Yesterday, WMD Awareness and BASIC were joined by around 40 Warwick University students for the latest instalment of our Talking Trident tour. It was a fantastic turnout and those who attended were treated to an excellent talk given by Sir Nick Harvey, Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon and former Minister of the Armed Forces.
Sir Nick’s talk gave an accessible introduction to the situation the country currently finds itself in, with the next government due to make a big decision on the future of Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, in 2016. He explained where each party stands on the issue with the general election fast approaching and shed some light on his personal views on this issue.
He suggested that things have changed dramatically since the last time a decision of this magnitude had to be made in 1983, when nuclear weapons were a big issue in an election that saw Labour defeated heavily by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party. At that election, unlike today, the two main parties differed greatly in their view of what to do with Britain’s nuclear weapons, with Labour keen to cancel Trident and get rid of Britain’s ‘nuclear deterrent’ and the Tories keen to keep it.
However, as Sir Nick pointed out, in the intervening years, the Cold War has ended, the Soviet Union has dissolved and Britain now has no current nuclear adversaries, with nuclear weapons pointed at the UK. This leads him to question whether we need nuclear weapons at all and if it’s not possible to disarm right now, whether we need to have a nuclear submarine on patrol, with weapons ready to fire 24 hours a day, 7 days week, 365 days a year. This practice is something which he feels is becoming increasingly difficult to accept for a growing list of non-nuclear states around the world.
So, where do each party stand ahead of the election?
The Conservatives are determined to renew Trident on a like-for-like basis, keeping Britain’s nuclear capabilities as they are. Labour have towed a similar line although Sir Nick believes they may be more open to being flexible on this policy, believing they are still scarred by their 1983 election defeat.
The Liberal Democrats are keen to at least begin moving towards honouring Britain’s Non-Proliferation Treaty commitment to disarm by keeping some nuclear weapons but ending the need for what is known as Continuous at-sea Deterrence (CASD), meaning there would not be a constant presence of at least one nuclear submarine in the ocean all year round.
The SNP and the Green Party, who, in Nick’s view could potentially play a role should their be a hung parliament are both anti-nuclear, and would both want to get rid of Trident, although it is unclear whether the SNP would settle for a removal of Trident from Scotland rather than a complete dismantling of the weapons themselves.
With the election fast approaching we’re putting together a manifesto to compile what young people in Britain think about Trident and we’ll be delivering this to MP’s and decision makers during our week of action this March. Want to get involved and have your say? Get in touch with dan[at]wmdawareness.org.uk or use #TalkingTrident to let us know your views on Twitter.