It’s not so long ago that the world watched in horror as Japan suffered the full force of the tsunami. The scenes of devastation that filled our screens and the tragic images of people searching for missing family members will haunt us for a long time. The threat from the damage to Fukushima nuclear power station gave the world a wake-up call.
But with today the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, that other image of destruction from Japan leaves many questioning why on Earth we would countenance building a new nuclear weapons capable of causing death and destruction thousands of times worse than the havoc wreaked by a natural disasters and the fall-out from Fukushima.
This week, the House of Commons defence select committee published a damning report highlighting that basic defence capability is falling below the minimum required. Cuts in conventional forces are no longer a myth but a reality, with redundancies already under way. Meanwhile CND believes that the government’s estimate for spending on Trident replacement in the next 10 years is massively understated, with overall costs of design, procurement, materials and lifetime maintenance set to be in excess of £100bn.
When I suggested recently in the House of Commons that the moral case against Trident replacement had never been more compelling, the defence secretary, Liam Fox, was arrogantly dismissive. But I believe I spoke for the many who want the government to focus on improving health and care services for our elderly and disabled, educating our young people and building homes for the future.
In my experience, more and more people are questioning why the government claims that it needs to impose savage cuts on almost all areas of our public services while billions are still being poured into huge military projects that have no relevance to the defence of Britain.
Defence experts have spoken out publicly and former ministers, including Lord Browne of Ladyton, are now actively involved in top level groups on disarmament.
The “main gate” decision will not be taken until after the next general election, so we can influence future policy. Within the Labour party, we have the opportunity through the various policy reviews taking place to debate our position and we must give party members that voice. Otherwise, we will find ourselves behind public opinion, given opinion poll findings that highlight limited support for Trident replacement.
Ed Miliband rightly recognised this during the leadership contest when responding to Labour CND saying “we need to have a thorough examination of that [Trident replacement] decision as part of the government’s strategic defence review” and that “the review should look at the totality of our conventional and nuclear capabilities, considering both our defence needs and what our priorities are in the changing economic climate”.
Trident was excluded from the defence review, its funding guaranteed, when many other public spending commitments were cut back. Many of us in the Labour party believe no case has been made to continue with the replacement and believe the party should continue to press for that thorough review of defence policy. The public deserves to know the comparative costs of conventional defence and peacekeeping with maintaining nuclear weapons, and that information should inform any decision on the construction of the new submarines.
It is my personal view there is no longer a case for wasting Ministry of Defence resources on nuclear weapons. What better time than Hiroshima Day to renew our commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, and continue the campaign to make it a reality.
Cathy Jamieson is Labour and Co-operative MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, and Secretary of the Westminster Parliamentary CND group.
This article was published on the Guardian Comment is Free website on Saturday 6th August.