PEOPLE of a certain age will remember a time when the biggest threat to the world was not seen as climate change, but nuclear weapons.

During the Cold War between the capitalist West and communist East anxiety about nuclear Armageddon always lay near the surface of many people’s minds. How strange then that the whole topic of nuclear war is rarely discussed these days. Yet, after climate change, it remains the biggest contender for finishing off the human race – and destroying vast areas of the planet with us.

Last week mankind took a disturbing step closer to such a possibility. The 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty between the US and Russia has been allowed to lapse, despite the fact it kept nuclear missiles off European soil for more than three decades.

Under the treaty, nearly 2,700 cruise and ballistic nuclear missiles were destroyed by both sides, removing a real and present danger in Europe. Before INF European countries would only have a few minutes warning of a launch. Such a situation was a deadly game indeed, increasing the possibility of a pre-emptive strike based on paranoia, as well as accidental all-out war if one of the weapons discharged by mistake.

António Guterres, the UN secretary general, has warned that the world has lost “an invaluable brake on nuclear war... This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles.” Especially as there is growing evidence of a new arms race in the kind of weapons banned under the treaty: ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500km.

Meanwhile, Parliament committed in 2016 to replace the UK’s ageing and unsafe fleet of Trident submarines. According to research carried out by the Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament, doing so will cost an estimated £205bn. It is hard to imagine a bigger waste of resources needed for housing, education, restoring public services and communities damaged by a decade of austerity.

Let us remember, only people of genuinely evil intentions would ever start a nuclear war that would kill millions of innocent civilians. There are not even credible national security arguments for renewing Trident. The Government’s own National Security Strategy has identified the real security threats our nation faces today as terrorism, cyber-attacks and the political consequences of climate change, not least vast migrations of climate refugees.

The barrier to progress, as so often in our society dominated by the interests of the super-wealthy, comes down to money. The ugly truth is that arms manufacturers will make huge fortunes from the renewal of Trident. At the same time, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has reported the UK is now the world’s second largest arms exporter after the US, with Russia in third place.

Those who would celebrate such statistics as a triumph of British commerce should reflect on the lessons of history. Arms build-ups between nations have a dark legacy of resulting in warfare and misery. In the case of nuclear stockpiles, common sense should tell us it is only a matter of time before there is a major accident involving a nuclear weapon. If that sounds exaggerated, simply Google ‘list of military nuclear accidents’. You will be presented with a terrifying catalogue of near disasters since the birth of the atom bomb.

According to the Bible, “Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” You don’t have to be religious to see the wisdom of this. Why risk making an already dangerous world more perilous by keeping these obscene tools of genocide?

Personally, I would love it if this country had a PM with the integrity and courage to organise new international conferences on nuclear disarmament. One with the courage to say out loud, I will never use these evil weapons and to make the case they should be got rid of forever. In short, a PM with the vision to lead a rational, evidence-based debate on this life or death issue.

Boris Johnson is not that PM. With luck, and an early general election, we might get such a peace-loving Government soon, one which puts people and the planet’s safety above the profits of arms manufacturers.