‘Nukes didn’t help USA on 9/11’: Corbyn rules out ever firing Trident
Speaking to reporters at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on Tuesday afternoon, Corbyn said the problems facing the world are not large scale wars but “random acts of terrorism.”
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Corbyn told the BBC Radio 4 Today program he would never fire nuclear weapons if he became prime minister. He said he had a mandate from his landslide election to oppose the replacement of Trident.
Corbyn has already drawn strong criticism from members of his shadow cabinet, the majority of whom back renewing Britain’s nuclear weapons system when Parliament votes on the issue next year.
Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said it would be “difficult” for him to remain in the shadow cabinet if the party decides to back the scrapping of Trident.
Corbyn's comments were criticized by his own Shadow Defence Secretary Maria Eagle, who said they undermined “our attempts to try and get a policy process going.”
“Nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction that take out millions of civilians. They didn’t do the USA much good on 9/11,” Corbyn told reporters.
“The problems in this world are not huge wars in that way, the problems are much more fairly random acts of terrorism.”
During an interview with BBC Radio 4, Corbyn was asked if he would use nuclear weapons. He replied: “No.”
His comments mark the first time the Labour leader has explicitly rejected the use of nuclear weapons if he were prime minister, prompting some pundits to describe his stance as “effective disarmament.”
Corbyn's most significant answer: he would never use nuclear weapons. Effective disarmament even if Trident retained. #r4today— George Eaton (@georgeeaton) September 30, 2015
Upon assuming office all British PMs must write a “letter of last resort” detailing instructions to be given to the captains of Trident submarines in the event of a nuclear attack on the UK.
The PMs are given four options: retaliate with nukes, do not retaliate, let the submarine commander act on his own, or place the boat under the control of an ally.
The letter is sealed and kept inside a safe within the submarine – so far the instructions have never been opened. Corbyn’s refusal to use nuclear weapons means that he would opt for no retaliation in the event of an attack.
During the BBC interview, Corbyn reiterated his opposition to renewing Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.
“I do not think we should be renewing Trident. I think we should be fulfilling our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We should be promoting an international nuclear weapons convention which would lead to a nuclear free world and I do not believe therefore that we should be spending £100 billion on renewing Trident,” he said.
“I think instead (that is taking up a quarter of the defense budget by the way), there are many in the military that don’t want Trident too because they see it as an obsolete thing that they don’t need.”
Corbyn has pledged to spend the money set aside for Trident on conventional weapons and to invest in skilled jobs for workers currently tied up on nuclear weapons systems.
The Labour leader said there are five declared nuclear weapons states (Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France and China) and three undeclared states (Israel, India and Pakistan).
“That is eight countries out of 192. So 187 countries don’t feel the need to have a nuclear weapon to protect their security. Why should the other five need it themselves? We are not in the era of the Cold War anymore. It finished a long time ago.”
The Labour leader has long been known for his strong anti-nuclear weapons stance – he is a leading member of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and acts as chair of the Stop the War Coalition until September.
However, Labour’s shadow cabinet is largely in favor of renewing Trident, something Corbyn said he is well aware of.
Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system is operated by the Royal Navy from four Vanguard-class submarines, one of which is based at sea 24/7.
Although Trident is often described as a “British independent nuclear deterrent,” in reality the United States make the missiles, maintain them and provide the satellite intelligence required to target them.
Many observers also speculate the UK would not be allowed to fire Trident without permission from Washington.