We can still fight Trident: Here’s how

Daniel Blaney defends the CND's campaign for nuclear disarmament.

Daniel Blaney is the vice-chair of CND

The centrality of a recent article on Trident involves questioning long term tactics when campaigning against nuclear weapons.

The writer rightly suggests there is, and should be, more to the arguments for nuclear disarmament than pure economics.

CND’s campaigning has always had a pronounced ethical edge – but the cost of Trident is not a distinctly separate argument. It is profoundly immoral to spend billions on weapons designed to kill everyone in entire cities and regions when those billions could be spent on schools and hospitals as well as services which tackle homelessness and child poverty, especially at time when all those services are having cuts in funding.

The Trident submarine replacement programme, if it doesn’t overrun the latest Ministry of Defence estimates, will cost around £25 billion over the next two decades.

But the piece is mistaken in one crucial area: his implication is that by 2016 all the money will have been spent.  This is a false starting point for a discussion. The vast majority of the £25 billion will not be committed before the next general election.

The correct starting point is that the next government – the government elected in 2015 (if not before) – will have to decide whether to proceed with Trident replacement. To proceed at that stage will mean to proceed with the construction phase. That is a decision the present coalition has specifically postponed until after the next general election because the coalition couldn’t survive otherwise.

Sure, it is clear the Ministry of Defence is trying to purchase some long-lead items, which must be exposed and opposed where it happens; but in essence, we are in the design phase.

What if it is a Labour government from 2015? The author quotes the hawkish Jim Murphy’s enthusiasm for nuclear weapons, but Ed Miliband is clearly keeping the door open on a policy shift. His position on Trident during the leadership election was repeated in his only remarks on the subject to the 2011 Labour Party conference.

During a question and answer session (start at 1:02:19 for answer), Ed Miliband said:

‘I think the government has done the right thing by commissioning a study looking at whether there are alternatives to the renewal of Trident. Actually the big decision on this is 2015, 2016. I think it’s right we look at that and see what it comes with because if there’s a different way of doing things which keeps us as secure, and costs less, than I think that’s a case certainly worth looking at.’

The government review, which will aid the Lib Dems in arguing for alternatives to Trident, will only consider alternative nuclear weapon systems. But it does challenge conventional Westminster thinking on Trident replacement and opens the door to serious questioning of the government strategy and a serious debate at the next general election, all of which we welcome.

In his article, the writer referred to CND’s recent research on the impact of Trident and its threat of employment.

CND welcomes discussion of its research and the current economic climate requires rigorous scrutiny of the relationship between government policies and the knock on effect on employment. Our research shows that replacing Britain’s nuclear weapons system will sustain only a small number of jobs while jeopardising the jobs of many thousands of workers across the economy.

Finally he asks some good questions about the process by which we achieve wider international disarmament. He is right: political parties should be tested on their claims of a policy of multilateral disarmament.

Many politicians prefer to align with the language of multilateral disarmament, as a deliberate attempt to distance themselves from notions of unilateralism, which they regard as unpopular.

Of course it has always been a false distinction, since nuclear powers like the United Kingdom are impeding progress towards multilateral disarmament. Were either the present government or the last Labour government serious about pursuing in good faith negotiations leading to disarmament as required by the non-proliferation treaty?

At the last NPT review conference, it was nuclear powers like the United Kingdom and the United States who stalled widespread momentum for a nuclear weapons convention which would lead to worldwide nuclear disarmament. While over 130 countries supported a nuclear weapons convention as a means to agree global abolition, the United Kingdom opposed it as ‘premature’.

CND campaigns for the urgent global abolition of nuclear weapons; it will inevitably need to involve multilateral agreement. A government serious about disarmament negotiations should be expected to indicate its intention to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.  The government could demonstrate its good faith by announcing Trident will immediately be taken off routine patrol, as a precursor to it then being scrapped.

CND wants immediate disarmament.

But if Trident replacement isn’t cancelled before the next general election, construction will still require parliamentary approval after that election. During that election campaign, politicians in favour of nuclear weapons will need to persuade the voters it is money worth spending when they cannot promise investment in so many starved services.

They will also need to explain how Trident replacement can possibly be consistent with the multilateral clamour for global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Trident will remain a live issue – including the issue of its astronomical cost – until it is scrapped along with any plans to replace it.

See also:

Government ramps up Trident work despite coalition pledgeKate Hudson, February 18th 2011

Cost of Trident delay inevitable result of the compromise of coalitionMarcus Roberts, November 11th 2010

Strategic Defence Review: Cameron bats away Trident alternativesMarcus Roberts, October 19th 2010

CND: Is it now time to scrap Trident?Kate Hudson, October 18th 2010

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