Almost twenty years after its first patrol, does Britain still need its nuclear deterrent?by / April 9, 2015 / Leave a comment
Today, defence exploded into the centre of the election battleground, when the Conservatives launched an attack on Labour over the future of Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Both parties are committed to reinstating the submarine-based system when it comes up for renewal in 2016. But the SNP—with whom Labour may need to do an informal deal after the election—have said they would vote to scrap it, leading the Tory Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to claim that “if Ed Miliband wants the keys to Number 10, he must abandon any plans to renew our Vanguard ballistic missile submarines.”
The debate has swiftly descended into a highly personal row over Miliband’s character. But politics aside, do we actually need to renew Trident?
Yes—Trident helps peace
Timothy Stafford, research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute
First and foremost, Trident is the ultimate guarantee of the UK’s security. Yet it also forms a central part of Britain’s wider defence commitments. Of all Nato states, there are only three which possess nuclear weapons—the UK, the US and France. France does not pledge its nuclear weapons to the defence of Nato, only to the defence of its national territory. This leaves the US and the UK as the only states in the world which make “extended deterrence” guarantees covering other nations. That acts as a tool of non-proliferation. One can envision a scenario, where, if Britain no longer had these weapons, Poland or the Baltic states might pursue their own to counter an aggressive Russia, something that would make Europe a much more dangerous place.
In addition, the costs are much more reasonable than many assume. The highest estimate for the overall cost of Trident is about £90bn, and that is for a programme that will last for 30 years. That equates to approximately £3bn a year, or 0.4 per cent per year of overall government spending of £750bn a year. I appreciate that there is a tremendous pressure to save money at the moment, but setting aside 0.4 per cent of government spending for the ultimate guarantee of the country’s security seems sensible.
No—There are alternatives
Toby Fenwick, research associate at CentreForum
Replacing the UK’s Trident submarines is presented as a binary decision: either Trident replacement or unilateral nuclear disarmament. This is a false dichotomy.
As I showed in the recent CentreForum paper, Retiring Trident, it is possible to meet the demanding minimum deterrence criteria (designed in the depths of the Cold War in 1982) with an aircraft delivered weapon, saving up to £13bn by 2032. Moreover, as a future UK nuclear force under this plan would be delivered by dual-role military equipment, my plan would significantly enhance the UK’s conventional forces in addition to these savings.
The incoming government needs to do two things ahead of the next defence review. First, it needs to update the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review to answer explicitly the question of the cheapest way to meet the 1982 minimum deterrence criteria. Second, it needs to make the array of nuclear options this opens up tradeable in the review—that is, if the MoD selects an option cheaper than Trident, it should be able to redeploy the savings in the MoD budget.
Meanwhile, on Twitter…
Conservative candidate and former government minister Nick Boles put out this rather retro, cold war-style tweet
Ask yourself this. Who does Vladimir Putin want to see running Britain after 7th May? — Nick Boles (@NickBolesMP) April 9, 2015
Which met with less than the desired response from other users:
. @NickBolesMP That bloke who always gets stuck doing the UK section of A Place In The Sun: Home Or Away?
— Primly Stable (@PrimlyStable) April 9, 2015
@NickBolesMP It’s ex-Top Gear presenter Chris Goffey, isn’t it?
— Ben Dunnell (@DunnellBen) April 9, 2015
@NickBolesMP Vladimir Putin
— WelshRacer (@Welshracer) April 9, 2015