London, UK — Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in central London on Saturday for the largest anti-nuclear march in decades. The Stop Trident march began at Marble Arch and finished at Trafalgar Square, with a range of speakers criticising the government’s plans to renew Britain’s nuclear submarine program.
A relic of the Cold War, Trident began under the “Polaris” system in the 1960s and was the U.K.’s contribution to NATO’s nuclear deterrent strategy against the Soviet Union. Under Polaris, at least one submarine with nuclear capabilities was on patrol at all times, ready to launch a counter-strike should Britain come under nuclear attack. Throughout the decades, since 1969, at least one submarine has patrolled U.K. borders.
The British government boasts:
“Our retention of an independent centre of nuclear decision making makes clear to any adversary that the costs of an attack on U.K. vital interests will outweigh any benefits.”
With the decision as to whether to replace the system imminent — and MPs set to vote later this year — campaigners are adamant that the cost of renewing the extremely costly system during strict austerity measures just doesn’t add up. According to the defense ministry, four replacement submarines will cost £31 billion to build, test, and commission over 35 years.
Demonstrators carried placards on Saturday that read, “Books, Not Bombs,” and “NHS, Not Trident” in sentiments echoed by Labour leader and veteran anti-war campaigner, Jeremy Corbyn, who told the crowd:
“If a nuclear war took place, there would be mass destruction on both sides of the conflict. We live in a world where so many things are possible. Where peace is possible in so many places. You don’t achieve peace by planning for war and not respecting human rights.”
He added:“Today’s demonstration is an expression of many opinions and views. I’m here because I believe in a nuclear-free Britain and a nuclear-free future.”
Carol Turner, writing for campaign group Stop The War, claims Britain’s nuclear weapon simply doesn’t protect Britain from threats to its security.
She points to the government’s own National Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) 2015, which lists a nuclear attack as a Tier 2 threat and not one of the short-term dangers facing Britain, but one of seven potential long term threats.
With terrorism and cyber-attacks high on both lists — alongside overseas instability in the Middle East and North Africa — three other threats were public health epidemics, natural disasters, and activities by transnational criminal organisations and terrorist groups, including human traffickers. In the case of the seventh threat from weapons of mass destruction, the NSRA considers chemical and biological attacks against Britain or U.K. military forces to be the more likely scenarios.
Rightly questioning what good Trident would be in any of the above situations, Turner was frank:
“Indeed, experts are beginning to worry about threats to Trident – possibilities such as a cyber-attack which takes it out of operation, or underwater drones becoming capable of detecting its ‘silent’ submarines.
“Truth out: Trident is a billion-pound anachronism. If we didn’t replace it, the government would have funds to invest in productive ventures like house building and improvements to our road and rail networks – activities that would help grow the economy and generate more resources for health, education and social spending. And, of course, more cash to spare for actual threats to human security.”
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