December will mark the 25th anniversary of the Cold War’s final days. On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev resigned as the Soviet president and the red flag was lowered from the Kremlin. By New Years-eve all Soviet institutions had ceased to exist and the post-Cold War era began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, a rebalancing of global power and the rise of new and evolving threats. But twenty-five years later, in the hallowed halls of the Houses of Parliament, one Cold War relic remains as topical as ever.
Today, Parliament will spend seven hours debating the renewal of British nuclear capabilities. At a time when over a million people rely on emergency food parcels and hundreds of thousands of children exist in desolate poverty across the UK, MPs will take time to pass legislation that will pave the way for spending £100bn on technology that has long passed its sell-by-date.
I find myself within the minority of people opposed to ever taking part in a possible nuclear holocaust. I have always been baffled by those who cheer nuclear armageddon and whoop at the thought of a politician declaring their willingness to ever use such a weapon. I’m not one of those people who enthusiastically declared support for Owen Smith yesterday after he answered “yes” to whether he could ever incinerate hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children at the touch of a button.
It’s the jingoism that surrounds this issue that confuses me more than anything. At the end of the day we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, weapons that, if ever employed in a warfare setting, would lead to human extinction. Even if one believes the deterrent argument, why be so smug about it? Why, when asked “would you press the button?” do politicians not stress the magnitude of such a decision or answer truthfully with the fact that they would never actually press any button themselves? All we get is a “yes” or “well, I can’t say no”. And then everyone cheers as if the idea of Little England – now withdrawn from the rest of the world following its decision to abandon its European neighbours – firing the last nuke before we are all blown to pieces is something to celebrate.
Opposing this form of state-sponsored, global suicide program obviously means that you are unpatriotic. More important it is often seen as a policy that should be dumped by Jeremy Corbyn so as to win over Middle England. But is it not the most important issue of all? Our national security? It is an issue the Tories continue to play politics with, an issue the right of the Labour Party just doesn’t get and an issue that the left have been too shy to lead on.
This vote should be used to demonstrate that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is serious about addressing the threats we face in a modern world. Cold War technology is not the answer. A nuclear warhead did nothing to stop terrorists with nothing to live for attacking the World Trade Centre. A nuclear warhead did nothing to deter the horrific attack in Nice just days ago. While these events are obviously more complex than that, the point remains that warfare is no longer a case of officers in uniforms with rifles facing one another on a marked battlefield.
It’s time that we got real about our national security. Let’s not waste £100bn on a system we do not need and will never use. Let’s spend that money upgrading our intelligence services or investing in cutting-edge technology and equipment for the brave service men and women who spend everyday of their lives protecting us. I want defence policies that make us safer, not ones that fulfil political point scoring in an ever more distant and out-of-touch Westminster.