Joan Ruddock on Trident

As you’d expect from Joan she spoke (and voted) against the renewal of Trident last night.  I thought readers might want to see what she said:

Many right hon. and hon. Members tonight have acknowledged that the cold war is over, but the White Paper on the future of Trident is still rooted in cold war thinking. It makes no real analysis of the future role of the US-led and nuclear-armed NATO alliance of which we are a part, nor of the new Europe in which we live. It is a mass of assertions with no attempt to examine how best to approach security in a world where climate change and competition for resources and markets will be paramount.

Instead, we are given three scenarios for threats that the White Paper tells us can be countered only by Britain maintaining its nuclear weapons system until 2050. We are told that a major nuclear power, presumably Russia, may re-emerge to threaten us. Now Russia may be an imperfect democracy, but why should the Russians, who have everything to gain from a more united Europe, specifically aim their nuclear weapons at Britain? Whatever the potential conflicts over oil, does anyone really believe that nuclear weapons could be used to settle any such future conflicts?

The White Paper goes on to pose a second threat: new states acquiring nuclear weapons and threatening our vital interests. Iran is the country most often cited. Embroiled as that country is in middle eastern politics, with a nuclear-armed Israel on one side and a nuclear-armed Pakistan on the other, it is impossible to understand why Iran would want to target its nuclear weapon, if it acquired them, specifically at the United Kingdom. I am the last person to support Iran in its endeavours, but it is inescapable that if we argue that we need nuclear weapons to protect us against future threats, so can Iran. As the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El Baradei, recently warned, a decision now to renew Trident sends exactly the wrong message to those countries that we would wish to deter from the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

The third threat posed in the White Paper is that countries might sponsor nuclear terrorism from their soil. This, frankly, is the most preposterous assertion of nuclear deterrence. Do we really believe that the dirty bomb in the suitcase is going to have a survivable country-of-origin label on it? We all know that suicidal terrorists cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons and they know that it would be impossible immediately to identify a sponsoring state so as to justify nuclear retaliation.

Let us however suspend disbelief for a moment and accept that all these threats can be deterred only by nuclear weapons. Why then should Britain be uniquely targeted by Iran, North Korea or any other state? The White Paper asserts continually the deterrent value of British nuclear weapons without advancing a single plausible threat scenario. But it is not even that simple. As the Prime Minister wrote to George Bush last December, in the letter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) referred, the new British nuclear weapons coming into service in 20 years’ time would be assigned to NATO, as now. With the end of the cold war and an expanded Europe, do we really think that we would get agreement from all our allies to use British weapons of mass destruction? Or that the US would not intervene if Britain wanted to act independently but that did not suit the US? It is just not credible.

We must ask what kind of world we want to live in, and how best we can contribute to achieving it. The threats that we face today and that we will face in future are not UK-centric—they are global, and they require global solutions. International co-operation on climate change, world trade and technology transfer are vital if we are not to face climate catastrophe and a scramble for diminishing resources. International co-operation on terrorism, genocide and poverty reduction are vital if we are to reduce conflict and stem the mass migration of people.

Britain has made a huge contribution in all those spheres, but we have signally failed to place them in a coherent foreign and security policy. The renewal of Trident depends absolutely on US co-operation. It ties us into a US view of the world, when many of us—perhaps most of us—would prefer a looser relationship and a greater recognition of the security that we derive from our place in Europe. Planning to give up nuclear weapons is not the hopeless gesture that has been portrayed by many right hon. and hon. Members. It is what the vast majority of states that have become nuclear-free zones want us to do—states which have formed themselves into nuclear-free zones; states like South Africa and Ukraine, which gave up their nuclear weapons; states like Argentina and Brazil, which abandoned their programmes by mutual consent. The international community persuaded Libya to give up its nuclear weapons programmes; progress has been made on North Korea; and Iran remains under intense pressure. Negotiation is our only intelligent option.

At the 2000 non-proliferation treaty review, Britain made

“an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of nuclear weapons”.

Tonight, however, we have been asked to spend billions of pounds and years of endeavour so that we can deploy new weapons of mass destruction to patrol the seas until 2050. We should begin, instead, to reconfigure our security policy by agreeing that Britain will become a non-nuclear weapons state by 2025. That would bolster demands that the US and Russia negotiate a new agreement to replace the strategic arms reduction treaty, and it would give us an opportunity to play an even more positive role in the multilateral negotiations that will be part of the 2010 review of the non-proliferation treaty.

The right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) referred to the credibility of deterrence. I very much concur with him, and I admired his speech. A weapons system is credible only if it can be used, and I have not heard any argument showing how Trident could be used to our advantage. I know the consequences of using it, however—thousands of innocent people would be vaporised; millions would die in agony; and radiation would persist for generations. The health and environmental consequences are incalculable: I have never been willing to be party to such a barbarous act, and I will not support my Government tonight.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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One Response to Joan Ruddock on Trident

  1. Sue Luxton says:

    Hurray! Well said JR! Glad to see her standing firm on this issue, along with 87 (?) other Labour backbenchers. Shame about the rest of them and pity Bridget Prentice and Jim Dowd voted in favour of Trident. The local Labour and Lib Dems councillors were similarly split on the issue when we voted on this at full council a couple of mtgs back. Joan gave a similar speech at the well-attended CND mtg on Trident in the town hall on Thursday. It was billed as a debate, but as the only person there arguing in favour of Trident was the speaker from the Royal United Services Institutes, not many people’s minds were changed either way and I ended up feeling a bit sorry for the pro-Trident speaker and the heckling he got.

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