Disarmament, defence diversification and a Green New Deal

This is an extract from our report “Nuclear Weapons, the Climate and Our Environment”.

The UK must rapidly transition to a low-carbon economy if we are to play our part in limiting further global heating. This transition will require radical changes to the way that we generate power, build our homes, produce food and how we travel. The transition must be just, that is, it must not exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities and those who work in unsustainable industries must be supported into alternative employment.

A Green New Deal could deliver a Just Transition by providing a massive programme of public investment in renewable energy, green technologies and the development of sustainable practices. The aim would be to reduce carbon emissions and address other environmental threats, while creating quality jobs and tackling inequalities.

The production of nuclear weapons is energy intensive and generates vast amounts of toxic waste (see section 3.1). The British arms industry as a whole is a major greenhouse gas emitter and thus contributes to global heating.[1] Moreover, British arms exports fuel conflict and human rights abuses – bombs made in Scotland have been linked to alleged war crimes.[2] Conflict impacts the natural environment in multiple ways[3] and has been a key driver of species decline in protected areas.[4]

Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland therefore argues that any Scottish or UK Green New Deal must include a shift away from military production towards sustainable and socially useful production (often called “defence diversification” or “arms conversion”). Scrapping the costly Trident renewal programme would be an obvious place to start, as some of the money spent on nuclear weapons could be reallocated towards Green New Deal measures.

A Scottish Defence Diversification Agency

Scotland’s SNP government supports the abolition of Trident but it is yet to get behind defence diversification in a meaningful way.[5] If Scotland becomes independent from the rest of the UK, the Scottish government plans to evict Trident and retain Faslane as a conventional military base.[6] Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland believes that any decision about the future of the base should be taken as part of a reappraisal of Scotland’s defence needs within a human security framework; a military base is not the only option.

Several studies have shown how the skills currently employed on military projects in the Clyde region could be transferred to socially beneficial industries. A 2007 report by the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Scottish CND found that the manufacturing and research skills employed on Trident could be applied to the development of renewable energy technologies.[7] A 2015 study by Campaign Against Arms Trade found that the Clyde region could be a centre for marine renewable industries. [8] There are 6,000 arms industry workers in the region, including 2,250 at the Faslane nuclear submarine base. Among them are civil, marine, structural and mechanical engineers, as well as project managers, welders and divers, whose skills could be transferred to the wave and tidal power sectors.

The transition away from military production should be achieved as part of a process of industrial democratisation, whereby workers and communities would be given control over what is produced. This is the approach that the joint shop stewards committee at Lucas Aerospace, a major British military contractor, took in 1976. Faced with the prospect of job losses, the committee produced an “Alternative Corporate Plan” that detailed how the company could produce wind turbines, hybrid car engines, kidney dialysis machines and other products.[9] Lucas management rejected the plan but it continues to be recognised as a landmark defence diversification initiative.

The climate crisis has given new impetus to these ideas. In 2014, the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) passed a conference resolution that called on the Scottish government to establish a Defence Diversification Agency, “whose main focus will be planning and resourcing the diversification of jobs away from defence projects, such as Trident, and promoting the greening of the Scottish economy”.[10] This resolution was reaffirmed at the 2019 Congress.[11] The STUC and the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have produced a joint report that outlines the role that the agency would play in conjunction with trade unions, community representatives and other state bodies, and the measures that would be required to avoid detrimental consequences for workers and communities during the transition.[12]

At the UK level, major trade unions, Unite and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), support defence diversification. In 2017, the British Trades Union Congress passed a motion calling for the Labour Party to establish a shadow Defence Diversification Agency.[13]

[1] S Parkinson, “The environmental impacts of the UK military sector” (Scientists for Global Responsibility, May 2020): https://www.sgr.org.uk/publications/environmental-impacts-uk-military-sector.

[2] See eg B Briggs, “Raytheon’s smart bombs linked to more alleged war crimes in Yemen” (The Ferret, 12 March 2019): https://theferret.scot/raytheon-paveway-missiles-war-crimes-yemen/.

[3] For a summary, see Conflict and Environment Observatory, “How does war damage the environment?” (4 June 2020): https://ceobs.org/how-does-war-damage-the-environment/.

[4] J Daskin and R Pringle, “Warfare and wildlife declines in Africa’s protected areas” (10 January 2018) Nature 553328–332 (2018): https://doi.org/10.1038/nature25194.

[5] See eg L Pearson, “If the Scottish Government are serious about defence diversification they have to prove it” (CommonSpace, 20 February 2019): https://sourcenews.scot/linda-pearson-if-the-scottish-government-are-serious-about-defence-diversification-they-have-to-prove-it/.

[6] Defence policy is reserved to Westminster so the Scottish government does not currently have the power to remove Trident.

[7] “Cancelling Trident: the economic and employment consequences for Scotland” (Report Commissioned by the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, March 2007).

[8] T Jones, “Arms industry in the Clyde and renewable energy options” (CAAT, November 2015): https://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/arms-to-renewables/clyde-case-study.pdf.

[9] “Corporate plan – A contingency strategy as a positive alternative to recession and redundancies” (Lucas Aerospace Combine Shop Steward Committee, 1976) https://www.dropbox.com/s/o2sqxvhams2ywup/Lucas-Plan-53pp-alternative%20corporate%20plan.pdf?dl=0.

[10] Composite N, Trident and Defence Diversification (covering resolutions 91 and 92), STUC Congress: http://www.stuc.org.uk/files/Policy/CongressDecisions/Congress2014.pdf.

[11] http://www.stuc.org.uk/files/Policy/CongressDecisions/Congress2019.pdf.

[12] “Trident and Jobs: The case for a Scottish Defence Diversification Agency” (STUC-SCND, April 2015): http://abolition2000.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Trident-and-JObs.pdf.

[13] “TUC Congress calls for Shadow Defence Diversification Agency” (Labour CND, 15 September 2017): http://www.labourcnd.org.uk/2017/09/tuc-defence-diversification/.