Jon Snow asks: What happened to Trident?

Our thanks to Jon Snow for giving this year’s Joseph Rotblat Memorial Lecture at the Hay Festival. This is a short overview of Jon’s remarks, compiled by WMD Awareness Coordinator Carol Naughton.

Jon described the atmosphere and the excitement of witnessing history in the making as Reagan and Gorbachev worked out the way forward to a world without nuclear weapons.

Fast forward to Friday 22nd May 2015 when, in Jon’s words, “the latest Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference collapsed in ignominy in New York.”

Jon Snow at Hay Festival 2015

Jon Snow at Hay Festival 2015

He speculated that Joseph Rotblat – founder of WMD Awareness and lifetime campaigner against nuclear weapons – would have been both angered and unsurprised since, from those heady days with Reagan and Gorbachev, the issue of nuclear disarmament has never been seriously discussed. Jon said:

“Amazingly we have just managed to get through an election in which only one, once small, party mentioned Britain’s nuclear weapons. The Labour party slavishly rowed in behind the Tories merely questioning whether we needed three submarines or four.

“Billions and billions has been spent on the system without real consultation in parliament… a discreet – even dishonest – state of affairs exists now where, in effect, money is already being spent on a new generation of Trident without a vote in parliament… with politicians telling us the decision will have to be made to go ahead… ‘sometime soon’.

“Given the shift in who we are as a post imperial country it is beyond credibility that this so called ‘deterrent’, this vastly expensive project, is never seriously debated in public by either of the two biggest parties.”

Independent. Nuclear. Deterrent.? Jon looked at each of these in turn.


“Absolutely NOT! A US system dependent upon US know how… questionable whether it isn’t in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty anyway.

“As for the whistleblower, Able Seaman William McNeilly, whose 18 page document detailing some 20 breaches of safety at the Trident base at Faslane! Well you are not to worry says the government. So bland has been their dismissals of his charges that you almost wonder whether a ‘D’ notice has been served on the media. I confess I don’t know if one has, but McNeilly is still serving in the Navy and one senses that his claims have been taken rather more seriously than the navy would want us to know.”


“Certainly. Seventy years after the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are do disinterested in these weapons that have the capacity to destroy our world that most people don’t even know there were talks in New York last week. Talks that broke down in absurd squabbling over Egypt’s demand for a nuclear free Middle East. Britian, Canada and the US have all been fingered for the breakdown – and nobody actually cares.”


“In this hour, in this time of unprecedented threat running in a seamless ribbon from Northern Nigeria across North Africa, the Gulf of Arabia, Yemen and into Afghanistan and Pakistan, the acid question has to be ‘what use a nuclear weapon might proven in dealing with ISIS?’.

“A few of the western powers have worked overtime to bring ISIS about, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplying plenty of fuel to stoke its creation in the background…”

Jon then took time to look at today’s threats:

ISIS; Al Qaida; Al Nursa; Al Shebab; Boco Haram and the common denominators in all of these – the link to fanatical Wahabi, money emanating from Saudi Arabia and, in some cases, Qatar and the basis of radicalisation.

He again came back to the question of the utility of nuclear weapons in this security environment calling for the UK to:

“Diversify our defence, consider the need for a European defence force rooted in European values — spend Trident on real deployable defence.”

Notes taken from Jon Snow’s lecture at Hay Festival, Saturday 30th May 2015

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