This month I ask, why do we need a nuclear deterrent?
The debate about the need for Trident, the UK’s system of nuclear submarines and warheads, has grown particularly heated in recent months given the rise of both the SNP, who as a party have made their anti-Trident stance clear, and of Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour party leader, whose opposition to nuclear weapons has received much attention in the media. Anti-nuclear feeling among the general public might also be said to be on the rise: around 4000 people attended an anti-Trident rally in Glasgow shortly before the General Election in May 2015, and a national demonstration in London on February 27th is planned by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, with already well over 7000 people having said on Facebook that they plan to attend. With a vote in parliament on whether or not to renew Trident planned for 2016, surely the time is right for the UK to rethink the billions of pounds it spends on this system.
The argument in favour of Trident is that it is a deterrent, and works to counter the threat of nuclear attack from so-called rogue states. David Cameron, speaking at the Conservative party conference in October, called Trident ‘our ultimate insurance policy’ and has also claimed that he would be willing to ‘press the button’. This isn’t the 1980s, however, and the nature of the dangers to UK national security has changed. Cold War style nuclear submarines, designed to counter a Soviet threat, are no longer relevant. As the recent attacks in Paris show, the possession of nuclear weapons does not work to deter ISIS or counter terrorism. If the biggest threat to national security in the present age seems undeterred by nuclear weapons, and given the budget deficit and consequent level of government cuts to public services and welfare, perhaps it’s time to scrap Trident, and spend the £30bn that it will likely cost to renew it elsewhere. In 2016 the UK has the opportunity to act as a trailblazer on this issue – if we as a country take a stand and say that in 2016 nuclear weapons are no longer needed, perhaps others might follow suit. It is my hope, therefore, that when the time comes MPs vote against renewing Trident.
Annie Dickinson is a literature Ph.D. student at The University of Manchester.