The Independent View: Trident: It’s time to make the right decision

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At a time when the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system is under intense scrutiny – not least due to the anti-Trident position of Labour’s new leader – it is good to see Lib Dem Conference once again at the cutting edge of debate on this crucial issue. In government, the Lib Dems did much to challenge the pro-Trident consensus of the main parties. It may not have been the full anti-Trident position that many of us would like, but the ‘no-like-for like’ position certainly helped open up the debate. Now it’s time to move onto the next stage. It’s a crucial time to get this policy right as parliament is expected to vote on Trident replacement in early 2016.

The Alternatives Review that the Cabinet Office undertook at your party’s behest in government was useful but deeply flawed – it did not actually consider the non-nuclear option. So the policy framework remained tied into a cold war pro-nuclear perspective unchallenged. This situation cannot continue. Vast amounts are spent on nuclear weapons and the cost of Trident replacement will be over £100 billion. There is huge concern about what this means for spending in other areas. We are aware of strong military opinion that Trident is useless and a waste of money – spending on conventional weaponry and troops would be their preference. Many would prefer that the money was spent for public benefit and economic regeneration: housing, health, education, high-skilled jobs to redeploy workers from the nuclear sector, sustainable energy production to help combat climate change.

There is a widening recognition that nuclear weapons do nothing to meet our security needs – not only from the military but from senior political figures on all sides – many of whom have changed their position on nuclear weapons. They recognise they are no use in addressing contemporary threats – terrorism, cyber warfare or climate change. So why do we have it?

Yesterday I debated the question with a Tory MP on the Daily Politics show. He said that Trident is a political weapon used every day – out there shaping the global strategic environment 24/7. Tony Blair said much the same thing – that we need it for Britain’s status in the world. So now we are getting to the nub of the matter: our nuclear weapons are not actually a military weapon, they don’t actually have a role in our security – they are political weapons about our status and enforcing our global interests. 

Spending £100 billion on weapons of mass destruction that could destroy the world many times over for these reasons is unacceptable. Only 9 countries have nuclear weapons and the rest want us to disarm – so in whose eyes would that status exist? This is a very expensive way of continuing the deeply destructive policy of ‘punching above our weight’ underpinned by the unstated but ever-present threat of nuclear weapons.

 This is not the kind of policy I would expect from the Lib Dems, with a proud tradition of commitment to justice and human rights. At this conference you have the opportunity to take Britain’s debate and policy to the next level: to vote against nuclear weapons, to make Britain part of the global majority, to invest its money wisely and well, and to meet Britain’s real security needs. 

This is not a policy decision that can be put off: the parliamentary vote in early 2016 makes that very clear. The Lib Dems can and must lead the way on this crucial issue in British politics.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Dr. Kate Hudson is General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner.

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3 Comments

  • Dave Orbison 19th Sep '15 - 12:39pm

    Mark Wright “, via a series of summits, as we did back in the 80s and 90s.” Well that worked, not. Farron has committed himself to being a multilateralist. You are either multi or uni. Of course multilateralists will always argue they support progressive nuclear disarmament. I am not saying they are insincere in their beliefs but as the decades roll by no meaningful progress is made. Cutting nuclear arsenals by x,y, z% is nothing but a book-keeping exercise. Trident is obsolete. It seems to me that the world will become a more dangerous place if states hold on to obsolete nuclear weapons whose technology and security systems become out-of-date. More to the point – it is just not money well spent. Whatever the enormous sums spent on Trident, its replacement, or holding on to other antiquated nuclear capability, I simply do not believe that money would be better spent dealing with ‘modern threats and warfare’ and on other critical needs such as housing and health. It appears Labour, as the SNP are about to strike out and offer the electorate a real choice. As for the LibDems are you a party of nuclear weapons or not?

  • No to Trident replacement – no to nuclear weapons is a ‘touch stone’ issue for me – if the party gets it wrong & fudges again it will win no friends and lose many people like me who might leave at or at least become ‘non active’.

    Be bold – be Radical – be Liberal – get rid od WMDS – starting with Nuclear.

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