PERSPECTIVE: Taking Sides in the Great Trident Deterrent Divide; the Commons Will Vote Tonight on Replacing the Trident Nuclear Deterrent. Birmingham Selly Oak Labour MP Lynne Jones Explains Why She's against the Government Plan While Her Hall Green Counterpart Steve McCabe Argues in Favour against Nukes Are No Defence against Terrorism
Byline: Steve McCabe
Today the House of Commons will be asked to vote in support of proposals in a Government White Paper published in December. The decision is whether to renew the Vanguard submarine fleet that carries the Trident nuclear weapons system. This consists of up to 16 Trident D5 intercontinental ballistic weapons from the USA, each loaded with up to 12 nuclear warheads. Against
The Government says by 2024 some submarines will be too old to keep at least one patrolling the oceans at any time. It estimates to produce the new submarine will take 17 years, meaning a decision has to be taken by 2007.
The Government justifies the need to extend the life of the UK's "strategic nuclear deterrent" till at least 2050 by telling us it will be an insurance against an uncertain future full of unknown threats. I disagree.
Whilst the future is impossible to foretell, it can still be shaped and influenced by the decisions taken today. Taking a decision to renew Trident would be as disastrous for world peace and stability as the decision to invade Iraq.
Renewing Trident is the wrong decision for three reasons.
First, terrorism, the main threat today, is immune to any nuclear "deterrent".
The "deterrent" did not prevent the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, or the July 7th bombings in London. Terror networks consist of loosely connected groups spanning countries and regions. This makes them difficult to detect but also means there is no fixed target of sufficient size to make a nuclear strike militarily effective or morally justifiable.
Tony Blair said at Prime Minister's Questions in October 2005 "I do not think anyone pretends the independent nuclear deterrent is a defence against terrorism".
Secondly, having a deterrent so the UK can be protected against potential future threats would signal to non-nuclear states nuclear weapons are an essential part of a nation's security.
The Prime Minister uses the example of a "new and potentially hazardous threat" from states such as North Korea or Iran but they are hardly a threat to the UK.
Even if they were and the possession of nuclear weapons is the only means to counter this threat, why should states in the regions of those countries not pursue their own nuclear weapons?
Just as we are seeing the effectiveness of diplomacy in de-escalating the situation in Iran and North Korea, how foolish is it to start up a new era of nuclear proliferation increasing the likelihood of a nuclear confrontation and the chances of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons?
As Kofi Annan states: "The more those states that already have nuclear weapons increase arsenals, or insist such weapons are essential to national security, the more other states feel they too must have them."
Thirdly, a decision to renew Trident will destabilise the international institutions designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. For the UK Government to claim a nuclear deterrent is an essential insurance against unknown potential threats is to say we will always need a deterrent.
The key issue surrounding the legality of renewing Trident is Article 6 of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Philippe Sands QC, of Matrix Chambers, provided a legal opinion to Greenpeace which concluded Article 6 would be breached if a signatory to the Treaty acted in a way which would 'render the attainment of the objective of nuclear disarmament remote or impossible'. …