“The huge expenditure on Trident, at £100 billion, is enormous by any stretch of the imagination…. I hope that the Liberal Democrats and, indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) will come round to the view that nuclear weapons are unsustainable, expensive, dangerous and immoral, and that the world would be a much safer place if the five declared nuclear weapon states stood up to their obligations under the non-proliferation treaty and took steps towards disarmament….If weapons of mass destruction were ever used, they could only create an environmental disaster where they go off and an economic disaster across the whole planet—and possibly an environmental disaster for the whole planet with a nuclear winter. They are something that we should not, could not and never would countenance the use of. However, every state, by possessing nuclear weapons, clearly does countenance their use, otherwise they would not possess them. I think security comes from disarmament, not from rearmament, and this is also going to cost us a great deal of money.”
Hansard, Westminster Hall, debate on US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement, 6 November 2014, Column 293WH https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2014-11-06/debates/14110640000001/US-UKMutualDefenceAgreement?highlight=corbyn%20trident#contribution-14110640000022)
These are the words of a true believer in nuclear disarmament, spoken in a debate four and half years ago, on the bilateral securely treaty between Washington and London providing the mutual support basis for nuclear WMD development. They were spoken by the current Leader of the Labour Party and official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP.
On Wednesday this week (10 April 2019)in the House of Commons, a full debate was held on UK deployment at sea of the UK’s nuclear WMD arsenal on Trident submarines.
This is called CASD, or “Continuous At-Sea Deterrent’, which was the title of the debate, to mark the 50th anniversary of CASD, when nuclear-armed submarine HMS Resolution was launched into the River Clyde in Scotland, near Glasgow . (https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-04-10/debates/19041016000003/ContinuousAt-SeaDeterrent)
MPs’ energies depleted by endless Brexit debates, were only thinly present on the House of Commons green benches. Here are a selection of deplorable bellicose warmongering statements made by Labour MPs, including the shadow defence spokesperson Nia Griffith, and a junior defence team member, Wayne David, both Welsh MPs.
Nia Griffith opened by saying accurately but disgracefully, reflecting the 2017 Labour manifesto promises on Trident:
“Labour fully supports the UK’s continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent, and we are committed to the renewal of the nuclear submarines.
I pay tribute to all those whose hard work and dedication have supported the deterrent over its lifespan: workers on the new Dreadnought class at sites across the country, including those whom I visited in Barrow; and Royal Navy personnel past and present who have crewed the nuclear submarines over the past 50 years. Their commitment and skill are integral to the continuous nature of the deterrent. We are indebted to them for their service, and to their families for their support.
The first duty of Government is the protection of their citizens. The nuclear deterrent makes an important contribution to our country’s security, alongside our brave armed forces and a range of conventional and non-conventional capabilities.
We recognise that we live in a world where the number of states that possess nuclear weapons has continued to grow, and where others are actively seeking to acquire them. The threats facing the UK are real and undiminished, and there is a need to deter the use of nuclear weapons in all circumstances—none of us ever wants to be in a position where the deterrent is used. If we ever got to that situation, it would represent a catastrophic failure of our rules-based system and of the very concept of deterrence.
Deterrence encompasses a broad range of actions, from diplomatic means to conventional force and, ultimately, the nuclear deterrent. We must always ensure that we have the very best conventional forces, including cyber-capabilities, and that the UK uses its influence on the world stage to ensure that we deal with conflicts and tensions early, without allowing them to escalate dangerously.
The nature of the threats we face is changing, be they the ravages of climate change, drought, starvation, gross inequality within and between countries—whether state or non-state actors—ever more complex technologies, hybrid warfare, or the sophisticated use of cyber-information warfare to attack our democratic institutions and our open public cyber-spaces. We are committed to working with fellow NATO countries to counteract such threats and to guarantee the collective security of our allies.”
She then paid hypocritical lip-service to the UK’s nuclear disarmament obligations, saying:
“As a nuclear-armed power, the UK has important obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, which British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was instrumental in establishing. Next year marks the 50th anniversary of its entering into force, the only treaty that imposes a binding commitment on the nuclear-weapon states to pursue the goal of multilateral disarmament together. Labour is committed to the NPT and to working with international partners on a multilateral basis to create a nuclear-free world. In government,”
“Labour worked to reduce the number of operationally available warheads to fewer than 160.”
which was done unilaterally, not part of any multilateral treaty negotiation, and added:
“The last Labour Government signed the international code of conduct against ballistic missile proliferation, as well as the international convention for the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.
The other objective of the non-proliferation treaty is of course to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Unfortunately, the number of states that possess such weapons has continued to grow, and other countries are working actively to acquire them. North Korea has continued in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, despite significant UN sanctions and attempts by the international community to seek dialogue with the regime. The Iran nuclear deal, which was so painstakingly negotiated to curtail that country’s nuclear ambitions, is now under immense pressure due to President Trump’s decision to withdraw US support for it. As a nuclear-weapon state and a member of the P5, we cannot simply stand by as the international norm against proliferation of such weapons is eroded. Instead, the UK should take a leading role in multilateral efforts to combat that trend.”
Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend, and President of NATO’s North Atlantic Parliamentary Assembly, chipped in, saying:
“we are here to celebrate 50 years of Britain’s continuous at-sea deterrent, which has maintained peace and security for those 50 years. Many will talk of the NATO alliance being a nuclear alliance. I can say that not one member of NATO has ever stood up in the parliamentary assembly and said, “Let’s get rid of it. We don’t need the alliance. We don’t need the British deterrent.” Quite the opposite.
…I want to look at what the current threats are and why the CASD remains absolutely critical to the defence and security of the alliance and every member state within it. Today, as has been said, the tempo and the threat is changing. It is rising again. States are building and expanding their nuclear missile systems, threatening across the alliance. I therefore want to stress the importance of a hidden deterrent—not an airborne or land-based deterrent, mobile though they are. The absolute uniqueness of the at-sea deterrent is its capacity to hide: the lack of certainty about where it is and when it will be brought into commission.”
…For 50 years, this deterrent has kept us safe. We owe a huge debt of thanks, not just for the past but for the future, to those men and women in the silent service—in our industrial base—who continue to provide peace, security and stability, and who have prevented nuclear war for all those 50 years.”
Former Labour defence minister Mr Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, perniciously added
“I pay tribute to the industry and the men and women who work in it [Trident submarines], not only in the supply chain but directly in maintaining our nuclear deterrent. The issues relating to our nuclear deterrent are rightly secret and do not get a great deal of attention. ..I accept that a level of secrecy is needed…I have always had the utmost respect for those who hold the view that Britain should not have nuclear weapons. I disagree with them, but I respect their position..The post-war Attlee Government decided that Britain would become a nuclear power because they saw the rise of the threat from the Soviet Union to the post-war order that they and the west were trying to put together. It was a rules-based system, and we rightly pay tribute to the founders of NATO and other international organisations after the second world war…. I know that recently there has been much veneration on the left of the 1945 Labour Government, but that part of the story is always conveniently airbrushed out. The formation of NATO and the beginning of our nuclear deterrent set the course of our security and has dictated it over subsequent generations. Some of the principles that were underlined then, such as mutual destruction and deterrence, have been borne out by the fact that we have not had a nuclear conflict throughout the subsequent period.”
..I am clear about the need to retain our nuclear deterrent. It keeps us safe. If we could uninvent nuclear weapons tomorrow, I think most people would..One threat that I do see to CASD is the decision in 2010 to delay the replacement of the nuclear deterrent. That has had huge issues for the maintenance of CASD. It means that the life of our present Vanguard submarines will be extended way beyond what was designed.
To finish where I started, I pay tribute to all those involved in this endeavour. It is a complex one, ensuring not just that we have CASD but that the enterprise works. That it has done so over 50 years is a remarkable feat.
Another former Labour minister, Vernon Coaker, MP for Gedling, was a little more nuclear nuanced:
“I say that as someone who utterly supports the continuous at-sea deterrent… I also strongly believe that it is representative of, and to an extent a political declaration of, the importance of our country on the world stage.
I have no problem at all with stating that view. It is not an old-fashioned view, as was suggested earlier, and it is not a view that Members should somehow not be proud of expressing in this Parliament. We are a senior member of NATO, we are a senior power in the world, and we are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Those are fundamental matters for our country, and they bring with them fundamental responsibilities. In my opinion—which is not held by everyone in the Chamber—those responsibilities mean something when it comes to military deployment, diplomacy, and our view of the world. I think that our country makes a massive contribution to stability and peace in many parts of the world, and part of that contribution is the deterrent.
I was very pleased that the Secretary of State—and, indeed, many other Members—observed that we spend a lot of time in this Parliament simply asserting the need for the deterrent. We do not argue the case. We do not take on, in a proper, intellectual way, those who oppose it. We simply dismiss their opposition, and I think that that is wrong. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), it is perfectly possible, and feasible, and a philosophy that some people support, that having a nuclear deterrent is fundamentally wrong. We should accept that philosophy and argue with it, rather than simply dismissing it.
I have to tell the Minister, as someone who supports the deterrent, that mine is not a view held universally across the country. .They will ask me, for example, “Vernon, how does having nuclear weapons defend us against terrorism?” Well, of course they are not meant to defend us against terrorism, but it is no good just saying that; it is necessary to argue it.
Many of my constituents do not see Russia as a threat, in terms of its using nuclear weapons against us, and do not understand why we have to have nuclear weapons in order to deter it. It is therefore incumbent on people like me to say that it is important for the stability of the alliance—the stability on which NATO vis-à-vis Russia works—that that nuclear deterrent is in place. I think that the concept of mutually assured destruction does bring stability, but it is necessary to argue that constantly.
President Obama made a brilliant speech in Prague, which inspired the world, in which he talked about global zero. He said he wanted a world where nuclear weapons did not exist. The challenge for people like me, and the challenge for this Parliament, and for the Defence Secretary, the Chair of the Defence Committee and all my hon. Friends, is, do we share that ambition? When has this Parliament ever debated how we re-energise, re-enthuse the drive for multilateral nuclear disarmament?
How do we re-energise the non-proliferation treaty? How do we re-energise multilateral talks? These are big strategic questions for our country—I say to the Defence Secretary, how do we re-energise those non-proliferation talks, that non-proliferation treaty? Do we really mean that we want a multilateral process that leads to global zero?
…I believe that we are a global power. I think we are a global force for good—I am not ashamed to say that—and as part of that, our possession of nuclear weapons is accepted in the non-proliferation treaty. We legally hold those weapons, and that contributes, in my view, to global stability and peace. Alongside that, we need to be more assertive in the way that we explain that to the British public. In addition, there is a price to be paid by the Government, hon. Members and this Parliament, which is that we must drive forward on multilateral disarmament, and really mean it when we say, as President Obama did, that we want a world that is completely free of nuclear weapons. We can achieve that, but we do it together, not on our own.”
Shadow defence minister, Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly wound up the debate for the official opposition with these [selected] pearls of un-swisdom
“… In July 2016, this House voted to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the early 2030s, when the Dreadnought class submarines will replace the Vanguards. The first of the new class will enter service in the early 2030s.
…My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) made an important contribution. [He]made the point that all of us, collectively, who believe in the concept of deterrence need to make the case to the people of this country. He also pointed out that it is very important that we stress that none of us wants to keep nuclear weapons. We are not in favour of nuclear weapons; we want to see a peaceful world and an impetus given to the process of multilateralism.
…Because we take it for granted that we are all against nuclear weapons. None of us wants to see nuclear weapons being used. The most effective way to preserve peace, however, is the concept of deterrence.
The case for this country’s nuclear deterrent is overwhelming. It has been put forward with eloquence and determination the Chair of the Defence Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Julian Lewis). I would like to quote an article that he wrote back in 2006:
“the purpose of a British nuclear deterrent remains what it has always been: to minimize the prospect of the United Kingdom being attacked by mass destruction weapons. It is not a panacea and it is not designed to forestall every type of threat. Nevertheless, the threat which it is designed to counter is so overwhelming that no other form of military capability could manage to avert it.”
That was true when he wrote it and it is certainly the case today.
Some people argue that the world has changed over the past few years: the polarisation between east and west—between the free world and the so-called communist world—no longer mars the globe and we have seen the emergence of non-state players such as al-Qaeda and ISIL. The world has changed, yes, but let us be clear that the threat of state players is still with us. Recently, we have seen the development of a new style of old-style nationalism, particularly in China and Russia. I pay tribute to the way my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) has highlighted these facts very clearly. We see China becoming increasingly assertive in the South China sea—the East sea as the Vietnamese refer to it. We have also seen Russia being increasingly assertive and, I have to say, duplicitous with regard to Ukraine, Estonia and many other places.
…the policy that counts is that of the British Labour party. I would like to quote the manifesto on which all Labour Members were elected in 2017. It said very clearly:
“Labour supports the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent. As a nuclear-armed power, our country has a responsibility to fulfil our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
We want to see multilateral disarmament—yes, we want to encourage that process—but we are also four-square in support of Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
…I am simply pointing out what should be blindingly obvious: decisions on these matters are made here. We all want different points of view to be expressed—we value points of view in all parts of the United Kingdom—but decisions on Britain’s nuclear deterrent are made in this House.
I want to ask one question of the Government before I sit down. We heard earlier from the Secretary of State that the Dreadnought programme is to cost £31 billion, with a contingency built in. However, not so long ago a National Audit Office report pointed out that the programme was extremely expensive, and it is. Of course, it is inevitably putting a huge strain on the MOD’s overall equipment plan. We know that the MOD budget faces enormous difficulties, so I ask the Minister whether he can make any comment about the programme’s cost and how any future cost escalation will be built in.
I also ask the Minister to return to the often put and discussed question of whether the whole programme should be outside the MOD’s budget. It has been suggested that the Treasury is reluctant, and we know that relations between the MOD and the Treasury are not too good and have not been for some time. Does he think the programme and the amount of expenditure is so important that a strong case needs to be made now to ensure that it is taken out of the MOD’s budget and considered separately?
This has been a good debate. We have all paid genuine tribute to the men and women who have kept us safe in this country.
We live in a world that has changed profoundly since the decision of Clem Attlee and his Government to give the UK an independent nuclear deterrent, but deterrence is still vital, and the best way to maintain deterrence—and therefore peace—is through our continuous at-sea deterrent.(emphasis added)
Caroline Lucas Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion earlier had asked the Defence Secretary: “I wonder how the Secretary of State thinks we can possibly lecture other countries about not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. What moral high ground do we have to do that if we ourselves not only possess them but are upgrading them? Does he really think the world would be a safer place if every country had nuclear weapons, and if that is not the case, how on earth do we justify what we are doing?
Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, ludicrously retorted:
“I firmly believe that the world is a safer place because we have a nuclear deterrent, and because of the responsible way that it is deployed.”
Caroline Lucas immediately fired back asking: “But would the world be safer if all countries had them?”, to be told by a disingenuous Williamson, evading the question: “The hon. Lady and I will probably always find room for disagreement on this.”
It is such a pity Caroline Lucas is not UK Defence or Foreign Secretary.
“. I am happy to speak as well in my capacity as chair of the cross-party group on nuclear disarmament. Let me put it on the record at the top of my speech that I am very happy to pay tribute to the submariners for their service to this country and to their families for the sacrifice that they make, which the hon. Lady has set out very clearly.
I do not think that there is any contradiction between paying tribute to that service and also being very clear that, for me, nuclear weapons are abhorrent. Others have said during this debate that it is inconsistent to have a nuclear deterrent if we are not prepared to use it. I absolutely agree with that, and I am very proud to say that I would not, under any circumstances, use nuclear weapons, and still less would I support the Prime Minister’s position of a first use of nuclear weapons. I believe that nuclear weapons are indiscriminate, illegal and obscene.
Let us just think what that first strike, which the Prime Minister was so proud not to rule out, could really mean. The heart of a nuclear explosion reaches a temperature of several million degrees centigrade. Over a wide area, the resulting heat flash literally vaporises all human tissue. At Hiroshima, within a radius of half a mile, the only remains of the people caught in the open were their shadows burned into stone. People inside buildings will be indirectly killed by the blast and the heat effects as buildings collapse and all inflammable materials burst into flames. The immediate death rate in that area will be over 90%. Individual fires will combine to produce a fire storm as all the oxygen is consumed. As the heat rises, air is drawn in from the periphery at or near ground level. This results in lethal hurricane-force winds and perpetuates the fire as the fresh oxygen is burned. The contamination will continue potentially for hundreds of thousands of years. The Red Cross has estimated that 1 billion people around the world could face starvation as a result of a nuclear war.
Let me be very clear: I hate all war, but there is something particular about nuclear war. Simply saying that it is in the same category as other forms of war is wrong. What is wrong as well is to say that we cannot uninvent things that have already been invented. We saw what happened when it came to chemical weapons, biological weapons and cluster munitions being banned. If there was more support from countries such as the UK, nuclear weapons could be banned as well. There was the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and I found it frankly outrageous that the UK Government could not even be bothered to turn up to the talks. That was a campaign that was run throughout the world. One hundred and twenty two countries supported the nuclear ban treaty. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel peace prize for its efforts. The treaty is a strong and comprehensive text, with the potential to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. It opened for signature in September 2017 and will enter into force when 50 states have ratified it. It has so far been signed by 70 states and ratified by 22, and more and more are signing up.
I want to counter the argument made from the Labour Benches that the treaty is somehow not multilateral. It is, not least because there is no requirement for a country to join; there is no requirement on a country to have forgone their nuclear weapons before joining. If the UK had used its considerable clout on the world stage to have really shown some leadership on this issue, there could have been at least a chance of getting the countries around the table to have gone away and begun the process multilaterally of getting rid of their weapons.
The hon. Lady is very critical of the United Kingdom in this respect, but did Russia, China, France and the United States—in other words, the declared nuclear weapon states—attend either? Surely this is just another cul-de-sac, whereas the real way of reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons is through negotiations, primarily between Russia and the United States initially, but then involving all the nuclear weapon states. Is not that real politics, rather than gesture politics?
If the right hon. Gentleman really thinks that 122 countries around the world are engaging in gesture politics, I would suggest to him that it is perhaps more a gesture from him than it is from them. I believe in Britain taking a leadership role. Perhaps he does not. The constant sitting back and waiting for something else to happen—doing the wrong thing—would frankly be unconscionable.
It is very easy to characterise those of us who are against nuclear weapons as somehow not living in the real world, so perhaps I could just remind the House that there are plenty of people within the military world who do not think that nuclear weapons are a useful tool going forward. Back in 2014 senior political and diplomatic figures—including people such as the former Conservative Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Defence Secretary Des Browne and former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen—came together with very high ranking military personnel to say that they believe that the risks posed by nuclear weapons and the international dynamics that could lead to nuclear weapons being used are being underestimated, and that those risks are insufficiently understood by world leaders.
The Government’s main argument for replacing Trident appears to be that it is the ultimate insurance in an uncertain world. I argue that they fail to acknowledge that it is our very possession of nuclear weapons that is making that world more uncertain. Nor have the advocates of nuclear weapons ever explained why, if Trident is so vital to protecting us, that is not also the case for every other country in the world. The Secretary of State did not answer me at the beginning of this debate—it seems a long time ago now—when I put it to him that we have no moral arguments to put to other countries to ask them not to acquire nuclear weapons if we ourselves are not only keeping them but upgrading them. I put it to him again that a world in which every country is striving for, and potentially achieving, nuclear weapons would be an awful lot more dangerous than the world we have today.
Let me try this question again. If we were to give up our nuclear weapons, which other countries that possess nuclear weapons would follow suit? Does the hon. Lady know how many nuclear warheads have been reduced as a result of us reducing our nuclear warhead totals unilaterally? The answer is a big fat zero.
That is why one needs international processes such as the UN treaty that I have described, which is supported by 122 countries, in order to make that happen. Although I am personally in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament, that is not the case that I am making this afternoon. I am moving one step towards people such as hon. Members like himself—or right hon. Members like himself, perhaps, I cannot really remember—who I completely understand are never going to be persuaded by unilateral nuclear disarmament, but who I hope might be willing to engage in a serious argument about multilateral nuclear disarmament.
So far there has been very little recognition in this debate of the fact that nuclear weapons systems are themselves fallible. According to a shocking report by Chatham House, there have been 13 incidents since 1962 in which nuclear weapons have very nearly been launched. One of the most dramatic, in 1983, was when Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer in a Soviet nuclear war early-warning centre, found his system warning of the launch of five US missiles. After a few moments of agonising, he judged it, thankfully and correctly, to be a false alarm. If he had reached a different conclusion and passed the information up the control chain, that could have triggered the firing of nuclear missiles from Russia.
Parliamentary questions I have asked uncovered the shocking fact that since 2006 there have been 789 nuclear safety incidents at Coulport and Faslane, and half of the incidents at Faslane have taken place in just the past four years. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a very serious worry that nuclear safety incidents are on the rise under the watch of a Government who should not have control of a TV remote, let alone the most dangerous weapons on the planet?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She rightly shines a spotlight on issues that far too rarely get covered in the media or even in debates such as this one.
The UK Government have shamefully refused to participate in the treaty negotiations I have been describing while nevertheless claiming that they share the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world. But it is not too late to make amends. The Government should now engage constructively and work towards signing that treaty and supporting the global moves towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons. That, unlike a willingness to launch nuclear weapons and incinerate millions of innocent people, or to waste billions on a weapon that will never be used and therefore serves no evident purpose, would be the true test of a Prime Minister’s leadership.”