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:
- How we judge it best to sustain Britain’s security in light of present and future threats.
- 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.
- 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.