‘Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations‘
Saturday 20th February 2016
The massive expenditure of billions proposed for a new Trident should be spent on the real needs of our people and the planet. March with us for a nuclear weapon-free world on February 27, urges BRUCE KENT
In 1946 the decision was made in secret to build a British nuclear bomb. It is clear that British nationalism, not British security, was the driving force.
To those who said that Britain could not afford the bomb Ernest Bevin was quite clear: “That won’t do at all… We’ve got to have this thing over here whatever it costs… We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack flying on top of it.” In short, we were a Great Power, and those at the top wanted nuclear weapon evidence of that status.
So it has been for years.
We now have the record of a meeting between Margaret Thatcher, Lord Carrington and John Nott in October 1979. There were initially some doubts about going ahead with Trident as a replacement for Polaris, but those doubts were swept away in one sentence: “Failure to acquire Trident would leave the French as the only nuclear power in Europe. This would be intolerable.”
It is exactly this Great Power illusion that is the main motivation of those calling for a replacement of Trident. It is time for a bit of morality and common sense. If we need nuclear weapons to deal with North Korea, as David Davis MP suggested on Any Questions not long ago, then why shouldn’t every country that can afford them take the same route?
The world committed itself to getting rid of all nuclear weapons nearly 50 years ago. Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 makes that clear. We are committed “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.”
The key phrase is “in good faith.” It cannot possibly be in good faith for this country to build and maintain at massive cost another generation of nuclear weapons designed to keep us as a nuclear-armed state for another 30-plus years.
The arguments against doing this are very powerful. If these instruments of mass murder came free they would still be signs of gross immorality.
Jeremy Corbyn and Pope Francis are singing from the same hymn-sheet on this one. What astonishment went round Establishment circles when Corbyn said he would not press the button and thus kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people elsewhere.
Shock, horror, what a wimp! On the contrary, he is a man of morality who knows more about the ethics of war and international law than his enemies imagine.
Only a few months ago CND hosted yet another delegation of Hibakusha — atomic bomb survivors — from Japan who reminded us in graphic detail of what those weapons do to human beings for generations.
Morality calls us to look at the “big picture” historically but also at global needs today. “Spending on nuclear weapons,” says Pope Francis, “squanders the wealth of nations… When these resources are squandered the poor and weak, living on the margins of society, pay the price.”
Morality, however, is often not a vote pulling argument. We flattened German cities in 1944 and 1945 and killed tens of thousands of German civilians without much moral protest.
We need to listen as well to those with military experience. One field marshal and two generals wrote together to The Times in 2009 saying: “Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics” — in other words in the world of British nationalism. They go on to say of a new Trident: “This force cannot be seen as independent of the United States in any meaningful sense.”
How could it be otherwise since not only do we get US help in designing the warheads, but without missiles supplied by the United States we would have nothing on which to put our warheads.
Arguments in favour of Trident get more and more feeble. “Deterrent” is the key word, but it is a propaganda word. Who and what do we deter?
Clearly not the many high-risk accidents that there have been with nuclear weapons. Clearly not Isis or one of its offspring who are only too willing to get to paradise. Clearly not the Argentinians who wanted to take the Falklands. Clearly not sub-state groups like the IRA. Certainly not states with a record of irrational action and leadership.
We should never forget the image of US officials scrambling to escape in a helicopter from the roof of the embassy in Saigon as the Vietcong closed in. Or indeed the hasty Soviet exodus from Afghanistan.
Nuclear weapons were evidently the illusion of power not the reality. It was Robert McNamara who, at the end of his life, said that we were saved not by good judgement but by “good luck.”
Good luck does not last forever. As the then Professor of War Studies in London, Lawrence Freedman, once said: “To believe that this can go on indefinitely without major disaster requires an optimism unjustified by any historical or political perspective.”
The urgent need is to plan for a nuclear weapon-free world and for a world in which disputes and differences are resolved by law, justice and dialogue.
The United Nations charter signed in June 1945 made it clear that the main aim of the new organisation was “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”
We need not more nuclear weapons but their elimination. The massive expenditure of billions proposed for a new Trident should be spent on the real needs of our people and of the world.
Those who build nuclear weapon submarines can perfectly well build hospital ships and sea-based wind farms.
Millions of people moved from war to peace production in 1945.
We need a government which has that history in mind. That is why our “won’t-press-the-button” Corbyn now offers us real hope.
Let us make sure, with a massive turnout on February 27, that he and those like him realise what widespread support they have. Not to replace Trident would be a significant step on the road to a nuclear weapon-free world.