- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Category: Assembly Speeches
SPEECH ON REPALCEMENT OF TRIDENT 18 NOVEMBER 2015
Every political party is signed up to the international efforts for world-wide nuclear disarmament, but not every party is prepared to do anything about it. Let’s assume you believe that nuclear weapons act as a deterrent. If you believe that they stop wars, if you believe that they make the world safer, surely the logic of that argument is that every country should have them. We should not be trying to stop countries having nuclear weapons; we should be encouraging every country to have nuclear weapons, because we believe they act as a deterrent. We believe they stop us having wars, therefore, we should make sure everybody has them. We should be exporting enriched uranium so that they can make the bomb that is necessary for the safety of all of us—making nuclear bombs out of enriched uranium, once you’ve got enriched uranium, is not particularly difficult.
So, that’s what we should be doing if we actually believe it’s going to make the world a safer place by having nuclear weapons. Great Britain has had an independent nuclear deterrent since it became the third country to test its own nuclear weapon in October 1952. Since 1998, we’ve had the Trident programme, which is thought to have 200 thermonuclear warheads, 160 which are operational at any one time, although, again, the Government refuses to tell us the exact number. I’m sure that most other countries in the world that are our likely opponents could probably tell us, but the Government doesn’t think we ought to know.
The dictionary definition of ‘deterrent’ includes ‘military strength’ or ‘an ability to defend a country or retaliate strongly enough to deter an enemy from attacking’. If Britain’s nuclear deterrent were to work, no non-nuclear power would dare to attack us or any of our dependencies, any of our allies, or any of our overseas territories. Evidently, the script wasn’t read by the Argentinian junta, who invaded the Falklands without any fear of nuclear attack. The nuclear deterrent completely failed to deter Argentina. It believed, correctly, that not only would Britain not use it, we wouldn’t even threaten to use it; we wouldn’t say that we were thinking about using it if we were losing, which we were at one time. Other countries we have failed to deter with our nuclear weapons include Iraq over the invasion of Kuwait and Egypt over the annexing of the Suez canal. I don’t want to continue, but it’s certainly not deterred anybody.
The USA has nuclear weapons—probably the most nuclear weapons of any country in the world—but when it was fighting in Vietnam, it used conventional bombing; it also used things that I don’t think it should have done, such as Agent Orange and napalm, but it never threatened North Vietnam with a nuclear attack let alone used nuclear weapons on it, despite being forced out of South Vietnam. The USSR, which is now Russia, which we think about as a state that will do almost anything and which we have to be frightened of, was forced out of Afghanistan. The Taliban was not deterred by their nuclear arsenal
Sorry, I thought a deterrent’s real purpose was to deter, and it certainly hasn’t acted as a deterrent. Supporters of nuclear weapons would say, ‘They have stopped a major war in Europe’. Interestingly, supporters of the European Community make exactly the same argument. But, even if the mutual assured destruction of the nuclear arms race was true of the immediate post-war period until the fall of the Berlin wall, it’s certainly untrue now. Does anybody seriously expect present-day Russia to start invading the rest of Europe? If they do, shouldn’t we be getting nuclear weapons to Norway and Finland immediately? If it wants to make an aggressive act, it is more likely to turn the gas supply off than to fire nuclear weapons.
So, why do we continue to want to invest in nuclear weapons that we will not only not use, but not even threaten to use, even when a British overseas territory is invaded? The terrible nature of nuclear weapons together with their environmental impact means that it is unlikely that any respectable Government would use them for fear of the political backlash from the rest of the world.
Interestingly, hydrogen bombs have not been tested in recent times. We don’t actually know it works, because it hasn’t been tested—not that I’m arguing it should be tested, but it could just be filled with hydrogen and it wouldn’t cause a thermonuclear reaction on explosion. We don’t know that. I think the last time they were tested by the Americans or the British or even the Russians was probably back in the 1980s. So, we don’t actually know it works.
So, why do we continue to sustain it as a misnamed nuclear deterrent? We’re not even independent; we’d only fire it if the Americans said so, so we’d have to ask, ‘Please Sir, can we fire our independent weapon?’ I’m not sure how independent that makes it. The answer appears to be less military than political. It guarantees our place on the UN Security Council. So, why do we want to upgrade Trident? It’s not rusting away. It will still continue to work. It will still continue to work for the next 40 or 50 years. It’s not going to be used anyway, so why waste billions of pounds on upgrading it to buy another system? I’m old enough to remember the argument over upgrading Polaris into Trident. We’ve had one upgrade and nothing has worked. I think really the argument is: why spend money on something not only that we won’t use and won’t threaten to use but that everybody else in the world knows we’re not going to use?