Former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook noted that Trident was “worse than irrelevant” for dealing with the international and security challenges faced by Britain in 2005. He was right then, and his assessment is even more obviously true now.
The Cold War had ended by the time the first new Vanguard submarine equipped with US Trident missiles was sent to sea in 1994. Costing tens of billions to make and maintain, these politically and militarily out-dated weapons have cost British taxpayers an average of £3 billion a year for the past 22 years.
The challenges to our security now are very different from the Cold War years, so why keep deploying cold war weapons? Fears of US-Russian nuclear war have diminished as over 30,000 nuclear weapons were reduced bilaterally and in many cases, unilaterally, over the years. But nuclear proliferation and dangers are still a problem. The biggest risks, with over 15,000 nuclear weapons in nine arsenals, are nuclear accidents due to technical or human error. These continue to pose serious dangers, including when nuclear warheads are so frequently transported between nuclear facilities in England and Scotland.
Unlike chemical and biological armaments, nuclear weapons are not yet banned. A majority of UN nations want to extend International Humanitarian Law to nuclear weapons. They voted overwhelmingly for multilateral nuclear disarmament talks this year. Shockingly, the British Government voted against.
Nonetheless, UN member states will soon meet in Geneva to get nuclear disarmament negotiations underway, with many hoping to see real progress towards prohibiting nuclear weapons by 2020, when the next Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review takes place. Even if this government refuses to engage constructively with these disarmament initiatives, it would be the height of political and fiscal irresponsibility to give the “main gate” go-ahead or sign any further multi-billion pound contracts for new nuclear submarines.
Ultimately we know that replacing Trident is a waste of our resources and won’t keep us safe.
Not even the most die-hard nuclear advocates can credibly claim that Trident contributes to dealing with any of the most pressing dangers facing the UK today. The government’s own analysis has placed “weapons proliferation” to being a “tier 2” threat – below terrorism, public health and major natural hazards dangers.
Trident replacement would suck up resources that would be better spent on reinforcing what people really need for their security and well-being. Ultimately we have to ask what makes us safer? Weapons of mass destructions or more spending on hospitals, schools or flood defences?
Out in the real world Britain’s nuclear weapons are seen as a security problem not an asset. They get in the way of international efforts to halt proliferation. Calling the weapons “deterrents” doesn’t alter the fact that there’s no convincing evidence that Trident has or ever will deter anyone in ways that matter. Henry Kissinger and other US nuclear policy leaders publicly acknowledged a few years ago that relying on nuclear weapons for deterrence is “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective”.
Indeed the government’s recent Strategic Defence and Security Review mentions the UK’s commitment to the goal of a world without weapons. That recognition that we would all be safer without nuclear weapons needs to be more than warm words. Truly committing to ridding the world from nuclear weapons means fulfilling our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty by disarming.
What does keeping our nuclear arsenal say to the rest of the world? That you need weapons of mass destruction to keep safe? That security only comes with a finger on a trigger which, if pressed, would wipe out entire cities? We can’t lecture other nations on non-proliferation if we’re so deeply unwilling to countenance getting rid of these weapons ourselves.
We have an opportunity to make real progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament by working with the majority of UN member states who are beginning talks in Geneva this month on taking forward multilateral negotiations aimed at prohibiting nuclear weapons and creating the conditions for their total elimination. The government must participate fully and constructively. Give the talks a chance to go forward. Don’t waste billions of people’s hard-earned money on more nuclear weapons that the rest of the world is trying to ban.
Ultimately we don’t need Trident – and it won’t keep us safe.
I’ll be marching alongside thousands tomorrow for a Britain free from nuclear weapons. I hope you’ll join me.