It should be welcomed that Whitehall is now seriously reassessing whether or not Britain needs to spend £100bn on a cold war weapons system (The plan for Trident: lock the warheads in cupboard, 27 September). And Nick Harvey is right to point out the “frankly lunatic mindset” in the MoD which has hitherto disregarded both the government’s own national security strategy and the disastrous economic implications of replacing Trident.
But surely the concerns expressed by senior military figures must lead us to consider a non-nuclear option as well as nuclear downgrades? Currently, nuclear disarmament is bewilderingly absent from the Trident alternatives review.
Labour’s national policy forum has announced that the party will be looking into its position on Trident replacement. If the Lib Dem-led review is to be a credible source for Labour to draw on, it must be transparent enough to at least contemplate following military advice and saving £100bn. The value of such a saving in the current economic climate is towering.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
• While I applaud the efforts of Sir Nick Harvey MP to have a sane dialogue within the MoD about any replacement for Trident, it is important to challenge a couple of misconceptions he repeats, which might cloud future rational debate.
First, he asserts with respect to nuclear disarmament that “I think you might struggle to persuade the British public to do that”. In fact independent opinion polling shows that already a majority of the public oppose Trident and do not want its extremely costly replacement.
Second, he assumes that Russia is the enemy, defending the retention of some nuclear weapons on the basis that Russia in the 21st century “might find all sorts of [nuclear] damage to be unacceptable short of flattening Moscow”. In 2003 Vladimir Putin was the state guest of the Queen and last month he visited the UK to meet the prime minister. Are we really at the same time targeting the annihilation of St Petersburg or some other city short of Moscow?
I hope there can now be a debate about the replacement for Trident. But if we are to do so rationally, as well as hopefully ethically, surely our politicians must break free of cold war thinking and try to catch up with the public’s far more commonsense approach?
• Sir Nick Harvey says that you might struggle to persuade the British public to accept full nuclear disarmament. Does it not depend on what question you ask? Try this: “If it is to continue to operate, our ageing ‘nuclear deterrent’ will soon need to be updated, at a cost of at least an extra £1,000 on the tax bill of every British household. Is this a price that you would be willing to pay?”
• You are under an illusion if you think that you (and Sir Nick Harvey) are breaking the most significant taboo on discussing nuclear weapons. Of course cost is a major factor and a powerful influence on public opinion. But the major taboo, which has for years prevented any serious discussion, relates to the nature of the security that nuclear weapons are supposed to provide. Clearly they cannot deter accidents, miscalculations, suicidal states or individuals. For Britain to develop yet another generation has to be an invitation to some of the 183 current non-nuclear states to follow us down the road to nuclear weapon “security”. We have an existing obligation “to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament” (international court, 1996). Renewing Trident, whatever the cost, does not sound like “good faith” to me.
• It ill behoves Binyamin Netanyahu, as prime minister of the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, to adopt such an air of injured innocence to the general assembly of the United Nations (Netanyahu draws ‘clear red line’ on Iran, 28 September). Israel was revealed as the possessor of an arsenal of between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads by a former employee at the nuclear research plant at Dimona in 1986. Mordechai Vanunu paid dearly for his disclosure, given a sentence of 18 years’ solitary confinement.