Last year, the Conservative chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne announced that any replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system would have to come out of a reduced MOD budget. CND responded with the report Trident, Jobs and the UK Economy which argued that Trident replacement would therefore lead to the loss of other defence sector jobs. Peace News praised the report (PN 2526) because it recommended the conversion of Aldermaston and Barrow to work on disarmament and production of equipment for renewable energy.
But the report argued: “If Trident is replaced it will be at the expense of major shipbuilding and aircraft projects and thousands of defence manufacturing jobs.”
The non-nuclear “defence jobs at risk” were said to be on the second aircraft carrier, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, Chinook and Lynx Wildcat helicopters and Type 26 frigates.
The report was launched at TUC and STUC conferences and was meant to persuade unions representing “defence” workers to oppose Trident replacement.
Launching the report, CND chair Kate Hudson argued that: “[G]oing ahead with Trident will have a devastating impact on non-nuclear defence manufacturing. Trident is cash-hungry whilst providing relatively few jobs…. Other areas of defence spending at risk from Trident generate far more employment per pound spent” (CND press release, 13 September 2010).
The CND report calls for diversification at Barrow, AWE and on the Clyde, but only after BAE, now the world’s largest defence contractor, completes all eight Astute submarines and the second aircraft carrier is completed.
I believe it was a mistake to accept the premises that the cost of Trident replacement must come out of the defence budget and that the MOD budget should only be cut by 8% while other government departments were asked to cut 19%. That led to the notion of a choice between Trident and other military programmes. Many of us in CND objected to this.
There is a better way to make common cause with unions than supporting defence spending. As we face massive cuts in government spending we need, as PN argued last month, a “common agenda for peace… for converting military production to socially useful work.” We should call for cutting the defence budget with Trident top of the list.
The new CND leaflet gets it right: “Cameron and Clegg are cutting welfare but leaving big ticket defence projects untouched. As the government slashes vital public spending we want an end to waste on nuclear weapons and war.” Not just Trident production.
The peace and disarmament movement should not allow the government to frame the terms of the debate. Let’s remember: in 2009, the UK was third in the world in absolute terms, and the fourth fastest-growing nation for military expenditure.
Instead of accepting the chancellor’s plan to cut the MOD budget by only 8%, we should call for an 80% cut in military spending. The proposed cuts are approximately £80 billion. Trident only costs £2bn per year. An 80% cut to the MOD would save nearly £30bn.
The truth, as US president Eisenhower once said, is: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
Campaigning for nuclear disarmament forms part of a broader campaign for peace. We can’t call for the money to go to both aircraft carriers and human services. To present conventional defence spending as the alternative to spending on Trident precluded prioritising spending on human needs over weapons.
We should be clear: spending on weapons in general eats up resources desperately needed by deprived communities and spending on human services creates more jobs than spending in the military sector. Surprisingly, defence equipment minister Quentin Davies MP acknowledged this in testimony to the parliamentary defence committee: “to use your money for maximum impact you need to spend it on goods and services which are labour-intensive rather than capital intensive in their manufacture so that the benefits flow through into pay packets rather than into rewards for providers of capital – banks and shareholders… This is not the case with defence; defence is capital-intensive rather than labour intensive.”
We should campaign for conversion of military industry generally. That way we will gain the support of public sector workers in health, education and social services and the unemployed.
Trident, Jobs and the UK Economy also concludes that “non-replacement of Trident would provide the opportunity for Britain to make a major contribution” to the crisis of climate change and advocates investment in the conversion of the Barrow shipyards for the production of wave and tidal power equipment.
But the CND report also recommends the yard be adapted to build deep-water drilling ships for oil exploration in the Arctic. Deepwater drilling has no part in a comprehensive solution to climate change.
To support pouring billions of pounds into the F-35 strike fighter, Astute submarines and two aircraft carriers, one of which now is to be mothballed upon completion, contradicts CND’s own aims: “to create genuine security for future generations.”
These weapons systems are designed to project UK power globally, while the Chinook and the armoured vehicles specified by the report as at risk are needed for the NATO war in Afghanistan.
In its conclusion the report courageously asserts: “We have the opportunity to stop the production of weapons of war”. Indeed we must. Let us therefore seize the opportunity presented by the cuts to promote conversion from military production to socially useful production. War starts here. Let’s stop it here.