No to Trident
During a controversial debate in the Welsh Assembly Government on a Plaid Cymru motion to resist Trident in Wales and to discontinue the Trident project in favour of funding new jobs in Wales, Mark Drakeford, whilst supporting a Labour evasive amendment, made the following impassioned speech, clearly restating the view of many Labour Party members, CND campaigners, socialists and others in Wales. His opinions, if not the Welsh Labour leader’s, are, as he says, worth putting on record.
Let me begin by saying that I, too, will be supporting the Government amendment when voting takes place later this afternoon. It is a simple matter of fact that this Assembly has no decision-making responsibilities in relation either to the holding of nuclear weapons or their location. In that sense, the Plaid Cymru motion is no more than a statement of opinion, but that is not to say that opinions are not worth putting on record, and this afternoon I wish to do that for myself.
My views have remained the same over the whole time that I have been involved in political activity. Earlier this afternoon, we held an excellent debate on votes at 16. By the time that I was 16, I was passionately opposed to the UK’s holding of nuclear weapons. Today, I remain entirely opposed to the retention or the replacement of Trident missiles. They are, according to General Lord David Ramsbotham, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Sir Hugh Beach and others, massively expensive and irrelevant to Britain’s defence needs, and to use the term that they used in their letter to The Times newspaper, ‘completely useless as a deterrent’, and quite certainly not in any meaningful sense, independent.
Trident missiles are, however, and more importantly, weapons whose impact on this planet and those who inhabit it would be so profoundly destructive that the debate about them cannot be conducted simply on the basis of their usefulness or in a military context. The debate about weapons whose use is inherently, unavoidably and deliberately causing the death of millions of people is equally inescapably and profoundly a moral debate: a debate about what any one of us would be prepared to see happen in our own names.
Documents released recently by the National Archives show exactly those debates being held at the time that the Trident system was being commissioned at the start of the 1980s. It shows senior civil servants at the MOD advising Ministers that the Trident system would have to be maintained at a ‘threshold of horror’ where its missiles could cause at least the death of 10 million people, and that, in a nuclear war where Ministers were told that they would have to be prepared to finish what they had started.
While I will be supporting the Government amendment this afternoon, I align myself with those thousands and thousands of people within my party and beyond who call now, today, for a decision to decommission Trident and to make it clear that it will not be replaced. In doing that I find myself in some strange company, because as the papers of Sir John Nott, the Conservative Secretary of State for Defence at the time, makes clear, I would be on the same side as two thirds of the members of Mrs Thatcher’s Cabinet, who in 1981 were opposed to acquiring Trident in the first place.
Once we succeed in winning that argument, we need not rehearse the entirely theoretical argument about where such weapons might be sited. I am utterly opposed to the notion that Wales might be a home for nuclear weapons. We do not know the full destructive potential of the Trident system, because it is shrouded in secrecy, and deliberately so. However, let me take a very conservative estimate: a single atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima killed 240,000 people from blast and radiation. Each of the four Trident submarines, let us say, carries eight missiles; each missile has five warheads; each warhead has eight times the explosive power of that single Hiroshima bomb. Just one submarine, then, has the capacity to wipe off the face of the earth a population many times that of the whole of Wales.
We know now that the prospect of such weapons being located in Wales is not a real one, and I say, let us all be profoundly grateful for that. This is the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of that great Welsh figure, Henry Richard. He was born in Tregaron and was the secretary of the Peace Society, the first editor of the Morning Star, the Member of Parliament for that great radical borough of Merthyr, and known in Wales as ‘yr apostol heddwch’, the apostle of peace, and across the world as the member for Wales. The inscription on his statue in Tregaron sums up his conclusion from a lifetime of arguing for peace, for the substitution of arbitration and negotiation in place of war, and for the voice of the ordinary citizen or soldier to be amplified in the place of Prime Ministers or generals. Here is what it says:
‘My hope for the abatement of the war system lies in permanent conviction of the people, rather than the policies of cabinets or the discussions of parliaments’.
It is in mobilising that great popular revulsion against the human cost of war, rather than passing resolutions here, that the defeat of Trident will be secured and sustained.