Bruce Kent gave the following talk in London last night ahead of his discussion with Sir Malcom Rifkind at the launch of the Scrap Trident Tour.
How nice to be here with you this evening and many thanks to the Community who have made it possible. And of course to Malcolm Rifkind who has spared the time for this discussion.
I am here to say why I think this country could - and should - decide NOT to replace our current Trident nuclear missile submarine fleet with yet another.
When I was in the army I ended up as a tank wireless instructor. One invaluable lesson I learnt is that people have short attention spans. The rule was to tell your audience what you are going to say, then say it, and then remind them of what you have just said. It’s a good formula. So let me list my 6 points
1. To replace Trident is to increase our military insecurity not to enhance it.
2. To spend £100 billion on a new Trident is to divert resources away from the real threats that do face us all.
3. The whole nuclear debate, so far as there has been one, rests on bogus history and national post Imperial self importance.
4. A military security system that rests on a willingness to commit mass murder is immoral.
5. To renew Trident is not to act in the good faith required by the International Court of Justice and the NPT.
6. Church opinion is against Trident renewal.
There will be lots of other issues raised as the discussion starts but these 6 will do for the moment.
1. To replace Trident is to increase insecurity not to enhance security
If we continue to insist that Britain needs its own nuclear weapons I can see no good reason whatever why other countries with nuclear weapon capability should not have the right to follow the same road. If we need them for our security then why not Iran and North Korea let alone Brazil and Japan?
Even those who believe in nuclear deterrence do not know know what to say when the possibility is raised of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of non state groups
(i.e. terrorists) or into the hands of suicidal states. If Pakistan, now nuclear armed, falls into terrorist hands—what then?
Finally all this is to ignore the long list of accidents and misunderstandings as well as computer failures and submarine disasters which never get mentioned but have been very real and dangerous. I do not have the time now to tell you now about Colonel Petrov who saved the world in 1983 but do ask me later on.
2. A replacement Trident diverts funds from real security threats.
Those threats are many, and high on the list is climate change. The latest UN report just published finds that food production is already being affected by climate change. It predicts that mass migration could increase the likelihood of political instability and conflict in regions already under pressure, and a make it even harder for developing countries to climb out of poverty.
From Three Mile islands to Chernobyl and Fukushima we have also seen nuclear energy plant disasters. Many of our British nuclear power plants are coastal. What if we are the victim of a tsunami? The famous Somerset levels? What will it cost to protect these places?
If the poverty gap within developed countries widens there will be civil unrest and even violence. Would it not make more sense to spend on building social justice and civil harmony and a more effective and democratic United Nations?
I must stress too that the gross waste of resources is one of the most important issues for us domestically. Only this morning I was at a successful secondary school for 1300 boys in Essex. The head teacher has just been told to cut his budget by £250,000. If we have money we should spend it on real social needs not the illusion of security.
3. The whole debate so far rests on bogus history and national self importance.
The roots of all this go back at least to 1945. We were all told then that the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the only way to end World War Two. Now we know that this is untrue. Had we been willing to give the Japanese emperor the protected status which we gave him after the surrender, a negotiated surrender might well have been possible. The dropping of the bombs had much more to do with keeping the Soviet Union out of the Pacific scene.
In the UK, despite Attlee’s unwillingness, we took the nuclear bomb road in 1947 as a result of Bevin’s intervention. He wanted it over here ‘with a bloody great Union Jack on top’.
Such national post imperial vanity has kept us going ever since. It is evident in a secret minute of a meeting in 1979 between Thatcher, Nott and Carrington once they realised that for us not to build the first Trident would mean that the French would be to only one with a ‘independent ‘ nuclear weapon in Europe. They could not accept that. Napoleon lives on. I put ‘independent’ in inverted commas because, unlike the French, we do not have independent nuclear weapons. The ‘Moss Bros’ deterrent Harold Wilson once called it. We are wholly dependent in many ways on United States technology. The missiles which carry our warheads are on loan from the United States and get returned and replaced from time to time. It is even claimed that without ‘our’ bomb we would not have seat on the Security Council. Read the Charter—that is nonsense.
The biggest bit of bogus history is the claim that nuclear weapons have kept the peace.
I do not know what world those claiming this actually live in.
Ah they say but it kept peace with the Soviet Union. Who actually now thinks that the Soviet Union wanted a suicidal war with the West ? I well remember the historian Michael Howard saying in RUSI once that we judged the Soviet Union by their capabilities not their intentions but we expected them to judge us by our intentions not our capabilities.
Any group or country threatening to use nuclear weapons has to be semi suicidal. Who knows after a nuclear explosion which way the wind will take the radiation?
Not much use threatening to kill the suicidal as a means of self
4. A willing to commit mass murder is immoral.
For years the back up threat to the Soviet Union was the Moscow card. David Owen and Michael Quinlan once differed as to how many million Soviet citizens we had to be able to threaten to kill to make ‘deterrence ‘ work’. Both of them of course hoped and believed it would never happen. But meanwhile still we train young men to be willing to committee mass murder when called upon to do so. Their obedience is tested. Unreliable men get weeded out.
Direct assaults on civilians has always been a war crime. It did not need the Geneva conventions or the Second Vatican Council to make it one.
5 The Good Faith called for by the NPT (1968) and the ICJ ( 1996)
This is country is supposed to be negotiating the elimination of all nuclear weapons globally ‘in good faith’ yet, by renewing Trident , we plan to continue as a nuclear weapon state for another 30 /40 years. And we voted against (one of only 4 states) a new UN forum in which such negotiations could take place. Archbishop Mamberti , speaking for the Vatican at the UN , went out of his way to challenge countries ‘renewing’ their nuclear weapons. How, he wanted to know could this be ‘good faith’? Spokesmen for nuclear weapon states always refer to their ‘eventual’ elimination. Why eventual? We have successfully concluded conventions and treaties eliminating other ghastly weapons.
6. Church Opinion.
All the churches in the United Kingdom in different ways, have said that they oppose the replacement of Trident. The Methodists, Baptists and Quakers amongst others have led the way. The Church of England in 2007, through the Archbishop’s Council, suggested to the Government that : ‘the proposed upgrading of Trident is contrary to the spirit of the United Kingdom’s obligations in international law and the ethical principles underpinning them.’
But the most positive and radical view came from the Catholic Church in 2006. The bishops of that Church said that British nuclear weapons , and specifically Trident (as Bishop Hollis made clear) should be
This was a here and now recommendation not a step for the far future. ‘We urge the Government to take a long term view and act with courageous leadership by seeking to make this breakthrough towards total nuclear disarmament’.
This call was of course ignored by politicians and media alike. But as a Catholic I can be proud of it.
I am sure that between us we have said more than enough to start a discussion.
I will not therefore do what I was recommended to do in the army--- repeat everything I’ve just said, before sitting down.
Thank you for your attention.
Read Ellen Teague's report of the evening here: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=24473
For future Scrap Trident tour dates see:
Scrap Trident Meeting with Bruce Kent
1 April 2014 7pm - 9pm
Immaculate Conception Church
346 Portswood Road
Southampton SO17 3SB
Open to all. Contacts: Audrey Campbell, Pax Christi member
Peace, justice and our responsibility to actively work for peace, Bristol,
speaker Bruce Kent
1 April 2014 3.30 pm - 5.15pm
The Bradbury Hall, Trinity-Henleaze United Reformed Church, Waterford Road, Henleaze, Bristol, BS9 4BT
Waterford Road, Bristol BS9
Representatives from the following faith communities will be making a contribution: "Peace, justice and our responsibility to actively work for peace"
Fr Richard Mckay- Christianity, Sangeeta Dewan - Hinduism, Amra Bone - Islam
Tracey Lewis, Chair of Bristol Multi Faith Forum will be hosting and chairing the event.
Contact: Bristol Multi Faith Forum, 07834812663
Time to Scrap Trident, Bruce Kent, Hitchin
25 April 2014 7pm - 10pm
Parish Hall, Our Lady Immaculate & St Andrew Church
Hitchin, Hertfordshire SG5 1RG
Contact: Pax Christi member, Deolinda Eltringham, at M & D Eltringham firstname.lastname@example.org
Time to Scrap Trident with Bruce Kent, Preston
28 April 2014 7pm - 9.30pm
St Wilfrid's Parish Centre
1 Winckley Square
Preston,Lancashire PR1 3JJ
Open to all
Contact Maggie Mc Sherry, Lancaster Faith & Justice Commission 01524 383081
Scrap Trident: No Faith in Trident
30 April 2014 evening
St John Vianney Parish, West Green,London, LONDON N15 3QH
Organised by Westminster J&P Commission
Contact email@example.com for more details
Security and Defence: What does the Church say? Bruce Kent,
8 May 2014 7.30pm - 9.30pm
Blackfriars, 64 Saint Giles
University of Oxford, Oxford,Oxfordshire OX1 3LY
Open to all
Contact: Pax Christi member, Anne Dodd, firstname.lastname@example.org
To sign a petition calling for the cancellation of Trident see: www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=24159