Trident Must Go


Last weekend someone found one of those quizzes that often feature in magazines and on the internet. This one was asking people which of the 5 Labour leaders you are most like.
Almost every member of the Liberal Democrat Twitterati gleefully told us that they were most like Jeremy Corbyn. When I took the quiz myself so am I! In some ways that is because the questions asked were rubbish. But in other ways it was because Lib Dems share the heart of many objectives that are thought to be ‘left-wing’ – but do not believe that the Labour Party in particular or state controlled solutions generally are a way to deal with society’s problems.
I thought of this at our Liverpool Executive last night when we considered which resolutions we wanted to back or create for our Party Conference in Bournemouth in September. After dealing briefly with a pedant who wanted us to put a resolution down about the appalling misuse of apostrophes (No we shall not name the guilty party but PK of Garston you know who you are!) we then looked at two serious discussions.
The first I will come back to was about Worker’s Cooperatives. This took me back to my own past when I was proud to promote the biggest new build housing cooperative programme in Western Europe. Workers and other cooperatives will feature largely in the Liverpool Lib Dems manifesto for next year’s Mayoral and City Council election. I will deal with this at a later time.
The resolution which we spent most time on was one to abolish Trident and not replace it with nuclear weapons. I was delighted that after due consideration the Executive supported the motion with only two voting against it.
The motion was a very clear and very simple one. We stated that we do not believe that Trident is of any value; that it should be replaced; and that the £100 billion that it will cost should be used for other things. In so far as it goes this is a good statement of intent, which is why we supported it, but is not a complete policy. We need now to fill in what we do with the savings and how we would shape our defences post cold war.
I am not a pacifist and the Liberal Democrats are not a pacifist party. The issue is not whether we should spend money on arms and armed forces. Rather it is a discussion about who we need to defend ourselves from and how we should do it. In the absence of my colleagues defining this I give my own view.
Firstly, I find it very hard to justify the fact that the UK is the only Western European Country to spend the recommended 2% of GDP on defence. Why we spend more than Germany and France is beyond me. However, I do not believe that we should reduce our commitments but rather encourage them to increase theirs.
The sad fact is that the World is an increasingly dangerous place. We think it is peaceful in this Country because we have only been involved by proxy or by limited involvement in relatively few engagement since WWII. Regrettably what we have done has often been counterproductive because we failed to think through what a ‘peace’ would look like in the areas that we intervened. Partly this is because we didn’t think for ourselves at all. Time after time we have acted as America’s poodle.
The most serious mistake being the illegal second invasion of Iraq. We went in and then the clown Bush announced that the war was over after 6 weeks. Hundreds of thousands of combatants, women and children have dies since. Our involvement in Libya and Syria has sent mixed messages about ‘whose side’ we are on and why. In the case of Syria we have now moved to support a regime which is very nasty againt ISIS which is super nasty!
In Afghanistan more than 350 of our fighting men and women died when there was no coherent road map for them to follow. Technically they did a good job and were proficient at their trade (at least they were when we equipped them properly). Clearly there are more women getting educated; there is more literacy; there are more clinics and a whole raft of things that are better because of their involvement. But that involvement did not change the fundamentals of the problems within Afghanistan society. We never really finished the job.
Out there other problems have been created by the emergence of an extremist Moslem state to whom we and the Americans were midwives. Look at the fact that it is now more than a year since more than 200 young women were kidnapped in Northern Nigeria. Look at the people dying in their thousands in the Mediterranean as they try and flee from extremism and poverty to Europe.
I think we need to start a full discussion about what our Military is for in 2015 with no shibboleths. My ideas for such a discussion would be:
• We should realise that the Cold War is finished and that a weapons system designed to deal with it (although I always thought it a waste of money) was of little or no value against extremists who think they go straight to heaven if they die in the act of murder.
• We should define with our Partners who we want to help and why.
• We should commit more to international peace keeping as part of the UN systems.
• We should provide more training and defence support to nations whose causes we espouse.
• We should limit arms sales to similar countries and outside NATO only be prepared to supply defensive weapons that cannot be used against civilians.
• We should have a swift response team to secure areas where problems have been created by natural or man-made disasters.
• We should keep our defence spending at 2% of GDP and work to encourage other NATO members to do the same.
• We should link more of our Aid programme to post conflict recovery work
I believe that the continued use of Trident arises because we have failed to fully think through what our role is in current times with current problems. I suspect but will never be able to prove that a considerable part of the retention case is actually about ‘toys for boys’ and the desire to supplicate the USA.
The Liberal Democrat Party is the only one of the 3 UK major Parties to advocate a reduction in nuclear from 4 submarines to 3. But that does not in my mind go far enough. Saying no to a Trident replacement will put us in both a strong moral zone and a strong practical one. We would both show decisive leadership and create the capacity to enable our armed forces, properly equipped, to do more in the world where a UK presence is needed but cannot be supported.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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