This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

27 November 2006

National Security – are nuclear weapons the answer or part of the problem?

In the coming weeks, the UK will have to make one of the most important decisions since Tony Blair swept to power in 1997 – whether or not to replace our nuclear weapons system. In the next few months, parliament will be asked whether we are prepared to spend billions of pounds on a new system, or if we will give up nuclear weapons, and spend the money elsewhere. The choice we make will echo loudly around the international community.

Our current nuclear deterrent system, named Trident, consists of four nuclear submarines, each with 16 missiles on board and 192 warheads – each one at least 10 times as destructive as the bomb which flattened Hiroshima and killed 100,000 people. However, the whole system is approaching the end of its useable lifetime with a replacement system likely to cost anywhere between £40-76 billion pounds. Even at the most conservative end this would be enough for 120,000 qualified nurses every year for the next 10 years, or 60,000 newly-qualified teachers every year for the next 20 years. Alternatively it could provide a bonus of £2500 for every pensioner or free public transport for generations. We have all heard reports of poorly equipped British soldiers in Iraq. I am sure that money spent on proper equipment, good boots, and body armour would be of more comfort to our soldiers than the knowledge that somewhere in the ocean is a British submarine with a nuclear missile inside it.

Trident was originally produced during the Cold War when nuclear weapons were justified by the need to protect ourselves from communist Russia. However, the world today is a very different place with the USSR a footnote in school history books. In Westminster, I have heard Government ministers say we need Trident as an insurance policy for an uncertain future. If nuclear weapons are an insurance policy we need to ask; what do they insure us against?

My home insurance would provide me with money to buy a new home if something should happen. The only insurance nuclear weapons give is the satisfaction of knowing that your enemy will be destroyed along with you. For £76 billion pounds, this does not sound like a great deal.

If Britain shows the world that we think our long-term security depends on having nuclear weapons, then other countries, like Iran and Syria, will want them as well. Few people would argue that this would make the world more secure.

However, it is true that we cannot predict the future. But, there are some things we do know. The Governments own advisers say that the key global threats we face come from terrorism on the one hand, and global warming on the other. Nuclear weapons are useless against both. Terrorist groups will not be deterred by nuclear weapons. Indeed, the more countries who have them, the more likely it is that they will find their way into terrorist hands.

We have enough real problems facing us without spending billion of pounds on a weapon that we simply do not need, that deters a threat that does not exist. I am sure we can all think of many good ways to spend this huge sum of money - cutting our carbon emissions for example, getting to grips with the pension system, or improving our intelligence services to combat terrorism are just a few. I doubt that extending our membership of the nuclear boys club would be on anyone’s list. I would urge Tony Blair to strike it off his.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.