Opinion: Conference delegates should vote for ‘No new Trident’

Colin and Sean ring the peace bellTo me the answer is simple – the answer is no. No to Trident, No to son of Trident and No to any so called Independent Nuclear Deterrent.

Last year I went on behalf of the party to Pakistan and tried to engage with politicians there as to why it was wrong for Iran or any other nation to develop nuclear weapons and why Pakistan should pull back from developing more nuclear weapons. What message does our policy send to them – that it is okay for the UK to have nuclear weapons but you can’t?

Last year I also went to Hiroshima. I challenge anyone who is in favour of the UK, or anywhere, having nuclear weapons to go there for a day. See what destruction they caused and come back and tell me it is a good idea. The Mayor of Hiroshima – Tadatoshi Akiba has written to Ming Campbell, he said “In the name of Hiroshima, in the name of the human race, I call on the British government to immediately terminate all new development of nuclear weapons and begin destroying all existing nuclear weapons. I ask that the United Kingdom adhere conscientiously to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice declaring that the threat or use of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law, and live up to the promise clearly stated in the NPT of an unequivocal undertaking to eliminate its nuclear arsenal. I fervently hope that Great Britain will take the lead in making the 21st a genuinely peaceful century free from nuclear weapons.” The full text of the letter is at http://www.colin-ross.org.uk/news/001093.html

The Mayor of Hiroshima summarised in his letter the overwhelming moral and legal case against nuclear weapons, but there are many other arguments. www.nonewtrident.org.uk outlines seven other arguments – the ethical argument, the environmental argument, the non-proliferation argument, the military/strategic argument, the independence argument, the insurance argument and the financial argument. I want to look mainly at the deterrence argument and then look at why we should make this decision now rather than try to ignore it for now.

Trident as a nuclear deterrent doesn’t work.

We are told Trident is needed as a deterrent, although the Party when it announced the motion couldn’t identify who we are trying to deter. In the past, during the Cold War there was an obvious threat, now there is not. Whatever the arguments about deterrents in the Cold War (and its worth remembering that none of the countries without nuclear weapons did not suffer attacks then either), the days of two nuclear power blocks facing off against each other are in the past, there is no such threat today. Having Trident has not deterred other countries from developing their own nuclear weapons.

The UK, and the USA have both, of course, been attacked despite having nuclear weapons – both have been attacked by terrorists – Trident could not be used against the terrorists as they were not based in one country, one city or one place and if you can’t use Trident when you have been attacked what’s the point? One retired general summarised Trident as: “useless, expensive and dangerous”.

Why now?

The Liberal Democrats need to wake up to realpolitik of the situation. Although Trident does not need to be replaced for 15-20 years, Blair has decided that a decision is going to be taken in the Parliament. Can the Liberal Democrats really get up in Parliament and say “actually we will vote later on this matter?” I don’t think so. We should be bold and make a decision now or else we run the risk of missing the national debate altogether.

Proponents of the motion have also argued that if we were to not replace Trident we would lose our place at the negotiating table. Well surely it’s to be leading by example, as the Mayor of Hiroshima urges us to. We could still have a say even if we have no nuclear weapons – only two of the EU3 dealing with Iran over their nuclear development have weapons and of course we are a permanent member of the UN Security Council – we will still have a voice with or without Trident.

The Conference debate should be good, I look forward to it. I will be supporting the amendment to not renew Trident and hope you will be able to too.

Colin Ross


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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Ilurtibas Benarbels 14th Feb '07 - 10:04pm

    Trident is not and never was “independent”. It is a US weapon system leased to the UK and is effectively under US control. The only “British” thing about it is the money that pays for it.

    In the 1980s, the anti-nuclear movement had two arms. There were those on the Left who opposed nuclear weapons because they wanted Britain to be ruled by the Soviet Union. And there were liberals and pacifists who were against nuclear “deterrence” on principle.

    What we need to do is work to roll back nuclearisation everywhere. Not just in Iran and North Korea, but Israel, India and Pakistan, too. And the United States. The bomb cannot be uninvented, but the advantages of acquiring and maintaining it can be reduced.

    David “Dr Death” Owen was once an enthusiastic nuclearist, and went so far as to remove Neville Pressley from the list of approved candidates on account of his membership of CND. Owen was not only an MP for a town with big defence interests, he has a bizarre macho streak which seems to stem from the bullying he received at Bradfield College. According to Roy Jenkins, Owen used to talk about weapons systems the way other men talk about good wine.

  • Colin,

    Will the movers of the Peace and Security Group amendment be calling for scrapping our nuclear weapons now or just deceiding now not replacing Trident?

    I’m confused. Your article talkes of how we don’t need nuclear weapons but your amendment suggests we should keep them for the next 20 years.

    Clarification would help the debate.

  • Hi expriest,

    Thanks for the comment I would personally favour scrapping them right now, but I can see a logic to keeping them until they are of no use.

    The amendment, well my reading of, calls for not replacing Trident when it reaches the end of it life.

    Hope that clarifies.


  • Thanks Colin,

    That suggest that those who favour scrapping Trident now should organise their own amendment in order to achieve what they wish as Lib Dem policy as supporting this amendment would maintain our nuclear weapons at the current level until the end of their natural life some time at the end of the 2020s.

  • Hi expriest,

    I am happy to support the Peace and Security Group’s amendment.

    Too many amendments could result in the motion passing as is which is certainly not what I want.


  • expriest,

    I don’t believe that it does, as it removes the section calling for Trident’s life to be expanded.

  • Hi Gareth,

    If you look at the chart on page 27 of the FPC Background Paper its sets out the timescales for the current Trident system’s life. Under the current 25 year life cycle the submarines would go out of service between 2019-2026. With the life extension programme of up to 5 years, end of service dates would be 2024-2031.

    Therefore if the amendment is to not replace Trident but also not extending the life, the UK would have a nuclear deterrent until some time at the end of the 2020s.

    Therefore if you want to scrap nuclear weapons now, I suggest you draft a new amendment.

  • Iparralderen Kidea 15th Feb '07 - 9:54pm

    My opinion doesn’t rest on any such belief. Can’t speak for anyone else’s, obviously.

    Not renewing Trident doesn’t amount to the UK scrapping its nuclear weapons. Because Trident is and never was a British weapon system. It is a US weapon system controlled an directed by the United States and paid for out of the UK public purse.

    As I say above, nukes cannot be uninvented. What we can do is (1) prevent further proliferation and (2) scale them down where they already exist.

    Putin cannot rebuild Russia’s nuclear arsenal, because the cost is prohibitive (Putin, unlike Brezhnev, is answerable to the electorate). Iran, North Korea (and Israel), dangerous though they undubitably are, pose no kind of threat to the United Kingdom. (Is Kim Jong-Il kept awake at night by the thought of Britain having Trident?)

  • We have an internal party action on this in Scotland. Interested Scottish Party members should check Flock Together:

  • John Thomson 22nd Feb '07 - 2:54pm

    It seems to me that the amendment discussed above recognises that Britian will continue to have a nuclear deterrent until the present Trident system runs out. That is not a unilateralist position, although it may be caricatured as such by some.

    The original motion has the drawback that it seems to envisage some sort of replacement for Trident, albeit with a 50% reduction in warheads. That I think is the sticking point for many people, including myself.

    I had originally hoped (see my article ‘How Not to Get Impaled on Trident’) that we might be able to go back to the status quo ante and simply hold that no decision need be made now. Given the leadership’s apparent determination to press ahead with their version, accepting that renewal may be necessary albeit with a 50% reduction, the previous position of the Party is no longer an option. Therefore I will support the amendment from Liberal Democrats for Peace & Security. This seems to me to be the best way forward for our Party and one that, if successful, could enable us to lead opinion on this issue rather than follow it.

    Reverting to the debate about the years leading up to World War 1 I would just say (as a bit of a histroian) that this was the era when dreadnoughts were going to save everybody and prevent war. Similar arguments were advanced then as to future instability so we’d better hang on to and lead the world in big naval gun platforms. It didn’t work then.

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