Chris Huhne writes: No to Trident

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.

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This entry was posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds.


  • I still don’t get it.

    Replace Trident with what Chris?

    If your policy is just replace Trident with something else less expensive name it man!

    Look at the Party’s working group paper and name the system you want to develop and tell us what it will cost.

    Look at the Government’s white paper and the costings for all the different options. Trident ain’t cheap, but neither is developing a whole new system.

    I’m sick of all this spin. Stop treating us like children. We won’t buy your ‘scrap trident’ line unless you tell us what you would replace it with.

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Nov '07 - 11:03am

    Having heard the debate yesterday and read this, I’m still confused.

    Chris definitely feels that Nick’s attacks aren’t valid on his own policy, but it’s unclear to me as to what it is.

    It almost seems that Huhne is the more pro-nuclear weapon option in explicitly talking about post-Trident weapons systems, but I’m not sure that’s right either.

  • Hywel Morgan 1st Nov '07 - 11:27am

    “If your policy is just replace Trident with something else less expensive name it man!”

    To got Toby in the West Wing, “his point is not wholly without merit”

    For this policy to have any substance, in my view Chris needs to set out:
    1) What sort of system
    2) How many missiles and warheads will it need
    3) What are the military objectives of the system – ie if deployed we are looking to level X cities of the enemy, approx XX% of missiles will be intercepted therefore we need to have at least.
    4) If landbased can it be guaranteed to have the range to reach any target (eg a Trident sub operating in the North Atlantic could be out of range of North Korea

    As a reluctant supporter of the nuclear deterrent my fundamental concern is that the damn thing would actually do the job if we need it. Otherwise it really is a waste of money!

    At the moment this is just “think of a number and halve it” policy making and makes him look opportunist.

  • No to Trident, Yes to what?

    This is more fudgy than the official position.

  • I don't get it 1st Nov '07 - 11:57am

    Correct me if I’m wrong:

    1. Huhne says replace Trident with a smaller and cheaper nuclear system although doesn’t say how/what/when/where.

    2. Clegg says cut Trident in half and negotaite away the rest if possible, replacing Trident if appears necessary after negotiation.

    I’d say Clegg has most radical disarming position.

    Having said that no-one here to vote for if you want to ‘ban the bomb’ although Clegg comes nearest as Huhne is pledged to replace while Clegg isn’t

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Nov '07 - 2:29pm

    Our current policy on “Son of Trident” is:
    “A presumption in favour of the most cost effective replacement for the current Trident system being a submarine system based on the Trident missile of 3 boats carrying no more than 24 warheads each.”

    So Chris is just saying that he thinks that other options are more cost effective?

  • GarethEpps @ 8 say “£76 billion commitment to Son of Trident”

    Chris says £20bn, not £76bn – where does this ‘non-partisan’ figure come from.

  • Ian Turgoose 1st Nov '07 - 3:43pm

    Dosent make sense. To me Huhne’s position seems to be motivated by getting a ‘Scrap Trident’ headline rather than common sense. We should leave this type of spin to the other parties.

  • Bonkalot Jones 1st Nov '07 - 4:30pm

    Let us buy Chris Huhne a donkey jacket now, as he is soon going to be heading back to political oblivion…

  • Lynne – the same could be said of the unusual sight of one of the candidates’ campaign managers finding the time to comment on this site! It isn’t the Cleggies who should be rattled today!

  • Hywel Morgan 1st Nov '07 - 8:26pm

    Lynne – I voted for him last time.

    Current party policy has everything to do with a media friendly soundbite (nowhere have I seen any explanation about why 100 missiles is militarily the right level).

    In abscence of any detail Chris is indulging in a similar approach to and is trying to portray himself as unilateralist when he isn’t.

  • 16 – Where has Chris Huhne ever said he is a unilateralist? He always said he was not a unilateralist but couldn’t see the point of Trident.

  • Denis Loretto 2nd Nov '07 - 1:49am

    Bearing in mind the long timescale and the forthcoming 2010 negotiations Chris is sensibly not yet committing himself as to what should replace Trident. His preferred option if feasible is not replacing it with another so-called independent nuclear deterrent at all. He is ruling out here and now a Trident-type deterrent. Could I hear please from any Lib Dem member the case for renewing a fleet of appallingly expensive submarines permanently prowling the world’s oceans and with multi missiles targeted on ……….?

  • bill haymes 2nd Nov '07 - 3:43am

    Though this clearly needs more reflection as im sure he would admit and i would prefer the Clegg option of bargaining away Trident as per the Pugwash Report this is a courageous position and the sniggering is just childish

  • Matthew Harris 23rd Nov '07 - 3:57pm

    I just think that the Alliance’s experience in the 1980s suggests that clarity is needed in this policy area. Clegg says “retain a scaled-down Trident, with the necessary updates, and enter it into multilateral disarmament talks in 2010”. That is a clear policy. Huhne says “Don’t update Trident, and let’s decide in 2010 whether or not to replace it with another system”. That is not a clear policy. Between now and 2010, what would one say on the doorstep if asked whether Huhne, as Leader, wants to keep nuclear weapons? One can hardly say: “I don’t know” or “He is still deciding whether a new system is going to prove necessary.”

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