Will our MPs vote in 2016 to renew Trident ?
What are the chances that in the great parliamentary ‘main gate’ debate on Trident renewal in 2016, that our MPs will not vote for a costly renewal of our ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent, but instead will vote to remove the anachronistic burden and become the second nation after South Africa (or maybe fourth if you count Libya and Ukraine) to give up nuclear weapons? A review of current political attitudes indicates that the chances of our MPs voting to give up the Bomb are poor.
In the absence of strong public pressure, the probability is that parliament will vote for renewal of Trident, partly because Trident is seen as insurance against nuclear attack, and partly because nuclear weapons are perceived to increase Britain’s prestige, a notion frankly expressed long ago by Aneurin Bevan, when he advised keeping nuclear weapons so our negotiators would not ‘go naked into the conference chamber’. This reason for retaining Trident is not mentioned in Government White Papers.
The idea that Trident keeps us safe can be demolished by reasoned argument, but the dream of increased potency is harder to combat.
For the UK to have a chance of joining the great majority of non-nuclear nations, present political attitudes will have to change.
Government’s nuclear posture and commitment to the Trident system is clear. Fact Sheet 10: Trident Value for Money Review states in its first sentence, ‘The UK’s security is underpinned by the retention of a minimum credible nuclear deterrent’. No more need be said on the official current Conservative line.
Liberal Democrats are the party least convinced of the need to keep nuclear weapons. At their September 2013 conference, Liberal Democrats voted for a Trident-lite option of two or three boats instead of four. Nearly half of the delegates (288) voted to scrap Trident altogether, but more (322) voted for the Trident-lite option. On the 2016 vote on renewal, Lib Dems are likely to cancel each other out at best.
On 15th March 2007 the Labour government won a vote to replace Trident. This was the first time MPs had been given an opportunity to scrap the UK’s nuclear weapon. So many Labour rebels voted against their government (95) in spite of a ‘whip’ that the Government needed opposition support to carry the motion. The Conservative vote was by no means unanimous either: Cameron imposed a similar ‘whip’ on his own party to try to ensure that the Opposition voted with the Government. Rebellion may be stronger in the 2016 vote, but the official Labour policy today is to keep the Bomb, for the same reasons as given by the Conservatives, i.e., in an uncertain world, anything might happen, and no other nation is moving towards nuclear disarmament.
Vernon Coaker, Labour shadow Defence Secretary, in a recent speech (24th March 2014) to the Royal United Services Institute, noted that the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and Germany ‘offers the opportunity to reconsider our vision for Defence from the very first principles’. It was a long, rambling talk that must have pleased his military audience, during which he was obliged to mention nuclear weapons, which he did so briefly that we can quote his remarks in full.
But of course maintaining sovereign military capabilities will remain essential. That is why Labour has said we are committed to a minimum, credible independent nuclear deterrent, which we believe is best delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent.
With other nations possessing nuclear weapons, and nuclear proliferation remaining a deep concern, now is not the time for unilateral nuclear disarmament.
So it seems certain that Parliament, left to its own devices, will vote to renew Trident. The best hope of changing the minds of our representatives is by strong public pressure, of the kind that forced a reluctant parliament to give women the vote, or, more recently (29th August last year), to avoid joining any US-led military action in Syria. In this latter case the Government lost the vote after a wonderful debate, when speaker after speaker referred to a deluge of letters, emails, visits from their constituents, which convinced them to vote against the motion in spite of a ‘whip’ having been applied.
The moral for citizens is quite clear. Parliament has often lagged behind public opinion: pressure from the public on their representatives will certainly be needed to swing the critical ‘Main Gate’ vote towards rejection of Britain’s redundant, expensive, illegal, outdated weapon of mass destruction.
Irish Government rules to leave it in the ground
Our member Anna MacCafferty reminds us of the Irish Government’s decision in 2007 to refuse licences to explore for uranium in Donegal. There were strong indications that the ore was present in quantity, but the prospecting licences were refused, implying a broader ban on uranium prospecting in Ireland.
A spokesman for the Donegal Labour Party welcomed the decision, stating that any jobs created ‘would be outweighed by the threat to the environment, the threat to the health of people in the area.’
Eamon Ryan, Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, explained the ban as prompted by the general opposition in Ireland to generating electricity by nuclear power. He said: ‘It would be hypocritical to permit the extraction of uranium for use in nuclear reactors in other countries, while the nuclear generation of electricity is not allowed in Ireland, and particularly while the Irish Government continues to object to the operation of nuclear power generation at Sellafield and other locations.’
The radioactive waste discharged into the sea from Sellafield has been detected off the Irish coast, and has been the basis of protest by the Irish government. The discharge has been detected as far as Norway. Photo below: Sellafield, with Irish Sea in the background.
Our Saturday morning fortnightly stall in the Kingston marketplace is a fun way to spend an hour. We present the latest leaflet to a largely indifferent populace, though always there are interesting occasional encounters, as people stop to buy badges or sign our petitions.
More rarely a man (it is always a man) stops to argue the case for nuclear weapons, considering we are advocating a course that will leave Britain dangerously open to a nuclear strike. The arguments follow a familiar pattern, and usually end with no change of attitude on either side. But recently one such nuclear advocate said with a smile, ‘Do you really think that Germany would have invaded France, if France had had nuclear weapons?’
I was flummoxed, and thought of a suitable reply only after the man had departed in triumph.
What would your answer have been? Send you answer to the editor of the next KPN (Rosemary Addington).
Yet another recent poll has shown majority public opinion strongly against Trident renewal. The poll was conducted on behalf of an interesting anti-nuclear campaigning group WMD Awareness (www.wmdawareness.org.uk), and the results, published on 8th April this year, were as follows:
The UK spends £39 billion a year on the military and arms, the fourth highest military spending in the world, while services in health, education, welfare and renewable energy are cut or under threat. This is the message that campaigners from 39 UK organisations highlighted on Monday 15 April, the Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS), an international peace initiative. Jointly founded by the International Peace Bureau, based in Zurich, and the Institute of Policy Studies, in Washington, GDAMS has since grown to involve organisations and individuals in many countries.
As befits Britain, being one of the countries in most need of reform, there were demonstrations countrywide. Campaigners in London held a “Play the budget right” street theatre action outside Westminster to protest against the billions spent on the military and subsidising arms exports, and at 5pm there was a public meeting in parliament with Bruce Kent, Caroline Lucas and others.
Several KPC members were involved on the day. Amongst others, Noel, Maggie, Rosemary, Stephen, Gill, Charles and Martin took part in demonstrations outside four government departments, The Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry.
Maggie improved the time knitting for the great Wool Against Weapons action on August 9th (see picture).
A great, very colourful demonstration is planned for 9th August, Nagasaki day. Knitters have been busy all over the country making metre-long individual peace scarfs, which will be joined up to make a seven-mile-long scarf that will be deployed to join the AWE Aldermaston to the AWE Burghfield, where the warheads are assembled and maintained.
The demonstration is coordinated by CND (details on the CND website), and also on the Wool Against Weapons website, www.woolagainstweapons.co.uk, which is worth visiting in any case for the wonderfully creative individual designs displayed.
You do not have to have knitted a section to come along on the day to take part in this imaginative action against our nuclear weapon. Details from CND 0207 700 2393. It appears that the Kingston area will be directed to the Aldermaston end of the great chain.
If you would like to get knitting, there may still be time to get your metre-long protest included. Try the Wool Against Weapons website for info.
The Scots go to the polls in September to vote on independence. The idea of Scottish independence has aroused alarm in England, for varied reasons. Politicians are worried, partly, one suspects, because England’s voice on the international stage will be somewhat muted – Great Britain sounds so much more powerful. Defence chiefs are even more worried – where will we house Trident, when the Scots close Faslane? It may even spell the end of our nuclear weapon! For the same reason, anti-nuclear campaigners are hoping for devolution. Jim McCluskey, in an article that can be read in full at Dissidentvoice.org (dissidentvoice.org/2014/04/scottish-independence/), explores the implications of Scottish independence, and explains how a political break from the Sassenachs could be good both for the Scots and the English.
A short summary follows, but do read the full, genuine article.
There is an argument for not politically splitting the territory of a small island. But when the advantages are examined in the case of the proposed independence of Scotland, it becomes clear that this may be a win-win situation. A win for Scottish citizens and a win for English citizens.
Scots will no longer be tied in to the UK’s relatively enormous defence spending, and will be able to spend the money instead in more prioritized areas. A free Scotland will be canny enough to avoid involvement in illegal and gratuitous wars at the behest of the US. The idea of a free Scotland electing to invade or drop bombs on another state is ludicrous.
When the Westminster government wanted to build one of the most dangerous types of nuclear power station, namely a fast breeder reactor, in order to manufacture plutonium for its thermonuclear bombs they, understandably, made sure it was as far away from Westminster as physically possible, consistent with keeping it on the UK mainland. They chose Dounreay on the very most northerly part of the Scottish coast. The management was appalling, and has resulted in long-term radioactive contamination. For details, read Jim’s article. Scotland will site no more nuclear power stations, but will go for renewables, which already play a large part in Scotland’s electricity supply. (See also Jim’s article for details.)
The great majority of Scots have long detested Britain’s nuclear weapon, and will be glad to be rid of it.
England will be pushed in the direction in which the world is headed, and hopefully renounce nuclear weapons. You know it makes sense.
Britain is the fourth biggest spender on the military in the world at present. The Scottish example will impress the citizens of England also, who will become less tolerant of this extraordinary military expense, especially at a time of severe social cuts.
Nuclear-free, a non-threatening England will become a much-needed voice for moderation and common sense in the modern world.
(part 2. Continued from last month’s KPN)
Perhaps lack of trust is one reason for the failure to organise a safer, more mature world. An international body with the remit and the power to prevent war might rob us of some national sovereignty. Yet a moment’s consideration shows that such a fear is without foundation. The only power nations are asked to give up is the power to destroy other nations. The worry about national sovereignty was addressed when the United Nations was formed in 1945. ‘All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state’ (Article 2:4). The UN’s major remit was the universally beneficial function of preventing war, with an additional wider operation ‘to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character’ (Article 1:2).
International cooperation to address international problems seems obvious, sensible, necessary, yet there is no doubt that there is a lack of enthusiasm, to say the least, for the United Nations Organisation, especially in powerful nations. The UN was formed after a second world war, when the need to prevent another such catastrophe was clearest in leaders’ minds, a need made more urgent with the invention and use of nuclear weapons. But the sense of urgency soon disappeared, the commitment to cooperative security vanished, and instead an arms race was initiated which has resulted in today’s world.
From the beginning the UN was regarded with suspicion and distrust. The world was especially unlucky in that the Soviet Union was led as the critical time of the UN birth by the paranoid Joseph Stalin, but it is likely that other leaders were also reluctant to donate some of their power to an unproven international organisation (in any case, giving up power has never been popular with leaders).
But the reason for the failure of the UN goes deeper than that. Distrust of the UN is not restricted to leaders. It is quite generalised. Today journalists commonly analyse world affairs without even factoring in the existence of the UN. Their analysis relies as ever on realpolitik, on what is seen as in the interest of individual nations, on the idea that if there are to be winners, there must also be losers. The larger benefits for all nations of a demilitarised world usually remain unmentioned and unexamined, as probably being seen as unachievable in our real, treacherous world. Though these benefits have been achieved in mature societies on a local level, they are regarded as unattainable beyond national borders.
Take as example a recent (13th April 2014) analysis on America’s place in the world in the Observer, a serious, left-leaning, respected newspaper. The analysis took the form of a double-page spread, with a main article by Michael Cohen and subsidiary comments by other pundits, in a discussion of whether the United States was becoming more, or less, ‘interventionist’.
The subtitle of the main article was: America stands accused of retreat from its global duties. Nonsense.
The article continued: Naysayers allege that American influence is waning and cite Barack Obama's inaction on Syria and Ukraine as proof that its foreign policy has been reduced to watching the 'bad guys' do what they like. That is a complete fantasy. The signs of alleged American fecklessness are everywhere: withdrawal from Afghanistan, which followed the ignominious departure from Iraq; negotiations with the mullahs in Iran rather than bombs over Tehran; an aimless and hollow pivot to Asia that is failing to deter a rising China; a newly assertive Russia seizing territory without consequence; cuts in defence spending while al-Qaida franchises pop up across the Middle East and perhaps the worst of all sins – failure to stop the bloodletting in Syria. It's a policy that Niall Ferguson calls "one of the great fiascos of post-World War Two American foreign policy".
The rest of the article continued in this vein, questioning the charge that the US is becoming more isolationist. It reassures the reader that far from retreating, the United States is active on the world stage. ‘No military alliances are being shed, no international organisations abandoned and while the US is working to reduce its presence in one locale (the Middle East), it is slowly and methodically ramping it up in another (the Far East). In the process, the US is challenging the rise of China and some might argue putting itself on a crash course toward conflict with Beijing’. Is the United States becoming more isolationist? Is it failing to intervene on behalf of ‘the good guys? ‘A new word, it seems, has come to the fore to describe US foreign policy in the age of Obama: retreat.’
The article continues: ‘In the child-like worldview of those bemoaning retreat, every missed opportunity for the US to bomb or invade a country is a clear and unmistakable signal to the world's bad guys that they can do whatever they want and the US will not lift a finger to stop them. Those who argue that the US is retreating from the world stage don't understand the limits of US power, don't understand how the world works and, truth be told, don't appear to understand the meaning of the word "retreat".’
The sole, oblique allusion to the UN is the casual reference to ‘international organisations’.
On the same page other pundits described as ‘key observers of international relations’ comment in similar vein, and this time there is not even an oblique reference to the UN.
One concluded, in a comment meant to reassure: ‘Whoever is in the White House, Washington is likely to remain an interventionist power until something forces it to stop and I do not see this on the horizon’.
None of these analysts appears to have heard of the United Nations Organisation, which had been formed to render interventions by individual nations unnecessary and illegal.
In Britain the attitude among leaders and analysts towards the UN is similar to that in the US, in that ‘interventions’ are seen as Britain’s right, and their success or failure is judged by whether they have achieved their objective without excessive financial or human cost. Admitted, the recent attempt to persuade parliament to join the US in a military intervention in Syria failed, but the facts that the Government made the attempt to persuade MPs, and that the military intervention would have been authorised without further reference to the UN Security Council if the vote had been carried, demonstrates today’s political realities.
Analysts, too, tend to ignore the existence of the UN in their critiques of UK foreign policy. A study, Wars in Peace, was recently (24th April 2014) published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), in which the British military operations over the last 10 years, from the first 1993 Gulf war to the involvements in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, were evaluated. RUSI judged that of the ten UK interventions considered over that period, six were successful and four, the peacekeeping in Bosnia, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the British involvements in Afghanistan and in Libya, were judged to have been failures. The operation in Bosnia had a UN mandate, in Libya the UN Security Council approved a ‘no fly’ zone which was then implemented by Nato planes, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were carried out without UN approval. The RUSI analysis referred to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as ‘largely discretionary’ and made no reference to the existence of the United Nations.
When the benefits of a properly-functioning United Nations are considered, this dismissal by powerful leaders, by ‘think tanks’ and by respected analysts implies a deeply-felt pessimism, for a world without cooperation, wherein nations go their own individual ways, must always be unstable. If the possibility of a more cooperative world is rejected, then that of a stable, peaceful world is rejected too.
A large and detailed study of poverty led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council published 19th June 2014 has found that one household in three in Britain falls below the poverty line, as defined by having to go without three or more of the ‘basic necessities of life’, such as feeding and clothing children adequately, and heating and insuring homes. One in five adults have to borrow to pay for day-to-day needs. Being employed does not guarantee avoiding poverty: low pay means that most of the children who suffer from multiple deprivation live in small families with at least one parent employed.
When we consider that the running cost of Trident is £2.2 billion a year on the government’s own figures (£6 million each day), with a different priority in spending taxpayers’ money much of this poverty is avoidable.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Harry Davis
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND