Lindis Percy: Time to scrap Trident, the ‘deterrent’ that does not deter

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THE decision to develop Trident was made by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. Replacing the Polaris nuclear weapons system, it paved the way for the deployment of four Vanguard ballistic missile submarines in the 1990s. It was a dangerous and destabilising decision.

Based in Scotland, the Trident submarines carry up to eight missiles, with each missile containing five nuclear bombs. Each of these bombs is around eight times as destructive as the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima in 1945, killing over 140,000 civilians.

The cost of replacing Trident is estimated to be £100bn, with each submarine costing £25bn. The running costs will be around £60bn over the replaced system’s lifetime and the price of eventual decommissioning is estimated to be about £13bn. Additional costs include extending the life of the missiles and security costs.

However, the Vanguards are not expected to last beyond 2030. It is claimed that construction of the first replacement submarine needs to start soon after 2016 to be available when the first Vanguard submarine is withdrawn from service. Replacement of Trident has already started at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston in Berkshire.

The Government, the military and the media continually refer to this highly dangerous and costly system as Britain’s ‘independent nuclear deterrent’. It is not independent but leased from the United States and it will be the US who makes the decision to use it.

Given the overwhelming destructive power of nuclear weapons that place the future of all life forms at risk, why are they tolerated?

Successive governments justify keeping Trident because of the theory of nuclear ‘deterrence’; that countries in possession of nuclear weapons will refrain from using them in the knowledge that the country targeted who also possess these weapons, will send theirs back.

But it is a myth that Trident is a ‘deterrent’ to any hostile force bent on attacking this or any other country.

We cannot assume that nuclear weapons will not be used by a hostile force or as the result of human error or accident.

The myth of the nuclear ‘deterrence’ can only be presumed but not proved. 
It is a gamble that is unsustainable.

The possession of nuclear weapons is also a moral and legal argument and another reason why Britain should scrap Trident. Given Trident’s destructive power, it is unthinkable that these weapons might ever be used. There hasn’t been a nuclear war or fatal mistake yet, but given the assumptions about human behaviour we hold our breath.

Robert McNamara, who was once in charge of US nuclear policy and came to vehemently oppose nuclear weapons, said: “We have been very lucky. It is not a luck which can hold out forever.”

In 1996 the International Court of Justice, examining the legality of nuclear weapons, was convinced that their complete elimination was the only guarantee against the threat of nuclear war. In a comprehensive ruling it went on to state that “there is in neither customary nor conventional international law any specific authorisation of the threat and use of nuclear weapons”.

Michael Portillo, one- time Secretary of State for Defence in the last Conservative government, is among those who think that Trident should be scrapped, insisting that it is not independent and does not constitute a deterrent against anybody that we regard as an enemy.

“It is a waste of money and it is a diversion of funds that might otherwise be spent on perfectly useful and useable weapons and troops,” he said. “But some people have not caught up with this reality. Britain now has a minute Army and a microscopic Navy. And as these have become smaller so the status symbol of having nuclear weapons becomes more important, at least to some people.”

There is a choice. The choice is either that Britain takes a bold step and sets a creative and sane example, deciding that the resources spent on Trident be used to fund the many pressing needs of humanity and the environment – such as the struggling NHS, the ‘austerity’ cuts which unfairly affect the poor, disabled, unemployed and homeless and the ever threatening issue of climate change. The other choice is to continue down the same immoral, illegal and costly route and replace Trident.

By voting for the SNP so decisively, the majority of Scots have made it quite clear where they stand on Trident. They will not tolerate any attempt by the government to replace it.

We are stewards of this planet and it is our duty and responsibility to hand on a world that is better than the one we came into. Let’s be bold and courageous – and scrap Trident.

Lindis Percy is joint co-ordinator of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. www.caab.org.uk also on Facebook and Twitter @C_A_A_B.