What is Trident?
Trident is Britain’s outdated system of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is made up of four submarines, any one of which is at sea at any given time. America owns the missiles they carry. At the word of the Prime Minister, Britain is able to drop up to 40 nuclear bombs on our enemies. Parliament votes in 2016 on renewing our ageing submarines. Renewal would cost us £100bn over the next 30 years. Read more at (1) below.
Why should we oppose Trident?Trident was designed for the Cold War of the 1950-60s when the USSR was our main enemy. Now, our enemies could be terrorists or cyber attackers. None of these can be reached or neutralised with even one nuclear missile. One nuclear weapon would kill hundreds of thousands of people. Devastation would overwhelm any attempts of relief. Fallout would poison the world’s climate. The missiles themselves are dangerously vulnerable to error or sabotage. Read more at (2) below.
How would you spend Trident’s £100 billion?If we gave up Trident we would have £100bn (over 30 years) to spend on…. well what? What would you choose? Schools, hospitals, carers, better pensions, clean water and energy, good jobs and housing for all, or…. maybe something on all of these? Read more at (3) below.
Quakers are in our fourth century witnessing for peace.With many others, we deeply mourn victims of violence around the world. Yet even more we mourn for humanity if we cannot see beyond bombs, drones, and guns to address the conditions in all societies that lead to violence, injustice, and exclusion. Successful programmes are running worldwide to foster reconciliation and build strong communities. Read more at (4) below….
Please join us any Sunday at 10:30 am for a silent Quaker Meeting for Worship and to learn more.
- What is Trident?
The name ‘Trident’ is generally used as shorthand for the British system of nuclear weapons: the submarines, missiles, warheads and supporting infrastructure.
Each of the British-built and manned submarines–HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant, HMS Vengeance– carries up to 8 American-made Trident II D5 missiles, each missile can be fitted with a number of British-made nuclear warheads, which can be directed at a range of different targets.
Each submarine carries a sealed “letter of last resort” in the prime minister’s hand, containing instructions to follow if the UK has been devastated by a nuclear strike and the government annihilated. This ‘deterrent’ that the submarine would still be able to launch a catastrophic retaliatory strike on the aggressor is called ‘mutually assured destruction’.
Since 1969, a British submarine carrying nuclear weapons has always been on patrol, gliding silently beneath the waves, somewhere in the world’s oceans. Currently, only one submarine is on patrol at any one time. It needs several days’ notice to fire.
Trident was acquired by the Thatcher government in the early 1980s as a replacement for the earlier Polaris missile system. Trident came into use in the 1990s. The Vanguard Class submarines cannot last indefinitely and would begin to end their working lives sometime in the late 2020s. Work on a replacement could take up to 17 years to develop. Replacing the submarines does not involve procurement of any new warheads or an upgrade in nuclear capability. A decision on any replacement warhead is expected to be made around 2019.
Since 2007, when MPs voted 409 to 61 in favour of ‘Concept Phase’ plans to renew Trident, work has been going on considering potential designs for replacement submarines, propulsion systems and other key components. The ‘Initial Gate’ phase (to move to the ‘Assessment Phase’), consisting of £3,000,000,000 in procurement of important items, has also been approved. In October 2010, the government decided to delay the until 2016 the ultimate ‘Main Gate’ decision on whether to proceed and on how many submarines to order (‘Demonstration and Manufacture’ phase). The delivery date for the first submarine was also put back to 2028 while the number of operational missiles carried will be cut to eight and the number of warheads to 40.
The politics involved: Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron has always maintained the UK needs to keep its nuclear weapons, calling it an “insurance policy” against attacks. Replacing Trident was a Conservative manifesto pledge in the general election.
Labour has supported Trident renewal, saying it has been a “cornerstone” of peace and security for nearly 50 years–but that policy is now in doubt after the election of long-time opponent Jeremy Corbyn as party leader. Corbyn says the issue will form part of their defence review, but has also said that even if there were a replacement system, he would never use them as Prime Minister.
The Scottish National Party, which now has 56 MPs in the House of Commons, opposes Trident renewal. During the election campaign it described Trident as ‘unusable and indefensible–and the plans to renew it are ludicrous on both defence and financial grounds’.
The Liberal Democrats, who insisted on no final decision being taken while they were in coalition, have always been sceptical about a like-for-like replacement and insisted on a value for money review. They back a ‘step down the nuclear ladder’ by proposing a smaller nuclear weapons system providing a ‘minimal yet credible’ deterrent.
Our MPs will vote, but is Trident independent of the US? Past prime ministers have always stressed Trident’s independence, saying its firing does not require the permission, the satellites or the codes of the US. However, critics argue Britain is technically so dependent on the US that in effect Trident is not an independent system.
Trident supporters say there is no hidden ‘back door’ option for the US to disable Trident. In the very unlikely event that our foreign policy aims were so divergent, the Prime Minister still has the ability to launch without permission or any reliance on the US. It is true that the US could withdraw technical assistance and maintenance, especially for the missiles which would eventually render the UK deterrent inoperable after several months. The US could not just ‘switch off the Global Positioning System (GPS)’ which guides the missiles. The submarines and missiles use celestial and inertial guidance systems that require no outside inputs to navigate accurately.
Trident supporters further argue that there is very significant value in an independent deterrent as it demonstrates to the US that Britain is willing to pay for our own defence and not rely entirely on their benevolence. It also provides reassurance to other European NATO nations because the UK deterrent is a declared NATO asset. In the event that the UK was subject to nuclear blackmail or attack it gives the US the option not to go nuclear, thus possibly avoiding global nuclear conflagration. It backs up our position as one of the 5 permanent members of the UN security council that gives us a platform to influence events for good.
From an opposing source, we may be operationally independent, but we are completely dependent on the USA for the most crucial part of our ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent. While the Trident submarines are produced by BAE Systems in Scotland, and the warheads produced at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Berkshire, the actual missiles are manufactured in the USA. The maintenance programme is also run by the US, with a pool of missiles held at the US Strategic Weapons facility at King’s Bay, Georgia, USA, from which the US itself and Britain draw serviced missiles as required.
- Why should we oppose Trident? We are caught in a never-ending cycle. Our reliance on nuclear weapons of mass destruction as a ‘deterrent’ has resulted in the proliferation of nuclear weapons as one nation after another develops the capability to produce nuclear systems independently or procures them elsewhere.
Faulty logic from the military makes the claim that
‘What is certain is that the nuclear balance, to which the UK has contributed, has prevented major world conflict since WWII.’
What is certain is only that there have been no major world conflicts involving mass destruction by nuclear weapons. Having a stockpile of nuclear weapons and the long range means of using them has done nothing to prevent the devastation of war in the Middle East and Afghanistan, devastation that includes death and injury to British soldiers.
Expert military opinion is split over Trident. Several retired senior military officers have spoken out against renewal, saying Britain’s nuclear submarines are “completely useless” against modern warfare. They are not truly independent (of America) and renewing them is a waste of money. Included are former head of the armed forces Field Marshal Lord Bramall, and retired army general Lord Ramsbotham. Moreover, in June 2015, Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led British forces in the first Gulf War, said: ‘Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use.”
It would seem the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power alongside the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is misguided and flies in the face of public opinion; we have more to offer than nuclear bombs. The vulnerability of nuclear weapons is in itself a danger. Allegations of security lapses on one of the Trident submarines have been publicly described by a former engineering technician submariner. Although he has been dishonourably discharged, the questions have been raised. Has the Royal Navy paid serious attention?
3. How would you spend £100 billion?
Estimates of the cost of Trident vary wildly. Is any one surprised?
The Government said, in September 2015, that renewing Trident will cost between £15,000,000,000 and £20,000,000,000.
Greenpeace claimed that adding VAT and other extra costs will mean at least £34,000,000,000.
Jeremy Corbyn quoted a figure of £100,000,000,000 over 30 years. The figure is based on his evaluation of a detailed chart in the 2014 report by the independent Trident Commission.
The Liberal Democrats say ordering fewer submarines would save up to £4,000,000,000 in the long term. Conservatives have rejected this—saying the savings made would be ‘trivial’ in respect of the Ministry of Defence’s annual £34,000,000,000 budget.
Former Conservative Defence Minister Michael Portillo (in May 2015) has supported Lord Bramell’s 2009 statement that the renewal of Trident was a £20,000,000,000 ‘waste of money’.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to the BBC in September 2015 that the government was spending around 6% of its annual defence budget on Trident.
Ministers have pledged to hold the defence budget at 2% of GDP. Figures released in late October 2015 show that, according to IMF growth forecasts, the cost of renewing Trident has risen to £176,000,000,000, almost double previous estimates. That’s £25,000,000,000 for four new submarines in a like-for-like replacement, plus maintenance of the system over its lifetime.
Now think about the recent disclosure of off shore accounts that promote major tax avoidance. Do we really want the quality of life in Britain–health, education, housing, opportunity for all–to be dependant on the ££s left over after the defence budget gets its choice of what’s available from tax revenues that have been diminished by tax avoidance? Promoters of renewing Trident say that the amount ‘saved’ would not be simply transferable to the NHS or schools or creating new jobs. Nobody said it would. We recognise that transferring the huge sums saved over time would require a monumental rethinking of how Britain can put government revenue to work for the benefit of its citizens.
Again, how would you spend £100 billion? On schools, hospitals, carers, better pensions, clean water and energy, good jobs and housing for all, or….? How would you do it?
4. Quakers are in our fourth century witnessing for peace.
From ‘A Declaration to Charles II,’ 1661: ‘We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.’
Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for our war relief work. In East Africa we support peace builders to change the core conditions that lead to violent conflict. We implement the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme which sends volunteers to monitor and try to ease friction between Palestinians and Israelis in certain towns and villages.
We work on specific aspects of social justice in Britain. Our longstanding work for a more compassionate criminal justice system continues. Housing and housing conditions is another long standing Quaker concern. Framing complex welfare issues in solely economic terms removes the humanity of those affected and ignores the root causes of inequality.
Quakers call for an economic system that has equality, justice and environmental sustainability at its heart. We work on welfare and inequality, corporate accountability and ethical finance, whilst exploring principles and practical steps towards a ‘new economy’.
In 2011 Quakers in Britain made a commitment to become a low-carbon, sustainable community. We support local action to live out this commitment, and we campaign for energy justice and action on climate change.
All Quaker programs encourage and teach people, often from disparate backgrounds, how to work together to take charge of their own lives and to build strong communities.
In describing Quaker programs, we are very well aware that many UK organisations and some government programs support both international and national work to build reconciliation and development through local community involvement. The UK and the world need more of them.
‘Trident nuclear missiles are £20bn waste of money, say generals’ 16 January 2009: The Guardian
‘The Trident Commission Concluding Report’ July 2014: Trident Commission (An independent, cross-party inquiry to examine UK nuclear weapons policy)
‘Defence spending: MPs vote in favour of keeping budget at 2% of GDP’ 12 March 2015: The Guardian
‘Replacing Trident: Key issues for the 2015 Parliament’ May 2015: UK Parliament
‘Former Conservative Defence Secretary slams Trident replacement’ 1 May 2015: Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
‘Trident’s an outdated waste. Even the military say so’ 24 June 2015: New Statesman
‘Exclusive – Trident programme to cost 167 billion pounds, far more than expected’ 25 October 2015: Reuters
‘A guide to Trident and the debate about its replacement’ 30 September 2015: BBC
‘Five Arguments on Trident the Media are trying to Ignore’ 2 November 2015: Real Media Press (a cooperative of journalists dedicated to public interest journalism and challenging mass media distortion)
‘Taking down the arguments against Trident’ 4 January 2016: Save the Royal Navy (an independent online campaign to promote the Royal Navy and fight its decline)