Thursday, 16 September 2010

Trident - "It is about what sort of country you want to be"

The government is about to commit billions of pounds to the design of new submarines for a nuclear weapons system.  A system which we have previously pledged to dismantle in conjunction with further progress on non-proliferation.

In spite of the objections of the MOD these billions will come out of a hard-pressed defence budget that is certain to be reduced in total anyway when next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review is announced.

The news in the past week is that the Government is considering delaying the start of the later ‘construction phase’ until after the next General Election.

Many in the Conservative Party are concerned. Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, a former defence spokesman and chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning that he did not think that a delay on the decision on construction will happen as “it would disturb the Conservative Party very, very deeply".

"It would immediately cast doubt on whether the Government has actually got the resolve to follow through with the programme at all.

"If you delay, you reopen the whole question, you create uncertainty about how viable our existing deterrent would be and you raise questions about whether we actually resolve to remain the power with global reach and influence throughout the world that we are today.

"It is about what sort of country you want to be."

On some aspects I agree. It is the Foreign Policy considerations that are central to a decision on Trident. Trident’s contribution in guaranteeing the defence and security of our nation is, in comparison, peripheral to the debate as it is generally recognised that this contribution, in the post-cold war era, is questionable.

So should our global reach and influence depend on the possession of nuclear weapons? Could our global influence not be characterised by commitment to human rights and action on climate change while still maintaining strong economic and trading links with other nations. Brazil and Turkey have demonstrated in their relations with Iran that the traditional alliances are evolving and no longer dependant on the historic calculus of the past (see for example  Could a decision now to phase out our nuclear weapons not strengthen the UK's influence with the vast majority of nation states who present no military threat to the UK and for whom the possession of nuclear weapons by anyone is considered an unjust abuse of power and resources, particularly in the light of the Non Proliferation Treaty?