Issue 85 December 2006

Issue 85
Editorial 85

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EDITORIAL: Still time to stop Trident replacement

Consultation farce
As expected, the “consultation” on Trident is a farce. Tony Blair made up his mind long ago, and is just going through the motions. It is astonishing that Blair, who was a member of CND when there was a real nuclear threat, and there might have been some semblance of an argument in favour of the deterrent theory, now peddles this nonsense about “ultimate insurance” against some unspecified future catastrophe. On the other hand, former pro-nuclear people like Roy Hattersley and Denis Healey have recognised the new situation and drawn the logical conclusions. Actually, it is not at all astonishing; it is par for the course with Blair. He supported CND when it was fashionable, and helped his career, and dumped it when that changed.

Never despair
But we must not despair. We have all the arguments. If we deploy them effectively enough over the next three months, Blair may still get a shock. What are the arguments?

There is a fundamental contradiction, an illogic, in the whole concept of deterrence. Any weapon may be a deterrent in certain circumstances. But simply to label one particular weapon as the deterrent, without analysing the circumstances, is nonsense. A weapon can only work as a deterrent if there is a recognition that it could be used. But if it ever is used, then it has not been a deterrent. When the consequences of use are so potentially horrendous as they are with nukes, it is difficult to imagine any sane leader actually pressing the button. (Though an automated system might!) And the 200 or so armed conflicts around the world since 1945 have not been deterred. Again, even Blair admits that Trident cannot deter terrorists planning attacks such as 9/11 or 7/7, which are the main real threat today.

Top table?
We do not need nuclear weapons to have a seat at the “top table”. The five permanent members of the Security Council were chosen before anyone had nuclear weapons, not even the US. Though the composition of the Security Council is itself worthy of debate, the nuclear status of the candidates mentioned when reform is discussed is not considered significant.

Nukes illegal
All nuclear weapons are illegal under International Humanitarian Law, since they are fundamentally indiscriminate, and cannot ever be confined to military targets and personnel. Even at present Trident is probably in breach of the NPT. A Trident replacement, with a life extending to 2040 or 2050, is certainly contrary to the obligation to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament …”, and to the “unequivocal undertaking” to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals, signed by all five recognised nuclear weapon states (NWS) at the 2000 NPT Review Conference. Jack Straw says that only simpletons believe this. I am happy to be counted among such simpletons as Professors Philippe Sands and Christine Chinkin, Rabinder Singh, QC and Hans Blix, not to mention our own President, Lord Archer of Sandwell, QC.

Replacement of Trident, and indeed the whole policy of the NWS of relying on nuclear weapons for their “security” is an incentive to proliferation. If we need a “deterrent” for some unspecified, distant, potential threat, then every country which faces a potential conflict situation should have one. So when every such country is so equipped, we would have a completely peaceful world, would we not?

Independent? No!
On a practical level, the idea that Trident is Britain’s “independent nuclear deterrent” is just ludicrous. As Dan Plesch has shown, it depends on the US in so many ways that it could never be fired without their approval and assistance.

Regrettably, some of the workers in the Barrow shipyards, which produce the submarines, have campaigned for Trident replacement, in order to save their jobs. This may be understandable, but it is mistaken. Apart from the morality of jobs being dependent on producing weapons of mass destruction (see below) the impact of climate change is starting to generate interest in waterborne transport at all levels, as one of the most environmentally friendly ways of moving both goods and people around. There is scope there for alternative employment, if the planning and political will existed. Incidentally, how many jobs and how much of the cost will actually go to the US? This is never clarified.

How many billions? Too many
The cost has been variously estimated as £20bn, £25bn, and up to £79bn. The last figure is said to include maintenance over its lifetime. But the precise figure is not important. Even £20bn is a lot, which could and should be spent on constructive purposes rather than means of destruction. If the arguments above are valid, then one penny is too much. On the other hand, if nuclear weapons are essential to our security and survival, then money should be no object. But it is up to those who wish to spend money in this way to prove up to the hilt that this really is so. We do not believe they can.

Thou shalt not kill
Finally, there is the question of morality. Tony Blair is alleged to be a Christian, and a Christian socialist, to boot. But one does not have to be a Christian to recognise the importance of the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, as an essential foundation for any civilised society. So how can a “defence” policy predicated on the potential killing of millions, and even the destruction of the whole of civilisation, ever be justified?

Keep up the pressure
We urge all members to write to their MPs, and to Tony Blair. It is not a foregone conclusion that he will win a vote in the House of Commons. Even Tory MPs may be persuadable. But it would be almost as good as a victory if he only won with the aid of Tory votes. Local press letters are also a good outlet for the arguments.

WDC Co-Chair & Editor, World Disarm!


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