Nuclear bomb US nuclear test as part of Operation Castle, 1954. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapons are incompatible with socialist politics, argues Hilary Stephenson

The moment Jeremy Corbyn threw his hat in the ring for the Labour leadership in 2015, we began to hear a question repeated over and over: Mr Corbyn, would you press the nuclear button?

Corbyn said he wouldn’t. It seemed to outrage every journalist who posed the question. The question became a hobbyhorse in the media and in Westminster, even though it didn’t reflect public priorities or even attitudes.

Corbyn was asked the question again in the 2017 general election. Again he said no, and Labour achieved its biggest swing since 1945.

Just a few weeks ago, The Times newspaper asked whether Corbyn’s views on nuclear weapons would be a decisive issue in the 2019 general election. They realised it wouldn’t when polling data showed only a minority thought the Prime Minister should be prepared to use nuclear weapons. Polls also showed falling support for Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.

But Corbyn didn’t say no because he thought it would be popular with the public – which it is. He said no because he’s a socialist.

As socialists, we are committed to building a shared international community beyond national boundaries, in which co-operation and peace can be fostered, rather than permanent war, division and rampant inequality.

Nuclear weapons are completely incompatible with that vision.

Being prepared to use nuclear weapons means being prepared to commit genocide.

If a single megaton nuclear bomb dropped on a city like London, a million people would be instantly killed. 2.5 million people would be injured, maimed and burned. Many would die from radioactive fallout and environmental effects, which would inflict damage over a period ranging from hours to years. And that’s just one nuclear bomb.

Firing one nuclear weapon would immediately trigger a massive nuclear response from the other nuclear states. The US and Russia have thousands of nuclear missiles on hair-trigger alert. A nuclear war would end the lives of hundreds of millions and lead to environmental catastrophe.

One study depicted a scenario in which 100 of the world’s 13,865 nuclear warheads were used: it estimated that 2 billion people would be killed. As a Soviet doctor once said, ‘the living will envy the dead’.

Nuclear weapons aren’t about defence and security. Everyone from British army generals to Tony Blair admit that; Blair said in his autobiography they were essentially a status symbol.

As socialists we ask questions like: why, when thousands are sleeping rough on the streets, are we spending over £205 billion pounds to replace a status symbol – Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system – rather than addressing the social crises that surround us?

Nuclear weapons symbolise everything that’s wrong with the capitalist system – its upside-down priorities, its irrationalism, its waste, and its fundamentally anti-social and inhumane values.

That’s why socialists say: we will never press the nuclear button – scrap Trident now.