BBC News – 2009-01-16 00:35:37
Generals in ‘Scrap Trident’ Call
(January 15, 2009) — The UK’s nuclear deterrent should be scrapped, according to a group of retired senior military officers. In a letter to the Times, Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Generals Lord Ramsbotham and Sir Hugh Beach denounce Trident, calling it “irrelevant”.
They argue that rather than spending £20bn renewing the scheme, more funds should be spent on the armed forces.
Supporters say it is still essential that the UK should maintain its independent nuclear arsenal.
In the letter the men say the UK is too dependent on the US when it comes to defence.
They write: “Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of the violence we currently face, or are likely to face – particularly international terrorism. Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics.
“Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our armed forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.”
Traditionally these have been the views of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and those politically on the left. But the retired officers said the unilateralist case was now the only way forward and refuted arguments that the defence system was essential for a place at the “top table” of the United Nations Security Council.
The Trident system – made up of submarines, missiles and warheads – are due to end their working lives in the 2020s.
Former prime minister Tony Blair gave the go-ahead to replace the system in 2006.
Crossbench peer General Lord Ramsbotham told the BBC’s Newsnight programme he and his fellow writers wished to encourage further debate about Trident and what it represented.
He said: “I don’t think it is independent. First of all, we don’t own the missiles and secondly I think it’s absolutely unthinkable that we should consider or even threaten using it without having the clearance of the United States.
“We argue that the conventional weapons we now need that pinpoint accuracy, their ability to help our forces in the sort of conflicts that are taking place is something that you have to question the huge expense of Trident against.”
But Conservative MP and chairman of the Defence Select Committee, James Arbuthnot, told Newsnight: “It’s an awful argument to put that it gives us a place on the Security Council of the United Nations but I think it actually is true.
“When South Africa unilaterally disarmed its nuclear weapons I think it did lose influence.”
Former Conservative defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he was a “strong believer in multilateral nuclear disarmament” and was presently involved in a campaign to try to get all the nuclear powers to reduce their dependency on such weaponry.
He said the officers’ call for “Britain to get rid of all its nuclear weapons regardless” was a “very serious mistake” and unworkable.
He said: “Ultimately we are talking about an insurance policy for the next 50 years.
“Russia and China remain nuclear powers. I don’t know who is going to run China 20 years from now, they could be friendly, they could be hostile”.
He dismissed the claim the UK was too dependent on the US and said the codes to set off the weapons were “British codes” which required “no-one else’s permission”.
But Lord Ramsbotham said the weapons were not appropriate and could not be used against “nuclear blackmail by international terrorists”.
“It is a Cold War weapon. It is not a weapon for the situation we are in now,” he said.
He said the case for Trident was no longer a military argument but a political one.
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