The trouble with Trident
Labour still hesitates to ask the right questions.
A muffled debate
on the nuclear deterrent took place on 18 June which-- for those who noticed -- was deeply depressing. The news that the government is going to order the first reactor
for a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines provoked mild anguish among some LibDems – and much more from the SNP
which is opposed to Trident altogether, so that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was obliged to make a statement to the House.
But from Labour there was first silence, and then support.
Here, for those who support both Labour and CND
to ponder deeply, are some key parts of the statement/question put to Hammond by Alison Seabeck (Plymouth Moor View), Labour
shadow defence minister. I have added my own comments in square brackets.
“In a security landscape of few guarantees,
our independent nuclear deterrent provides us with the ultimate insurance policy, strengthens our national security and increases
our ability to achieve long-term global security aims….” [This is indistinguishable from the Conservative view that Britain, unlike most other nations, must
rely on nuclear weapons].
“…the development of the new reactor
needs to go ahead whether or not there is a final decision on Trident, because it relates to the UK’s defence capability
and to our submarine programme….” [This seems to mean that Labour believes Britain must retain nuclear submarines
come what may].
country would therefore be deeply disappointed if defence of the Government ever took precedence over defence of the national
interest.” [This appears to be a warning to the Tories not to make any
concession – in order to keep the coalition government together -- to LibDem
unhappiness over Trident renewal ].
“When the Government do the right thing on defence, we will support them. We
look forward to the evidence that they will provide and to a clear commitment to multilateral disarmament. [Finally Ms Seabeck
comes to her question, which is pushing at an open door. Everyone says they are in favour of multilateral disarmament and
support the Non-proliferation Treaty].
Only a few MPs willing to speak up independently on defence raised the simple question: why continue with the nuclear deterrent.
“Do we not need to think again?”, asked Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, Islington North) , describing Trident as “a
weapon of mass destruction of dubious legality and total morality”. Paul Flynn (Labour, Newport West) called it “little
more than an impractical vanity and virility symbol”. David Lammy (Labour, Tottenham) asked which would make his constituents
safer – “cutting Trident to fund extra police officers or cutting police officers to funds Trident?”
In theory the decision to go
ahead with the replacement of the submarines which carry Trident (which is what the short-hand term “Trident renewal”
really means) is still subject to a parliamentary decision in 2016. And again in theory, the LibDem sponsored Trident Alternative
Review could come up with a different solution to maintain a British “nuclear
deterrent in some different form. Hammond barely acknowledged even that possibility, saying instead that
“The investment in Trident
and the successor class submarine is a long-term programme to provide for Britain’s strategic security over the next
40 to 50 years. I believe that it is one of the most important functions of government to protect the population against the
strategic threats in the world, which, if anything, are growing, not diminishing.”
the core belief in the Conservative defence establishment, and in the MoD, that for all the talk of disarmament, nuclear weapons
should be kept indefinitely because one cannot predict what may happen in the future. Tony
Blair and Gordon Brown when in office subscribed to exactly the same doctrine: how can we persuade their successors to have
the political courage to revise it?