In an interview with the Guardian, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has said that it’s neither financially possible nor strategically necessary to replace the Trident nuclear missile system with a similar set up. He added that any new deterrent would have to be paid for out of the existing Ministry of Defence budget as there was no “magic pot of money” in the treasury to pay for it.
He questioned whether the current set up met Britain’s needs in a world that’s changed since it was first introduced:
I am not a unilateralist, I don’t think that we should not have a deterrent. But I think when budgets are under pressure, and when the assumptions that our current approach are based on are very much cold war assumptions, and we are in the 21st century and the world is changing, that this is absolutely the right time to have a serious, considered, objective look at the way in which this policy is constructed.
We need to see if there are different ways of doing this that are more cost effective. This is the first time for a very long time these questions have been asked. We do need to ask fundamental questions about our posture.
Is it right in the 21st century that we still need to have submarines at sea, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months of the year? All those things are ripe for being reviewed and considered, and alternatives presented.
He was also quick to point out that the Liberal Democrats had been way ahead of the game on this issue:
If anything, the fact that I have taken on the leadership of this review as a member of the ‘quad’ just demonstrates the level of importance and seriousness with which we are continuing to treat this review. The circumstances the country are facing reinforces that policy. It does not diminish it. The economic and financial circumstances reinforce the wisdom of [the Liberal Democrats'] policy
It’s clear to me that both Labour and Conservative parties would have sleepwalked into blowing up to £100 billion on a fancy new nuclear weapons system if the Liberal Democrats had not successfully argued for the postponement of the decision until 2016. All three main political parties will have to do some serious thinking on the issue. The Conservatives will be naturally inclined to want to replace the system, but can they justify the expense given the state of the economy? What will Labour do? And there is still a sizeable element within the Liberal Democrats who see no reason to spend any money on nuclear weapons at all. We’ve fudged our way through the last few years, but the last Conference debate we had on the issue was both incredibly high quality and quite close. There were only 40 votes in it and that was after the courageous intervention of the leader.
Danny Alexander has made it clear that he favours a nuclear deterrent of some sort. Will the party agree with him when Conference inevitably debates this matter again?
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings