by Ann Rogers
IN MARCH 2007 the Government put a resolution before the House of Commons calling for “the necessary steps to maintain the United Kingdom’s strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system”. In short the Government was calling for a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.
The resolution was passes after pressure on both Tory and Labour MPs. But it was still opposed by 161 MPs – including 89 Labour MPs – the biggest revolt by Labour backbenchers on a domestic issue since Tony Blair came to office.
The rebel MPs were in step with the public as a whole. A majority (59 per cent), polled by ICM in July 2006, opposed replacing Trident.
In January 2008, as reported in the New Worker, armed forces chiefs from the United States, Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands gave a statement insisting that a “first strike” nuclear option remains an “indispensable option” since there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world”. It is thought this manifesto will be discussed at the Nato summit in April.
Of course armed forces chiefs are not necessarily speaking for their respective governments. But since governments have not spoken against these views we must conclude that this does reflect the thinking of the imperialist leaders.
It means that objecting to these policies needs to happen now – ahead of the Nato summit.
The armed forces chiefs’ statement also needs to be seen alongside arguments put by Tony Blair when he was striving to get the new Trident resolution through the Commons. According to Blair it would be “unwise and dangerous” for Britain to give up its nuclear weapons. He alleged that the consequences of misjudgement about the country’s security would be “potentially catastrophic”.
He alleged that new threats were posed by states like the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. This outrageous slur against the DPRK, a country that has issued no threats to anyone at all and which vigorously supports peace and working class solidarity internationally, shows the utter emptiness and weakness of the Government’s case. It also shows that the Cold War is not ended outside Europe – at least in the minds of the imperialist powers.
But Blair’s words will come as no surprise after backing Bush’s war on Iraq on the basis of a lie about weapons of mass destruction, which Iraq did not have.
The whole issue of Trident is presented by the biggest lie of all – that these weapons protect our country and that they are a means of “defence”.
We do not need to second guess the thinking of the ruling class here and in the United States – we only need to see the specification for Trident to know that it is, and always was, an offensive weapon of mass destruction. Much more exposure needs to be given to this since there is now a generation of young adults who were born after the Cold War in Europe and after the intense campaigning against Trident in the 1980s.
Briefly: The current trident fleet consists of four Ballistic submarines – HMS Vengeance, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant and HMS Vanguard. At any time three of these can be at sea. Each 150-metre submarine has 16 missile tubes capable of firing Trident D5 missiles and four tubes for Spearfish torpedoes. D5 is a MERV-type missile, which can fire 12 nuclear-armed warheads.
Each submarine’s range is over 4,000 nautical miles and, according to Royal navy information, claims an accuracy of a few metres. This is laughable, since a single warhead would totally devastate an area of many square miles – being accurate to a few yards is utterly irrelevant.
Just one trident warhead has eight times the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. A warhead aimed at a city would kill, sooner or later, over a million people, destroy the entire infrastructure and contaminate the whole area for decades to come.
The range of Trident means it could do this to any country in the world.
This is military nonsense – a fact acknowledged by many military pundits. If Trident were ever used it would amount to a crime of genocidal proportions – and it is obviously not inconceivable that it could be used, given the first-strike talk of the Nato war chiefs.
Does Trident defend our country? Of course not. It only increases the danger of nuclear catastrophe.
Only the US has a comparable system to Trident. Britain does not face a threat from others – we are the threat. In fact in July 1998 a Ministry of Defence review stated: “There is today no military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe. Nor do we foresee the re-emergence of such a threat.”
That statement did not deter former Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon from indicating in 2002 that Trident might be used in a first strike capacity as a pre-emptive attack against a proportionate threat and that this could be against a non-nuclear weapon state.
A CND briefing of May 2007 said: “The UK is enhancing the Trident system and making it more flexible and therefore more usable. For example in 2003 new computers were installed on Trident submarines so that the missiles can now be rapidly retargeted and £28.4 million has been spent on acquiring a new fire-control system (to be deployed in 2010) which will improve their targeting. An upgrade to the nuclear warheads has also been scheduled. The Government describe this as a “relatively minor upgrading and refurbishment during the first half of the next decade. This will enable Trident warheads to remain in service until at least the 2020s.”
The Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office have produced a fact sheet giving a potted history of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme (incidentally, though this goes back to 1941 and the 1943 Manhattan Project, agreed between Churchill and Roosevelt, it never bothers to mention the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945).
However it does mention the signing in 1958 of the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) as the basis for Agreement and Co-operation on Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes. This, it says, “became, and remains, the cornerstone of UK-US co-operation on nuclear defence issues. It was renewed in 2004 for a further period of 10 years.”
It underlines the fact that the US Trident missile system that Britain deploys always has to be seen as a component of the wider US war strategy.
In the 1980s Trident was to have been an integrated part of the US Star Wars programme and today it remains an arm of US strategy. Trident is not an independent UK weapons system and it is inconceivable that Britain would ever use its Trident weapons if the US did not sanction it.
While British ministers always speak of trident as “our nuclear deterrent” – it is actually more closely tied to Washington than other weapons systems that Britain has. This is because the US will not let Trident be subjected to any collective decision-making by its allies.
It is not just the constraints of the MDA that make Trident not an independent weapons system. A report prepared for Scottish CND revealed that Trident is technically dependent on the US in many important ways. It says: “The [Trident] warhead is a Dutch copy of the US W76…. Several key components are produced in America…. The MC2989 Neutron Generators, initially deployed on British warheads were overhauled in the US in 1999. This implies that they were built there. A replacement Neutron Generator, the MC4380, was manufactured in America and supplied to Britain in 2002 …. The gas reservoirs on British warheads are filled with tritium in the US. These are difficult components to build. This suggests that the reservoirs are manufactured in America.
“The arming, fusing and firing system triggers the warhead. The model used on British warheads was designed by Sandia Laboratory and almost certainly procured off-the-shelf from America…. And there is a substantial American presence at the Northwood headquarters from where British submarine operations are controlled.
“Successive governments have withheld information to conceal dependence …. This is consistent with the policy of uncertainty that lies at the heart of British nuclear policy.”
Blair’s statement to the House of Commons that “it would be unwise and dangerous for Britain to give up its nuclear weapons” is utterly bogus. The vast majority of countries in the world do not have nuclear weapons at all. And since the end of the Cold war in Europe Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus have got rid of their nuclear weapons.
For Britain to opt for Trident replacement is not going to deter countries from trying to acquire nuclear weapons – it will have the opposite effect of making non-nuclear states feel threatened and therefore in need of seeking a nuclear option.Furthermore it is contrary to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Britain has signed.
The NPT was signed by the US, Britain, the Soviet Union and 59 other countries on 1st July 1968. Since then China and France have also signed. By 2000, 187 states were party to the NPT.
Though Blair denied that Trident replacement is in breach of the NPT, the words of Article VI of the treaty show that he is wrong. It says: “Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to pursue nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
Britain and the US have never paid more than lip service to this and by upgrading their nuclear weapons they are clearly in breach. But that sort of thing has never worried either state. The imperialist powers never thought of the NPT as a call for nuclear weapons’ reduction by themselves – but only as a means of constraining all other states to create as near to a nuclear weapons monopoly as possible.
Since the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union this pressure has built up so that now states the US regards as unfriendly are bullied to abandon nuclear power generation altogether.
If the Government’s stated reasons for wanting to keep Trident are spurious, what are the true reasons?
One of these can be summed up by the words of Aneurin Bevan when he addressed the Labour Party Conference in 1957 and insisted that Britain retain nuclear weapons “lest she go naked into the conference chamber”.
Maintaining nuclear status has and is a ruling class objective for British capitalism’s international prestige and to keep its permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.
It is also part of the wider strategy of Anglo-US relations. Britain is no longer a big colonial power but a section of the British ruling class hopes to bask in the reflection of the new sun in the sky –the US.
It is timely that this Easter CND plans to mark its 50th anniversary with a demonstration at the Atomic weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston. This is where a new laser facility is being built to test and develop a new generation of nuclear weapons.
This site produced and maintains nuclear warheads and has always been the business end of Trident in Britain.
The decision to replace Trident has led to an increase in the workforce at Aldermaston and capital costs have risen by £278 million in the last five years. According to a House of Commons written statement £1 billion extra funding has been earmarked for Aldermaston from 2005 to 2008.
This brings us to the cost of Trident. According to CND replacement for Trident could cost at least £25 billion. Running costs will be £1.5 billion-a-year and over a 30-year lifespan this would bring the cost to £76 billion. The Stop the War Coalition believes the cost will be £50 billion and a Defence white paper says the running costs of Trident are five to six per cent of the annual defence budget.
Of course the figures all depend on what is counted in. for example there would be extra costs for decommissioning the old system and the huge costs of running AWE Aldermaston.
Whatever measure we use it is colossally expensive and represents money that could be better spent on health, education, housing, pensions, public transport, local authorities and so on.
Clearly British taxpayers – the majority of whom are working class people on pay-as-you-earn tax (PAYE) – are helping to pay for US nuclear war plans and “defence” strategy. None of this is in the interests of the working class.
Quote: “Trident is unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound.” – Gordon Brown (1984).