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I do not think there is a parallel. The people who own handguns as individuals are not accountable for their behaviour. We have a licensing system in this country that is vigorous, makes people much more accountable and limits the number of such guns in circulation, particularly when it comes to people who might be less accountable. I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s rather trivial point, but it is a rhetorical debating point, so I am not going to spend much time on it.
There is another question that we keep hearing: “Is this really an independent deterrent?” I have spent plenty of time around a deterrent and around people who know about the deterrent, and if the Americans had some secret switch in some bunker in the United States that could disable our deterrent and prevent us from firing it, I think that we would know about it. That switch does not exist. The fact is that once the submarine is at sea, the command and control of the firing of the weapons system is completely autonomous. One of the factors that give us leverage over American policy is that if this country were in trouble, or if Europe were in trouble, America too would be in trouble, because the possibility of a nuclear exchange would bind it inextricably into the conflict. Europe and the United States have many mutual interests, and there are many reasons why we should support each other’s security policies, but, in extremis, we can strengthen that position by means of the capability that we possess.
Another question that we keep being asked is, “Does deterrence work?” There is evidence that it does, and those who argue that deterrence had nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war are flying in the face of that evidence. There was an arms race, and the options that were available to the Soviet Union as it sought to solve its internal problems by expanding were contained by deterrence. It lost the arms race because it could not afford to keep up with the cost of the technology that the west could afford.