The term “white elephant” comes from the 19th century. Kings of Thailand would bequest albino white elephants to courtiers who displeased them. The albino elephants were protected; they could not be used for labour or destroyed, but they would cost a fortune in upkeep. Trident nuclear submarines are a white elephant – ridiculously expensive, outdated and a complete waste of money. They cannot be used, without endangering all our lives, but this is a project which the government does not want to get rid of. They are being replaced only for vanity, to ensure Britain remains in the “nuclear club”.
Trident’s total cost will come to some £160bn, at a time when services and the NHS are being slashed. Even by MoD’s estimates, the cost of just building the submarine (without running costs, or the costs of the weaponry) has gone up from £20 bn to £31 bn, with an additional £10bn contingency fund! To put this in context, the entire NHS budget for England and Wales is £100bn.
Trident is a cold-war relic – even if the spending on Trident was justified, militarily it is obsolete – we do not face the risk of nuclear annihilation, but even if we did, there is also MAD – the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction. If a nuclear war were to happen, both sides would be wiped out.
One of the reasons that defence projects’ spending often get out of control is that politicians have been bought off by defence companies. In 2010, Labour’s Geoff Hoon, the ex-Defence Secretary, was caught by Sunday Times reporters pretending to be defence lobbyists, along with Stephen Byers. When Geoff Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company Agusta Westland were awarded a billion-pound order. They were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business. There is no reason to think that the Tories are any more scrupulous – Cameron has toured Saudi Arabia selling BAE systems Eurofighter jets.
The Tories want to go ahead with an EDF and Chinese bid to build Hinkley Point C Reactor, when the existing nuclear reactors in the UK are due to be decommissioned by 2023. Rather than making Britain safer, this will only provide more terrorist targets and opportunities for sabotage. Is this to provide uranium which can be reprocessed to produced nuclear weapons? There is an alternative to the Uranium reactor, which is more abundant in the Earth, produces less radioactive waste (although the problem does not go away), and cannot meltdown – the Thorium reactor. However, this was abandoned in the 1940s because the by-products cannot be used to make nuclear bombs!
Instead, we could scrap Trident, and invest in renewable energy – jobs could be diverted into clean-up operations, at the moment there is no safe way of disposing of nuclear waste. While government provides £2.6bn for research and development for arms, it is just £42m in the case of renewable energy.
The only reason for keeping Trident is so-called “prestige”. I can’t think of any good reasons for having a weapon which will never be used, and could trigger WWIII. Tony Benn famously said, “If you can find money to kill people, you can find money to help people”. The attacks by the right-wing mass media on Jeremy Corbyn, that he would do away with the military completely, and the attacks on his personal appearance, echo the attacks on Michael Foot in 1983, the last time a Labour leader was in favour of disarmament. However, most of the Labour Parliamentary Party disagree with him – would Corbyn enforce a whip this time, as he failed to do over Syria? We argue that Blairite Labour MPs and councillors should be de-selected as soon as possible and replaced with class fighters, if Corbyn is to be successful in transforming New Labour into a democratic, socialist party.
The Labour leader’s commitment to disarmament begs the question – are war and capitalism inseparable? Military conflict took place during every single year of the 20th Century. The total number of deaths caused by war during the 20th Century has been estimated at 187 million. From a capitalist’s point of view, war is a necessary evil, because of the need to constantly make more profits – they want to conquer territories, and exploit resources and labour. War also gets rid of excess capacity, where goods are made faster than can be bought by the people who are making them. This is done without regard for the loss of human life, except as employees. It has also caused the expansion of the defence industry – weapons are
An alternative was put forwards by shop stewards at Lucas Aerospace in 1971. Instead of producing weapons, the workers could have used their skills to develop long-life batteries, kidney dialysis machines. This shows the need for democratic control of workplaces – we can decide what is socially useful and what actually needs to be made. Workers on the shop floor are best placed to make these decisions.
It is utopian to think that the threat of nuclear war can be solved under this system of capitalism. However, if there was a successful socialist revolution – this would need to be defended against capitalist interests – so we would still need arms. Only with a socialist world, could we truly get rid of the wastefulness and insanity of war.
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