UK's Nuclear Deterrent

Part of Terrorist Attack: Nice – in the House of Commons at 8:46 pm on 18th July 2016.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member) 8:46 pm, 18th July 2016

I was elected by 15,000 voters with a 7,000 majority on a Labour manifesto in favour of Trident and multilateral disarmament. I am aware, however, of people in my constituency and in the Labour party who are against Trident. Indeed, I was a member of CND and am related to Henry Richard, the apostle of peace from Tregaron.

I need to go through the arguments that have been deployed against Trident. The first is that nuclear arms are awful and appalling weapons. Well, we know that and that is why they are such an awful deterrent. They are a deterrent because they are terrible weapons. The second is that these arms are obsolete and redundant because of various technological advances. If that is the case, why are Russia, China, France and the US investing in them? The technologists say they are not redundant. It is said that they cannot combat cybercrime or terrorism, but they are not designed to do so. Thirdly, it is said that they cost a lot of money. Well, £30 billion, plus £10 billion contingency, is a lot of money. It is something like £1.2 billion a year just for the capital costs, which is approximately 6% of defence procurement spending. That is a lot of money, but it would not transform the NHS or our conventional armaments, and it supports something like 32,000 jobs.

The key issue is this: do these weapons deter? As a member of the Council of Europe, when I talk to Ukrainian MPs they say, “If we had maintained a nuclear deterrent, the Russians wouldn’t have invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine.” When I speak to MPs from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, they say to me, “We’ve got Russian minorities, just like Ukraine. Russia will invade us. If the UK doesn’t have a nuclear deterrent, what are you going to do—come up with your conventional arms?” Our enemies will say that they will use tactical nuclear weapons and blow up Coventry. What are we going to do? Let them blow it up so that they can rewrite history and say, “It’s like Hiroshima, we saved lives”?

It is not difficult to think of scenarios where nuclear blackmail is effective, whether involving Russia or North Korea. That is sufficient reason to support a minimum nuclear deterrent. We could withdraw and say that we will be part of a nuclear alliance, letting France and America protect us. But what if France unilaterally disarms? What if Donald Trump comes along? Is he going to support us? I think not.

My position is the same as Aneurin Bevan’s. He died the year I was born—it was not my fault, by the way. He was, basically, a multilateralist like me. He understood that the purpose of these awful weapons was to sustain peace and prevent war. The purpose of the deterrence is to save lives, not to take them, and to deter aggression, not to attack. We all wish that these weapons did not exist, but the question is—and I respect the fact that it is a difficult question: do we want to take responsibility for the deaths of people if we do not have the deterrent and that provokes aggression?

Our nuclear capability has halved since the cold war. We have only 1% of the current nuclear stockpile of 17,000 nuclear weapons and our plan is to reduce their number further. In my view, we need—this is the lesser of two evils—a minimum capability. I wish we did not, but we do. The acid test is this: with nuclear weapons, will more or fewer people die? In my judgment, fewer people will die, and therefore we need to support the motion.