Friday, 24 September 2010

A message to the Government - “Trident – No Thanks”

This week the LibDem Party, against the will of its leadership, voted to have Trident included in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. Before the election the LibDems were the only party who did not want to replace the Trident missile system. In coalition they agreed the system was to be tested for “value for money” but be excluded from the complete review of the nation’s security – the Strategic Defence and Security Review. The LibDem grassroots has said that is not good enough, and I agree with them whole heartedly. The more light that is shone on the case for Trident replacement the more shaky it becomes.

The morality of possessing weapons capable of causing unprecedented levels of civilian deaths, is highly questionable – but leaving that aside the strategic and economic cases are also poor.

A new Labour leader will have a real opportunity to overturn the Coalition’s nuclear policy. In case the candidates are reading this I will outline some of the less common but I think important arguments against Trident replacement.

The strategic case is poor – Trident, first deployed in 1979, is a cold war weapon designed to deliver 10 nuclear warheads onto Soviet targets. With the USSR gone it is unclear who it is to deter. Currently, instead of 10 warheads, each missile on average carries 3, and 7 dummy lead weights. We have a £30Bn fleet of minibuses when all that the Navy needs is small cars.

Predicted threats now come from terrorists, not nation states – should we be attacked who will we aim our lead filled Cold War dinosaur at? And if our argument is one of deterring “unpredicted threats” or of “keeping our place at the top-table”, what aspiring nuclear nation could not say that. How can we use those arguments and take a stand against other states developing the bomb?

The idea of a UK independent deterrent is a fiction - the UK does not own the missiles. We lease them from the US pool of Trident D-5 missiles and they are maintained in the US. It is inconceivable, and probably technically impossible to use them independently. The reality is we are paying for 68 more US missiles, and not 68 UK missiles.

The Economic Case is Poor: The need to replace the current submarines is in question. Ohio class submarines, which carry the US’s Trident missiles, were launched with a design life of 25 years which has being extend to over 50 years. In contrast the UK’s Vanguard submarines are only being used for 25-30 years, despite the fact that the Defence Select Committee received evidence from the engineers who extended the service life of the US submarines saying a similar programme was possible for Vanguard. Put another way the US will build 1 fleet of subs to deploy Trident from 1979 until 2040, we will build 2 fleets to deploy the same missile from 1992 until 2042. We are clearly wasting money somewhere!

Today research was published to say that building new submarines is a bad way to generate UK jobs; difficult to hear if one of those jobs is yours but true none the less. All missile costs and the majority of the warhead costs are spent in the US. The submarine build costs are to be spent in the UK but will create relatively few jobs given that £20Bn+ will be spent. Also a large proportion of the money for the UK’s last major submarine building project went to a the US company General Dynamics, when BAe was unable to deliver the boat on time or on budget.

Many military leaders are of the opinion that the money spent on Trident would better serve the strategic needs of the country if it were spent on intelligence gathering or conventional forces. Many who believe in the value of nuclear arms, do not believe Trident is worth the money.

Like the Conference said - reviewing Trident’s strategic value is clearly needed and I hope it is done before the go ahead is given to spend £1.5Bn designing a new Submarine to carry the old Cold War Trident missile.