It’s odd that Paul Mason feels he has to articulate a supposed ‘left-wing’ case for nuclear weapons. Presumably he mistakenly believes that opposing Trident would be detrimental to Labour’s electoral chances. He clearly doesn’t realise the scale of opposition to Trident, across society and across the political spectrum.
There is no ‘left-wing’ case for nuclear weapons. There is only an ‘irrelevant’ case, an ‘irresponsible’ case, an ‘illegal’ case, an ‘irrational’ case, a ‘money-wasting’ case, a ‘dangerous’ case…
There is no case where nuclear weapons make us safer, or enhance our security. These are weapons of mass destruction, the use – or threat of use – of which is illegal; in 1996 the International Court of Justice advised that: ‘the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law’.
Paul Mason’s suggestion that Britain should spell out its conditions for using nuclear weapons would be a major escalation of its nuclear posture and hugely detrimental to world peace. It would be to rebrand them as usable weapons, overturning the recognition over decades that their use is inconceivable. To even consider such a position ramps up the rhetoric and injects poison into a debate which actually provides the possibility of moving beyond a cold war weapon with the capacity to destroy or blight millions of lives, potentially spelling the end of human and other forms of life.
Fortunately his views are not shared by experts. Senior military figures describe Trident as useless and call for it to be scrapped. They want the £100 billion or more replacement cost spent on military equipment and troops. Crispin Blunt, Conservative chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and a former army officer, is outspokenly against replacing Trident. As he points out, “The price required, both from the UK taxpayer and our conventional forces, is now too high to be rational or sensible.” In any case, Trident is irrelevant to the security risks we face – as recognised in the government’s National Security Strategy, published last autumn. ‘Tier one’ threats include cyber warfare, terrorism, climate change, health pandemics. Paul Mason appears to be putting nuclear weapons higher up the priority list than the Conservative government.
Trident is not only irrelevant to our needs, it is likely to be rendered obsolete. Former Labour Defence Secretary Lord Des Browne – who helped Blair push the first step towards Trident replacement through Parliament in 2007 – has pointed out that cyber attack could knock out Trident. And industry experts agreed that “any national public or private infrastructure service or defence facility” could be hacked. The MoD has rushed to assure us that appropriate safeguards will be made but the fact is, this is a twentieth century system and it looks and acts like one. When those subs were first built they were undetectable under water so enemies never knew where they were. How can that possibly be the case in the twenty-first century? What about under-water drones? This is old times technology, and attempts to update it are not going to offset these huge security risks.
The debate in Britain has moved on and so has the debate globally. The majority of the world is organised in nuclear weapons free zones and the overwhelming majority of states back a global nuclear weapons ban treaty. After all, if there is a nuclear exchange, all countries will be affected, irrespective of whether they are involved in the conflict or not. Rearming Britain with a new nuclear weapons system, and escalating its nuclear posture, goes against the trend. It also goes against what is proven to work in complex international and regional conflicts and disputes – painstaking diplomacy and the willingness to go the extra mile for a peaceful solution. Threatening nuclear war just makes nuclear war more likely. Let’s choose the rational and sensible option: no Trident replacement.