The Independent View: An opportunity to direct the debate on Trident replacement

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In September 2010, Lib Dem Voice ran a revealing poll of its members to gauge opinion on Trident. With results strikingly similar to YouGov polls of Lib Dem members nationally, it found that 57% were opposed to replacing Trident and nuclear weapons altogether, while 90% were opposed to replacing Trident with a ‘like-for-like’ system.

It was commendable that the Liberal Democrats carried this sentiment into their 2010 election manifesto: standing apart from the Conservative and Labour consensus of ploughing £100bn into nuclear weapons amidst the worst economic crisis of recent times.

Opponents of Trident outside the party were also inspired by Lib Dem Conference in 2010, when an emergency motion was secured demanding that Trident be included in the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). Speech after speech was delivered by Lib Dem MPs and activists denouncing Trident on strategic, economic, legal and humanitarian grounds.

Now as we approach Lib Dem Conference 2012, some tough questions need to be asked about the party’s direction on Trident.

The Trident Alternatives Review is the vehicle through which the Lib Dems are able to argue for alternatives to ‘like-for-like’ replacement of Trident. Just last year Nick Harvey MP, then Minister for the Armed Forces, said he was ‘absolutely convinced’ that the review would produce a ‘game-changer’. Now, followingHarvey’s unexpected dismissal from the MoD, and its oversight now located outside the ministry, there is a danger that the review will be rudderless.

Resuscitating the review

David Laws has been drafted back into government and is apparently charged with overseeing the Trident Alternatives Review. But with such a wide-ranging, cross-departmental brief it is difficult to see how he can dedicate the kind of serious attention and consideration which the Review demands.

It is undoubtedly a tough time for the party, and with Nick Clegg apologising over tuition fees it is also a humbling time. But this conference is an opportunity to reassess the party’s direction, to take stock both of its progress and its failings.

The Lib Dems’ strength historically is that they are able to strike a different chord from Labour and the Tories: to be something different.

Opposition to like-for-like replacement of Trident is one such difference, and this must be defended, including putting time and conviction into the Trident Alternatives Review. But why stop there?

In 2010, 90% of the Party opposed like-for-like replacement of Trident and 57% rejected nuclear weapons outright. Rather than pulling back from that opposition, isn’t it time to start building on this position? After all, the opportunity cost of spending on nuclear weapons could not be more devastatingly clear: the cuts are really beginning to bite, and people are dying as a result, yet we waste absurd amounts of money on a cold war weapons system.

Now is the time to translate Lib Dem values into actions. Opposition to Trident can provide, among other things, the balanced books with which to achieve real Lib Dem goals.

* Dr. Kate Hudson is General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and a leading anti-nuclear and anti-war campaigner.

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  • The dual use submarine appears to be in pole position at the moment as a means of providing flexibility for a future scaling back of Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD),

    What I would like to see come out of the review is the capabilities of new technology along the lines of airborne drones. With manned fighter jets like the Lockheed F22 raptor costing $100 million piece, the future of piloted jet fighters has to be constrained by rapidly advancing drone technology.

    Can such technology (airborne or submarine) provide an ongoing nuclear deterrent at an acceptable cost?

  • Geoffrey Payne 21st Sep '12 - 5:05pm

    Given that the Coalition is determined to make painful cuts in the welfare budget, I do not see any justification at all in spending one penny on replacing Trident, nor for that matter continuing with the current system. There are threats to UK security, but not ones that nuclear weapons can help us with. Today is very different to the 1980s when we faced a threat from the Soviet Union. Today we need to invest in our security forces to protect us from terrorism, and mount defences that can protect us from Drone attacks. We should also stop selling arms to countries that have a poor human rights record, and which might be used against us in the future as we saw in Iraq.

  • Paul Griffiths 21st Sep '12 - 8:07pm

    There are other people, like me for instance, who doubt that the defence of the realm is much enhanced by Cold War weaponry.

  • @Paul Griffiths
    “There are other people, like me for instance, who doubt that the defence of the realm is much enhanced by Cold War weaponry.”

    Really? But surely without tanks, ships, submarines and aircraft you have no defence at all?

  • Well done to all those LIberal Democrats who oppose Trident replacement.
    Please take action by asking your MP to sign EDM 96:
    Here is the link which will enable you to do that. All you need is your full postcode.

    Many thanks to you all.

  • Dave G Fawcett 22nd Sep '12 - 11:36am

    One question no one seems to be asking. What happens to the nuclear submarine base in Scotland should the Scots vote for independence?

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