The question of Trident – Britain’s nuclear deterrent – dominated this year’s Labour Party conference. Jeremy Corbyn rightly made it clear that he will not “press the button” and start a nuclear war should he, as a future PM, be asked to do so. Yet the Establishment, the Blairites, and even the trade union leaders opposed Corbyn on this question. Why?
The question of Trident and Britain’s nuclear arsenal dominated both the start and finish of this year’s Labour Party conference. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly made it clear that he will not “press the button” and start a nuclear war should he, as a future PM, be asked to do so.
Immediately after making this statement, however, a chorus of Labour MPs responded that they would press the button should it come to it. We should not be surprised by this. Labour’s right wing have consistently supported the nuclear option in all its forms, as part of their general position of acting as organised supporters of US imperialism and its foreign policy.
Despite all the jingoistic talk of “Britain’s nuclear deterrent” the reality is that these weapons are under US control, with Britain acting as mere caretakers. Since 1980, the focus has been on Trident, a submarine-based nuclear arsenal, which replaced the previous Polaris option, and forms the basis of the UK nuclear deterrent. Next year, parliament will vote on its replacement, budgeted at an eye-watering £100 billion, although the actual cost will no doubt be higher.
How can such expenditure on these weapons of real mass destruction be justified? We are told that these bombs have and will deter wars…that is, apart from the all the wars that have clearly not been deterred to date. The trouble for supporters of these weapons is that, in arguing that we need such bombs, we are also told that they will never be used. So how can that deter anyone…and why will they “never” be used?
MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction
In the 1980s, when there was a great fear of a possible nuclear war, the then Tory government promoted a whole programme of public information called “protect and survive”. TV programmes and leaflets were produced outlining how we could all (well, most of us) survive a nuclear war should one take place. This included such useless advice as jumping into the nearest ditch should a nuclear bomb go off near you; building indoor shelters using door frames, etc.; and, rather grimly, throwing out dead bodies to avoid infection.
Alongside this, plans were updated for a series of regional command structures based at underground bunkers and other such structures, like the Holborn underpass in London (a structure so badly maintained that by the 1970s it has stalactites!), where emergency planning could be organised involving local authorities, police and army. This planning would include dealing with the expected breakdown of law and order and possible riots.
The problem was that all these “plans” were a total fiction, intended just to reassure people. The truth was – and is – that the experts knew full well that any nuclear war would not be survivable given the massive scale of bombing involved. The lucky ones would be killed immediately, with the rest dying in the following months. Cities like London would be totally wiped out given the number of bombs targeting them. A few people would survive in nuclear bunkers deep underground, but these would be concrete coffins in effect. The best that these few could hope for would be the expectation that they could come out onto the surface again…after a hundred years.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge about the numbers and strength of all the various nuclear bombs sitting around in silos and on ships will already know all this. Hence, the grand statements from the establishment that they will never be used: the Mutually Assured Destruction – or MAD – scenario.
Can we trust the ruling class on this? Well, we were told that nuclear power was safe – then came Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. If one bomb gets launched, they will all get launched.
War is terrible…terribly profitable
A more pertinent question in this current age of austerity is, why are we spending all this money on Trident and the like? Surely £100 billion could be put to better use? It seems that whereas the Tories are determined to cut things we actually need – like public services, health and education – they are quite happy to spend more and more on bombs and guns.
In the summer, Osborne confirmed that the UK would stick to the NATO target of keeping defence expenditure at 2% of GDP and, in addition, would ensure that defence expenditure would rise in real terms year-on-year over the term of the current parliament. Why?
The answer lies in the huge profits to be made from defence (and warfare); in particular in the US, which rightly sees the UK as a junior partner in this. The military-industrial complex in America is a multi-trillion dollar operation that dominates the state machine. In 1995, the US had a military budget of $266 billion; by 2015 it had risen to $637 billion or 3.5% of US GDP. In the 21st century, war is not only terribly profitable – it is incredibly profitable!
No wonder, the establishment has always been wary about people knowing the truth about the nuclear “deterrent.” Again, during the 1980s, politicians were not slow to rush and criticise the making of such TV programmes as the US “The Day After” and the UK “Threads”, both of which sought to show the effects of a nuclear war and were attacked as being “alarmist”, etc. Earlier on, in 1965. the BBC commissioned a drama-documentary, directed by Peter Watkins, called “The War Game” about the aftermath of a nuclear attack in Britain. Fearing the affect on people, the BBC withdrew the film from screening as “too horrifying for the medium of broadcasting” and for the next few decades it could only be seen at special screenings, before finally being televised in 1985. In reality, what has always horrified the establishment is that public opinion might turn against nuclear weapons and the huge cost involved.
For welfare, not warfare
In Britain, the trade unions have been wary of opposing schemes like Trident because of the huge number of jobs at stake. But surely, the resources – both in terms financial and human resources – could be put to better use? How many jobs could be created, not lost, if the £100 billion needed for Trident was to be reallocated to other more socially needed projects?
Of course, the big loser in all this would be the defence industry monopolies, who would see their huge profits of death disappear. These firms, many of which have bribed and lied their way to nice fat defence contracts over the decades, should be nationalised without compensation so that their huge resources – of wealth and technology – can be used for the common good and redeployed to create the things that society needs: green energy, health care machinery; schools, houses, and hospitals, etc..
Projects like Trident will come more and more under the spotlight as people come to see just how costly they are. Corbyn’s stand has already focused attention on the February 20th march and rally in London over the Trident renewal.
Marxists have always said that under capitalism the choice will be socialism or barbarism; in the nuclear age we could be left with not even barbarism. We should oppose Trident, but also the system which has brought such terrible weapons into our world.