It is not possible to envisage a situation where Britain would, independently, use its nuclear weapons system without the support of our NATO allies. In the instance that Britain did use nuclear weapons, international law dictates that this would be in response to nuclear weapons being used against us, in which case the Trident system would have failed to have fulfilled its main purpose; that of a deterrent. Our membership of NATO provides us with collective protection under its nuclear umbrella, with the Trident system acting as an unnecessary duplicate of this.
The nature of international politics is changing. The threats faced today are not the same as in the second half of the 20th century. International instability is caused by factors such as terrorism, cyberwarfare, economic, political and social upheaval, as well as environmental issues. Many of these are key development issues which pose a threat to international security. An independent nuclear deterrent does nothing to address any of these factors. It distracts attention and diverts resources from the real challenges facing the world today and in the future.
In the current economic circumstances, and with large cuts to government budgets including the defence budget, it is difficult to justify spending nearly £100bn on a new nuclear weapons system, which we cannot use , which does not protect Britain from the threats to international security today and which does nothing to address these.
Britain under the Labour Government can rightly, and proudly, make claim to have played a leading role in promoting the international development agenda, both domestically and internationally. This helped to raise Britain’s standing on the world stage and increase our respect and influence abroad. ‘Soft’ power is an increasingly important aspect of international relations. By making a commitment to non-renewal of our independent nuclear weapons system and increasing our attention to new and emerging threats, Britain (and the Labour Party) can remain at the forefront of the international development cause, as well as taking a forward-thinking approach to our own defence and security policy.
By non-renewal of our independent nuclear weapons system, Britain will be setting an example to other nations who are either developing or aspire to have nuclear weapons. It would allow Britain to play a leading role in securing new nuclear weapons free zones, including in Africa and the Middle East. We should be realistic about the capacity for the UK to project military power across the globe and make greater efforts to lead by example rather than through force and coercion. The best way of achieving this would be through making a clear statement of intent through non-renewal of Trident and a redefinition of our defence and security policy towards new and emerging threats, including the need to address development issues which span national borders.
Nick Brown is Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and the former chief whip