Dannatt off message on Tory Trident plans

Former defence chief General Dannatt, who advises David Cameron and the Conservative front bench, has signalled his opposition to the renewal of Trident.

General Dannatt, the former chief of defence staff who controversially accepted a Cameron invitation to advise the Conservative front bench, has signalled his opposition to the renewal of Trident.

General Dannatt said that the lifetime of the current Trident-bearing Vanguard class submarines should be maintained for a period of a further 15 years but not necessarily beyond that. Dannatt said that the UK should keep Trident:

“At present we should keep it but not forever.”

Conservative Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox responded:

“Our position, as stated by David Cameron, is we intend to maintain a minimum credible submarine based nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom. Let me reassure the people of Barrow, there is no question of changing this policy.”

The debate among Tory defence advisers on the future of Trident comes in the wake of the influential Chalmers Report on the costs and consequences of Minsitry of Defence budget cuts and a public disagreement between the current Chief of the Defence Staff General Richards and the First Sea Lord Admiral Stanhope on the long term need for Britain to possess full spectrum warfare capabilities as epitomised by massive procurement projects like Trident’s successor, the Joint Strike Fighter and the planned new aircraft carriers.

This blog has previously detailed how scrapping Trident could free up some 45bn GBP in the long term defence budget.

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9 Responses to “Dannatt off message on Tory Trident plans”

  1. Graham

    The Greenpeace report on Trident replacement’s costs, which has not been challenged by the MOD, puts the total cost at £97 billion, more than double your figure. Of course that saving wouldn’t have to all be spent elsewhere in the defence budget – it could save schools and hospitals, or the climate.

  2. Stu

    And the Labour Party’s position on Trident is… ??

    As with David Nutt and drugs, this seems like a simple case of an expert speaking his mind on a politically difficult matter. I wonder if Dannatt will get the same treatment from the Tories that Nutt received from Labour?

  3. Meandering Mammal

    One wonders why the MoD might bother challenging a work of fiction by Greenpeace. Personally I’d rather that the cash required to do so went to deliver military effect.

    Whilst Dannatt may have that view, and fwiw I’m undecided on the deterrent at the moment, the fact is that we do need to be making the decisions around the successor now.

    And the argument that we can replace one capability with a completely different one, strategic first strike deterrent with a tactical second strike, isn’t taken seriously by anyone that understands the debate.

    What’s interesting is Fox desperately trying to look as if he knows what he’s on about 🙂 Gods help defence if he gets that brief!

  4. Marcus Roberts

    Thanks everyone for the comments!
    – The Greenpeace Report is a serious and impressive effort that has earned the respect of policy analysts of of different political colours. My use of 45bn in the previous piece was borne out of a desire to maintain a nuclear-powered sub fleet (and indeed expand it in terms of both numbers and capacities).
    – The Labour Party and Trident: the view of a majority of the PLP is opposed and the govt may yet shift its public position at the NPT talks later this year. Stay tuned.
    – Having discussed the matter in detail and at length with Admirals, engineers, defence consultants, civil servants and former ministers I am in no doubt that the decision on son-of-Trident can be delayed by at least 5 years. Astute’s modification debate is another matter but the technical feasibility is not in question – besides, BAE themselves have been forced to acknowledge that a totally new submarine platform for ICBMs is not the only show in town and that a modified Astute could serve that purpose.
    – Fox: I’m not one to root for the Tories but he does handle his brief credibly. I may disagree but I don’t doubt his grasp of the subject matter. the debate between himself and Dannat is a healthy one in policy terms even as it may make for choppy waters politically.

  5. Meandering Mammal

    It’s difficult to argue with ”I’m in no doubt”, however I’d question a few assumptions. Not least is the conflation of nuclear powered boats with the SLBM launch platform. Bombers and attack boats are very different beasts, and neither of them launch ICBMs.

    There are a range of issues with delay, not least driving up the costs but also the risk around UK PLC being technically capable of supporting the design and build process in the future.

    As far as using an attack boat to launch nuc tipped cruise missiles is concerned, it’s certainly a discussion to have, and clearly is’t in the interest of Big and Expensive to present it as an option. Technical feasibility isn’t really an objection I’d have, but I would question whether the modelling indicates the ability of an Astute variant to deliver a comparable military effect. The attrition rate on sub-sonic low flying weapons is likely to be quite high so to deliver the effect would need many more weapons being launched by the platform, or indeed platforms. Survivability of the platform also needs demonstrated, bombers coast around slowly and quietly, keeping clear of hostiles in deep water until they need to launch. Attack boats move faster, are louder and would have to operate in the shallow littoral, therefore being more vulnerable to a wider range of threats.

    My issues with fox are his short termism, and his compartmentalisation of issues. He can talk credibly about individual topics, he doesn’t appear to knit together a holistic view. I appreciate that he’s a politician, and subtle arguments about force protection, effects delivery and the like aren’t going to be communicated in the media, but the result is the treatment of the individual services in isolation, appearing to cultivate a culture that will lead to infighting further down the line. He either doesn’t ”get it” or he’s planning on running things on a divide and rule basis, neither of which are good for the UK.

  6. Anon E Mouse

    Graham – With the interest alone on government borrowing estimated to be up to 60-70 billion next year I wouldn’t worry about the price.

    Apart from the jobs created it lasts for 30 odd years and the idea countries such as Iran are looking to obtain nuclear weapons serves only to increase peoples belief it is vital to our security.

    Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

    Why can’t Greenpeace get out of politics and get back to saving whales? I’ll never give any more money to this organisation and will also encourage others not to. If Greenpeace activists want to get into this tell them to join CND.

  7. Marcus Roberts

    Meandering Mammal: Great points – hope I didn’t come across as too ‘brook-no-disagreement’, not my intention at all. Just wanted to clarify though that I am not conflating nuclear powered with nuclear capable. I am however very interested in finding a way to modify the Astute design to serve as a nuclear detterant platform. The TLAM debate (http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2560/why-the-navy-should-retire-tlam-n) means we have to think carefully about what kind of system would be used if a shift occurred from strategic to theatre level deterrence. More likely is using the Astute baseline as an ICBM platform.

    I’m actually writing a longer paper about this at the moment and would welcome a more lengthy discussion between us on this. If you’d care to please send me an e-mail – thanks!

  8. Meandering Mammal


    I dropped an email via the contact page earlier in the week, but have had no response so I’m not clear whether it got to you or not.

  9. Labour and Tories not listening to new thinking on defence | Left Foot Forward

    […] to the pressure on Trident renewal was yesterday’s comments by Conservative party defence adviser Sir Richard Dannatt that: “It [Trident] might not be right in 5 or 10 years […]

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