Sara Medi Jones, a campaigner for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, was one of the speakers during IPB´s Side event during the NPT Prep Com Review Conference. Sara, alongside Sergio Duarte, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Jean Marie Collin, Parlementaires pour la Non prolifération et le Désarmement nucléaire – PNND and Susi Snyder (Pax Christi, ICAN Intl Steering Group, were invited to discuss about “Nuclear weapons in Europe“. This side event was co-organised and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
Here is Sara´s contribution:
First, I would like to thank the IPB for inviting me to speak today. I’m Sara Medi Jones, a campaigner for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a UK-based organisation which has been campaigning against nuclear weapons since 1958.Today I’m going to speak from this perspective and talk about the UK’s nuclear weapons and position.
The UK owns 215 nuclear warheads as part of a submarine delivery system commonly known as Trident. At any one time, up to 40 of these bombs are patrolling the seas meaning Britain has what it terms a ‘continuous at sea deterrence’.
These submarines will have to come out of service around 2032 because they’re getting old, and the government has started building new ones to replace these. MPs voted in 2016 in favour of building these submarines. But all the facts stack up against Trident – and they continue to do so, irrespective of this shameful vote
Over the past few years, it’s CND’s campaign against the cost of replacing Trident that has resonated most with a general public completely fed up with the continued cuts to public services. A new nuclear weapons system for the UK will end up costing at least £205 billion over its lifetime.
And just two years into building the programme, we’re already hearing more and more updates about Trident’s economic problems, with a Parliamentary committee warning recently that the Ministry of Defence has been putting off disposing old nuclear submarines because they haven’t got enough money, calling the nuclear programme ‘unfit for purpose’.
The report found that the UK has not fully disposed of any nuclear-powered or nuclear armed submarines it has produced. The report also highlights that the government has not developed a plan to dispose of future ones.
The Ministry of Defence is overreaching itself financially: it clearly cannot afford to buy a new nuclear weapons system and maintain its other spending requirements. Trident is bankrupting the Ministry of Defence. Successive National Audit Office reports have suggested a black hole of billions of pounds in the MoD budget.
And there are certainly other security concerns we should be spending money on. In terms of national security, nuclear weapons are irrelevant. According to the UK government’s own National Security Strategy, a nuclear threat is not a tier one priority. Instead, the real problems we face are sensibly identified as terrorism, cyber warfare, pandemics and climate change.
Experts have increasingly questioned the technological viability of Trident, as developments in underwater drone technology could render the system obsolete. Rapid technological progress in underwater drone technology and sensors could make it impossible to hide big submarines like those intended to carry the UK’s nuclear missiles. The vast amounts of money being poured into drone technology means that eventually Trident will be both detectable and targetable, meaning the government is wasting money on weapons with built-in redundancy.
A new and important report by the UK’s second, un-elected chamber, the House of Lords, into the rising threat of nuclear weapons use was published last week and this refers to the possibility of a cyber attack on our nuclear weapons system.
CND welcomed this report which calls on the UK government to endorse the principle that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.’ It also criticises the government’s lack of engagement with the UN global ban treaty. The UK has acted shamefully in this regard, refusing to participate in the treaty negotiations and even issued a hostile statement attacking it.
There is certainly a sense that Britain is at a crucial point in deciding its position in the world. With our future relationship with the European Union unclear, choosing our allies will define our role in the world.
A positive recent example is the UK working with its European partners to maintain the Iran nuclear deal. But Prime Minister Theresa May’s seeming willingness to cosy up to Trump is a damning indictment of where the current government would like to see us head.
The world has undoubtedly become a more dangerous place since Donald Trump’s election as US President.
Trump has torn up the Iran nuclear deal, threatened to kill millions in North Korea, and unveiled new ‘usable’ nukes, increasing the risk of nuclear war.
When he dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan, he signalled he won’t stop with threats. A nuclear bomb could be next.
Trump has brought into sharp focus the very dangerous aspects of Britain’s relationship with the United States. For 60 years we have been tied into a special nuclear relationship with the US through the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement, the world’s most extensive nuclear sharing agreement.
It is now more urgent than ever for Theresa May’s government to end this relationship. Maintaining it gives active support to Trump’s policies and draws us into Trump’s nuclear warmongering.
And of course, the UK has not publicly criticised the US for withdrawing from the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Russia has responded by announcing it too will withdraw. This treaty has been a cornerstone of nuclear arms control since the Cold War, having eliminated thousands of deadly nuclear missiles in Europe, including in the UK.
The INF led to US cruise missiles being removed from US bases in Britain at Greenham Common and Molesworth. If this treaty is destroyed, the US and Russia would be free to once again produce and deploy intermediate-range missiles. This would massively increase the likelihood of a nuclear war being fought on European soil. If the INF cannot be saved, then we need a clear statement from the government that we will not accept US nuclear missiles in our country.
This is one of the reasons why CND is part of the Stop Trump movement in the UK and is playing such a big part in the protests coming up during his state visit in June. There are many reasons to protest against Trump, but the nuclear issue is a very serious one.
What CND continues to campaign on is for Britain to scrap Trident and sign up to the global ban treaty.
Britain getting rid of its nuclear weapons system could not only provide political leadership to the rest of the nuclear-armed states, but would be a practical guide for how to do it, a blueprint for the rest of the world drafted by our experts and politicians. This would be the first step in Britain rethinking its approach to security with discussions on our membership of NATO and an end to our involvement in foreign wars to follow.
CND will continue to work with all our partners in Parliament and across civil society to oppose the replacement of Trident, as well as raising awareness of the treaty and the potential it has to bring about positive change.
With politics in the UK in a state of flux at the moment, who knows what the result of the next general election could be? And of course, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, is a Vice-President of CND and a life-long anti-nuclear campaigner. We continue to work with the Labour Party to achieve a change in their official policy on nuclear weapons, in the hope of this eventually becoming government policy.
What is clear is that our politicians have to act urgently. The threat of nuclear war is higher than it has been in years. There is a danger that misunderstanding, miscalculation or mistakes could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. The only way to avoid this is to get rid of them completely.