Trident: Does Britain need a submarine-based nuclear missile system that will cost £100 billion?

Ministers argue that having nuclear submarines permanently patrolling our waters has “served us well”

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So, the Lib Dems’ long-awaited review of alternatives to Trident is Here.

Having pledged to “say no to the like-for-like replacement” in their election manifesto in 2010, then being forced to cede ground in order to enter into power, the review was always going to represent something of a fudge. Essentially it outlines a slimmed down version of the current system, which would deliver a bit less firepower and very little in the way of savings to the taxpayer.  It’s done little to paper over the cracks in the Coalition with the Defence Secretary condemning the plans as “reckless”, and the Prime Minister flatly rejecting them.

Most importantly the review fails to address the blindingly obvious question of whether Britain, decades after the Cold War and in the grip of austerity, actually needs a submarine-based nuclear missile system that will cost an estimated £100 billion over the next 30 years. I’ll be raising this point in a debate in Parliament today.

In any case, what the Lib Dems think seems to be of little relevance. 

The Government, regardless of the views of its coalition partners, Parliament, or the public has been ploughing money into a replacement.

In response to a parliamentary question I tabled in 2010, the MoD revealed it was already spending billions on enriched uranium components and high explosives.

Ministers argue that having nuclear submarines permanently patrolling our waters has “served us well”.  But has our security really been greater than other nations that have chosen not to spend billions on a permanent flotilla of nuclear submarines?  Do we sleep safer in our beds than the Germans or the Japanese?

The fact is that the Liberal Democrats, like the Conservatives and like Labour, refuse to accept the major strategic and economic benefits that non-renewal would offer.  These include improved national security (with flexibility to spend elsewhere on the armed forces) and improved global security.  Britain’s moral authority in global multilateral disarmament initiatives depends on its own behaviour.  How can we dictate to Iran or other nations seeking to join the nuclear club while we remain wedded to Trident?

This is a time when growing numbers of our citizens are relying on food banks. When public sector workers are having their pay frozen.  When vital services that the most vulnerable in our society depend on are being cut daily. And when the armed forces themselves are under strain.

It’s not lefty-pacifist propaganda to ask whether we should be refusing to move on from a past era of warfare. Four former senior military commanders have voiced concerns  that “replacing Trident will be one of the most expensive weapons programmes this country has seen” and highlighted concerns about its impact on  defence equipment budget.

You might reasonably ask, like the former Prime Minister John Major: “In what circumstances, and upon whom, is Trident likely to be used?” The Government’s own National Security Strategy has downgraded the threat of state on state nuclear warfare, while highlighting the emergence of new 21st Century threats - including climate change, pandemics, organised crime and cyber warfare – as well as terrorism, the threat of which is arguably heightened by the kind of posturing that Trident represents.

But instead of facing up to the real threats of the modern world, the Government sadly seems determined to lock the UK into the costly technologies of the past.

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