PLAID Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Greens are to be congratulated for forcing Parliament yesterday to debate the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The consensus among the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties is that Britain will keep its hundreds of nuclear missiles, each eight times more powerful than the bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima in 1945 at a cost of 240,000 lives.
But nuclear weapons are unjustifiable. By their nature they cannot be used merely against “military” targets — the use of even a single nuclear weapon would slaughter huge numbers of civilians.
Since the end of the cold war and the rejection of the distorted logic of “mutually assured destruction” that kept East and West trapped in a ruinously expensive arms race, the actual use of such weapons by a state has become inconceivable. They have only one function — wiping out entire cities at a stroke — which serves no useful military purpose even if it were not a morally disgusting prospect.
Disarmament was always the only acceptable course when it comes to nuclear weapons. It has become more urgent with the proliferation of arms among terrorist organisations since the 1990s.
We also now know that the cold war saw a series of near misses.
In 1983, during Nato’s Able Archer exercise, only vital intelligence from East German agent Rainer Rupp convinced the Soviet Union that a nuclear attack from the West — which they would have sought to forestall with their own pre-emptive strike — was not actually going to take place.
And during the Cuban missile crisis Soviet naval officer Vasily Arkhipov literally saved the world by refusing to launch a nuclear missile when his submarine was attacked by US depth charges and other officers on board assumed war had broken out.
Every day that the world’s imperialist powers retain their bristling nuclear stockpiles carries a risk of an accident with unthinkable consequences. And Britain’s habit, shared with other nuclear powers with the exception of China, of keeping its warheads ready to launch 24-7 increases the danger.
On top of all that, nukes cost a bomb — if readers will excuse the pun. Replacing the submarines alone which host these lethal rockets is now estimated to have a £25 billion price tag attached. The total cost of Trident replacement could reach £100bn over 25 years.
Such is the colossal cost of these weapons that even Britain’s military chiefs have turned against Trident, pointing out that the same sums spent on conventional armaments would be of greater use to the armed forces.
As the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament points out, for the cost of Trident you could pay the tuition fees of every student in the country for the next 30 years, employ 150,000 new nurses and teachers for the same period or properly fund our currently collapsing A&E service for 40 years.
Some may find the Conservatives’ willingness to splurge £100bn on nuclear weapons while insisting that public spending must be cut bizarre.
The Morning Star doesn’t — the Tories are cutting spending as part of their neoliberal bid to destroy the welfare state. They are unconcerned with reducing debt, which has risen far faster on their watch than under Labour.
But Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are constantly ducking progressive policies on the grounds that they will be unaffordable. At the very least we could expect them to consider scrapping Trident — a policy backed by the majority of the electorate — but they show no sign of doing so.
That’s why we need a mass mobilisation this Saturday for CND’s Wrap Up Trident march in London. Nuclear weapons must be scrapped. And Labour needs to start listening.