I got a letter from the government the other day.... It was in response to a petition I'd signed asking the UK government not to go ahead with the plans for a Trident replacement system. I don't know how many people signed the petition but it's probably rather more than the 69 people who have signed this one (at time of writing).
There are some bits I'd like to highlight
The e-petition asking the Prime Minister to "champion the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, by not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system" has now closed. This is an email response from the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, and the Defence Secretary, Des Browne.
Thank you for signing an e-petition on the 10 Downing Street website, in which you asked that the UK reconsider replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system, and instead champion the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
We believe the NPT continues to offer the best hope of achieving the goal we all share - a world free from nuclear weapons. But deciding to maintain our deterrent is completely consistent with the NPT, and will not stop us playing a leading role in international efforts on non-proliferation and disarmament.
It's nice that you want a nuclear free world. It would be even nicer if the Attorney General was prepared to publish the legal advice in which he states that building a new bomb is legal and in line with the NPT treaty. The last time I remember advice like this being kept from Parliament was just before the Iraq war. Given what happened there you'll forgive me for not being convinced on this point.
We know the British people want us to lead by example - we already do, and we intend to carry on doing so. Our weapons stockpile is the smallest of any recognised nuclear weapons state, less than 1% of the world total. We are the only recognised nuclear weapons state to have reduced our deterrent to a single submarine-based system. As part of the decision Parliament is voting on this week, we plan to reduce our stockpile even further - dismantling around 40 more warheads, or 20% of our remaining stockpile.
Right, so we only need 160 nuclear warheads. It's good to know that we'll be retaining enough nuclear capacity to end civilisation as we know it. It's that kind of restrained approach that makes it easy to convince other states to disarm.
We are leading the way on non-proliferation and disarmament. We led international efforts on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. We continue to work hard for the immediate start of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty. Kim Howells, Foreign Office Minister, recently attended the Geneva Conference on Disarmament to urge faster progress and re-energise multilateral negotiations.
That's all very nice, but wouldn't it be better and more consistent to, oh I don't know, not build a new bomb?
We realise that some would like us to go further than this. But it just isn't realistic to think that if we decided to let our deterrent lapse, or even completely disarm unilaterally tomorrow, this would make any difference to the efforts of countries like Iran and North Korea to acquire a nuclear capability. We believe in total nuclear disarmament - but multilateral rather than unilateral disarmament. We face an increasingly uncertain world. Given that we cannot expect others' nuclear weapons to disappear for the forseeable future, the question we face is: should we retain them, to deter others from using them against us? Are we prepared to tolerate a world in which countries like ours lay down their nuclear weapons first, leaving extremist or unstable countries to threaten the rest of the world or hold it to ransom?
Ah yes, the traditional nieve fantasists put down. Is our current nuclear capability deterring Iran and North Korea from building bombs - or is it encouraging them? Does the presence of nuclear weapons in places like the middle east engender stability or just raise the stakes? Given that you expect nuclear weapons to be around for the forseeable future your belief in multilateral disarmament is just a way of saying you plan to be nuclear armed forever. Isn't it?
Any decision involving nuclear weapons is a difficult one, with strong views on all sides. We respect these views and believe it is important to have a full debate. But, as we said in the White Paper, we believe the plans we are asking Parliament to endorse strike the right balance between our commitment to a world in which there is no place for nuclear weapons, and our responsibilities to protect the current and future citizens of the UK.
If you're determined to ignore us wouldn't it be more honest to just say so?