As Long as Others Have Nuclear Weapons That Can Be Aimed at Us, We Must Never Give Up the Ultimate Deterrent; Ex-Defence Secretary Attacks Plan to Scrap Trident

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Byline: JOHN HUTTON LABOUR MP FOR BARROWAND FURNESS

THERE is a growing debate in the country about how Britain can best defend itself militarily in the 21st Century. A report last week by the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank, questioning whether Trident nuclear submarines are a cost-effective way of maintaining the UK's nuclear deterrent, is an example of this. But amid all the discussions, one fact stands out like a sore thumb. In the 20 years that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Britain's Armed Forces have been engaged on active service more frequently than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

There is one obvious conclusion to draw from this - that the collapse of communism did not mark the end of any threat to our national security. Far from it. And whether it is in Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan, our soldiers, sailors and airmen have demonstrated time and time again that they are the best in the world.

We should all be so proud of the work they do, day in day out. In my view, none of these conflicts was discretionary or optional. Our involvement and that of our allies was necessary to secure our vital long-term national security interests.

We should never forget that the first business of Government is national security. Everything else is secondary. Today, the threats to our country's security are real and obvious.

Britain faces two principal dangers. Firstly from the spread of weapons of mass destruction - nuclear, chemical and biological. China, for example, is investing considerable sums in enhancing its nuclear weapons systems. Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability. North Korea already has one. There are twice as many nations today that possess nuclear weapons than did so when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed 41 years ago.

The second main challenge to our national security comes from Islamic terrorism - a new breed of fanaticism that despises everything we and our friends and allies stand for - liberty, human rights, equality. Terrorists who will stop at nothing, stoop to the very depths of depravity, and use indiscriminate violence in the name of their vile cause.

WE HAVE to defend ourselves against both of these threats. We should do so because our values and freedoms are worth defending. They have been bequeathed to us by previous generations and we hold them in sacred trust for those who will come after us.

We do not have the luxury of picking and choosing which of these threats we are prepared to defend ourselves against.

If we do this, and follow the advice of some politicians, we would expose our country and our friends around the world to mortal danger. And to defend ourselves successfully, we will need, above all else, to recognise that the response to both of these threats will require different means.

Britain should always invest its principal effort in conflict prevention. It is better to prevent a war than have to fight one. It is better to prevent a state from becoming a haven for international terrorism than have to go in and flush out the terrorists.

So we should remain active in all those international security organisations that can do this vital work - the United Nations, Nato, the international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and, yes, the European Union too.

We should invest more in this area. Only six per cent of EU funds are devoted to conflict prevention. It is even less in the UK.

But if all these efforts fail, then Britain must retain the ability if necessary to defend itself by all of the military means at its disposal. …