What interesting times we're living in. The unexpected Lib-Dem surge has made this election impossible to call, and at the same time forced both Labour and the Tories to debate questions which they'd far rather ignore. How do they intend to pay down our frighteningly large national debt, for example?
Nick Clegg put the spotlight squarely on Trident in last week's leaders' debate, arguing that £100bn to replace a Cold War relic that has no military value makes little sense at the best of times, let alone when we're facing financial meltdown.
Today that most conservative of newspapers, the Times, ran a front page article featuring four of the army's most senior former soldiers questioning whether Trident should be replaced, and calling for the question to be included in a Strategic Defence Review. This is just the latest expression of military opposition to Trident replacement which has been surfacing in news articles regularly over recent months.
Why not go and look for yourself? Google the words 'former military personnel' and 'Trident', and you’ll find a broad spectrum of the miltary are seriously concerned about the huge costs and lack of strategic value of this programme. They include the former head of the Army General Sir Richard Dannatt, who claimed Trident might become superfluous ‘in five or ten years time’. Serving members are more circumspect, but have also been publicly citing concerns about investing in outdated 'Cold War weaponry' – the current euphemism of choice for Trident.
The fact that this issue has rocketed up the election agenda is doubtless a result of the financial crisis – and an increasing awareness that the MoD, with a pre-existing £35bn hole in its budget – can't afford to waste money on non-essential kit.
But more fundamentally it's surely a reflection of recent positive developments in the international disarmament process. After President Obama pledged in Prague last year to pursue the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, both the US and Russia have agreed to cut their respective nuclear forces by 30%, with a promise of more to follow. Obama reinforced this decision in the US Nuclear Posture Review, when he vetoed the building any new nuclear warheads.
Meanwhile, former Cold War hawk Henry Kissinger has been recruiting ex-military and political figures from around the world to sign up to his 'call for a world free of nuclear weapons' and has developed phased plans for how to achieve global nuclear reductions and arms control measures that lead eventually to zero weapons.
What these people have in common is that they can all see that the real nuclear threat today comes not from nations using missiles to attack each other, but from asymmetrical warfare - terrorists getting their hands on the ingredients needed to make a nuclear bomb. There has never been a greater need to control nuclear materials.
Kissinger's process involves all countries who've signed up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty taking steps to honour their pledge to move towards disarmament, and building trust between nations with verifiable cuts.
In the face of all of this, Labour and Tory party criticism of the Lib-Dem’s modest proposal to examine options other than like-for-like replacement of Trident as part of a full strategic defence review looks, at the very least shall we say, out of step with The Times.