Trident and the “Faslane 365” Protest

Trident and its replacement - Nuclear Weapons

In December, the government introduced a White Paper recommending the replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system. The Trident system, which is a submarine launched, nuclear armed, ballistic missile system, is due to end its operational life in about 2025. The new system would, we are told, last to the 2050’s.

The Trident system consists of three parts, nuclear powered submarines, Trident rockets, and nuclear warheads carried by the rockets. The submarines and the nuclear bombs are made in the UK. However, the Trident missile and the arming, fusing and detonating systems for the bombs are made in the USA. The US has supplied key elements of Trident under the 1958 UK/US “Mutual Defence Agreement”. In 2004, the Labour government extended the period during which the US would share nuclear technology with the UK to 2014. In reality, the Trident system is so dependent on the US that it can be considered as an extension of the US submarine launched missile system, and it is virtually impossible for it to be used without US approval. The US is itself upgrading its own Trident systems and, under these circumstances, it is the US which is setting the agenda. If the UK wants to replace Trident it has to join the US programme of redevelopment and improvement of Trident, and, since the replacement programme will take about two decades, the decision has to be taken soon. The introduction of the White Paper makes the decision to proceed with the next generation of Trident a mere formality. In fact, some of the work required for the programme, such as the refurbishment and extension of the atomic weapons station at Aldermaston, has already been started. The new facilities at Aldermaston include a massive laser development which will allow the UK to design, test and build the next generation of nuclear weapons. The cost of the Trident replacement is estimated at being approximately £25 bn while the annual cost of running the system will amount to £1.8 bn. The full cost during the life of the system would be approximately £80bn. (1)

Britain’s Trident system consists of four nuclear submarines, each armed with 16 missiles with nuclear warheads. Each warhead consists of a bomb equivalent to 100 kilotonnes of TNT, or equivalent to eight times the destructive power of the bomb dropped by the US on Hiroshima in August 1945. The Hiroshima bomb killed 140 000 people, hence, if these weapons were targeted in the same way as the US targeted the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, they could kill about 50 million people. The weapons were designed for use against a nuclear-armed enemy, namely the Soviet Union, and assume retaliation on a similar scale. They would result in what was called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). With the collapse of the Russian bloc in 1991, we were told that the victory of liberal market capitalism over state capitalism, which is always incorrectly referred to as communism, was opening up a glorious new world order, where major conflicts were no longer possible. In fact, we were told, this victory signalled the “end of history” (2), because liberal democracy and its values had definitely triumphed worldwide. Certainly, the bad old days of Mutually Assured Destruction had become relics of the past. These weapons should therefore no longer be necessary. What has happened to the “brave new world” we were promised that makes it necessary to renew these weapons?

The replacement of Trident is also a clear violation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) of 1970, which the UK has signed, since the Treaty requires under article 6 that

Each of the parties to the treaty undertakes... to pursue... nuclear disarmament.

The NNPT, we should not forget, is the very treaty the UK and US are using to justify the threats they hurl at other countries, such as Iran, who even think of developing nuclear technology. What has become of the “rule of international law” and “international obligations”, our leaders are so quick to mention when they want to attack or invade other countries?

Faslane 365

The Labour government’s decision to replace Trident is in continuity with the Labour Party’s historical role as the defender of the interests of British capitalism. Labour’s record speaks for itself. Both World Wars were prosecuted with the full support of the Labour Party, it was the Labour government which developed the British atomic bomb in the early 1950’s and the present government has taken the country into four wars in the interests of British imperialism. The 2005 election manifesto stated Trident would be replaced and it has been clear, even before the present White Paper, that the Labour government would decide to replace Trident. This has let to protests by anti-nuclear groups and peace groups against the Trident replacement.

One group, “Faslane 365”, has mounted a blockade of the Faslane naval base where the nuclear submarine fleet is based. It aims to keep up a permanent blockade for the year from 1st October 2006 to 30th September 2007. These protests are in continuity with the peace vigils mounted outside Greenham Common, Aldermaston nuclear facility and elsewhere. The political content of the protest will be discussed further below. However, we think it is relevant to note, at this point, how the state is dealing with the Faslane protest. So far, there have been 473 (3) arrests and only four prosecutions. In early January, a number of MPs from parties such as the Scottish Socialist Party, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party joined the protest and got themselves arrested. Most of those arrested, though not the MPs, are kept in police cells for 24 hours and released without charge. The arrests are obviously to disrupt the blockade: however, the failure to bring charges shows the police acting on orders from their political masters. Because of the illegality of replacing Trident, the state does not want the issue highlighted through a series of court cases, particularly high profile ones. However, these detentions without charge represent an abuse of UK law. To arrest protesters the police must have reasonable grounds for suspecting an offence has been committed, and they should only hold the suspect in detention if there is a possibility that he or she will abscond. The time which they can hold a suspect between arrest and charge is a period for the police to gather further evidence to bring a charge. In these cases there is clearly no further evidence which could be gathered. Since, in most cases, the charge could only be obstruction, there is no reason why protesters should not be charged and released. This, however, would ensure a court appearance and allow the protest to continue, both of which our rulers do not want.

It is clear that the global capitalist system has failed to bring us the glorious era of peace which we were promised after the collapse of the Russian bloc and our leaders are continuing to prepare for war. Not only are the capitalist class and their political representatives are quite prepared to violate international law in order to refurbish their nuclear arsenals, they are also prepared to violate national law in order to stifle any protests against their plans. Why is this?

Capitalism generates war

Capitalism has an inherent drive towards war which springs from its internal contradictions and its inherent instability. Capitalism suffers from a tendency for profit rates to fall as living labour is replaced by machines and the productivity of labour is increased. (4)

If left unchecked, this process leads to a breakdown of capital accumulation as profits become too small to fund reinvestment. A breakdown of capital accumulation leads to a breakdown of economic activity and economic crisis. This tendency towards reduced profitability is experienced by capitalists as increasingly savage competition in which the weaker capitals are bankrupted. In situations of economic crisis, when this occurs on a large scale, capitalists turn to their nation states, and demand that they take measures to protect their capitals from ruin.

The state, usually attempts to protect the national capitals by protectionist trade measures. Measures, such as protective tariffs, subsidies, state contracts, currency manipulations and attacks on the competition through anti-dumping cases and so on, are introduced. These measures amount to what are called “Trade Wars”, and are nothing less than the precursors of shooting wars. The shooting wars represent a further stage of desperation of capitalists in their attempts to protect the value of their capitals by securing the profits which they must have for reinvestment. Though capitalism’s wars vary in scale their aims of protecting capital values and increasing profit rates remain the same. In limited wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, the belligerent powers aim to gain an advantage over their rivals by gaining control of strategic raw materials. (5)

Control of these raw materials would enable the US to lower its costs of production and allow them to siphon off profits from their rivals and thereby accruing a greater mass of profits. A similar result is achieved by gaining control of trade routes, such as shipping routes or, today, pipeline routes. Britain, for example, went to war to retain control of the Suez Canal 50 years ago, and more recently one of the key motives for the Afghan war was to secure a route for a gas pipeline through Afghan territory from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean. Such limited wars remain imperialist wars in which the main capitalist rival states confront one another indirectly through second parties or proxy forces. The more serious wars are those launched by capitalist states directly against their economic rivals. These are aimed at totally wiping out the capital values of their rivals and eliminating competition from them once and for all. The First and Second World Wars were wars of this type. The real aims of the wars, as opposed to what the leaders claimed they were fighting for, are shown in the policies imposed by the victors to the vanquished, the clearest example of this were the peace treaties following the First World War.

The forces generating wars are located in the capitalist economy, and are produced by the contradictions of the capitalist system itself. Wars do not appear like lightening bolts from a blue sky or as aberrations to an otherwise healthy system of production. They are expressions of the real nature of the capitalist system, results of its relentless drive towards war. The drive to war creates a permanent need for armaments and a drive to develop more destructive and sophisticated weapons than one’s rivals.

CND and the peace brigade

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and their allies in the peace movement, wish to abolish nuclear weapons. They argue that the destructive power of these weapons makes them immoral, that their use would be militarily useless and that it would violate international law and therefore be illegal. They further argue that the enormous sums of money required to produce and maintain a nuclear weapons system could be better spent on education, housing, etc. The CND aims to convince the government of these arguments with the aim that, once this has been done, the government will scrap the British nuclear weapons.

Underlying all this is the assumption that these weapons represent a mistaken “policy” of the ruling class. Once this mistake has been rectified all will be well and the system of capitalist production can continue happily as it did before Hiroshima. The CND is not against weapons or war in general. It considers that the interests of Britain can be protected with conventional weapons. The CND did not, for example, oppose the Falklands war, where Britain was fighting a war against Argentina, with conventional weapons (see article in this edition). The CND thinks that the military policy of the capitalist class should be made more moral and more sensible: it has no critique of the imperialist nature of wars. The CND and their allies, therefore, start from the assumption that there is nothing wrong with the capitalist system of production and that all that is needed is for its military policy to be reconsidered. Even if we were to accept that the main arguments in all this were true, which they are not, the CND still has to explain why it is that the capitalist class pursues policies which are useless and a waste of money?

No serious explanation of this has ever been put forward by CND. If any explanation is presented it is that political leaders are immoral and are warmongers who impose bad policies on political parties. Such an argument mistakes the effect for the cause and is completely incorrect.

As we have explained above, it is the capitalist system which generates the drive towards war not the mistaken policies of leaders or parties. It is this drive to war which is continually being expressed by political leaders thrown up by the capitalist class. Although, leaders such as Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt and their modern day sycophants, like Bush and Blair, are warmongers, this is not the reason that wars are started. It is, on the contrary, because capitalism requires war that the capitalist class finds leaders who are prepared to start wars. The capitalist class produces the type of leaders it needs to carry out its policies. The fact that these leaders are warmongers, are dishonest, and are liars and hypocrites only shows that these are the sort qualities the capitalist class needs in their leaders.

The CND’s idea that the capitalist class could be persuaded to disarm shows a complete misunderstanding of the real causes of war. It is the political equivalent of trying to convince a shark to become a vegetarian by appealing to its sense of morality. The digestive system of the animal requires meat and no amount of argument will change this. If a political party were to support unilateral disarmament, it would simply be rejected by the capitalist class. This is precisely what happened in the early 1980’s when the Labour Party did actually adopt the CND’s programme. In 1982, when Michael Foot, himself a member of CND, was leader of the labour party, the party adopted unilateral disarmament as its policy. This was despite the fact that nuclear weapons would remain in the hands of their enemies in the Russian bloc. Labour historians characterised this policy as equivalent to political suicide. The party was confined to opposition for a decade and a half and was only able to return to power after this policy was reversed by “New Labour.” This illustrates the reluctance of the capitalist class to give up their weapons when faced with an identifiable threat before the collapse of the Russian bloc. The fact that our leaders have decided to retain Trident today, when there is no immediate threat, shows more clearly than ever how they intend to remained armed to the teeth in all circumstances. The only circumstance in which the capitalist class would give up its most barbaric weapons would be one in which a more deadly or effective weapon had been developed.

The CND and their allies stand completely within the political terrain of capitalism and are therefore quite unable to understand that the only way to break the cycle of wars and armaments is to remove the forces which cause these things, namely to end capitalism. By pretending that this is not necessary, the CND actually plays a reactionary role by presenting false solutions to the problems we face. Those who might otherwise turn their hands to the fight to replace capitalism have their energies dissipated in the never ending and hopeless struggles to reform the bits of the system, in this case defence policy.

Capitalism must be destroyed

The 20th century was the most bloody century in the history of the human race, with the deaths through war numbered in hundreds of millions. The wars of the last century expressed the inherent drive of the capitalist system to imperialism and the tendency to attempt to resolve its economic problems by force of arms. The 21st century has started with a series of wars in the Middle East and Africa which show the processes generating the wars of the last century continue without any fundamental change. Capitalism is dragging humanity into a vortex of wars which are leading towards a third World War. How can such a catastrophe be avoided?

The primary issue which needs to be understood is why these wars are fought. The nature of the weapons with which they are fought, is a secondary issue. As we have argued above the forces producing wars are generated within the capitalist economy and will continue to operate as long as capitalism remains the global system of production. The only real fight against war is therefore the fight against capitalism. Capitalism needs to be replaced with a higher order of society, in which classes are abolished and production is for need. This is literally the only way catastrophe can be avoided and represents the only hope for the future of humanity. Today the task of building the tools, both theoretical and practical, for undertaking this revolution is more vital than ever.


(1) See . Dr Stewart Parkinson (Scientists for Global Responsibility).

(2) See essay by US ideologue Francis Fukuyama, 1989, “The end of history.” Fukuyama imagined liberal democracy was the highest form of social organisation devised by mankind and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc signalled its worldwide acceptance. As a bourgeois thinker, he starts from the view that the capitalist system is eternal and hence, the system of classes in capitalism is also immutable. He fails to understand that the political superstructure of liberal democracy rests on a capitalist infrastructure of production and the class system developed by capitalism. His views appear as a parody of Marx’s view that the ending of class society would represent the ending of mankind’s prehistory and classless society, namely communism, would represent the starting point of mankind’s true history.

(3) This figure is changing daily. See .

(4) For a fuller explanation of this tendency and the drive towards war see “The Role of War in Capitalism’s Decadent Phase” in Revolutionary Perspectives 37.

(5) For the US, a further concern is ensuring that raw materials are traded in its currency, so that this remains the global currency. The fact that this currency is backed by nothing and that the US controls the issuing of it gives the US an unearned source of income. See the article on Lebanon in this issue for an expansion of this theme

Revolutionary Perspectives

Journal of the Communist Workers’ Organisation -- Why not subscribe to get the articles whilst they are still current and help the struggle for a society free from exploitation, war and misery? Joint subscriptions to Revolutionary Perspectives (3 issues) and Aurora (our agitational bulletin - 4 issues) are £15 in the UK, €24 in Europe and $30 in the rest of the World.