Trident: Should Labour call for it to be scrapped?

Labour should back the scrapping of Trident, writes Toby Fenwick, author of the CentreForum report “Dropping the bomb: a post Trident future”.

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Labour should back the scrapping of Trident, writes Toby Fenwick, author of the CentreForum report “Dropping the bomb: a post Trident future” (pdf)

Defence secretary Philip Hammond is likely to announce another £3-5 billion of defence cuts next week. This takes Ministry of Defence cuts to more than £74bn since 2010.

Trident-submarineIt is right the MoD shares the pain of deficit reduction, and it is essential it overcomes a history of financial mismanagement. However, at a time that these cuts inflict unprecedented pain on the conventional forces, the UK remains committed to replacing Trident.

This is absurd. Trident’s raison d’etre was removed when the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago. The 2010 defence review (pdf) clearly states the UK does not face invasion. Nor is there a “Cold War” nuclear threat from Russia or China.

For those who worry about Iran, Pakistan or North Korea, it is hard not to conclude their small nuclear arsenals are deterred by the US – rather than the UK.

Trident adds nothing to UK security. Consequently, CentreForum, in “Dropping the bomb: a post Trident future” (pdf), concluded last week that Trident should be retired immediately. This saves the cost of Trident replacement – at least £20bn – for investment into the UK’s conventional forces.

We argue Britain should move to nuclear threshold status – retaining the ability to regenerate its nuclear capability in the unlikely event the international situation demands it.

As Professor Malcolm Chalmers, director of UK defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) noted in welcoming the report:

“I have long argued that more serious thought needs to be given to a long warning ‘just in case’ option, and this paper should help provoke such a debate. It is a must-read contribution on whether there are alternatives to Trident.”

There is cross-party support for the UK to play a leading international role. In this, the vision of the coalition 2010 defence review and the Labour 1998 defence review are essentially interchangeable. Tri-partisanship is essential as choices made today will define policy choices beyond 2030.

Some see this as Trident’s rationale because “you never know what will happen”. What do we know is that Britain’s military will repeatedly conduct peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian missions over the next 20 years – scenarios in which Trident is worse than useless.


See also:

Scottish independence would leave Trident dead – and the MoD don’t care 1 Feb 2012

Tories plan to suppress Trident debate 24 Nov 2011

Scrapping Trident for the savings is a losing argument; CND need realistic opposition 4 Nov 2011

Memo to Westminster: UK “independent nuclear deterrent” not actually independent 27 May 2011

Government ramps up Trident work despite coalition pledge 28 Feb 2011


It is understandable, after the experience of the 1980s, that Labour should be reluctant to adopt a position on Trident which might be portrayed as being a unilateralist approach. But this is not the 1980s, the Cold War is over, and Britain’s conventional forces are being cut to the bone and beyond.

Britain is faced with a choice between known military requirements and an extremely expensive nuclear weapons system for very unlikely contingencies. Let’s make the brave choice and scrap Trident to invest in the UK’s conventional forces – and our global role. And let’s do it now.


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