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Trident: Decision time

Can peace be achieved by two men, each with a loaded gun, a nervous finger on each trigger? Will fear of mutual destruction safeguard security? Is that peace? Clearly there are risks. If a hand appears to twitch it may be better to fire first, before it's too late. If we agree this highly charged stand-off is dangerous, how can we put the guns down? Since the 50s some argue that deterrence will prevent nuclear war, but if deterrence confers security, how do we stop proliferation? Britain's four nuclear powered submarines each carry eight missiles with a range of 7,500 miles. Every missile can carry 12 nuclear warheads, each eight times as destructive as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Prime Minister would authorise a Trident launch via a secure communications network. On reaching space, guidance systems would deliver missiles to pre-programmed targets. Whilst many believe no sane person would 'press the nuclear button', it was claimed in 1990 that if UK forces were attacked with gas in Iraq, they would retaliate with “battlefield nuclear weapons”. Submarines are built at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and stationed at Faslane, Scotland. Around 600,000 people live in Glasgow, only 28 miles from the base. Nuclear warheads built in Berkshire are regularly transported for hundreds of miles on UK roads. Incidents and accidents have been shown to occur frequently. Because Trident will wear out by 2030 and submarines take 17 years to develop, Parliament will vote on Trident early in 2016. David Cameron favours full replacement and Jeremy Corbyn opposes it, but opinion is not split along party lines. The Scots gave an overwhelming mandate to the SNP at the General Election, and they oppose Trident. Fearing for members' jobs, some trades unions support replacement, whilst Green MP Caroline Lucas has argued that “investing £100bn wisely could create two million new jobs, compared to 7,000 with Trident”. Almost £5 billion has been spent before Parliament's final vote. Costs have risen to £41 billion according to a recent government review. Lifetime servicing cost estimates are £142 billion. For comparison, £100 billion would fund all A&E services for 40 years, the building of 1.5 million affordable homes or tuition fees for four million students. Former defence minister, James Arbuthnot, favours renewal, but indicated “a steady decline” in his confidence in nuclear deterrence post Cold War. "It's not an insurance policy, it is a potential booby trap [...] Nuclear deterrence is essentially aimed at states, because it doesn't work against terrorists." I have listened first-hand to survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 'the Hibakusha', and cried as women from the Pacific Islands spoke of their deformed, short-lived 'jellyfish' babies, caused by nuclear weapons testing. As Princess Diana named the first Trident submarine in 1992, I stood feeling helpless, wondering if I should bring children into this world, hoping this would be the last generation of nuclear weapons. Arguments continue about multilateral versus unilateral nuclear disarmament, with some moderate success on non-proliferation but little on disarmament. Lib Dem MP Sir Nick Harvey said of the Non Proliferation Treaty, “Very few signatories [...] can have imagined that by 2015 so little progress would have been made.” Are there other reasons for the lack of progress? Tony Blair said of Trident that "the expense is huge and the utility […] non-existent in terms of military use," but concluded that giving up Trident would be "too big a downgrading of our status as a nation". In a time of 'austerity', is this a sensible, necessary use of money and resources? Seeing pictures of emaciated children in besieged towns in Syria, I find myself wondering again why we can find money for weapons but not for hospitals. In 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov refused to report a supposed US nuclear attack on the USSR, believing the detection system had malfunctioned. He was right, and his decision may have saved millions of lives. In considering the renewal of Trident, remember the risks, question the terms of debate, know that possessing nuclear weapons is not cost free, and understand that a tiny fraction of the weapons we have could plunge us into nuclear winter. )

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