Plans by the Royal Navy to celebrate 50 years of British nuclear weapons at sea are “horrifying” and should be abandoned, say peace campaigners.
This year marks half a century since the Ministry of Defence began nuclear deterrent patrols by submarines armed with nuclear weapons.
The UK government is planning several events to mark the juncture, including services at Westminster Abbey and Edinburgh Castle. But critics say the use of weapons of mass destruction would result in the “indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people” and should not be celebrated.
Since April 1969 the Royal Navy has always had one ballistic missile submarine on patrol at any one time. This is known as the continuous-at-sea deterrent (CASD) or Operation Relentless, and is the longest ever carried out by the UK’s armed forces.
The CASD originally came from the submarine-based Polaris system but is now provided by four Vanguard-class submarines carrying Trident missiles. The submarines are based at Faslane naval base on Gare Loch, near Helensburgh.
In a debate at Westminster last week on the “50th anniversary of the continuous at sea deterrent”, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Defence, said that next month there will be service at Westminster Abbey “recognising the commitment of our submariners”.
He also said that two events are planned for Scotland. In July, there will be a parade at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, followed by a “special memorial commemoration” at Edinburgh Castle at the end of November.
“It is important that we pay our thanks to those who have served on the submarines, to families, and to the whole industry,” added Williamson during the debate.
However, critics of nuclear weapons and the arms industry have responded angrily with one group calling for the service at Edinburgh Castle to be cancelled.
Arthur West, chair of Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), said that the decision to have a service to celebrate “weapons of mass destruction is frankly horrifying”.
He added: “Nuclear weapons have the capacity to kill millions of people and cause devastating damage to the environment. Our friends in the Christian CND network are gathering signatures to call for this service to be cancelled and this is an initiative we are strongly supporting.”
Sam Perlo Freeman, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, also expressed concern. “Nuclear weapons are nothing to give thanks for. They are weapons of mass destruction whose use would mean the indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people,” he said.
“Their use would be utterly immoral and illegal in any conceivable circumstances. The phrase ‘continuous at-sea deterrent’, which the events at Westminster Abbey, Edinburgh Castle and the Clyde are celebrating, is a fancy euphemism for an ongoing threat to commit such slaughter.”
The first of the four Vanguard submarines became operational from 1992. They are due to continue serving until the 2030s and carry the Trident nuclear-armed missile system.
In a vote in July 2016, the House of Commons approved the decision to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent beyond the early 2030s. The Vanguard-class submarines will be replaced by the new Dreadnought-class.
The first is expected to enter service in the early 2030s and have a service life of at least 30 years. Three of the four Dreadnought submarines have been named – Dreadnought, Valiant and Warspite.
The cost of the design and manufacture of a class of four submarines has been estimated at £31 billion. A £10 billion contingency has also been set aside.
The Royal Navy formally assumed responsibility for the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent in June 1969 from the RAF’s V-force. The deterrent has been solely submarine-based since the withdrawal of the RAF’s WE-177 free-fall bombs in the late 1990s.
A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “The events marking the 50 years of the continuous at sea deterrent will recognise the commitment of the Royal Navy to effective peace-keeping over the past fifty years.”
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the service at Westminster Abbey would take place on 3 May 2019 but a spokeswoman declined to give dates for the events in Scotland.
Photo thanks to the Ministry of Defence.