As we scrutinise government spending, it’s time to review Trident

Trident, justified on the basis of its protection of national security, is possibly the biggest threat to the integrity of the Union

Trident: The Tories seem to like it - but what about the Lib Dems?

 

The defence lobby is out in force seeking protection of the defence budget whilst government spend across the board continues to be slashed. David Cameron’s pledge to protect troop numbers appears hollow. Even with a ring-fenced budget (highly unlikely), troop numbers would fall by 15,000 over the next five years.

We will get a sense of parliamentary opinion when the Commons votes on the issue on Thursday this week. Public opinion generally shares a weak attachment to defence spend, one that dissolves when faced with the challenging opportunity costs elsewhere. Yet the Trident project enjoys absolute protection from cuts.

The debate is dominated by the narrative that nuclear weapons are necessary for national security and to stand tall in the world. To advocate disarmament is to demonstrate weakness and lack of moral fibre. Those defending the status quo swagger with confidence around Westminster, knowing that whatever the voracity of the arguments deployed by opponents, they have the protection of a simple, psychological weapon.

Today our attention is being directed towards Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Surely it would be irrational for the British to show signs of ‘weakness’ just as Putin is issuing blatant nuclear threats? Irrational, yes, if British nuclear weapons have any relevance in the unfolding crisis. But nuclear weapons offer incredible threats that could only have relevance to end-of-the-world scenarios.

Britain’s nuclear weapons have more to do with domestic politics and the manipulation of narratives, rather than any genuine international strategy, heavily marked by the 1940 experience when Britain stood alone against the Nazis. It is no coincidence that Vladimir Putin has been compared to Hitler or more ancient despots. But there is no credible scenario in which Britain would face alone an overwhelming invasion of Europe by Russia.

It depends upon the domestic context, and that is now on the move, something worrying to those who thought this a done deal. The Sun ran a pre-emptive strike last week by an unnamed colleague in the Shadow Cabinet, on an adviser close to Ed Miliband, that sought to neutralize any potential efforts to change the party’s commitment to like-for-like replacement of Trident. This showed a certain level of desperation.

The anti-nuclear Scottish Nationalists have been focusing minds – could they apply pressure on a prospective prime minister Miliband to significantly delay the project further? The SNP’s position is robust and gives them an undeniable electoral advantage in this election: for credibility in holding Labour’s feet to the fire, and a strong symbolism that supports their on-going attempts to achieve independence.

In other words, there is no earthly reason why the SNP would waver in attempting to apply as much pressure as they can on this issue. Ironically, Trident, justified on the basis of its protection of national security, is possibly the biggest threat to the integrity of the Union.

The current Lib Dem leadership has been attempting to develop a middle ground position, one that has won few (but probably lost fewer) votes. Its principal problem lies in its weak appeal to a debate traditionally characterized by polarity, and the myths perpetuated by a Trident Alternatives Review exploited by LibDem opponents from both sides.

BASIC’s Trident Commission was roundly criticized for failing to challenge head-on Britain’s attachment to nuclear weapons, but it estimated that a move away from continuous patrolling could save between £500m and £1bn a year throughout the life of the project, and far more significant savings than this in the next decade. These are big numbers by anyone’s book, and the Lib Dems could make much of this.

A more radical solution has recently been proposed, based upon stealth aircraft that Britain is buying from the Americans. This system, able to deliver a minimum credible nuclear deterrent, would deliver naval and air force dual-role systems already in the defence procurement plan (but for which there is insufficient funds) and save several billion on top for other priorities. By moving to a dual-use system it would also achieve significant savings in running costs.

This could be a highly attractive middle ground for those not yet ready to contemplate a non-nuclear future. It could certainly drive a review after the election.

There are many myths in Britain’s nuclear debate, but ultimately the fact that there are options, and no need to rush into major spend, looks set to play an important role in challenging post election negotiations. BASIC is looking to highlight those choices, and ensure that the Trident renewal programme is reviewed with the same demanding scrutiny that other government spending has been and will be experiencing in the coming years.

 Paul Ingram is the executive director of the British American Security Information Council, and was host of the BASIC Trident Commission

22 Responses to “As we scrutinise government spending, it’s time to review Trident”

  1. JoeDM

    Given the current state of uncertainty in the world it would be stupid in the extreme not to upgrade the Trident subm.arines and their weapon load.

    Internal and external security is the primary responsibility of every government.

  2. Julian Gibb

    Three Russian multiple warhead missiles of high yield would destroy the UK. However I should feel good at the second of my vapourisation that a few million Russians will soon join me?
    It is an obscenity requiring little further explanation.
    It is not required if you accept the NATO cover (only 3 NATO countries have it). It is the Empire/Top table crap as opposed to genuine defence.
    People are starving and “socialists” are justifying a £100.000.000,000 spend over its life

  3. colin s crouch

    Has Trident stopped any invasion of the Russians over Ukraine? Would a Labour party be able to make peace through Trident, to stop Putin? Are there any other threats, with the help of Triden, that will help create peace in the Middle East, or anywhere else?

    Would like some clear answers by Labour, preferably well before the Election.

    In the meantime, it looks absolutely daft for Labour to refuse to work with the SNP, solely or substantially on the basis of the totem of Trident.

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    If Ukraine had retained it’s nuclear weapons, Russia wouldn’t have dared invade.
    In fact, we’re likely to see substantial proliferation as a result.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    I have no problem with reducing Scotland’s budget by 100% of the costs needed to move the deterrence south.

  6. Guest

    You’re showing the basic fallacy that spending needs to be slashed, as we plunge towards deflation.
    The money’s better spent on Trident than given away to corporations as profit, pushing wages even lower thanks to capitalism.

  7. colin s crouch

    Possibly. Possibly not. I suspect Putin would not be so chicken.

    Imagine a situation where Putin will want to invade Ukraine anyway. He could easily clain that he is under threat from nuclear attack from Ukraine, and as a purely defensive measure, he would invade. He makes his bluff, and if, in this hypothetical position, Uktaine were even to make the smallest hint that they were to use the nukes, then Putin would have found the justification of using the nukes himself.

    Anyway, who would Ukraine think of bombing? Vladivostok? St Petersberg? Moscow? Kalmykia? They won’t be able to attack everyone.

  8. colin s crouch

    colin s crouch • a few seconds ago

    Possibly. Possibly not. I suspect Putin would not be so chicken.

    Imagine a situation where Putin will want to invade Ukraine anyway. He could easily clain that he is under threat from nuclear attack from Ukraine, and as a purely defensive measure, he would invade. He makes his bluff, and if, in this hypothetical position, Uktaine were even to make the smallest hint that they were to use the nukes, then Putin would have found the justification of using the nukes himself.

    Anyway, who would Ukraine think of bombing? Vladivostok? St Petersberg? Moscow? Kalmykia? They won’t be able to attack everyone.

  9. DRbilderburg

    New Labour

    Afghaistan Fought on a lie10s of 1000s killed and displaced Achieved nothing

    Iraq Fought on a lie 10s of 1000s killed millions displaced Achieved nothing

    Libya Fought on a lie.10s of 1000s killed and displaced Achieved nothing

    Ukraine Do you think you’re being told the truth It would be a first if we were.. New Labour same as the old we’ve learned our lesson New Labour

    What a legacy. The Fabian Society must be so proud of it

  10. DRbilderburg

    Lets vaporise Iran

  11. Paul Ingram

    As the Ukrainian nukes required Russian components and technicians, and a big budget for a country very poor, and the rest of us to turn a blind eye to proliferation, do you think Ukraine really would have been better off (or independent of Russia)? And even if they could have had independent nukes, would we all really be sleeping more soundly in our beds tonight?

  12. Leon Wolfeson

    Given there would be far less hostilities going on? Er…

    (And many of the “Russian” components were made in the Ukraine. Russia’s actually got some big supply problems for some types of military equipment at the moment, which isn’t helping their fiscal position any either!)

  13. Guest

    So there’s this massive conspiracy, never mind the fact that it’s harder than ever to keeps secrets. And stopping dictators and tyrants does nothing.

    i.e. The problem in Iraq was the peace, not the war – the Americans screwed up the government structure, etc.

  14. David Lindsay

    There could not be a greater threat to national security than a weapons system the very existence of which threatened to cause one third of the national territory to secede.

  15. David Brede

    I would rather spend the money on boots to go on the ground, aircraft to patrol our skies and ships to protect our coasts and trade routes.

    We are never going to start a nuclear war on our own so we should leave that to a collective defence organisation such as NATO or the EU.

  16. Guest

    So you’re logically arguing there for using force against the territory, FYI.

  17. Jiesheng Li

    That is total nonsense. Russia wanted territorial claims and did not use nuclear threats over Crimea or over Eastern Ukraine. And would Ukraine have nuked Russia? It already contains a nuclear bomb in the form of Chernobyl.

  18. Jiesheng Li

    Russia wants its territory back, not so much as nuclear weapons zone. If nuclear weapons keep countries safe, they why was there was in South Africa which had nukes in the 1980s?

  19. Leon Wolfeson

    Ukraine | Russia. Sorry to break this news to you.

    And SA’s problems were internal, not external.

  20. Leon Wolfeson

    Russia invaded, right. Which you just denied elsewhere.

    And I see, thanks for your plans there.

  21. Jim South London

    Without nukes how do you plan on standing up to Putin with.What strong language.

    The Poles,Estonians,Latvians.Czechs,Hungarians.Bosians.Germans,Albanians,Croatians would all like Britain and Nato to keep its Nukes

    PS Not forgetting the Ukrainians.
    Nazis ,Communists what ever German or Russian nationalist they all tried to grabbed other peoples lands.

  22. sarntcrip

    on the other hand how do you get to use 2nd strike weapon if you’ve been vapourised?

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