12th December 2015
Forty-nine residents of North Norfolk and Broadland know where they stand on the debate about Trident replacement.They have just joined the Public Interest Case against Trident (PICAT) organised by Angie Zelter (tridentploughshares.org) who used to live here. It is a request to the UK courts to uphold the law.
As the first stage, we have written to the Secretary of State for Defence asking him to declare for himself and the government regarding Trident, that they will not “plan. prepare, design, simulate, plot of otherwise formulate any policy, strategy or other arrangement …which anticipates or forces in any way or circumstances whatsoever, any such said use, or attack.” In other words, we are asking him to promise not to use Trident.
We do this because the indiscriminate and overwhelming destructive power of Trident is incompatible with our obligations under the Geneva Conventions in which we have promised to protect civilian populations and natural environments from disproportionate, unnecessary or excessive harm, not justified by an anticipated military advantage.
The Trident system at present comprises 4 large submarines, with up to 8 missiles and 40 warheads per submarine. (They can each contain up to192 warheads.) Each warhead is between 6 and 7 times more deadly than the bomb which devastated Hiroshima in 1945. So one boatload has the destructive power equivalent to 240 Hiroshima bombs. That is more than all the bombs used in the Second World War, including the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Trident was specifically designed to kill millions of people, originally 40% of Moscow’s 11 million inhabitants, and to destroy the infrastructure. With a 7,000 mile range, Trident can hit anywhere. Our government promised in 2010 not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states party to the Non Proliferation Treaty. But this will allow it to target India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel – and possibly Iran.
The use of one Trident boatload of warheads would devastate large areas and kill and injure millions of inhabitants, by the combination of a fierce fireball, massive blast pressure, intense winds, fire storms and radioactivity which would be carried to other areas by wind and rain. Communications and electronic systems would be disrupted by the nuclear electro-magnetic pulse (EMP).
In addition there would be devastating and swift climate cooling, a ‘nuclear winter’ caused by all the carbon released into the atmosphere. Studies in 2007 showed that use of one Trident boatload of warheads would reduce crop yields over the entire northern hemisphere for several years, affecting, ourselves, our allies and the states not targeted. An estimated two billion would die from famine.
Given all this, using one Trident boatload of warheads would clearly be a serious case of genocide, entirely inconsistent with the UK’s moral, political and legal position. It would also be suicidal. The chaos and disruption in the UK and among its allies following an attack could not provide a military advantage.
Calling Trident a ‘deterrent’ is a misuse of language. Nuclear weapons do not address the major threats of our time, terrorism and climate change. Possessing nuclear weapons has not deterred terrorists. If anything it may have made the nuclear states targets. Most developed countries have realised nuclear weapons offer no protection.
Those who claim it can be used as a bargaining chip in multilateral disarmament negotiations are being disingenuous. The need for nuclear disarmament has been recognised since the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. The nuclear powers have so far failed in their obligations to non nuclear states. In the present situation, bilateral disarmament between the US and Russia is probably the best that can be hoped for from those two states for the majority of weapons. The Trident system would be irrelevant in these negotiations. Hanging on to Trident only encourages proliferation, which everyone agrees will make the world a more dangerous place.
As for those who think we need to keep Trident to be ‘at the top table’, what warped honour is there in being in a club which threatens life on earth? Meaningful leadership today means working for a safer, fairer world.
Nuclear weapons have always been an accident waiting to happen. We know enough about the fallibility of people to know that accidents happen all the time, no matter what the claimed safety systems are.
We know enough about madness to know that people go mad, leaders especially go mad. Nuclear weapons, although their use will affect millions, are controlled by very few. We rely on those few to be sensible at all times, even at times of heightened tensions, such those caused by ’defence systems’ which are seen as aggressive by others, by terrorists prepared to commit suicide and by desperate communities suffering appalling circumstances because of climate change and exploitation. All these factors serve to make accidents more likely.
The money wasted on this immoral and deadly system which threatens us all, should be spent on improving conditions for the living, countering inequality and peacekeeping generally in the world – lowering tensions not increasing them.
Over the decades, the misuse of words such as ‘defence’ ‘deterrent’ and ‘independent’ has lulled us into a false sense of security. Now that replacing Trident is being considered, we must look the situation squarely in the face. We must recognise Trident’s indiscriminate destructive force and let our politicians and system of justice know what we think.
For more information read “World in Chains” edited by Angie Zelter, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and awarded the Hrant Dink international award in 2014 for her work.
Alicia Hull and Peter Crouch