Katy Clark: New Statesman

The Defence Select Committee report published this week on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and National Security Strategy expressed concern that the UK Armed Forces are already outstretched and may not be able to deliver the commitments they are likely to face between 2015 and 2020. The report reveals that the MOD has drastically increased the estimated gap in their funding and it is now “in excess of £38 billion”.

For this and many other reasons the decision to renew Trident needs to be urgently reviewed.

The overall estimated cost of replacing the Trident submarines at £25bn, £3bn of which will be spent before the decision in 2016 on the construction or ‘Main Gate’ decision. And of course this is at a time when most other areas of public spending are facing drastic cuts. When announcing the ‘Initial Gate’ decision the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, announced: “The nuclear deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security.”

But confusingly the government now believes that some of the main threats facing the country are terrorism, cyber crime and civil emergencies like flu pandemics. Nuclear weapons have no role in dealing with these threats. During his statement, even Fox admitted that no nuclear armed nation currently poses a threat to the UK. Surely Britain’s commitment to Trident renewal is only encouraging nuclear proliferation and so making our country more insecure.

The Labour Party has welcomed the Government’s commitment to Trident renewal. The main decision on construction will not be made until after the next election. Opinion polls have consistently shown low levels of support for renewal, and the debate has moved on considerably from the 1980s.

We need to look at this issue again especially at a time when massive public sector cuts are and will have such a detrimental effect on some of the most vulnerable people in our country. I believe we will find a real appetite for this kind of cut. Many will think it makes more sense to ensure proper funding for more essential projects and that the Labour Party should not be committed to spending such a large amount of money on a totally unnecessary nuclear programme.

The Labour Party must not shy away from discussing this at September’s conference and leading the debate in the coming months.

 

Katy Clark is the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran.

This article was published on the New Statesman website on 6th August 2011.

Jeremy Corbyn: Morning Star

Sixty-six years ago today the city of Hiroshima was ravaged by a US nuclear bomb. Within days Nagasaki too had been torn apart by this terrifying new weapon of mass destruction.

All these years later the fallout remains, as do the cancers and devastated lives of wholly innocent people.

A quarter of a century on and another group of innocent people, this time hundreds of conscripted British soldiers, were exposed to the horrific realities of the nuclear bomb.

They were ordered by their commanding officers to act as human guinea pigs, told to stand and watch test explosions in the Pacific.

In a poignant reminder last week of the obscenity of nuclear weapons these veterans finally defeated Ministry of Defence attempts to have their case for compensation thrown out.

After 50 years of the ministry’s refusal to admit responsibility for their lives of suffering – a stance which persisted under both Labour and Conservative governments alike – the Supreme Court has given them the green light to challenge their treatment.

Despite these reminders of the dangers of nuclear war, and a string of nuclear accidents and disastrous pollution, the five permanent members of the UN security council and India, Pakistan and Israel all hold nuclear weapons.

All of them want to keep developing and upgrading their systems, riding roughshod over nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments and widespread acknowledgement that their arsenals are indiscriminate weapons of WMD.

They kill military and civilians alike, before laying waste to land and lives for decades afterwards.

There are some glimmers of hope towards disarmament.

North Korea announced on Monday that it wants to see a resumption of unconditional six party talks on disarmament including activation of the 2005 plan to dismantle its programme altogether.

There are many reasons for this welcome development. Not least among them is united diplomatic pressure, but the country also has an enormous economic imperative. A nation with an underfed and malnourished population can hardly justify spending precious resources on these weapons.

The same argument applies elsewhere just as strongly.

The US, the world’s biggest debtor at $14.1 trillion and rising, has watched the final episode of the Capitol Hill soap opera.

Politicians struck a deal to protect the wealthiest citizens and corporations from any tax rises while making sure that the debt is paid for by cutting public spending on the poorest.

The US world military role will also be underwritten – for now.

On this side of the Atlantic the British government has adopted much the same kind of posture, albeit on a smaller scale.

Britain developed its own nuclear weapons in secret in the aftermath of World War II.

Then Labour prime minister Clement Attlee did not even inform the 1949 Cabinet of its existence.

The Conservatives later realised that maintaining a separate nuclear capability was too expensive for post-war, post-empire Britain.

To keep up appearances the government enthusiastically promoted Nato and eventually bought into the US Polaris system in a 1963 deal.

We have been a fictional holder of “independent” nuclear weapons ever since.

The US was invited in to use military bases to maintain and, if it decided to, launch nuclear weapons from.

In recent years the weapons lobby has been hard at work peddling a new generation of nuclear WMD, trying to persuade Parliament of the need to maintain a “global role.”

The last Labour government maintained that Britain needed to replace Trident and forced a vote through Parliament. Over 100 Labour MPs dissented and voted against its position. However the Tories strongly backed nuclear weapons and the Liberal Democrats called feebly for “no like-for-like replacement” of the system.

Since then the MoD has accepted that procurement will cost £25 billion with £3bn already earmarked to be spent between now and 2016 on design and £500 million on long-lead items such as specialist steel.

Estimates of the lifetime costs of the new system now hover in the region of £100bn.

The “main gate” decision on whether to proceed with the entire project will follow the 2015 election and be taken early in the new Parliament.

The year 2016 is no doubt circled in red on defence department calendars.

As for the Liberal Democrats’ stance on “no like-for-like” WMD system, the MoD has agreed to carry out a review on possible alternatives.

The problem is that it will only consider alternatives that include maintaining nuclear weapons.

Labour under Blair and Brown backed nuclear weapons.

Ex-defence secretary Hoon even considered ending any “no first use” rule.

But opposition to nuclear weapons and Trident remains strong within the Labour Party. Alongside MPs, many party activists are also supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The policy review initiated by Ed Miliband provides an opportunity for reopening the whole debate.

In fact a large number of Labour MPs have signed a statement declaring: “We regret the coalition has committed to Trident replacement.

“At a time of severe spending cuts across the public sector, there has been no critical assessment of Trident’s role in addressing the UK’s security threats.

“No case for replacing Trident has been made. The Labour Party should commit to a defence review that considers non-replacement and disarmament of Trident.

“We must play our role in building momentum for international disarmament, by committing our support to a Nuclear Weapons Convention.”

Choices have to be made. We can continue arming ourselves to the teeth, kidding ourselves into playing an imperial role on a stage that we cannot afford, or we can catch up with reality, rid ourselves of nuclear weapons and get behind the push for a nuclear-free world.

There is a huge moral argument against these indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction, but there is also a clear economic case for the resources that they swallow up to be spent on eliminating poverty, ill health and the planet’s environmental challenges.

Let the brilliance and skills of the engineers who make these weapons be turned to building for need, not destruction.

Today, commemoration events will be held across the world in memory of the tens of thousands of innocent Japanese whose lives were extinguished by a nuclear whirlwind.

Decades on, the silent vigils in their honour serve as a reminder that the campaign for a world free of nuclear weapons is not a vague dream, but a pressing necessity for the future of humanity.

Jeremy Corbyn is the MP for Islington North and Chair of the Westminster Parliamentary CND group, and Vice-President of Labour CND.

This article was published in the Morning Star on Saturday 6th August.

Michael Foot remembered

Michael Foot

Michael FootMichael Foot was a real working class hero who had an immense influence on myself and many more in the Welsh Valleys. It turned my stomach to hear the hypocrisy of people like Michael Heseltine and the London press showering him with praise after his death, ranking him with Churchill.

The Tories loathed the sight of him and everything he stood for. The London press either ignored him, ridiculed him or egged on Labour to expel him. I first met Foot in the ’50s when he spoke at Blackwood Miners Institute. He mentioned nuclear disarmament and was heckled. He dealt with many hostile questions on nuclear issues. I spoke to him after the meeting and asked how I could get involved. “Get on the march to Aldermaston,” he said.

We trudged on our way and he never stopped talking about peace, education, taking control of our lives etc. His speech in Westminster Hall was powerful and passionate. It was out of that passion that CND was conceived. When Nye Bevan made his famous appeal against unilateral nuclear disarmament – “don’t send me naked into the conference chamber” – it was Michael who picked up the banner of nuclear disarmament and carried it forward.

While he did not agree with Nye’s position, they remained friends. When he passed away, his obvious successor as MP was Michael. The right wing of the Labour national executive in London did their best to stop him from going on the shortlist, but they didn’t stand a dog’s chance. The people of Ebbw Vale loved him – there was no more worthy successor. He never faltered from the path for peace and justice on behalf of the people of Ebbw Vale and beyond.

Thank you, Michael, for your unfaltering vision of peace.

 

Cllr Ray Davies, Caerphilly

April 2011 Newsletter

Another NATO intervention: Hands off Libya //

Coalition confusion on Trident – but Labour must not oppose from the right //

A warning against nuclear power – Fukushima on Chernobyl’s 25th anniversary