Trident: even an MOD chief thinks it’s ‘a monster’
Kara Bryan reports on why even the top brass think we are wasting billions on a nuclear nightmare
Jon Thompson, permanent undersecretary at the Ministry of Defence, has called Trident ‘a monster’ and admitted that it keeps him awake at night.
Thompson monitors defence spending and he has slammed both the cost of Trident and the argument that it keeps us safe.
The ‘Main Gate’ decision on Trident is expected this summer after being delayed until after the European Referendum. David Cameron has since admitted that the cost of renewing Trident has risen from an estimated £25bn to whopping £31bn. This is solely the cost of renewal. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) estimate the cost of renewal and maintaining Trident over the next 40 years to be in excess of £100bn. The Tory MP Crispin Blunt concluded that the Trident successor programme could cost in the region of £167bn during the course of its life.
Jeremy Corbyn, supported by a leadership mandate larger than Tony Blair’s in 1994, openly opposes the Trident Successor Programme. Unfortunately, his position is not fully supported by all Labour MPs and rumours suggest that he may give MPs a free vote, which no doubt the Tories will be seeking to exploit. Journalist Owen Jones suggests that Labour should be ‘focusing on domestic issues, rather than Trident’. This is a dubious position given that the cost of renewal would ultimately be better spent on the NHS, welfare and education.
Spending expected to be in excess of £100bn on a lethal status symbol to maintain our ‘special relationship’ with the U.S. as the country is ravaged by austerity cuts is inexplicable. Austerity is not, as we have been lead to believe, a necessity for economic recovery. It is an ideological weapon in the relentless Tory assault on the poor, inflicting abject suffering on society’s most vulnerable.
Jeremy Corbyn is right to oppose its renewal, notwithstanding the obvious consequences should such a weapon ever be used, but is, in purely economic terms, unaffordable. Food banks have hit more than a million users; the bedroom tax and disability cuts have driven people to suicide; the NHS is fighting for its very survival in the face of savage cuts, intended to destabilize and ultimately privatise it. Councils are cutting back essential services. We supposedly cannot afford to pay junior doctors, endangering their patients by working them to exhaustion; cutting bursaries for student nurses; slashing ‘meals on wheels’; closing libraries; the list goes on and on. As Green Party Deputy Leader, Shahrar Ali succinctly put it ‘Warsterity is killing people on both sides of the equation.’ Yet we are expected to believe that we can afford to hemorrhage finite resources on endless war.
The government has a unique opportunity to lead the way on unilateral disarmament, in keeping with our international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Renewing Trident sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world that you cannot be safe without nuclear capability. Although nuclear weapons have not been used in conflict since the terrible attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a Chatham House report ‘Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy’ listed 13 instances when nuclear weapons were almost launched since 1962.
In these cases individual judgements, often breaking with protocol, have single-handedly prevented major international incidents. The authors suggest that such incidents will likely rise in future due to nuclear proliferation. Probably the most famous incident was the Cuban Missile Crisis. When the U.S. discovered Soviet nuclear weapons had been deployed to Cuba, tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union escalated to boiling point. Soviet submariner Vasili Arkipov averted nuclear war when, as commander of his fleet and second in command aboard a Russian B-59 submarine, he refused to give permission to fire a nuclear torpedo against a U.S. destroyer. The Americans attacking the submarine, were oblivious to its nuclear capability. Arkipov’s pragmatism potentially saved the lives of millions from London to Moscow. Years later, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert MacNamara recalled how key Soviet players in the Cuban Missile Crisis had revealed American strategic build-up had amplified their insecurity. The Soviets believed the U.S. intended to invade Cuba and deployed nuclear weapons at the request of Fidel Castro. Despite, the severity of the situation, the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 is inexplicably regarded by proponents as irrefutable proof of deterrence in action. Yet had it not been for one man breaking ranks, history would tell a very different story.
Jeremy Corbyn has said that if elected to Prime Minister in 2020, he will not push the nuclear button. He has been much maligned and even ridiculed by the corporate media since then, but in an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn in The Ecologist, retired Naval Commander Robert Green endorsed Corbyn’s anti-nuclear position arguing that nuclear weapons had prolonged and intensified the Cold War. He argues that the presence of nuclear weapons exacerbates paranoia and is ultimately provocative not preventative.
The deterrence argument relies firmly on the supposition that enemies of the State will act rationally, but as the War on Terror enters its 15th year, we face a very different kind of enemy in a very different kind of war. The War on Terror has undoubtedly made us less safe. Not from despots and dictators but from religious fundamentalists, terrorists and the dispossessed who join their ranks. Nuclear weapons are useless against such a foe. Trident will not deter these threats, nor will it negate human error or over-zealous military hawks. By their very existence, nuclear weapons encourage nuclear proliferation and their vulnerability to cyber attacks and underwater drones is serious cause for concern. They are a hangover from the Cold War; a relic which must be confined to history; a monster with no place in a civilized world.