Danny Alexander MP writes… Trident: The UK’s voice on an international issue

I believe Trident is the UK’s last, unreformed bastion of Cold War thinking. And I believe we can adapt our nuclear deterrent to the threats of the 21st century by ending 24-hour patrols when we don’t need them and procuring fewer submarines.

This is the conclusion I draw from the Trident Alternatives Review that the Coalition Government published in July – a Review that clearly would not have happened without Lib Dems in Government.

But when the Review was published, some of our critics claimed any changes to Trident would seriously damage our relationship with the US.

So I went to Washington DC to find out for myself, and I’ve just returned today.

I met with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, of which Shirley Williams is Emeritus Board Member. I hosted a roundtable discussion with a number of think tanks including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, the Centre for Transatlantic Relations, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. And yesterday I delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution, outlining the findings of the Trident Alternatives Review.

It will come as no surprise that opinions and concerns vary just as widely in the US as they do here at home, but the case I made was very well received.

I argued that there are a number of options for taking steps down the rungs of the nuclear ladder without stepping off altogether, and that coming down the ladder depends primarily on three things:

  1. How we judge it best to sustain Britain’s security in light of present and future threats.
  2. How best Britain can contribute not just to our own security but to that of our NATO and other allies and international stability more generally.
  3. How the decisions we make contribute to our legal and moral responsibilities for nuclear disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In short, any UK decision to come down the ladder is not solely a British domestic issue, nor should it be considered as such. We have an international obligation to move towards a world in which nuclear weapons are no longer a part of states’ security and defence postures. And that obligation means we must work closely with all our allies, especially our closest one.

In his Berlin speech in June, President Obama called for a movement beyond ‘the Cold War postures’ and he announced a major reduction in the US nuclear arsenal. I want the UK to be a part of this new movement and contribute in our own, meaningful way.

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25 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Sep '13 - 5:48pm

    The United States only want nuclear disarmament so that they can regain their military dominance over all other nations. We should not think that American foreign policy has anything to do with pacifism.

    On the issue of Trident: I’m not a voting rep but my instincts are to keep it.

  • Richard Dean 12th Sep '13 - 8:04pm

    “Nuclear weapons are no longer a part of states’ security and defence postures”

    Is this really true at the moment?
    Will it be true in the near future, given states such as Iran and many, many hardliners like Assad and Kim?

  • Kim can’t get further than a few hundred miles with a missile at the moment even theoretically he could only get as far as Ankara. And why the hell would he target the UK? And Assad can do very little damage outside his borders with Israel breathing down his neck. And, again, why the hell would he target us? Conventional forces are much more use against tricky dicky dictators and terrorists. Not wiping out Moscow thousands of times over Doomsday nuclear weapons.
    I’m sorry but Danny’s conclusion is a nonsensical half-pregnant laughing stock. Do away with the whole nonsense.

  • jedibeeftrix 13th Sep '13 - 8:27am

    Ah, it looks like it i missed the nine words that might be described as a ‘concrete’ measure:

    “when we don’t need them and procuring fewer submarines.”

    Danny, while i respect your work in the treasury, are you seriously suggesting a system that will:
    1. provide 90% of the cost?
    2. Further distort of nuclear submarine industry by building smaller classes of boat, that load enormous design costs onto single boats, and make a coherent drumbeat of both design and manufacture almost impossible to create, let alone sustain for the long run?

    it’s a nonsense.

  • jedibeeftrix 13th Sep '13 - 8:28am

    Ah, it looks like it i missed the nine words that might be described as a ‘concrete’ measure:

    “when we don’t need them and procuring fewer submarines.”

    Danny, while i respect your work in the treasury, are you seriously suggesting a system that will:
    1. provide less than 50% of the capability for more than 90% of the cost?
    2. Further distort of nuclear submarine industry by building smaller classes of boat, that load enormous design costs onto single boats, and make a coherent drumbeat of both design and manufacture almost impossible to create, let alone sustain for the long run?

    it’s a nonsense.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 10:03am

    It’s not just the presently existing threats that we need to worry about. It’s threats that could potentially develop fast enough that we’d not have time to re-build a deterrent to address them. Assad and Kim are examples of utterly ruthless regimes which might pose such a threat, and there are plenty of others .

  • AC Trussell 13th Sep '13 - 3:09pm

    Mad people would want to cause another Hiroshima. Mad people create weapons to do this. Mad people would use them- whether we had them or not!! Let’s get rid of them and become sane.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 3:42pm

    Sane people understand that mad people can and must be stopped – and that for some of those mad people, mutually assured destruction may be the only effective way to do this.

  • AC Trussell 13th Sep '13 - 4:04pm

    As I said Richard: Mad people will do it anyway- having a gun will not stop someone shooting you. Stop wasting billions on these destroyers of life and use some of it to “make friends”. Mutually assured destruction will only stop the sane. Also it’s like god- impossible to prove and made-up by those that want to believe.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 4:08pm

    Richard, leaving aside the question of how helpful it is to classify leaders as “mad” or “sane”, I don’t believe an Assad or a Kim is deterred by the prospect of nuclear destruction per se, but by the prospect of their being deposed from power. After all, if anyone in Syria or North Korea will have the facilities to survive a nuclear attack, who do you think it will be? These countries simply aren’t powerful enough for their regimes to withstand a determined assault from outside powers, which would assuredly follow and with overwhelming public support if they were to employ nuclear weapons. It wouldn’t even be necessary (or desirable) to use our nuclear weapons in the process. That is the real deterrent for the “madman” leaders of weak countries.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 4:14pm

    @ AC Trussell

    “having a gun will not stop someone shooting you”

    Really? I suspect that many, many people would disagree. If someone knows you might fire back, then you’re talking a language they might just understand, and the prospect of possible pain may deter them.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 4:15pm

    AC Trussell
    Actually, I think there’s rather better evidence for MAD than there is for god, to wit the absence of a war in Europe between 1945 and 1994. By all historical precedent I would have expected the enormous mutual hostility and armed-to-the-teethness of the Soviet and Western blocs to have resulted in another huge European war — just as WWI laid the seeds of WWII so the latter left behind it the foundations for another even wider and more destructive war. Nuclear weapons made going to all-out (rather than cold or proxy) war just too damn dangerous.

    That doesn’t mean that MAD was right. It was, indeed, too damn dangerous. But it worked — we got away with it.

    It’s quite irrelevant to the case Richard’s making here, though: no one imagines that Syria or N Korea (or indeed Iran) could aquire sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy the US, much less unleash nuclear winter and all the other possible effects of all-out nuclear war — so there is no “mutuality” in the destruction that would ensue.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Sep '13 - 4:21pm

    Richard
    Or, they’ll shoot you first for fear that you’re about to shoot them.

    This “language they can understand” business always bothers me. Fundamentally — whether it’s about bombs, gas, missiles, troops; or about trade, commodities and influence — the language being spoken is the complicated one of self-interest, mutual interest, and comparative advantage. Everyone understands that language — but imperfectly and in different dialects. It is very unlikely that any two countries are speaking exactly the same dialect at any point.

  • AC Trussell 13th Sep '13 - 4:34pm

    Sorry Richard, I don’t think you have got it! Apart from the fact that most “sane ” people don’t live in fear and feel the need to carry a gun. “Mad people” don’t care about pain- their’s or other people’s! You just become a target if you carry one. Let us help other countries get “sane” leaders.
    Many people are dying in this country because of money being wasted on this madness.

  • Richard Dean 13th Sep '13 - 10:20pm

    @AC Trussell. Sure I’ve got it. You’re willing to lay down and hope not to die. I’m not so trusting.
    @Malcolm Todd “They’ll shoot you first”. Didn’t your previous post disprove that?

  • nuclear cockroach 13th Sep '13 - 11:36pm

    @Richard Dean

    I think using language like, “You’re willing to lay down and hope not to die ” is unhelpful. Perhaps you feel some primal fear, but accusing others of cowardice is not going to assuage your fears, is it? Perhaps it might be more useful to try to understand the reasons why other people don’t think that a nuclear attack is in the least likely, rather than just branding them weak.

    What evidence do you have that anyone is in the remotest interested in unleashing a nuclear attack on the UK? What would they have to gain by such an action? And what would they have to lose?

  • Richard Dean 14th Sep '13 - 12:15am

    @nuclear cockroach. My words do not constitute an accusation of cowardice or weakness. If you were to take time out to detect their actual meaning, maybe with the help of a dictionary or friend, you might find the exact opposite.

  • nuclear cockroach 14th Sep '13 - 10:25am

    @nuclear cockroach

    Take the sentence, “You’re willing to lay down and hope not to die,” and parse it for meaning for the benefit of the rest of us, then, please.

    And in the meantime, please also address the questions:
    a) What evidence do you have that anyone is in the remotest interested in unleashing a nuclear attack on the UK?
    b) What would they have to gain by such an action?
    c) And what would they have to lose?

  • Richard Dean 14th Sep '13 - 10:36am

    @nuclear cockroach

    Have you ever been to a demonstration against something? How would you feel about laying down in the road in front of a lorry to prevent access to some industrial process you feel is wrong? What do you think your chances are? In the UK? In Zimbabwe? What if it was a tank in Damascus orTiananmen Square?

    Maybe you should get out of your armchair occasionally?

  • nuclear cockroach 14th Sep '13 - 10:53am

    @nuclear cockroach

    So, no answer, then.

  • nuclear cockroach 14th Sep '13 - 10:54am

    @Richard Dean

    So, no answer, then.

  • Richard Dean 14th Sep '13 - 12:26pm

    @nuclear cockroach. Confused, eh? How many times do you talk to yourself , I wonder? :-)

  • nuclear cockroach 14th Sep '13 - 7:40pm

    @Richard Dean

    You still haven’t answered any of the questions, have you:

    a) What evidence do you have that anyone is in the remotest interested in unleashing a nuclear attack on the UK?
    b) What would they have to gain by such an action?
    c) And what would they have to lose?

    And, please, take the sentence, “You’re willing to lay down and hope not to die,” and parse it for meaning for the benefit of the rest of us, and explain why it doesn’t imply cowardice and or weakness?

  • nuclear cockroach 15th Sep '13 - 10:20pm

    Richard Dean declines to defend what he has said, so talking to myself is all the sense I will get hear.

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