UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 8:38 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 8:38 pm, 18th July 2016

My hon. Friend makes a good case, and I agree with her.

Contemporary nuclear weapons are capable of delivering much greater levels of devastation, and they are eight to 10 pounds heavier than those that hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One modern missile with 12 warheads could wipe out a city of 10 million people and leave it uninhabitable. As the International Court of Justice put it back in 1996:

“The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”

That is chilling, and it is important to keep hold of that vision of horror when considering Trident renewal.

I recently visited Woodchurch high school in my constituency, where I met the school council, which comprises pupils from each of the different year groups aged between 11 and 16. I asked them who felt that we should renew Trident. There was a slight sense of agitation in the room, and I wondered whether they were just a little shy on the topic. I then asked if anyone was definitely opposed to the renewal, and every hand shot up in the air without hesitation. The decisions that we make about nuclear deterrence today will have an impact on our children for decades, and it is important to remember that we are making a decision for the next generation.

The defence challenges that we now face are different from those in the post-1945 era when the world seemed divided into ideological blocs and the threat came primarily from other states, principally the Soviet Union. An attack was thought of in terms of a conventional military attack or a nuclear strike. Yes, there are concerns over the intentions of President Putin’s Russia. The annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in the civil war in Ukraine has had a destabilising effect on security in central and eastern Europe, but we must also counter the threat from non-state actors such as terrorist groups. Nuclear weapons will not enable us to meet that threat, and money allocated to Trident could mean that the defence budget is not focused on the most serious challenges that we face. Trident’s replacement is projected to be operational for 30 years from the early 2030s. Is it possible to be sure that it will be an effective deterrent in 2060? There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it will not.

I recently attended a meeting addressed by Lord Browne, the Labour Defence Secretary in 2006-07. He made a compelling argument against the renewal of Trident, focusing particularly on two practical issues: cyber-security and the detection of submarines by enemy forces. He warned that NATO countries cannot be confident that their nuclear defence systems would be able to survive an attack from a sophisticated and well-resourced opponent that was utilising cyber-capabilities in combination with its military and intelligence capabilities.

The Prime Minister spoke about the value of nuclear submarines patrolling our seas unseen and undetected. That may well be the case today, but it is not a given for the future. There is a real threat that with the increase in under-sea detection technology, the location of submarines is more likely to be compromised, thus undermining the fundamental rationale of continuous at-sea deterrence, which relies on submarines remaining undetected. There is also a real risk that advancement in detection technology will outpace any advancement in counter-measures.

It is important to take into account all the jobs that are reliant on Trident, and that a credible industrial strategy is created and a cogent plan signed off before any action is taken to not renew it. Jobs, skills, and incomes should be protected. I believe, however, that there is a real risk that these expensive weapons may become obsolete over the period of their lives, and we would be better off investing in a defence strategy that addresses the real dangers that we face from current strategic threats.