In today’s article, James Aspinall throws his two cents into the ring on the Trident Debate. James is the former Secretary of St Helens Young Labour and currently works in Exeter. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch films and do anything sporty.
On Saturday, 60,000 people descended upon Trafalgar Square to protest against Trident. This protest, led by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), had some of the biggest names in the politics leading the charge such as Leanne Wood, Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas and long time supporter of the CND Jeremy Corbyn. The latter, like the former, claim that Trident is too expensive, doesn’t keep the UK secure and claim that the weapons serve no real purpose other than to threaten those states without such weapons and wish to be rid of them. I would recommend caution on jumping to such conclusions however.
The first argument that those in favour of abandoning the UKs Trident point to is the enormous amount of money that would be saved if the UK got rid of its nuclear weapons. They tell us that this new found wealth could not only be put back into the conventional Armed Forces, for better equipment and more personnel but, as the placards read, ‘Homes not Trident’, ‘NHS not Trident’, ‘Jobs not Trident’ and so on. But is this thinking realistic? Following almost every conflict Britain has ever fought in, equipment was scrapped, numbers of personnel slashed but the money to fund whatever projects the newly elected government promised always mysteriously vanished. The more likely destination of this new found wealth is that it will enter the vortex of the Treasury and never been seen again. This is further proven by the enormous amount of debt the UK has accrued over recent years which has resulted in little benefit to now desperate departments (and that was before the current wave of cuts!). This all goes without mentioning the thousands of people that would lose their jobs in already deprived areas. What makes far more sense is to reduce the number of nuclear warheads each of the Trident submarines actually carry, this would save money, contribute to overall nuclear disarmament, save jobs and risk very little in terms of security.
This latter point leads us to the most obvious question that is whether the UK is safer or not with or without Trident? Now, I must admit, it is a sad reflection of our age that we have not learnt the mistakes of the past, but it is a far larger mistake to think that the times have indeed changed. Contrary to the hope of the post-Cold War era, the world is still a very violent place, and although both combatant and civilian casualties in conflicts today are at an all-time low that should not mean that the UK should lower its shield. Currently, we have numerous states, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia and (until recently) Iran, either actively attempting to develop nuclear weapons or looking into the possibility. There are also rumours that Russia is increasing the number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal in violation of international treaties. This all goes without mentioning the fact that we are not just talking about the UKs security, but our allies as well. Defence budgets across Europe are decreasing despite the number of threats rising, and although the counter to these threats is not necessarily a nuclear response, abandoning Trident is yet another nail in the coffin for Europe to ever detach itself from the US’s security umbrella.
I argue that nuclear disarmament must be done multilaterally, not based on the idea that other states might follow suit if the UK does decide to disarm. I argue that all weapons of mass destruction should be banished from this world but this is not the time to do so. To abandon the only failsafe that stopped the Cold War, and other potential conflicts, becoming hot is foolish.
To end this I have to say that I am not ‘pro Trident’ but I do admit to the realities of the world. This is an extremely contentious issue which nobody can predict the long term effects of. I simply believe that while getting rid of Trident may make some people very happy in the short term, it will have dire consequences in the future when other nations, I would predict, do not follow suit. The paradox of mutually assured destruction is indeed MAD, but as they say, there is method in the madness.