In August 2004, Radio 4 cut out for 15 minutes and the British Navy began initiating its procedures towards launching nuclear war.
Our nuclear submarines are ready to strike. Launch procedures half expect there not to be an existing British state: no Radio 4 is one indication. The 2004 shutdown, caused by a fire alarm at the Beeb, initiated a chain reaction. The submarine’s commander and executive officer’s next move would be to open a safe and read a pre-prepared letter written by the prime minister, indicating whether to prepare the launch codes.
Luckily Radio 4 came back on air; mutual assured destruction (MAD) was averted. But this example highlights the absurdity inherent in Britain’s nuclear weapon programme, Trident. Later this year, parliament will debate extending it until 2050.
1. Nuclear weapons are MAD.
Many quick-fire reasons suggest continuing Trident is senseless. The USSR no longer exists and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has admitted there are no likely threats on the near horizon. Trident’s £183bn price tag is a lot of money for a useless weapon. The new submarines could even be defunct before they are ready: underwater surveillance will mean nuclear subs will not be able to perform their key role – hiding.
But the government will often green-light projects that waste public money, threaten our safety and only benefit corporate interests. Fracking one case in point. But on the other hand, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) movement has never been so strongly positioned to end this situation.
2. Location, location?
If the government renews Trident, it needs somewhere to base the submarines. They are currently stationed at Faslane, near Glasgow; chosen for its multiple deep sea exit routes, its shelter from the weather and being close, but ‘not too close’, to a major population and heavy industry. There are no suitable sites outside Scotland. During the Scottish independence referendum, the MoD admitted it had no Plan B if Scotland left the UK. Senior Conservatives even floated moving the nukes to the US.
Scotland seems likely to break away within the proposed lifetime of the weapon. A significant majority think there will be independence by 2025; if the Scots gain independence, they want the base gone.
Nuclear warheads, some with 42-times the destructive power of the bomb that removed Hiroshima from existence in WW2, are driven through Scotland’s largest city. Scotland has more nuclear subs than MPs that support them.
Looking ahead, there is a catch-22 when it comes to Trident’s Scottish future. The independence movement has suggested renewal could trigger the next referendum. This means the British establishment either gets rid of its weapons of mass destruction or risks having nowhere to locate them.
3. Cut bombs not society.
Scotland’s independence momentum is interwoven with reversing Westminster’s austerity, shown by the SNP’s 2015 election success on an anti-cuts mandate. Austerity below the border also weighs heavily into the Trident debate. New Labour initiated the nuclear renewal in early 2007, when things were very different. The project was ‘only’ estimated to cost around £15bn, but the British financial bubble had not burst and the society hadn’t been ravaged by severe cuts in public services.
Fast-forward to today, the latest estimates suggest renewal will cost £183bn, which fights the logic of the establishment’s own austerity.
4. Beyond austerity.
The rejection of austerity combined with the independence debate has galvanised the movement against Trident. The SNP shifted left to keep up with the movement for independence. Jeremy Corbyn is the first opposition leader to oppose nuclear weapons since the end of the cold war, riding a post-election anti-austerity surge. The austerity crisis has also seen the rise in popularity of the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who all support CND.
But this reflects a bigger story: today there are a mass of movements taking on the establishment. It can be seen in the thousands on the streets and organising against the government’s plans, from housing and anti-fracking movements to the doctors’ strike and refugees welcome movement. More and more people want to end the status quo – which includes getting rid of Trident.
5. 21st century crises.
As the cold war fades in memory, new threats make Trident’s renewal less likely. The oncoming climate crisis creates the prospect of mutually assured destruction, determined by the establishment’s dirty oil habits. They don’t need the nuclear button to destroy our future.
Interconnected with climate change are the perpetual wars for resources and the wasted money going into the military industrial complex, all contributing to the refugee crisis. Renewables can unravel this vicious cycle, and skills and money should be redirected to them.
In geopolitical terms advocates of Trident may point to Russia, suggesting we need to counter their nuclear capabilities. If this was the case, then a good start would be stopping bailed-out British banks investing in Russia’s nuclear programmes.
6. SAD (self-assured destruction).
A knock-on effect of western militarism has created another key global problem: terrorism, particularly Daesh, which formed out of the ashes of the Iraq invasion. Trident cannot solve this problem, but it does serve as a massive target.
Last year, whistleblower William McNeilly exposed various security breaches at Faslane, saying it was easier to get into the nuclear base than some nightclubs. Recently, it has been revealed that 20 workers at Faslane have been exposed to radiation poisoning.
It is powerful how the reasons not to renew Trident complement each other. They also imagine a safer world, but where billions in public money is spent on the people and the planet – not a sure-fire way to vaporise it.
Photo: Defence Images/Flickr
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