At a time of cuts, why are we committed to spending money on Trident?

25th September, 2014 12:08 pm

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Whoever wins the election, the next Parliament will be asked to vote on building a new fleet of submarines to carry a new generation of nuclear weapons.

The warheads on these submarines, each of which could kill millions of people, are apparently ‘necessary’ for our security.

When Parliament voted to renew the Trident system in 2007, both front benches gave strong support but with over 150 Labour, Lib Dems and Nationalist MPs voting against. Since then the long-lead orders and pre-construction preparations for constructing the new submarines have cost us £3billion. If Parliament agrees to the plan we are likely to spend over £100billion on the system over the next 40 years. This is something all candidates must consider.

The original rationale for Britain possessing nuclear weapons was that they had ‘defeated’ Japan – despite evidence they were about to surrender – and since the US had them and the Soviet Union was developing them, that Britain should do the same.

Since then we have had the Polaris system, then Trident and now a another version is in the offing.

Clement Attlee, for all his huge domestic achievements, managed to have the H-bomb developed in secret, even from his own cabinet.

But since then there has always been a vigorous debate about nuclear weapons in the party and at times we have been committed to their abolition. It seems now we are once again avoiding a public discussion for fear of being seen as ‘weak’ on defence.

Our starting point must be that the world is committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons and that we, along with the other signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, have agreed to take steps towards disarmament.

In yesterday’s policy seminar Vernon Coaker assured a sceptical audience that we needed the new Trident for our security. He did not specify what threat they were supposed to deter, under what circumstances they would be deployed and if he would do so. And there was no acknowledgement of our NPT disarmament commitment.

But while some in the party are avoiding the debate, the Sunday Politics poll of Labour PPC’s showed that with little support for Trident on the doorstep, a majority of candidates would scrap it.

Ed Balls seems set on freezing child benefit and continuing a level of austerity. Which part of austerity invokes this kind of spending, on something of no value to the poorest and unemployed people in Britain?

Faced with all the demands of health, housing, transport infrastructure, investment in manufacturing are we really going to commit all this money to such a project?

Given the economic circumstances, addressing the issue of Trident and employment is more important than ever. In a policy commission seminar this week the Unite representative on behalf of Barrow shipbuilders said he supported the party policy document and at the same time would support a defence diversification strategy – this is something we need an inclusive discussion on and the party must facilitate.

We are committed to a post-election Strategic Defence and Security Review; this one, unlike that of the coalition, will include nuclear weapons. We have to ask how nuclear weapons deal with any real issues of security.

The greatest insecurity in the world is poverty and inequality, victims of environmental change and endless wars of intervention. Thousands of desperate refugees of all these issues die in the Mediterranean and Atlantic every year trying to escape.

Britain having nuclear weapons will not help them, or anyone queuing at a food bank or job centre. The question we must ask is why we are so afraid of taking a courageous course of doing something to achieve a nuclear-free world, by not renewing Trident?

We have an opportunity to rid a ourselves of nuclear weapons. Let’s take it.

Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North  

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  • MonkeyBot5000

    It seems now we are once again avoiding a public discussion for fear of being seen as ‘weak’ on defence.

    Probably because the discussion normally revolves around the number of schools/hospitals you could build with the money or how other countries are committed to getting rid of nuclear weapons.

    That makes it sound like you’re making a trade off between defence and other areas.

    What we should be pointing out to everyone is how many aircraft we could buy for the two new empty carriers we’ve got. Or explaining how many helicopters and APCs we could buy – equipment we actually use and were short of in Afghanistan.

    The original rationale for Britain possessing nuclear weapons was that
    they had ‘defeated’ Japan – despite evidence they were about to
    surrender – and since the US had them and the Soviet Union was
    developing them, that Britain should do the same.

    The original rationale was that the US basically said that they didn’t need to listen to what the UK (or anyone else) thinks about international policy because they had nuclear weapons. We bought a franchise from them so that we could get a seat at the top table.

    The daft thing is, we don’t have enough weapons to be a serious threat to any other nuclear country apart from North Korea and their weapons can’t get anywhere near us anyway.

  • gunnerbear

    The first duty of any version of HMG is the protection of the UK and UK subjects. A CASD does that in the most cost effective and believable way. Other nations of the world know we’ve got an Independent Nuclear Deterrent and will use it should the need arise. That is a potent factor an enemy of the UK has to think about when attacking the UK plus of course other states also have ‘The Bomb’ so sensibly the UK must have it too.If the author is concerned about the cost, perhaps a Red Mob HMG could chop the Int. Aid budget – mostly wasted or stolen – to £1bn for emergency aid and then spend £4bn of the £10bn saved per year, on the NHS and the remainder on the IND.That, by my reckoning of £6bn times 40 years equals £240bn, so there might be scope to cut the £6bn down a bit and give some of the cash to the Emergency Services. You know….following the idea of UK taxes being spent on UK subjects.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      Other nations of the world know we’ve got an Independent Nuclear Deterrent and will use it should the need arise.

      It’s not an ‘independent’ deterrent, we buy the missiles from America. If we can’t produce the entire system ourselves – sub, missile & warhead – it’s not independent.

      • gunnerbear

        It’s operationally independent – we can use it without US permission. HMG – of all colours – has followed the course of joint production to keep costs down.

        • MonkeyBot5000

          But when would we use it?

          The only real nuclear threat is Russia and if they fire on us, they’ll be firing on Washington as well because an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. It’s not our weapons that are a deterrent, it’s the Americans. We only have nuclear weapons as a status symbol.

          I’d rather have £billions of first response than £billions of last resort.

        • Steve Stubbs

          Sure about that? Did I not read that there are US Navy officers on our missile boats with an override shut-off key? Or is that just scuttlebutt?

          • gunnerbear

            No, the Prime Minister can order a launch independently of the Americans. The UK nuclear deterrent is operationally independent of the US.

    • Guest

      Ah yes, can’t have that nasty trade influence to allow UK subjects to do better overall, no, we need those walls against those filthy commonwealth low-lives.

      So, negative cash for the emergency services in your plan then. Good show!

  • MoreLeftThanYou

    We would then be under the nuclear umbrella of France and USA. That would be the reality.

    NATO CHARTER
    Article 3
    In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.

    (Extrapolation of this article: all members accept the protection and security of the nuclear umbrella)

    Article 5
    The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

    (Extrapolation of this article: nuclear powers may use nuclear weapons WITHOUT the consent of all other members.)

    To propose going nuke free should be accompanied by a proposed withdrawal from NATO. otherwise you are knee deep in hypocrisy.

    • gunnerbear

      Which is exactly what was pointed out to the SNP during the ‘indie shouts’ – if Scotland wanted to be a member of NATO, that means Scotland had to hide behind the nuclear shield of the UK, US and France – thus Faslane as a NATO asset wasn’t going anywhere and nor was the CASD……unless Scotland no longer wanted to be part of NATO…….the SNP had no answer to that point and nor would Labour (or Blue or Yellow or Purple) be any different in the UK context.

    • Guest

      Only if it was not made up in other ways, including hosting American nukes (and paying for it). Which wouldn’t be substantially cheaper in the long run, no.

  • gunnerbear

    The use of nuclear weapons in Japan saved lives – specifically the lives of the servicemen who would have been asked to land and fight through Japan and the massive casualties that would have occurred. Perhaps it is regrettable that the Allies didn’t have the weapon sooner – one dropped on Berlin early on in the war might have stopped much more bloodshed. Might I also draw the authors attention to the article in “The Atlantic Monthly | December 1946” titled “If the Atomic Bomb Had Not Been Used” by Karl T. Compton as to why the use of the ‘the Bomb” was necessary.

    • Stephen McBride

      you wouldt be saying that if it had been dropped on your country! wiped out most of your family members! and caused untold damage worldwide to our planet!

      • gunnerbear

        Perhaps the Japanese ought to have considered the costs of war before they cheerfully and willingly went to war and treated POWs in the most inhumane ways possible….plus of course the Japanese weren’t exactly nice to the Korean and Chinese women either….etc.

  • carolwilcox

    I asked Coaker at the Policy Seminar the direct question “How and against which state is Trident a deterrent?”. All he did was quote from the final NPF policy document. He did not answer the question. I kept repeating “How?”.

  • swatnan

    Its a complete waste of money. Stronger conventional forces and maybe conscription is the answer to the increasing disputes going on in the World, but only umnder the cap of the UN.How is it thta even the might of the USA with itsarsenal of nukes cannot bring down ISIS?

    • gunnerbear

      Because the entire might of the US forces isn’t being deployed. The POTUS has decided to use targeted strikes rather the hammer of massive weaponry. If the US ‘really cranked it up’, ISIS would cease to exist but then so would lots of innocent civilians – in the current day and age, such a policy decision would be seen as unacceptable,

  • Anglo-Scot

    Great article. Reading some of the comments, it’s important not to get drawn into the twisted logic of deterrence. Even one nuclear warhead would cause so much damage that its use could not possibly be justified. Once you start entertaining the logic of deterrence, it weakens your critical thinking capacities across the board. This is what has happened to the Labour leadership – who should know a lot better – a bunch of inveterate invertebrates.

    I won’t be going near the Labour Party until they decisively reject Trident and apologise for their folly to date. If they actually commit us to Trident replacement, then I will burn with anger against them permanently. I don’t know how Jeremy Corbyn puts up with the leadership of his own party.

    • Steve Stubbs

      Because he says one thing but acts another. Its called lack of principles.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    Because UNSC reform needs to come before, not after, abolishing the nuclear deterrent. Let’s get on with that.

  • Daniel Speight

    Not having Trident doesn’t have to mean not having nuclear weapons. We are meant to be worried about terrorists getting hold of Russian nuclear material and building suitcase bombs. If we lose Trident maybe we can build a couple of suitcases with our own stuff in them. If we wanted to go a bit more upmarket we could build a few dozen air dropped bombs seeing that we seem OK with the air bombing of our enemies. Seems to me that the reasons we say we need them nowadays could be done far more economically especially if we could keep BAE out of the equation. If it ever becomes a US versus Russia nuclear war I don’t think we will have much say in it anyway.

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