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Trash Trident: six deadly nuclear myths…and how to defuse them

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Issue 2486

The government plans to put the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine programme to the vote later this year. It wants to spend more than £160 billion on four Scottish-based submarines whose only purpose is to threaten the whole of humanity.

Each of their 160 warheads has eight times the explosive power of the bomb that destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945. That bomb vaporised human flesh within a half mile radius, and fatally burned thousands miles from the epicentre.

Getting rid of these abominations should be common sense. Yet Labour is deeply divided over the issue.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to scrap the scheme and spend the money on improving the lives of working people. He has ordered a review into his party’s policy and would like Labour members to have the final say on it.

But the Labour right, not content with helping the Tories win a vote to bomb Syria, are desperate to stop any such move. They are determined that Labour stay a party that defends Britain’s “national interests” and is always ready for war—including nuclear war.

These warmongers regularly trot out the same excuses for the bomb. Socialist Worker shows how they can be defused.

They will never be used

They say atomic weapons are a deterrent, never to be used. But politicians and generals had them dropped on Japan almost as soon as they were available in 1945.

And they have planned for small and large scale nuclear wars ever since. US bombers practised bombing runs against North Korea with live nuclear bombs in the early 1950s.

President Eisenhower also threatened China with nuclear bombs, saying, “I see no reason why they shouldn’t be used just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else.”

The threat of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union escalated in the 1960s.

The Soviet Union put medium range nuclear missiles on Cuba, from where they could reach the US West Coast within minutes. The US had placed similar missiles in Turkey.

Fear spread across the globe as it became clear that the launch trigger for a war could be an electronic early warning signal issued by a computer.

That such a signal could be a false alarm, including misidentifying large flocks of flying geese as incoming missile attack.

Generals now discussed a “first strike” policy. Rather than risk missiles being destroyed before hitting their targets, they prepared to hit first and discussed ways to “win” a nuclear war.

To these ends, the US first put nuclear bomber planes on permanent flight. By the 1980s, following a near disastrous crash, both Nato and the Eastern Bloc began siting short range missiles across Europe.

US President Ronald Reagan even talked of a “limited nuclear war” in Germany.

After the fall of the Soviet Union these dangers began to feel like ancient history. But tensions between superpowers are rising again.

Nato ally Turkey shot down a Russian jet bombing Syria last November. There are regular standoffs between the US, its allies and China over control of the South China Sea.

The only way to make sure nuclear bombs are never fired is to get rid of them.

You can’t uninvent them and no one has given them up

Most countries do not have nuclear weapons and many states have decided to give them up, or abandon plans to acquire them.

These countries include Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Iraq, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan.

Many former Soviet states have also given up their nuclear weapons, including Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

If Britain were to cancel the Trident upgrade and unilaterally renounce all atomic weapons it would put political pressure on other nuclear powers to do the same.

It would make the world a much safer place.

But our rulers are more concerned with status than real security.

Tony Blair said of Trident in his autobiography, “The expense is huge and the utility…non-existent in terms of military use.”

But he thought giving them up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”.

Trident will prevent war and attacks

Capitalism generates intense competition that flows over into competition between states. It means war and violence. The only genuine barrier to war is an end to the system that produces it.

Supporters of Trident, and nuclear weapons more generally, say that having atomic weapons deters wars.

In fact they encourage the idea of military solutions to political questions and therefore more wars such as the ones in Iraq.

Britain has had nuclear-armed submarines on patrol since the 1960s.

During that time warheads were primed and could be launched within minutes.

Yet they did not deter wars.

It is nonsense to suppose that Isis gunmen could be prevented from launching an attack in Britain because the state has nuclear weapons.

In fact, the “prestige” of attacking heavily armed states is part of what provides the group with its support.

The more that Britain tries to posture as a “world power” the more it is a target for those who claim to be challenging great empires.

Trident protects us from North Korea

The North Korean dictatorship started 2016 with a claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb. If true—which many have disputed—this is a new and frightening development.

Powerful hydrogen bombs can be made small enough to fit into a short range missile and can kill many people.

The North Korean regime is not interested in targeting Britain.

It is focused on its local rivals in South Korea and Japan.

The North Korean ruling class deliberately projects an image of war-like unpredictability.

It hopes that by flaunting nuclear weapons its heavily armed neighbours will be scared to destabilise its dictatorship.

Britain, by always seeking to be near the head of a nuclear-armed club, encourages the notion that atomic weapons are a crucial guarantee of independence.

Its efforts have also spurred on other powers to break international law to develop nuclear weapons programmes.

These nations include India, Israel and Pakistan.

Renewing Trident makes the whole world, including Britain, less safe.

Labour can’t get elected if it’s anti-nuclear

The Labour right says opposing nuclear weapons is unpopular and that if the party stands against Trident it will lose the next election.

They insist that wanting disarmament is why Labour lost during the 1980s.

But Labour didn’t fail because it was against the bomb.

Millions of people in Britain opposed nuclear weapons during the Thatcher years.

Some 61 percent of public were against the plans to site US Cruise missiles in Britain in 1983.

The tragedy was that the Labour leadership was divided over the issue and could not turn public opinion into votes.

Labour leader Neil Kinnock abandoned his lifelong anti-nuclear stance after the 1987 election defeat and soon the party was anxious to be seen as pro-deterrent.

This didn’t stop them from losing again in 1992.

Labour was elected in 1964 when it had party policy against the bomb.

By 1997 far more people agreed with the statement “Britain should have nothing to do with nuclear weapons”, according to the British Election Study.

Opposition to nuclear weapons remains popular today.

It could be a vote winner rather than a vote loser, emphasising that Labour wants change.

Over the last ten years, several polls have showed majority support for scrapping Trident.

Almost twice as many people in Scotland are opposed to renewing Trident as in the rest of Britain.

That’s partly because the Scottish National Party has made campaigning against nuclear weapons key to its election strategy and forced the other parties into an argument over the issue.

As a result Scottish Labour last year reversed its support for Trident renewal.

Even people who are pro-Trident can be won over.

If you mention the £167 billion cost of replacing Trident, people are almost always against it.

And when given the choice between spending on nuclear weapons or health and education, most people choose public services over missiles.

Not renewing trident will cost jobs

Union leaders, such as Sir Paul Kenny of the GMB and Len McCluskey of Unite, say that we must continue with Trident, despite questions of cost and morality.

They say jobs are more important than both.

It is true that renewing Trident would create some employment in the construction and defence industries.

But the number of jobs is tiny compared to those lost by diverting such a huge amount of public spending into weapons of mass destruction.

The costs of the new Trident programme keep on rising.

Two years ago these costs were estimated at between £70-80 billion—enough to wipe out the debt of every PFI-built hospital in Britain. That figure has since doubled.

Every penny spent on nuclear weapons could help create jobs elsewhere.

According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the government could use Trident savings to support a massive drive to renewable energy and create up to 30,000 highly skilled jobs.

Isn’t the prospect of generating some 50 percent of Britain’s energy supplies using offshore wind and wave power a better prospect than threatening to destroy the planet with nuclear war?

STOP TRIDENT DEMO Saturday 27 February, 12 noon central London Called by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

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