On Thursday I went to a public debate in Birmingham University, on whether or not Britain should renew the Trident nuclear weapons system. I already knew the motion, and had established that — given the opportunity which exists in debates of this type for audience members to make a three minute speech — I would speak in favour of Trident’s renewal; not because that is my unvarnished opinion, more that that would be a more fun and more useful view to vent.
So I sat at the very front of what the arts faculty poetically call the ‘Large Lecture Theatre’, and eyed the panel, two Tories, Andrew Robathan and Mark Garnier, of whom the former is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence and Minister for Veterans; the proposition. In opposition to the renewal of trident were John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat and Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
When Hudson stood to make her speech in response to what Andrew Robathan said and to put across her own thoughts and those of her organisation, she spoke with a calm firmness, with control and temperance but not without passion. She wore a black suit and a red scarf, had hair cut short and hiking boots were visible where her trousers ended. As she progressed through her arguments I could feel her, case by case, report by report and moral construct by moral construct, dismantling my argument so that by the time she was finished, I felt ashamed about planning to say what I was going to say, even though it was not my opinion.
This is not to say that there were no places in the debate where she was subjected to superior logic, this, I might add, originated to the greatest extent from students of the university rather than from her official opponents. Nevertheless, when she speaks and as a person who is about to present arguments against hers, I got the impression that it would be better if I went home.
After the debate, I asked the General Secretary whether she would do an interview with me, she assented and walked to a quieter place in the room.
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Oliver Cox: First of all — you made a lovely speech by the way — what do you think is the biggest threat to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation at the moment?
Kate Hudson: I think that the biggest threat to the cause of nuclear non-proliferation is the failure of the nuclear weapons states to abide by their obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
In 1970, the five nuclear weapon states of the time signed up to disarm their weapons; the deal at the time was that they would give up their nuclear weapons and in exchange, the countries that didn’t have them, wouldn’t get them — there were to sides to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty: disarmament and non-proliferation. And for forty years we have had a situation where the existing nuclear weapon states haven’t given up their nuclear weapons, yet they have continued to expect countries without them not to get them.
We’ve had a situation where a number of states have got them, in other words, Israel, India and Pakistan, maybe North Korea has got some version, a nuclear bomb or something like that, maybe Iran is on the way to getting them. The reality is that most countries haven’t got them, and most countries stuck by the agreement. If we have a situation where the countries which have them don’t give them up, and they continue to say that they need them for their security, then the reality is that more and more countries will say: ‘We need them too.’. So in my opinion, it is the failure of the existing nuclear weapons states to disarm which is the biggest threat which we face.
OMC: Thank you, and just one more very quick question because I don’t want you to miss your train; what political ethos do you think world leaders should take to forward this cause?
KH: I think that, for example, the initiative by President Medvedev, talking about the need for the need for global disarmament and working together with President Obama to get over certain obstacles in order to begin the reduction process.
I think that that is a big step forward, maybe you need a process of ‘bit by bit’ reducing all the arsenals, I think that that is part of the process so that other countries can see that there is an end to nuclear hypocrisy, and that in good faith, countries with nuclear weapons are beginning to engage in the disarmament process. I think that you have to have good faith, to build trust on a global level. I think that if you start to do that, you will get people to sign up to something like an international convention to ban all nuclear weapons. But while people see hypocrisy and double standards about the possession of nuclear weapons, it’s going to be very difficult to move to a nuclear-free world.
OMC: Thank you very much.
KH: You’re very welcome.
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The nuclear argument is a potentially very difficult one, because each side on the debate can quite feasibly and sensibly accuse the other side of engaging in behavior which threatens lives and can claim to be working to save lives themselves. This is due to the centrality of the ‘deterrent’ idea, that maintaining a certain weapons system can avoid conflict and death — a perfect contradiction. I think, nevertheless, that on both sides of the argument there is a conflation of logic and emotion, which is very unproductive. The second speaker on the proposition, Mark Garnier, framed his speech with an expression of his desire to keep his children (who he named, listing their ages) safe; we had his Ignoratio elenchi before he began his arguments!