Tag: trident renewal

Why Trident is a useless waste of public money

By Daniel Margrain

Monday evenings vote by the UK parliament to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme which is planned to begin in the early 2030s at an estimated cost of £205 billion, speaks volumes about the malaise at the heart of British parliamentary democracy. The disconnect between Labour members and the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is, in part, indicative of this broader schism in liberal social democracy more generally.

This is highlighted, for example, by the fact that the democratically-elected leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, who commands a 20 point lead over his rival, Owen Smith in the renewed challenge to his leadership set for September, voted against the renewal of Trident, while 60 per cent of Labour MPs, the vast majority of whom are opposed to Corbyn’s leadership, voted in favour.

The replacement of the current stock of nuclear submarines is predicated on the 2006 White Paper, The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent, which asserts that the UK needs nuclear weapons in order:

to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means.

The assumed logic underpinning this reasoning is that nuclear weapons provide states with the protection they need against potential adversaries. On the basis of this reasoning, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that theoretically and, as an issue of consistency, every state should be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. But contrary to state propaganda, this eventuality will inevitably make the world less, not more, safe. As Caroline Lucas eloquently and succinctly put it when she addressed PM, Theresa May, during the parliamentary debate:

“If keeping and renewing our nuclear weapons is so vital to our security and safety, does she accept the logic of that position must be that every other single country must seek to acquire nuclear weapons? And does she really think that the world would be a safer place if it did? Our weapons are driving proliferation, not the opposite.”

One only needs to look at the example of Iraq, which was attacked on the basis that Saddam was said to have had in his possession a functioning weapons programme that could be used to attack Britain within 45 minutes, in order to underline the truth of Lucas’ argument.

Secondly, both the Conservative and New Labour establishments’ claim that the Trident system is an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent doesn’t stand up to scrutiny either. The reality is that Britain is currently only one among nine states ­in the world that does not possess an independent functional nuclear weapons system and the means to deliver it.

The notion then, that a U.S-supplied UK missile system is free to strike any target in the world is fanciful, particularly as its functionality is dependent upon the vagaries of US-UK relations at any given time. Of course, all of this is underscored by the fact that under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Britain has an obligation to disarm.

The third illustration why Trident renewal is unsound, relates to the nature of the threats societies’ face in the 21st century. The 2015 National Security Strategy sets out the tier-one threats faced by the UK. These are international terrorism, climate change and cyber-crime. The obvious reality is that nuclear weapons are not a deterrent against any of these threats. How is it the case that over 180 countries in the world don’t feel the need to acquire this ‘deterrent’?

As the governments own Strategic Defence Review suggests, the threat of nuclear war is rated a two-tier level risk below international terrorism, climate change and cyber crime. It’s precisely because we live in an uncertain world where more countries aspire to get nuclear weapons, that the opportunity for terrorists to get hold of nuclear material becomes greater. The fact that nuclear weapons make the world less safe is the central premise which determines an ongoing UN process involving some 130 countries who are engaged in discussions about banning nuclear weapons. Unsurprisingly, the UK government is not a party to these discussions.

The arguments for maintaining Trident fall like a house of cards whose foundations are built on sand. The theory that having nuclear weapons makes the country safer is an entirely unproven one, and nor can it be proven. In logic, one cannot prove a negative insofar that doing something causes something else not to happen. The reason why nuclear attacks haven’t happened since the U.S attack on Japan, may be the result of any number of factors, or simply may be due to exceptionally good fortune. Indeed, many military experts argue that nuclear weapons make the country less safe, primarily because it increases the likelihood of them being used.

Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons exacerbates uncertainties and leads to the very scenario it is designed to avoid. If Trident is so effective in protecting the British people, why is it also not the case for every other country in the world? How can the UK government possibly try to deny the right of other countries to acquire them under circumstances where the UK government upgrades its own nuclear weapons?

The one argument that the proponents of Trident renewal frequently cite is the supposed loss of jobs that would allegedly result from any decision to de-commission or not to renew Trident. But, as SNP MP Mhairi Black argued in an erudite and passionate speech to the House of Commons, there is no evidence to suggest, given any political will to examine likely alternative employment opportunities, that job losses would inevitably be the result in any decision not to renew.

The billions that the government is proposing to spend on Trident renewal could conceivably be spent on utilizing the skilled engineers, scientists and other workers elsewhere by investing in energy, engineering and other alternative specialist areas. In addition, greater sums could be invested in preventing climate change. This latter diversification alternative would, as Black emphazises, seem to be particularly pertinent given that climate change is a tier-one threat. The notion that the Trident renewal argument as a defence against a two-tier threat trumps the threat posed by climate change which is a tier-one threat, defies all logic. As Peter Hitchens put it:

“Trident is like spending all your money on insuring against alien abduction, so you can’t afford cover against fire and theft.”

Furthermore, the decision to renew is both counter-intuitive and counter-productive. This is because such a process, as Caroline Lucas contends:

“gives out an incredibly negative message to the rest of the world that if you want to be secure then you have to acquire nuclear weapons. To that extent this vote will drive nuclear proliferation.”

Britain’s nuclear weapons capability does nothing to tackle the real threats the country faces. Rather, it has more to do with augmenting the perception throughout the rest of the world that a faded imperial power is still a significant player on the world stage. Maintaining a nuclear ‘deterrent’ is, in other words, about sending a message to the rest of the world that the projection of power by any means is necessary. Central to maintaining this illusion, is the assurance that the UK secures its permanent member status on the UN Security Council. The Trident nuclear weapons programme serves no other purpose than to satisfy the ego of the British establishment and the propping up of the arms industry.

In the context of an era of welfare retrenchment and austerity, the public are constantly being told by politicians that ‘difficult decisions’ have to be made in terms of the ‘necessity’ to cut disability, unemployment benefits and pensions, while the spending of billions on Trident is essential for their safety and security. The conservative political commentator and television personality, Michael Portillo, manages to cut through the spin as the graphic below illustrates:

As Portillo correctly implies, spending obscene amounts on what are frankly useless, unnecessary and immoral weapons of mass destruction, is an indefensible act of self-serving and short-sighted political narcissism.



Jeremy Corbyn, nuclear weapons and the mainstream media

By Daniel Margrain

From my personal experience, discussing political matters with many of our friends on the other side of the Atlantic, often takes somewhat of a surreal bent. To quote Shaw’s famous phrase, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.”  I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this.

A few weeks ago, I heard a contribution from a right-wing American political commentator called Charlie Wolf on LBC bemoaning the fact that the U.N are probing into (justifiable) allegations of human rights abuses by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) against British citizens. “How dare this external organisation poke their noses into the workings of a long standing democracy like Britain”, he exclaimed (or words to that effect). “The democratically elected Tory government are entitled to cut benefits to the most vulnerable people in society because they have a mandate to do so”, he continued.

It’s a refrain that many of us have heard repeatedly but of course does not stand up to the basic of critiques. Firstly, Cameron came to power in a “landslide” with only 24.4% of all those eligible to vote. Secondly, and just as significantly (but rarely ever mentioned), is the fact that there is no process by which leading politicians’ can be recalled. Hence, they can, and often do, redact on election manifesto promises without any legal redress from those adversely affected by such decisions.

But in the case of Iain Duncan Smith, whose controversial policies are at the centre of the U.N’s probe into the workings of the DWP, it’s worse than that: He wasn’t even in the public domain prior to the election to answer questions from journalists about these policies and, therefore, be held publicly accountable for his decisions. After the election, the government then disingenuously claimed it had a mandate to introduce severe benefit cuts for the most vulnerable in society when no mandate existed. The then standing leader, and self proclaimed champion of women’s rights, Harriet Harman, abstained on the vote to challenge the said decision whose impacts negatively affect women the most. The election of Corbyn put and end to this cozy Tory-Labour consensus.

The mainstream media and the establishment and political elite cannot handle the idea that Corbyn can be both a campaigner and a leader, or that decision making can be a democratic process emanating from the bottom up. They just can’t seem to get to grips with the fact that a politician like him answers questions directly and comes across as person with principle and integrity who offers to debate and discuss policy issues with colleagues before formulating them.

But in the harsh political climate of spin and the behind the scenes buying of political influence, this kind and humane approach is likely to work against a man who the corrupt establishment cannot buy. To quote a fellow comrade, “Compromise will be Corbyn’s enemy. His detractors – the current crop of BBC and Guardian political commentators included – will focus upon any inclination towards compromise in order to split Corbyn’s support.”

His concessions to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that compromise the democratic wishes of the mass membership are likely to create the foundations upon which the corrupted mainstream media, whose interests the former share, will pounce. The media’s strategy is to exacerbate the wedge between the Blairite elements within the PLP hierarchy and the mass membership. Here’s an example. Two days ago, BBC journalist, Laura Kuenssberg asked Corbyn a question she would never dream of asking any other leader, namely, whether he would ever envisage a circumstance where he would press the nuclear button? He answered directly with a “No”.

The reply is consistent with Corbyn’s stated opposition to nuclear weapons which he reiterated in his speech to conference. This was portrayed in the media as if it was the craziest thing any politician had ever said and, as all readers familiar with the editorial line taken by the Daily Telegraph will know, is apparently akin to treachery. It was also deemed to be treacherous to have the temerity to wear a beard, the failure to straighten up his tie, wear a brown jacket and not sing a stupid song about an extremely rich elderly woman living off state handouts who got even richer by pillaging the resources of black people in a faraway continent.

Corbyn’s intervention came despite Labour’s official policy to support the £40 billion renewal of Trident. Labour’s position in favouring this weapon of mass destruction is based on the protection of jobs that would inevitably be lost if the renewal plans were scrapped. This is a bad argument in the same way that hypothetically supporting those who produce weapons of torture from losing their jobs is a bad argument.

Corbyn said he would try to change Labour’s official support for Trident but he would live with it if he couldn’t. The media as one, jumped on the bandwagon by declaring Corbyn to be a weak person. I was unaware that listening to what other people have to say prior to formulating policy was a sign of weakness and immaturity. The fact that he actually listens to what other people say and then makes up his mind accordingly, is clearly too much of a revolutionary concept for some, including Kuenssberg, to handle.

The intervention by Corbyn, raises the prospect of Labour voting to renew Trident nuclear weapons but having a leader who has vowed never to use them. But surely the right and moral position to adopt is to insist that all leaders’ of all countries’ should vow never to use them. This is because there are no circumstances in which Britain or any other nation state would launch a nuclear attack. Shadow Defense Secretary, the Hawk, Maria Eagle, said Corbyn’s admission that he would never authorize the use of Britain’s nuclear weapons was unhelpful because, according to her, it undermined Britain’s defenses.

This is nonsense. Her claim only makes sense if one was to believe that Britain would be attacked by a country that has nuclear weapons. Only in this circumstance would it undermine Britain’s defenses. Corbyn rightly said, being in possession of nuclear weapons didn’t help America on 9-11. No country that has nuclear weapons will be stupid enough to launch a nuclear attack on another country that has nuclear weapons.

There are five declared nuclear weapons states’ in the world and three others that have nuclear weapons out of a total of 192 nations. 187 countries don’t feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect their security. Why should those five need it themselves? Corbyn said, “I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons. I am opposed to the holding of nuclear weapons. I want to see a nuclear free world. I believe it is possible” 

Of course it is. It merely requires the political will to make it happen. Why in the 21st century can’t it be possible for the leaders of the nations that comprise the UN Security Council to sit around a table and say something like: “We know we are never going to use weapons that have the potential to destroy life on earth that cost hundreds of billions. How about instead, we use that money to save life on earth”?

This is not in any shape or form a radical idea but a humanistic and moral one. Corbyn said“If I could persuade the whole of the Labour Party to come around to my point of view, I would be very happy indeed. I will do my best”. But pressed on whether he would concede defeat on the issue, he noted, Well, if I can’t, we’ll live with it somehow.”

To me, this sounds like the words of a wise man. But to others in the media who are depicting Corbyn as some kind of bearded hippie freak, they represent the words of a traitor and imbecile. On twitter, Mark Steel, in typically ironic style, said the media “established that Corbyn is an extremist, because he won’t press the button to fire nuclear missiles round the world”.   added: “Why is it some are treating the bloke who says he wouldn’t nuke anyone like HE’s the crazy person”?

Meanwhile, in responding to Laura Kuenssberg’s hatchet job interview with Corbyn, Colin Campbell commented, “Shocking! Corbyn says he wouldn’t incinerate 1000s of civilians and create birth defects for generations.”

But being servile to establishment power is the role Kuenssberg and others within the mainstream media play. By creating a schism they will attempt to undermine Corbyn’s authority. His straightforwardness is of a course a great quality to have in a politician, but I do fear that his good intentions will paradoxically lead to his downfall. I hope I’m wrong.