Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Trident: The Plates Are Shifting, by David Lindsay

The colossal, especially Labour, abstention rate in today’s Commons vote on Trident indicates that the plates are shifting. The Labour Whips told people to stay away. Why ever would they have done that?

Far from representing national pride or independence, our nuclear weapons programme has only ever represented the wholesale subjugation of Britain’s defence capability to a foreign power. That power maintains no less friendly relations with numerous other countries, almost none of which have nuclear weapons.

Like radiological, chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons are morally repugnant simply in themselves.

They offer not the slightest defence against a range of loosely knit, if at all connected, terrorist organisations pursuing a range of loosely knit, if at all connected, aims in relation to a range of countries. Where would any other such organisation keep nuclear weapons in the first place?

Furthermore, the possession of nuclear weapons serves to convey to terrorists and their supporters that Britain wishes to “play with the big boys”, thereby contributing to making Britain a target for the terrorist activity against which such weapons are defensively useless.

It is high time for Britain to grow up. Britain’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council could not be taken away without British consent, and so does not depend in any way on her possession of nuclear weapons; on the contrary, the world needs and deserves a non-nuclear permanent member of that Council.

Most European countries do not have nuclear weapons, and nor does Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Are those therefore in greater danger? On the contrary, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 were attacks on a country with nuclear weapons, while the attacks of 11th September 2001 were against the country with by far the largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

The only nuclear power in the Middle East is Israel. Is Israel the most secure state in the Middle East?

It is mind-boggling to hear people go on about Iran, whose President is in any case many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and in any case only wants one (if he does) to use against the only Middle Eastern country that already has them. What does any of this have to do with us?

Numerous Tories with relevant experience – Anthony Head, Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch, Aubrey Jones – were sceptical about, or downright hostile towards, British nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. In March 1964, while First Lord of the Admiralty and thus responsible for Polaris, George Jellicoe suggested that Britain might pool her nuclear deterrent with the rest of NATO.

Enoch Powell denounced the whole thing as not just anything but independent in practice, but also immoral in principle.

Gaitskell’s Campaign for Democratic Socialism explicitly supported the unilateral renunciation of Britain’s nuclear weapons, and the document Policy for Peace, on which Gaitskell eventually won his battle at the 1961 Labour Conference, stated: “Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since that neither strengthens the alliance, nor is it now a sensible use of our limited resources.”

Although the SDP was in many ways a betrayal of this heritage, it is nevertheless the case that nuclear weapons were not mentioned in its founding Limehouse Declaration, and that David Owen did have to act at least once in order to prevent a unilateralist from being selected as a parliamentary candidate.

In an echo of Head, Thorneycroft, Birch, Jones, Jellicoe and Powell, even that strongly monetarist SDP MP and future Conservative Minister, John Horam, was sceptical about the deployment of American cruise and Pershing II missiles in Europe.

Shirley Williams has long been doing sterling work in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament; it is inconceivable that she, or indeed Bill Rodgers, Gaitskell’s right-hand man in the CDS, really wishes to “renew” Trident. It is even difficult to believe that of Owen these days.

There could not be bigger and more unwise spending, or a more ineffective example of the “Big State”, than nuclear weapons in general and Trident in particular.

Diverting enormous sums of money towards the civil nuclear power that is the real nuclear deterrent, towards public services, towards the relief of poverty at home and abroad, and towards paying off our national debt, precisely by reasserting control over our own defence capability, would represent a most significant step towards One Nation politics, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation. It is what Disraeli would have done.

Ed Miliband, over to you.

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