One of the things that Theresa May will have had to do when she became Prime Minister is to sit down and write a letter.
This letter is entirely private, and we should hope that it is never ever read. It is a “letter of last resort” and gives instructions to the commanding officer of Britain’s nuclear submarines, to be followed in the event of a nuclear war wiping out the British Government.
Every Prime Minister writes a letter, and it is destroyed unopened when that Prime Minister leaves office, leaving its contents known only to them. So we should hope and pray that Mrs May’s letter is never ever read.
Nuclear weapons exist, and their existence is a tragedy which has the potential to end the world. That Britain has nuclear weapons is a matter of historical fact, thanks to the decisions made by the Labour Government after World War Two. The nuclear weapons that Clement Atlee commissioned have been replaced and updated, and on Monday Parliament will be asked, once again, to approve the purchase of the new Successor submarines, to replace the Vanguard class submarines that currently make up the UK’s Continuous At Sea Deterrent.
In some ways the decision to schedule the vote on Trident replacement is more about politics than it is about the need for the UK to update these submarines. The new Prime Minister parked her tanks on the centre ground when she took power last week, and while there have been some right-wing appointments in her Cabinet, moderates like Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Liz Truss, Greg Clark, and Ben Gummer, have all seen preferment. This is an issue where Tory Party strategists believe that the public concerns about Jeremy Corbyn’s national security positions will help secure the next General Election.
Tory Party strategists may well be right; Labour Party policy is in favour of replacing Trident, but Mr Corbyn and the majority of the new members are firmly against it. The level of support for nuclear weapons in the country is really quite surprisingly high. But just occasionally the minority opinion is the right thing to do.
Nuclear weapons are massively expensive, and completely pointless. As I have pointed out before, there is a reason they call it MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction is a policy that would see everybody dead. Despite seventy years of conflict since the last time anyone used a nuclear weapon, the appalling impact of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has meant that nobody has ever used them again.
As I have written before, I don’t believe any Government will ever use them. Of the nine states with nuclear weapons, two, India & Pakistan, have been at war with each other a number of times. North Korea is led by a madman and is technically still at war with South Korea and the United States. Israel has been attacked on an almost daily basis by Iranian sponsored terrorists of Hamas and Hezbollah. Not once have any of these countries used the dread power that they have at their command. Because they know that it would be entirely mad to do so.
The UK remains a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The Government is committed to multi-lateral disarmament. Yet while these weapons are updated, and “improved” to make them harder to defend against and even more deadly, true disarmament will not happen.
Normally I would argue passionately against unilateral actions. If your enemy has a weapon, you need it too. But that isn’t the case with nuclear weapons. As a member nation of NATO, we live under the US and French nuclear umbrella. If we were attacked by a nuclear state, our NATO allies are treaty bound to defend us, or to respond with nuclear force. NOT having our own nuclear weapons would make absolutely no difference to our nation’s defence; all it would mean is that we wouldn’t be able to make a belligerent nuclear attack on any nation. Does anyone really want us to have the capacity to make a belligerent nuclear attack on another nation?
On Monday our MPs will troop through the yes lobby and vote in favour of renewing Trident. Almost all Tory MPs will support it, and many Labour MPs will follow their party policy as well. But, despite being a tribal Tory voter, I will be, in spirit, with those MPs from all parties who vote against renewing our nuclear weapons. We do not need these weapons. We cannot afford these weapons. We should not be wasting this money on such pointless weapons systems.