On Sunday after Meeting for Worship we had the usual set of notices. One stood out. We were informed of a new briefing issued by QPSW on Trident.
Disarmament is an area where Friends naturally feel at home (I presume); living as we are called to do ‘in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars’ surely includes working for disarmament.
Nuclear Disarmament – why discuss it now?
Of course, Trident is only one of many disarmament issues. But it is one that is topical at them moment and where a window of opportunity for action exists.
Why do I say this? Well, first of all there will be a general election in 2015; and no, I don’t think that’s a long way away. The parties may currently be preoccupied by matters relating to the local and European elections, but the work on manifestos is under way, no doubt. And the public debate is certainly focusing on the general election.
Secondly, there will have to be decision on whether or not to replace Trident in 2016; i.e. after the next general election. So, it will be critical to ensure that the parties nail their colours to the mast in the election campaign so that the mandate for the decision on this issue is clear when they get in; and one or another party will get in.
So what are positions of the parties at this point in time? According to the QPSW leaflet this is where they stand:
• The Conservative Party supports a full like-for-like replacement of Trident
• UKIP supports a like-for-like replacement of Trident
• The Labour Party has not explicitly said whether it supports a like-for-like replacement
• The Liberal Democrat Party confirmed in September 2013 that it opposes a like-for-like replacement
• The Green Party is committed to pursuing immediate and unconditional nuclear disarmament
• The Scottish National Party calls for a Scotland free of nuclear weapons and for Trident to be scrapped
• Plaid Cymru calls for Trident to be scrapped.
So there is work to do. What we clearly want to achieve – I presume and hope – is to make sure we get a government that will not replace Trident and phase out nuclear weapons altogether. We can have a discussion about how fast that process needs to or can be, but the faster the better.
Is Trident even necessary?
Of course, taking away the occasion of all war isn’t just about military hardware; but military hardware is surely part of the problem. Making weapons of mass destruction can’t be helpful to bringing about peace.
In 1955, Meeting for Sufferings said: ‘To rely on the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is faithless; to use them is a sin.’ Well, we still have them (though possibly fewer of them); so our country is still faithless; Britain has never used them. That is something, at least, but having them and being committed to not using them is contradictory and at the very least a colossal waste of money.
Just today, the Nuclear Education Trust published a report under the title: ‘The UK’s Defence Needs and International Nuclear Disarmament Responsibilities’
They took evidence from a wide range of people, including some former Defence Secretaries and former senior military personnel. So not just the ‘usual suspects’. The conclusions they reached included, among others the following:
• The relevance of keeping nuclear weapons vis-à-vis current and foreseeable future UK security threats is either non-existent or negligible.
• Getting to a world without nuclear weapons IS possible.
• The Non-Proliferation Treaty has been a qualified success but process now urgently needs reinvigorating as the Treaty is at a “tipping point” or “crossroads”.
• Nuclear weapons represent a twentieth-century failure– they are the Cold War’s unfinished business and it is this generation that should resolve these issues. The conditions to make progress have never been better.
• For those who conclude the UK should retain nuclear weapons, there is still a debate to be had about whether what the UK currently possesses – or is planning to build – constitutes a “minimal“ deterrent in the 21st century.
And what does it cost?
There is, too, the issue of cost. We are in the aftermath of a serious economic crisis; and whilst we are told that the economy is growing (we may not thing that this is desirable anyway) and that the austerity programme is working (we may disagree with this) it is clear, and repeatedly outlined by government ministers, that more austerity is on the way. And of course, the government has a mountain of debt to deal with and this will take time and need money.
So is there really any justification for spending the kind of money that the replacement of Trident is likely to cost on a military system that we don’t need and we are never, ever, going to use (I hope)?
Maybe you’ll ask: how much money are we talking about. Well, that’s not at all clear. There are different estimates around; different sources quote different assumptions about this. Channel 4 Fact Check estimates that the cost of the replacement of Trident and lifetime running cost of the replacement comes in at around £ 97bn over 30 years. That’s quite a lot of money that could be used for other things. It’s certainly enough money for us to enter into the debate, I think.
So why is this a topic for a Quaker Alphabet Blog?
I go back to the beginning; we aim to live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars. We also believe fundamentally in ‘that of God in everyone’. And for me, that is the basis of the peace testimony. I think that is the basis of the commandment ‘thou shalt not kill’.
And if it is wrong to kill one person, then surely, producing, paying for and maintaining the means to indiscriminate slaughter of proportions which the world has seen only twice – in Hiroshima and Nagasaki – must also be wrong.
So I think that as Friends, we are called to act now; to engage in discussion with politicians to make sure they are clear where they stand on the replacement of Trident before the general election; to engage in discussions with friends, neighbours, family and anyone who will listen, to encourage them to vote for peace, for sanity, for life in the next election.