By Lori Inglis Hall
The renewal of Trident looks set to become the political melodrama of this Parliament. On one side is the PM, defender of our land, arguing that the need for a nuclear deterrent has actually increased since the end of the Cold War. He’s supported by a large proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
On the other side is Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Vice President of CND, long-time Pacifist and, if certain sections of the Press are to be believed, the most dangerous man in politics, intent on disarming our borders, destroying all that is good and true about this beloved Nation of ours, and launching us headfirst into a 1970’s dystopian cold war world in which we will all be forced to speak Russian, or live under Sharia Law. Or something.
That is if we haven’t all been obliterated in a nuclear apocalypse and all because we gave up our independent deterrent.
We’ve all seen the headlines, and the spin from Conservative HQ. We live in an increasingly dangerous world and the only thing standing between us and oblivion is four vanguard submarines floating about off the coast of Scotland. But as with anything, this is not a clear cut issue. Here are five arguments against Trident the mainstream press are trying to ignore.
1. TRIDENT IS NOT A DETERRENT
Back in 2009 Field Marshall Lord Bramell, former head of the Armed Forces, and two senior Generals wrote to The Times and denounced Trident as ‘completely useless against modern warfare’, calling instead for the money to be spent on much-needed conventional weaponry.
“Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism … Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant, except in the context of domestic politics.”
It’s a similar argument to the one used by Jeremy Corbyn in his controversial interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssburg, in which he stated he would not be prepared to use nuclear weapons if he became PM.
“We are not under threat from any nuclear power. We are under threat from instability, yes, there is a terrorist issue around the world. Listen, the nuclear weapons that the United States hold, all the hundreds if not thousands of warheads they’ve got were no help to them on 9/11.”
What’s more, former Conservative Defence Minister Michael Portillo has made pretty much the same point.
2. TRIDENT IS NOT INDEPENDENT
Ah yes, Britain’s ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ – how many times have we heard that? And it is, as turns out, yet another triumph of spin over substance.
While the Trident submarines are produced by BAE Systems in Scotland, and the warheads produced at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Berkshire, the actual missiles are manufactured in the USA.
The maintenance programme is also run by the US, with a pool of missiles held at the US Strategic Weapons facility at King’s Bay, Georgia, USA, from which the US itself and Britain draw serviced missiles as required.
So operationally independent – perhaps – we don’t know unless we launch one and we’d have to be bonkers to do that. But we are completely dependent on the USA for the most crucial part of our ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent.
Which is absolutely fine as long as the UK keeps lolloping alongside US foreign policy like an eager puppy, anxious for a pat on the head. But what happens if the UK Government ever decides to take a divergent route? (Stop laughing, it could happen.)
3. TRIDENT IS A WASTE OF MONEY
We heard earlier from Lord Bramell, who argued in 2009 that the renewal of trident was a £20bn ‘waste of money’, an argument supported by former Conservative Defence Minister Michael Portillo.
Figures released this week show that the cost of renewing Trident has risen to £176bn, according to IMF growth forecasts, almost double previous estimates. That’s £25bn for four new submarines in a like-for-like replacement, plus maintenance of the system over its lifetime, which would eat up a whopping 6% of the annual defence budget. And lest we forget, Minsters have pledged to hold at 2% of GDP.
To put this into context, the annual NHS budget for 2015/6 was £115.4bn.
4. JUST HAVING A NUCLEAR DETERRENT PUTS US AT RISK
Especially as we don’t appear to be particularly good at securing it.
Earlier this year, Whistle-blower William McNeilly revealed serious security breaches around Trident. In his published dossier, McNeilly exposed a grave lack of security measures at the Scottish base, such as such as the failure to check passes, or to search contractors entering the supposedly secure base.
He also revealed a serious sense of complacency amongst the crews of the vanguard submarines, with one missile compartment used as a gym, despite the close proximity of nuclear weapons, and spoke of personnel deviating from set procedures because they can be “long and winding.”
Which begs the question, who is really at risk from Britain’s nuclear weapons?
5. SPEAKING OF RISK….WE’RE OUTSOURCING OUR NUCLEAR INFRASTRUCTURE TO CHINA
Security sources and Conservative Politicians were among those raising concerns at plans to use Chinese funding towards the building of a new nuclear power station in Somerset (in partnership for French energy giant EDF). The deal, the brainchild of Chancellor George Osborne, would pave the way for further Chinese investment in Britain’s nuclear infrastructure
The deal will give China, well known for its cyber espionage, a unique insight into the vulnerabilities of one the UK’s most sensitive industries, with senior UK defence and security sources reportedly anxious that the Chinese could insert ‘backdoors’ into IT systems, allowing them access to classified information.