Today the UK government is set to make the decision on whether or not they want to spend £205 billion pounds, on renewing a bunch of pointless killing machines that no one in their right mind would ever use. The idea is officially supported by both major political parties in the UK, despite it being a much more divisive issue in the Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn strongly opposed to Trident renewal. Nuclear weapons are mainly a massively expensive leftover from the cold war. Nuclear weapons are absolutely useless against the likes of ISIS and Al Qaida, and neither are they of any use against home-grown terrorists. France’s stockpile of nuclear weapons has not stopped them suffering terrorist attacks, and the same can be said for Pakistan. The idea that the UK would be open to invasion from some country unspecified by the government, should we stop wasting millions of pounds on the ability to indiscriminately wipe out vast numbers of people, is absolutely absurd. Some of the countries without nukes that have not been invaded yet include Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan and Australia. It seems that the message Theresa May is trying to put out by calling for Trident Renewal, is that we are so bad at international diplomacy, that we won’t be able to stop other countries from declaring war on us, unless we invest billions in a huge ‘fuck off’ nuclear deterrent. This blog post will look at why the renewal of trident would be an absolute disaster for world politics and the species.
For 65 years the British debate over nuclear weapons has been dominated by the myth that they are necessary for international security and power on the international stage, meaning that to speak out against them is to show a lack of backbone and patriotism. This is an oversimplified but highly potent manoeuvre. It has had an influence on elections, and means that politicians defending the status quo can swagger around, knowing that they have got a highly effective propaganda narrative up their sleeve.
When Tony Blair decided in 2006, to kick start the successor to the current submarine base nuclear weapons system, Trident, he was hoping for a traditional battle that would cement his legacy as the leader of the centre right New Labour, burying the CND supporting wing of the party who had been blamed for losing the 1983 and 1987 general elections. In the end Blair got a debate in parliament, which forced Blair to rely on the Conservative opposition to get his motion past. Fast forward to 2016, when our attention is being directed towards Russia’s actions in Ukraine, through suggesting that the Baltic States, which are formal NATO allies, are next on their expansionist list of targets. Surely it would be irrational for Britain to show a sign of international ‘weakness’ and not to renew their nuclear weapons, at a time when the country is facing so much peril. Indeed, it may be irrational if one believed that nuclear weapons had any part to play in Putin’s Calculations in the unfolding crisis. The truth is however, that the UK acquired and has retained its nuclear weapons, because of domestic political considerations and manipulation of historical narratives, not because of any genuine international strategy. The British identity is heavily influenced by our experiences during the Second World War, when Britain stood against and defeated the Nazis. The fact that Putin has been compared to such despots as Hitler, is no coincidence. If a threat from Russia was a good case for trident, then a good start would be to get British banks to stop investing in Russia nuclear programmes. Finally, Even though there is no credible scenario where Britain would stand alone in facing a Russian invasion of Europe, this does not seem to dent many people’s fears.
It seems that much of the justification for replacing trident given by politicians, like Theresa May, is based on the idea that with their finger on the button, they would act rationally. This logic is flawed on multiple levels. Firstly, if those in control are rational then the only decision they could make would be to not use nuclear weapons. If they are not rational, they will not accept this. Denis Healy, who was secretary of state for defence from 1964 to 1970, revealed in 2008 that he would never have given the order to press the button. He realised that there is no point in killing 20 million innocent Russians, and indeed no point in retaliating. Also, if he acted pre-emptively, a huge swath of the British public could be dead within 24 hours. However, could trident give a credible counter threat, as mainstream political logic assumes it can? Well according to Field Marshall Lord Brammal, a former head of the armed forces, the answer to that question should be a definitive no. He states that ‘nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the treats and scale of violence we now face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism’. In addition to this, former defence secretary Michael Portillo has described the argument that we need to renew our nuclear weapons system, due to threats from North Korea as ‘absurd’.
How Renewing Nuclear Weapons Benefits Private Corporations
Following the Second World War, The US denied Britain information about the Manhattan project, the scheme which amalgamated the nuclear weapons system of the UK, US and Canada, and which led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In 1950, this denial of information to which UK scientists had contributed, led to the re-establishment of, British nuclear weapons programme, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment (AWRE).
In the years that they remained a government run institution, the AWRE carried out a number of successful tests, in places such as the Pacific Islands. In 1987 however, the Conservative government renamed the establishment, simply as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), and later announced plans to privatise the operation of Britain’s Nuclear weapons system. In 1993, the contract to run the UK nuclear deterrent was handed to a consortium called Hunting BRAEA. By 1998, all independently developed British Nuclear weapons had been phased out, leaving only the Vanguard Submarine based Trident missiles, built by the American company Lockheed Martin. After several safety breaches, including an incident where workers ended up inhaling plutonium, Hunting BRAEA lost the contract to maintain Britain’s Nuclear weapons in 1999. Following this, responsibility for our nuclear weapons was handed to another consortium, called AWE management Limited. The UK government defended this process, by arguing that the Ministry of Defence had a golden share in the operation (an agreement which allows a government organisation, the right of decisive vote in a shareholder meeting). A problem with the ‘golden share’ system arose in 2003, when the EU declared the UK governments golden share in the privatised British airports authority illegal, as it was deemed contradictory to the free circulation of capital in the EU. This has not stopped the government from repeatedly talking up their share in AWE. It has been estimated that the ministry of defence now pays over £600 million a year to the AWE. In 2011 the Ministry of Defence agreed to throw an extra £750 million into the company for them to renew a uranium plant. That is on top of the £500 million on the Project Mensa warhead assembly plant and another £120 million completely wasted on the development of the cancelled Hydrodynamics research facility at AWE Aldermaston. If the UK government do decide to renew Trident, these private companies will soak up the vast majority of the development cost.
How an earth can what MP’s are about to vote on renewing, be considered an Independent nuclear weapons system, when it now relies on American missiles built by Lockheed Martin, and is administered by a private consortium which is two thirds made up of American Companies. The fact that this is to the cost of £600 million a year to the British taxpayer, and the fact that our public services are simultaneously being dismantled, is absolutely scandalous.
Could we Stop Trident?
So far in this blog post I have made the argument that, there are both negative political and economic issues, associated with trident renewal. This last section will look at the potential of social movements and practical issues, to stop trident renewal, in its tracks.
The first major stumbling block trident renewal faces is whether the new submarines will be fit for purpose by the time they are ready. After all, the £205bn price tag is a lot of money for a useless weapon. Secondly, the government needs somewhere to base the submarines. They are currently stationed at Faslane near Glasgow. There are no suitable sites outside of Scotland, and during the first independence referendum, the government admitted that it had no plan B, if Scotland left the UK. In addition to this, austerity weighs heavy on the trident debate. When the plan to renew trident was first launched in 2007, the project was estimated to cost up to £15bn. Fast forward to today, when society has been ravaged by severe cuts to public services, and estimates suggest that renewal will cost about £205bn, which fights the logic of the establishments own austerity. All this puts social movements like CND in an excellent position to challenge the government’s trident programme and propose policies which involve investing in public services, and concentrating on renewable energy.
Overall, the establishment do not care about whether weapons of mass destruction are necessary. Even if they do, they don’t care whether it is good value for money, or whether we should take a more diplomatic approach to international relations. They want large amounts of money to be wasted in this way, so they are not going to give a damn about objections. Anyone that does protest Trident renewal on moral or practical grounds, will be inevitably derided as an extremist or a terrorist supporter, by the mainstream media.