Total of British deaths in Afghanistan = 440
Today there was a debate on Trident in the Commons. First below is my speech as delivered squashed into six minutes. Then there are my extensive notes for the speech.
There are two mindsets in this debate: there are those on the other side who are locked in the permafrost of the fear of cold war thinking and there are those who have hope for a better and safer world.
The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) mentioned the 1980s. I vividly recall what the historian E. P. Thompson said at that dangerous time, when the world had enough nuclear weapons to kill humanity 57 times over and we were in deadly peril because the geriatric fingers on the nuclear buttons belonged to Andropov, who was on a life support machine and virtually dead from the neck down, and to President Reagan, who was dead from the neck up.
The likelihood of a nuclear war does not come from design, plans or escalation but from accidents. What the hon. Member for New Forest East, who introduced the debate, is arguing—there is no denying it—is for every country in the world to have its own nuclear insurance and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Things are changing. George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn, the four titans of American foreign policy, have all called for a world free of nuclear weapons and so has their splendid President. That gives a new momentum to the idea and hope that have become the centre of the policy debate—“They are the past and we are the future on this.”
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), I have repeatedly asked for anyone to give a plausible future scenario in which nuclear weapons could be used independently by the United Kingdom. There is no such scenario. We are carrying on being comfortable with the policies of the past. We should go back to the vision of previous Governments. In 1968, a UK Foreign Affairs Minister urged the United Nations to sign up to the newly negotiated non-proliferation treaty. He promised United Kingdom support and added:
“It will, therefore, be essential to follow the treaty up quickly with further disarmament measures”.
That was 45 years ago. There was a clear vision and hope of declining stocks of nuclear weapons throughout the world.
The continued possession of nuclear weapons of mass destruction has a pernicious effect on our economy, with resources that could have been invested in research for the NHS, in education or improving our environment being squandered on high-tech killing machines.
Coming into the House today, I met a former Member—a distinguished Committee Chairman who stood down at the last election—and told him what we were doing today. He said, “That was the most difficult decision. I needed a Whip behind me with an arm lock to get me into the Lobby to vote for Trident”, and the Whip had told him beforehand, “I don’t believe in it either.” Ministers give the party line and the deterrence fiction when they are at the Dispatch Box, but we see a remarkable turnaround when they stand down and have an epiphany. Last Friday, Michael Portillo said that Trident was
“completely past its sell-by date”,
“It is neither independent, nor is it any kind of deterrent because we face enemies like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons...I reached the view after I was defence secretary.”
So we have nonsense when they are in power, when they can do something, and the truth comes out with their realisation afterwards. Why is good sense invisible to politicians in office but monumentally obvious outside office?
However, there is a glimmer of hope. Even our own Prime Minister is perhaps approaching a moment when he will change. Last October, he said that
“if we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it makes sense to ensure we have something that is credible and believable”.—[Official Report, 17 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 319.]
Trident is neither credible nor believable. It undermines our credentials on non-proliferation, which is the best hope for a safe future. Its replacement should be cancelled, and then we could use the existing stocks of weapons of mass destruction—
We should be proud of our role in the non-proliferation treaty and the fact that the nuclear deterrent has helped us to avoid wars in the past and is an insurance policy for the future. The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing for unilateral disarmament. In that scenario, which other country would disarm because we had disarmed?
I am not arguing for unilateral disarmament because it is not a practical possibility; I do not believe that it is attainable. When the hon. Gentleman intervened I was about to say that we can use the weapons we have as part of our bargaining to achieve disarmament and to make the nuclear non-proliferation treaty a practical one. How can we say to other countries, “You can’t have nuclear weapons but we’re insisting on ours”? That way forward will not be possible.
The problem is the return of the mindset that our country is somehow very special. We are going back to the 19th-century view when we had an empire, insisting that we are powerful and determine world peace. That is a very damaging view. We saw it this week in relation to the fact that we have to join almost every war that comes along. It was said here on Monday that by joining the war in the state of Mali, even if there is no mission creep we have already exposed ourselves to the possibility of terrorist attacks. That was pooh-poohed by Ministers, but the attack has happened, a life has been lost, and others are under threat. That is the position we are in.
To some, Trident is a virility status symbol; to others, it is a comfort blanket. The Foreign Secretary of the moment will often say that we have to have it because the UK must punch above its weight. Punching above our weight means spending beyond our interests and dying beyond our responsibilities.
Three points. First the irrational of the title of the debate; the UK’s nuclear disarmament obligations and the failure to deliver them; and the political status of Trident.
I warmly welcome this debate, secured by the Hon Member for New Forest East assisted by a remarkable coalition of cold war warriors and nuclear disarmament realists.
Describing Trident as a “nuclear deterrent” is both lazy political shorthand, and inaccurate. Trident should be accurately described as a Nuclear Weapon of Mass destruction
Many strategic analysts challenge the notion that nuclear WMDs act as deterrents. Ward Wilson, of Princeton University, the driving force behind the US think-tank Rethinking Nuclear Weapons deconstructs the outdated discredited beliefs about nuclear weapons.
On Monday this week Ward Wilson reminds us that four titans of American foreign policy — George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn —called for a world free of nuclear weapons, giving new momentum to an idea that had moved from what Wilson describes as “the sidelines of pacifist idealism” to “the centre of foreign policy debate.”
Ward Wilson pithily summed up:
“Imagine arming a bank guard with dynamite and a lighter and you get a good idea of nuclear weapons’ utility: powerful, but too clumsy to use. Nuclear weapons were born out of fear, nurtured in fear and sustained by fear. They are dinosaurs — an evolutionary dead end.”
In this House, I have repeatedly asked ministers of five governments to describe a likely, plausible situation in which the UK would use our weapons INDEPENDENTLY. None of them have produced even the beginning of an answer.
In place of the old fashioned discredited thinking of the member for new Forrest East this House should have the intellectual flexibility to change our opinion as the facts have changed.
Another vivid illustration comes from Ashutosh Jogalekar,
“Nuclear weapons are often compared to a white elephant. A better comparison might be to a giant T. rex; one could possibly imagine a use for such a creature in extreme situations, but by and large it only serves as an unduly sensitive and enormously destructive creature whose powers are waiting to be unleashed on to the world. Having the beast around is just not worth its supposed benefits anymore, especially when most of these benefits are only perceived and have been extrapolated from a sample size of one.”
Perhaps, the minister present to consider this insight.
Instead of considering replacing Trident, with all the huge costs to taxpayers, ministers ought to be working on how to disarm existing nuclear WMDs.
Sometimes it is even possible to think they might be doing so. The current SOS for Defence said inJuly last year:
“The UK Government is committed to the long-term objective of a world without nuclear weapons and has pledged to press for multilateral disarmament.”
Then down to reality with a bump. Yet a few days ago the Government Response to the Scottish Affairs Committee report “Terminating Trident-Days or Decades?” bluntly stated:
“it should be noted that the Government remains committed to an independent nuclear deterrent as the bedrock of the UK's national security.”
Not a bedrock but shifting sands into which our economy is inexorably sinking.
The Cabinet is clearly suffering from collective cognitive dissonance – simultaneously professing mutually incompatible notions.
Indeed, Dr Ian Davis, Director of Nato Watch, reminded us of the UK’s obligation under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty “to pursue disarmament negotiations in good faith”, an international obligation, he rightly points out “consistently ignored by government ministers.”
The issue of UK compliance with its NPT disarmament obligations is central to the debate over Trident replacement. The UK has a special obligation to uphold the treaty.
Unfortunately the history is a horror story of failure. In 1968 a UK foreign affairs minister urged the United Nations’ to sign up to the newly negotiated NPT. He promised UK support and added. ' It will be essential to follow the treaty up quickly with the further disarmament measures."
That was 45 years ago. it's time parliament caught up with a commitment made half a century ago. That commitment to enter the nuclear WMD system into multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations, "at an early date"- has been ignored.
The continued possession of nuclear WMDs has had a pernicious effect on our economy, with resources that could have been invested into research for the NHS, into education or improving our environment, have been squandered on high tech killing machines. They are not just useless, they are worse than worse than useless.
As CND activist Rae Street cogently put in her letter to the Guardian last year:
“The US has 14 Trident submarines and none of that killing power prevented the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Billions of pounds of public money are to be spent on a dangerous, destabilising weapon that will only increase the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
Now comes a new and welcome development. We learned last Friday from the Norweigian Government has decided to withdraw investments made by the Norwegian State Sovereign Wealth Fund in UK companies involved in developing, producing and maintaining nuclear weapons
The fund's ethical guidelines state that the fund should not invest in companies producing weapons that are in conflict with humanitarian principles. The Norwegian parliament has decided that his includes nuclear WMDs.
Meanwhile that two years ago Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave $400,000 to Ward Wilson for his ground-breaking research on nuclear WMDs. Norway has its priorities right.
Many rational hon members have long opposed nuclear WMDs, and remain active participants in Parliamentary CND. But we are encouraged by some very senior political figures who now share our position.
Michael Portillo said last Friday thatTrident was “completely past its sell-by date.”
He added: “It is neither independent, nor is it any kind of deterrent because we face enemies like the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons. It is a tremendous waste of money and is done entirely for reasons of national prestige…“I reached the view after I was defence secretary. We maintain the capability partly for industrial and employment reasons, and mainly for prestige. In my view, thinking has not caught up with the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
Tony Blair said of Trident: "The expense is huge and the utility … non-existent in terms of military use,"
Why is good sense invisible to politicians while in office, then monumentally obvious when they leave office.There is a glimmer of hope that our present Prime Minister in approaching a moment of epiphany. He said last October:
“ if we are to have a nuclear deterrent, it makes sense to ensure we have something that is credible and believable, otherwise there is no point in having one at all.”
Trident is both incredible and unbelievable. It also undermines our non-proliferation credentials. Its replacement should be cancelled, and the existing nuclear WMDs should be put into immediate multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations.
To some Trident is virility status symbol. to others it is a comfort blanket. Part of the favourite hollow delusion of this government is that the UK should punch about weight. punching above our weight mean spending beyond our interests and dying beyond our responsibilities.