UK’s Nuclear Deterrent [18 July 2016]


You can watch my speech and the full debate by clicking (here).

When I sit in the House of Commons, I talk to many Members who support Trident. I can tell them that those weapons can kill 100 million people, but they know that. I can tell them that watersheds will be poisoned, crops will fail and many people will die from famine, pestilence and plague, but they know that. I can tell them that weapons of mass destruction have not stopped wars across the globe, but they know that. I can tell them that WMD are no protection from terrorism or cybercrime, but they know that. I can tell them that the £179 billion could be spent on health, education, housing, transport and social welfare, but they know that. The difference between us is that they believe that WMD are a deterrent and that their existence has kept us safe. Let us look at those claims.

In the lead-up to today’s debate, the Henry Jackson Society was kind enough to send me a copy of its report, “Foreign Nuclear Developments: A Gathering Storm”. A better title would be “Be afraid: be very afraid”. The report makes it clear that it would be foolhardy of the UK to give up its nuclear weapons because North Korea, Russia, China and Iran either have nuclear weapons or are actively pursuing them.

It is a well-rehearsed argument on deterrence that to prevent other nations from striking us, we must have the ability to strike them. It is of course a flawed theory. I will however give the Henry Jackson Society credit for its bravery in issuing a report outlining bold theories about the imminent nuclear threat of other nations just a week after this House was asked to consider the findings of the Chilcot report. Chilcot reminds us that we should be cautious of second-guessing the military intentions of other countries.

In voting on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, we need to ask ourselves: who are these weapons deterring? Can those in favour of Trident genuinely foresee a situation in which China or Russia would commit such an act of economic suicide as a nuclear strike against a western power? The primary factor in establishing peace in an increasingly globalised world is the linked economic interests of nations, not the imminent threat of nuclear attack. To say the world is safer because of nuclear weapons is akin to saying that there would be less gun crime in the United States if there were more firearms.

General George Lee Butler, a former Commander in Chief of the US Strategic Command who was once in charge of all US strategic nuclear weapons, has said:

“Nuclear deterrence was and remains a slippery intellectual construct that translates very poorly into the real world of spontaneous crises, inexplicable motivations, incomplete intelligence and fragile human relationships.”

Nuclear deterrence requires an assumption that the Governments of our enemies will always act rationally. What deterrence are nuclear weapons to Governments or organisations that hold extreme or fundamentalist religious views and have no fear of death? What deterrence are nuclear weapons to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse that has nothing left to lose? The reality is that we cannot guarantee that such Governments will always act rationally. Trident therefore offers us no protection. So if it is not a deterrent, is it therefore nuclear revenge?

We are locked in our cold war mentality of maintaining weapons to counter threats that do not exist, telling ourselves that an imminent threat could emerge at any time. Spending billions on Trident renewal is paying a ransom to past fears when we should be investing in a hopeful future. The generations to come shall reap what we sow. I fear that if we continue down this road we may never be able to find our way back to a safe haven.