Six weeks ago UK Coalition government announced the outcome of its Strategic Defence Review. It signified the delay and cancellation of many defence projects - cuts in armed forces personnel, scrapping the fleet of Harrier Jump Jets, scrapping of the Nimrod surveillance programme, deep cuts in the order for F35 Joint Strike fighters and scrapping of the Arc Royal (Britain's only current aircraft carrier). The two new aircraft carriers which are currently being built in shipyards across Britain are to go ahead (because they are two expensive to cancel) but there will be no planes to fly from them for 10 years and even then only 12 planes per carrier. The closure of airbases such as RAF Kinloss and probably RAF Lossiemouth will mean thousands of job losses in the north of Scotland. So there are plenty of cuts planned in conventional defence.
But from our point of view the key issue was the announcement on Trident - Britain's submarine based nuclear weapons system. The project will be delayed with deployment put back by 4 years from 2024 to 2028 and the Main Gate (the announcement of the main contracts) delayed to 2016. The total number of warheads will be reduced from 225 to 180 and operationally available (or deployed) warheads reduced from 160 to 120.
In addition there is to be a delay in the decision about the production of a new warhead. We are told that this will not now be needed till at least the late 2030s and, therefore, a decision on this is not needed until the next parliament (after 2015).
We, of course, welcome all of this. It is a victory for common sense, a victory for the peace movement and one that was boosted by Britain's economic crisis and the squeeze on the Defence Budget.
The problem is that we still haven't stopped the Trident replacement project. The Initial Gate (the start of the detailed design phase) will go ahead and we expect it to be announced in December 2010 or January 2011. This will mean continuing to spend millions as the design process gathers pace and, of course, we are still spending almost £1bn a year on upgrading Aldermaston, Britain' bomb factory. All of this is clearly designed to keep both wings of the governing coalition happy. The Liberal Democrats will claim it as victory for their policy of opposition for like-for-like replacement, and the Tory faithful will be happy that the project has not been halted or cancelled.
How should we react to this situation? We should welcome the delay and the reduction in size of Britain's nuclear arsenal and the postponement of the new warhead. But we must point out two major contradictions in the government position.
Firstly, there is a huge mismatch between main the 'tier one' threats outlined in the Strategic Security Strategy - terrorism, cyber attack, civil emergencies, and instability and conflict overseas - and the government response. Are these actually threats in a military sense? How exactly do you make a military response to terrorism, cyber attack or civil emergencies? In particular, how exactly can you respond with nuclear weapons? This is a weapons system which is rooted in the Cold War past and is irrelevant to the threats we face today. Indeed, it could make things worse, as, for example, providing juicy targets for potential terrorists.
Secondly, in May this year (2010) our government signed up to a final document at the Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference to 'accelerate concrete progress' towards nuclear disarmament. Going ahead with Trident replacement takes us takes us in opposite direction. It binds us into the possession of nuclear weapons for the next 40 or 50 years. We are thus breaking our international obligations. Britain, along with the other nuclear weapons states, signed up to this document. The majority of nations at the conference wanted something much stronger - a Nuclear Weapons Convention which would involve all nuclear weapons states joining a process with a clear timetable to reduce and eliminate nuclear weapons worldwide.
But perhaps the most positive thing about this delay in the Trident programme is that it keeps Trident as a live political issue up to and beyond the next general election. So far from closing off the issue, this partial victory can be springboard for building a broader and deeper alliance for outright cancellation of the project.
How can we build that broader alliance? There are new opportunities to work with disaffected Liberal Democrats, many of whom are upset about the abandonment of the their pledges on Trident and deeply unhappy about the savage programme of cuts in jobs and services launched by the Coalition.
Perhaps more importantly, there are new opportunities to work with Labour Party at all levels. Remember that many Labour MPs voted against Trident in 2007 and have not changed their position. Many others can be won to an anti-Trident position now that Labour is no longer on government. So also can many MSPs, councils and Labour party constituencies. This could strengthen the commitment of councillors to support the local authority Nuclear Free Zones movement and sign up to Mayors for Peace. Pressure from below could even shift the position of Parliamentary Labour Party and the new Labour leader Ed Milliband to an anti-Trident position. Already former Defence Secy Bob Ainsworth has suggested that the party needs to rethink its position on Trident.
Part of this process will be to develop our work with trade unions, especially those unions like UNITE and GMB who organise defence workers. The election of Len McCluskey as UNITE general secretary could be really helpful in that respect. We also need to link up with the growing anti-cuts campaign. Scrapping Trident and getting out of Afghanistan will save up to £7bn a year. This could be invested in jobs and services. It is, therefore, a key part of the alternative to a programme of cuts as outlined in the STUC's There is a Better Way campaign.
In addition we need to continue our work through Scotland's for Peace with our partners in the wider peace movement - the churches and faith groups.
So our demand to Scrap Trident is linked with the with demand for a global ban on nuclear weapons. We are not unilateralists. We are part of a global movement for peace which is getting stronger by the day and now encompasses the great majority of nations and peoples. And if we can get rid of Trident in Britain, and get these weapons out of Scotland, what a victory that would be for the global movement for peace. For the first of the original nuclear powers to say that nuclear weapons don't defend us, don't deter anyone and put everyone, including us, at greater risk, and we are getting rid of them. That would send shock waves across the world and what pressure it would put on France, the US and others to do likewise.
What are we doing in Scotland. Well, remember that all Britain's NWs are based in Scotland at Faslane and Coulport. In March of this year (2010) we held a demo in Edinburgh with over 1,000 in attendance demanding Cut Trident Not Jobs and a broad platform of speakers including First Minister Alex Salmond. In May of this year we held a post election conference entitled 'Trident - the first thing to cut' which helped chart the way forward in the new situation. In September (as part of Scotland for Peace) we launched a new campaign in the Scottish Parliament for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and produced a four page folder to help explain and popularise the idea. 80 attended including 10 MSPs from Labour, SNP, Lib Dems and the Greens. We also did a piece of research for British CND entitled 'Trident Jobs and the UK economy' . This was launched at the TUC in September showing that going ahead with Trident will destroy jobs across Britain. It put the case for defence diversification and posed the real alternative to weapons of mass destruction was to develop wave and tidal power.
In conclusion, getting the Trident project cancelled is not fantasy, it is now more possible today than ever. That's why we are in business. We still have much to do but there is every reason to be optimistic about the future.