Lib Dem Voice has asked both leadership candidates to set out their views on what should be the party’s approach to Britain’s policy on nuclear weapons. Nick Clegg’s article was published earlier today. Here’s Chris Huhne’s take…
In Britain today we face a multitude of threats to our security. We need strong defences to protect us from rogue states as well as terrorist organisations both within and outside of our borders. But these threats are fundamentally different from those which the Trident nuclear deterrent was designed to protect us from, and that is why it simply does not justify its astronomical expense.
A great deal has changed since Trident was created in 1982. This was a time when we lived under the permanent threat of a Soviet nuclear first strike. But since then we have witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. The time when we had to defend against the deployment of the enormous nuclear arsenal of the former Soviet Union has long since passed.
So where is the sense in spending an estimated £20 billion replacing a system that was built for an entirely different international climate? This enormous sum of money is bound to drain other military resources at a time when our forces are short of some of the most basic equipment such as body armour and armoured personnel carriers, not to mention housing for the families of service people.
And renewal would tie us irreversibly to dependence on the United States for the maintenance of the system for decades. We need to be less servile and more frank towards the US. In military matters in particular we need to be less tied and more free.
Faced with these facts it is clear that delaying a decision over Trident’s future is not the right policy. We need to be bold and reject a new generation of inappropriate and expensive Trident submarines.
I hope that the years leading up to 2010 will see a genuine improvement in the international environment so that we do not need a renewal of a nuclear deterrent at all. But I accept that this may well not be the case and in these circumstances I think we need to be clear about our preference for a minimum nuclear deterrent as an alternative. This deterrent should still perform the fundamental role of posing the risk of unacceptable consequences for any potential aggressor, but at a much smaller cost. And although it may be that the alternative is more vulnerable than Trident, which built to defend against an aggressive global superpower, its scale would be appropriate to the type of threat we face today.
And so rejecting Trident is not a rejection of Britain’s need to defend itself. It is a recognition that the approach to our defence that we took 25 years ago is outdated, expensive and based on an inaccurate analysis of the threats that we face today. The last five years have shown just how far our defence spending has to stretch nowadays. We have a responsibility to spend that money where it really matters.
* Chris Huhne is Lib Dem MP for Eastleigh, and a candidate to succeed Ming Campbell as the party’s leader.