Put people and health before nukes

Government should wash its hands of Trident during coronavirus crisis

The Pentagon is working on developing new nuclear warheads. Britain, totally under the US nuclear thumb, is lining up to buy them. But while both governments pour billions of dollars into these destructive projects their health services are sinking in a time of pandemic crisis. That now all has to change.

By Ken Livingstone

With the ongoing coronavirus crisis, these are frightening times for millions of people here in Britain and around the world.

It is important to note that pandemics have been designated as tier-one threats to our security for many years.

Successive national-security risk assessments have rightly identified such human-health crises as worthy of the highest level of concern and planning, so why has Britain seemingly found itself unprepared for this crisis?

We had insufficient equipment, staff and infrastructure, and have been widely seen internationally as being slow to respond to the spread of the virus, while failing to implement fully World Health Organisation suggestions.

Despite the tier-one designation of pandemics, for many years totally wrong priorities have seen billions wasted on nuclear weapons rather than preparing for situations such as we now find ourselves in with the spread of Covid-19, or indeed climate-change emergencies including severe flooding.


Outgoing CND General Secretary, Kate Hudson, has frequently spoken out against Trident. (Photo: Garry Knight/Wikimedia Commons)

It was good therefore to see that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has launched a vital campaign for the government to wash its hands of Trident so we can begin to spend the money saved to address the real security threats we face.*

Launching the campaign, Kate Hudson of CND hit the nail on the head when she said: “We don’t have to look far to see what has gone wrong when it comes to security policy and spending.

“The last two security strategies have designated the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and use as a tier-two threat. Yet at the same time the governments that have produced these risk assessments have chosen to automatically pour — without question and consideration — £205 billion into a new nuclear-weapons system to ‘meet’ this lower-level threat, leaving the health system chronically underfunded and unable to meet the challenge of a pandemic.”

And as Kate also said: “Once again our government is shown to have the wrong priorities. The pandemic threat was rightly identified, but national resources have instead been squandered on weapons of mass destruction to bolster our shabby global image, instead of funding our health service to be fit for purpose.“

The need to step up our campaigning against nuclear weapons was shown to be all the more urgent by the recent reports that Pentagon officials have leaked Britain’s commitment to buying a new generation of nuclear warheads to replace domestically made Tridents, in a process that is expected to cost an astonishing £31 billion.

Speaking at a recent Senate hearing, strategic command admiral Charles Richard said that there was a requirement for a new warhead called the W93 or Mk7 in the US.

He went on to say that “this effort will also support a parallel replacement warhead programme in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear deterrent plays an absolutely vital role in Nato’s overall defence posture”.

Additionally, Alan Shaffer, the Pentagon’s Deputy Undersecretary of Defence for Acquisition and Sustainment, said at a recent “nuclear-deterrence summit” that “it’s wonderful that Britain is working on a new warhead at the same time” and that London and Washington “will have discussions and be able to share technologies.”


The “NHS Not Trident” campaign in the UK has taken on new urgency under the corona virus emergency. (Photo: Garry Knight/Wikimedia Commons)

Acting leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey rightly condemned the government’s move to give the green light to “the development of new nuclear weapon technologies with zero consultation and zero scrutiny”, slamming it as “unacceptable.”

Far from taking back control as he promised in the election campaign, it seems that under Boris Johnson major defence and security decisions are being fully outsourced to the increasingly erratic Trump administration.

It is quite simply a scandal that these discussions are taking place in the US rather than here, further undermining the argument that our so-called nuclear ‘deterrent’ is in any way ‘independent.’

Indeed, as David Cullen, Director of the Nuclear Information Service said, “the UK’s reliance on US knowledge and assistance for their nuclear-weapons programme… means [the UK] will find it almost impossible to diverge from any development path the US decides to take.”

It is also worth pointing out that whatever Boris Johnson may wish to say, Britain is legally bound to take steps towards disarmament under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and this decision clearly goes fully against these obligations.

In addition to the mistake of pressing ahead with spending on nuclear weapons, as borders across Europe and beyond close, the planned deployment of thousands of troops in the NATO exercise Operation Defender is not just misguided but dangerous.

Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20

NATO’s Operation Defender is going, the largest military training deployment in Europe. (Photo: NATO)

This is the largest military training deployment in Europe for 25 years and is being conducted by NATO along the Russian border.

Due to last for five months, the operation will be at its height in April and May. The deployment of 36,000 of troops from NATO countries, including 25,000 from the US and UK, has rightly been accused of exacerbating tensions between Russia and NATO, as well as costing taxpayers vast sums of money.**

As the Stop the War Coalition has said, this will not only heighten tensions between Russia and NATO, but doing it during the coronavirus pandemic is endangering the lives of military personnel and civilians.

Bringing together tens of thousands of military personnel from a multitude of countries is guaranteed to increase coronavirus transmission. Indeed, Finland has already withdrawn its troops and a number of military personnel have already tested positive for Coronavirus resulting in part of the exercise being called off.

Now is not the time to be increasing military spending that doesn’t help us deal with the challenges to security and crises we face in the world, including through Trident renewal or taking part in Operation Defender, but instead to reallocate funds towards welfare, infrastructure, healthcare and measures that genuinely keep the population secure.

It is time to put people and planet first, not private profit for Trump and Johnson’s mates, the 1 per cent.

* Subsequent to the original publication of this article, three former UK Commanders were amongst those who signed and sent a letter to UK members of parliament questioning the policy of maintaining a continuous at sea nuclear deterrent, which costs the country £2 billion ($2.5 billion) a year.

**As of press time, there was talk of reducing the number of personnel involved in the excercise, but Operation Defender was not canceled.

Ken Livingstone is the former Mayor of London and author of ‘Being Red – A Politics for the Future.’

This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is republished with kind permission of the editor.

Headline photo of Trident submarine courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence.

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