V-J Day is another sobering reminder that we have come to that time of year in which we remember the horror of nuclear warfare, and indeed warfare in general. In the last week or so, the world has both acknowledged the dawn of the nuclear age, and for me, questioned the modern day nuclear situation, both domestically and internationally. I think the answer is clear for the UK.
On the 6th and 9th of August 1945, the United States dropped the only two nuclear weapons ever used in any war on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. This year’s anniversary is obviously a poignant one as it’s been 70 years since the bombings. The photographs of the mushroom clouds, the unspeakable suffering, and the Superfortresses are as much in our memories now as they were then. Since then, the political world has grappled with the very real threat of nuclear warfare with deterrence strategies and non-proliferation treaties.
Throughout the Cold War, (the only ‘Cold’ aspect of it was that we didn’t actually use nuclear weapons), successive governments, dictators and presidents managed to (just) steer the world clear of nuclear annihilation. There were clearly two hegemons in what inherently became an arms race, the USSR and the USA. The Soviet Union were reported to have 39,197 weapons at one of their most menacing peaks in 1980 and the USA reached 31,139 in 1965. These are breath-taking figures by any stretch, but still, from 1945 to 1991, there was no nuclear weapon used.
I could harp on about the Cold War, but to me, we are entering an even more dangerous era of nuclear technology and the question posed to the UK, whether she should keep/ replace/ improve her independent nuclear deterrent, the sea-based Trident, is a no-brainer.
The UK has had an independent nuclear programme since 1952 and operates under the NPT and is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Our current Trident system comprises 4 Vanguard class submarines and 160 thermo-nuclear weapons, including 58 Trident 2 D-5 missiles. It is a very prolific and effective nuclear fleet as it is entirely sea-based.
Of course, we’d all love to live in a world where there are no nuclear weapons and that is where the anti-nuclear campaign’s argument drops like a stone. Saying that we should disarm ourselves of nuclear weapons is like going into a boxing match with your hands tied behind your back. The naivety of the Labour leader hopeful Jeremy Corbyn is breath-taking. Yes, it is true that a replacement for Trident would commit the UK government to £100 billion and of course, it’d be nice if we didn’t need these weapons, but the fact is, we do. Speaking at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament commemorative event in London last Thursday Mr Corbyn said “is real security the ability for a society to provide housing, healthcare, social security, jobs, education, hope for its entire population?, answer, yes ‘course”.
What Mr Corbyn and countless other anti-nuclear campaigners don’t realise, however, is that it’s the classic ‘guns vs butter’ scenario. Whether we like it or not, we live in a dangerously militarised world and we need to protect ourselves from all threats and this includes the nuclear threat. ISIL claim that they are “infinitely” closer to buying a nuclear weapon, North Korea are carrying out tests while they are still technically at war with the USA, and the anti-nuclear people say we should not only not replace Trident but get rid of it!
I am not pro-nuclear, but these weapons are an uncomfortable reality and we now face a new threat from ideologically-charged groups likeISIL; to disarm ourselves would be dangerous and unnecessary.