I haven’t been to Labour Conference this year but it is no surprise that Trident hit the headlines at some point. Similarly, it can be a surprise to no-one that Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out personally using nuclear weapons as leader as he is a long standing opponent.
The politics and arguments around Trident are quite interesting especially to a former Politics graduate like me that studied political violence as part of their degree.
Logically, there are absolutely no circumstances whatsoever when a UK leader would actually use nuclear weapons. We never have and we never will and Jeremy Corbyn is merely stating the reality. The reasons are:-
- No logical or sane government would use them against another logical and sane government due to the wider world impact. Let’s imagine that we decided to use them against say Russia – the end result would be our own annihilation via a nuclear war. The closest we got to this was the Bay of Pigs in 1963 between America and Russia and we have never considered using them. Would a logical and sane government really invade us if we didn’t have nuclear weapons? Less than 10 countries in the world have them now. Only America has actually used them 70 years ago although other countries have conducted testing usually to shore up their own political situation at home.
- But the world has moved on since the 1960s so what about North Korea or other despots where the argument goes that we need to “put them in their place”. Unfortunately, the deterrent aspect of a nuclear deterrent only works if the opposing party is in their right mind. Put another way, we have to be sure that they care enough about their own people not to see this as a chance to write their name in the annals of history by being the final leader of their country or deluding themselves that they can be ultimate world leader. Nuclear weapons would have no impact to that as there is no deterrent.
- Ah, what about ISIL or other terrorist groups – they don’t care about us? Nope they don’t but as any politics student knows, the most dangerous terrorists are those prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and in their case, martyrdom is seen as a positive. Even if all the terrorists were in the same geographic location rather than remotely networked all over the world, there are easier ways than attempting to nuke them taking out tens of thousands of ordinary citizens. In any case, the next wave of terrorism is almost certainly going to be based on affecting the internet, energy sources or water supplies as this would have maximum impact. ISIL would love to get their hands on nuclear weapons regardless of whether we had them or not but reducing availability would make this less likely.
Leaving aside a jobs argument (namely that Trident may be good or bad but at least it provides employment) let’s focus on the only reason for Trident and that is purely emotional and it comes down to this. Having our own nuclear weapon makes us FEEL safe. It makes us feel as if we are still a world superpower and in control of our own destiny. There’s absolutely no logic to the argument but it doesn’t matter because it’s what we think.
If we look to America, it’s a similar psychology which explains why so many ordinary citizens still insist in carrying a gun believing that it is the only way of protecting their family and household. UK culture would scoff at this pointing out the huge rate of gun crimes in the US but nonetheless even President Obama has shied back from upsetting the gun lobby or more importantly the quiet stubbornness of many citizens.
The internal discussion in the Labour Party is not actually about security at all. It’s about unemotional logic put forward by Jeremy Corbyn on the one hand and on the other, the emotional connection to the UK public that many shadow Cabinet members want to build. Put bluntly, can you put a financial figure on ensuring people feel safe regardless of whether it does? Probably not which is why Jeremy Corbyn for Labour and Michael Portillo in the Conservatives are unlikely to persuade their respective parties despite the clear logic behind their position.