt the staff involved were working within the constraints that today's NHS imposes but the obvious lack of communication and empathy is inexcusable. As health-care professionals we consider that our innate sense of wishing to provide a caring, holistic service to individuals in need is constantly compromised by number-crunching, box-ticking and extremely low morale.
NURSE RACHEL NIBLOCK OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST OXFORD
The Lords we want
Sir: Many people seem to be in favour of a directly elected House of Lords. In recent years, the House of Lords has been the only branch of government that has had some real and serious debate on some of the major issues and has been responsible for questioning legislation by an ever more authoritarian government. The country needs a House of Lords whose members do not have to worry about public opinion and grabbing media headlines, and can instead focus on full debate of legislative issues. Do we really want another chamber full of politicians?
Sir: Please accept my heartfelt gratitude. Thanks to your poster series last week, I was able to fullfil the promise I made to my wife, and present her with the Sun, Moon and Stars.