The economic argument

IssueJuly to August 2006
Comment by Kate Hudson

The Defence Committee's first report on Trident replacement was much better than I had dared hope for.

Of course it didn't oppose a replacement, but the fact that it listed abolition as one of the options on the table was positive in itself. Most importantly , at this moment in the political process, it added its voice --with considerable force--to the demand for a full debate,with proper government participation. But ever larger numbers of people are actually now explicitly opposing Trident replacement itself.

A compelling argument

Recently, Unison, Britain's largest trade union, which organises public sector workers, had a debate and vote on Trident replacement at its annual conference. The union, which is affiliated to CND, voted overwhelmingly against (in fact only one vote in favour!) of Trident replacement. The arguments which were particularly compelling for the members --and which can be used in campaigning more widely--were the economic ones.

The original procurement costs for the existing system were around #12 billion. Each year the Trident nuclear weapons system costs us around #1.5 billion. The rebuilding of the Devonport Dockyard sat Plymouth to allow for the periodic refitting of the Trident submarines that carry the weapons cost around #1 billion. Additional billions have recently been given to the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment for the development of new buildings and facilities. The full cost of developing a replacement,including missiles, submarines and base facilities is estimated to be as much as#25 billion.

Better spent elsewhere

As a minimum, just to keep the existing system going, we are paying in excess of#1 billion. What could we spend that on instead? A recent article in the Guardian stated: “Closure of big NHS acute hospitals may be required to eliminate the NHS's #512 million deficit.” This deficit is less than half the annual spend just on keeping the weapons going. Another useful comparison is that we spend an aver -age of a billion a year on the occupation of Iraq. There are other examples too, of where the money could be better spent. There is a #2.2 billion shortfall in local government funding for next year , caused by central government giving extra, unfounded duties to local councils. This will probably result in an increase in council taxes of up to 10%. But the annual cost of keeping our nuclear weapons and occupying Iraq would more than cover the shortfall. There is also a #1.8 billion gap in funding for social care, which means that four out of five local authorities are moving to tighten the eligibility rules for services for elderly and disabled people. This could be met instead of killing people and maintaining weapons of mass destruction.

But of course the big pot of money is the cost of replacing Trident - up to #25 billion. There are many ways in which it could be spent: hospitals, schools, 120,000 newly qualified nurses every year for the next ten years; 100,000 extra community midwives every year for the next ten years. Or looking more widely afield, we could meet our UN Millennium Goals aid tar get of 0.7% of GNP every year for the next six years. Relating to the personal Last autumn's poll, which showed that 54% of the population oppose a replacement of Trident when they know how much it will cost, also demonstrates the importance of showing people the figures, so we know what we could have instead.

Of course the legal and moral arguments are crucial too, but concrete facts relating to people' s everyday lives can support us in our campaigning.