As opposing factions lock horns over the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, chair of Bristol CND Hannah tweddell tells Copyright why a nuclear-free future could be a brighter one
In February 2016, tens of thousands of people demonstrated in London against replacing Trident, the UK’s nuclear weapons system. Over 150 people travelled up from Bristol on coaches organised by Bristol CND, along with many others in cars and by public transport, to join the biggest demonstration against nuclear weapons in a generation.
So why does the government want to build and maintain a new nuclear weapon system to replace Trident, at an estimated cost of £183 billion? Supporters argue that possessing a nuclear weapon system keeps us safe. Yet the main security threats we face today, as stated in the government’s latest National Security Strategy, are terrorism, cyber attacks, pandemics and climate change. Nuclear weapons will not help us counter these threats. Senior military leaders have long acknowledged this – for example, former head of the armed forces Field Marshal Lord Bramall, backed by two senior generals, has stated on the record that nuclear weapons are ‘completely useless’ and ‘virtually irrelevant’.
Some argue that nuclear weapons keep the peace by dissuading an enemy from attacking. Even Defence Secretary Philip Hammond accepts that possessing nuclear weapons increases risk, saying ‘North Korea seem to think possessing a nuclear weapon makes them safe. In fact it’s the opposite. Having a nuclear weapon makes them a target’.
The majority of countries do not possess nuclear weapons and are working towards a nuclear free future. While 125 other nations, including China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran pledged their support for an international treaty that would outlaw any development or use of nuclear weapons in a 2014 vote at the UN General Assembly, the UK failed to support the resolution. This lack of support comes despite the UK’s position as a signatory of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) committing us ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament’.
We are in the minority as a nuclear-armed country, only sharing this status with 7 out of 146 other states in the world: the USA, Russia, China, France, Pakistan, India and Israel (plus, arguably, North Korea though they lack a missile delivery system). There were others but they took steps to give up their weapons. The UK could follow in the footsteps of South Africa who got rid of their arsenal in the early 1990s or Kazakhstan who disarmed on independence from the Soviet Union. It is worth noting that North Korea’s continued nuclear development in the face of the US’s massive nuclear arsenal of over 7,000 warheads completely exposes the myth that nuclear weapons deter; on the contrary they drive proliferation
South Africa and Kazakhstan demonstrate that those who argue that getting rid of our nuclear weapons is too difficult are wrong. There are a number of steps we can take. We could start by reducing the likelihood of their use by taking them off alert (missiles are maintained on hair trigger alert). We could agree to a no first use policy. We could establish a nuclear weapons free zone where we ban the use, development and deployment of nuclear weapons. There are currently five zones, with four zones spanning the whole of the southern hemisphere. We could also join the calls for a global ban – an approach which has been successful for other weapons such as landmines.
It’s a really exciting time to be an anti-nuclear campaigner. At the demonstration in London we were joined by party leaders, trade union and faith leaders as well as activists demonstrating the breadth and strength of public opposition. We have seen how other countries have disarmed and now is the time for us to join them.