LibLink: Danny Alexander: A like-for-like Trident replacement isn’t justifiable in terms of security or cost

110301-N-7237C-009Danny Alexander has written for the Guardian in response to yesterday’s Trident Commission report. He continues to make the case that the policy passed at Liberal Democrat Conference last September, which cut the number of submarines was the right one for two reasons.

First of all, we don’t need continuous at sea deterrence because the nature of the world has changed:

During the cold war, there was a credible threat of a surprise massive attack against this country or Nato allies. Our nuclear forces needed to be available within minutes in order to give credibility to our policy of deterrence. This is why we maintained continuous at-sea deterrence; we kept at least one armed submarine on patrol 24/7, 365 days of the year. But the Berlin Wall has been down now for 25 years and the threat of “state on state” attack is much reduced.

This new environment has quite rightly already led to significant changes in the composition and deployment of our conventional forces. However, we still maintain and deploy our nuclear resources as if the cold war were at its height. As well as not matching the security threat, this also fails to meet our wider international obligations to work towards reducing nuclear weapons, as other nuclear nations have attempted. We should end continuous at-sea deterrence, and conduct patrols in a pattern required to match the rising or falling perceived threat. These patrols would be supplemented by extensive and regular exercise patrols. Changing our posture is rational and would show that we are serious about moving further down the ladder of disarmament.

Secondly, we can’t afford it:

The scale of the deficit we inherited from Labour is common knowledge. What is less well known is that we inherited from Labour a defence equipment “black hole” which, by the end of the decade, would have equalled an entire year’s defence budget.

The coalition has put the defence equipment budget on a sound footing. We also have to consider how the costs of nuclear deterrence fit in with the other, equally important, calls for defence funding from our conventional forces. To put this in perspective, the cost of our nuclear deterrent in the future could equal one-fifth of total defence equipment spending. Reducing the number of deterrent-carrying submarines from four to three would save £4bn over the expected life of the system.

A like-for-like replacement of Trident, deployed in the same way, will unnecessarily stretch budgets and constrain spending on other defence priorities. Something has to give.

You can read the whole article here.

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19 Comments

  • So if we don’t need it and can’t afford it, why is party policy to go for a budget version without the key features? This is one area where we need to be bold and distinctive. Germany don’t have nuclear weapons, have no plans to, and seem to be taken seriously on the international stage. If it’s a choice between Trident and the NHS, I know which I think is worth saving. However if the choice is between party policy and like for like replacement, I’d be minded to go for the full replacement, as the loss of effectiveness is disproportionate to the savings gained by the Lib Dem proposal.

    Be bold!

  • There is no justification for any replacement of Trident in terms of secruity or costs.

    If we are going to replace Trident the scaled down replacement is even more pointless than the full replacement, the money saved is really rather small and it does reduce any effectiveness.

  • We should end continuous at-sea deterrence, and conduct patrols in a pattern required to match the rising or falling perceived threat

    So when international tensions rise, then we put the nuclear submarines to sea?

    Because of course there’s no way that could be seen as an escalation and end up making things worse.

    This is idiocy: the deterrent needs to be continuous and automatic, or it is worse than useless.

  • jedibeeftrix 2nd Jul '14 - 10:16am

    As usual, I will point out that the lib-dem policy is absurd in pushing all the development costs into two units, which:
    Distorts the design schedule of every eight years for (all) nuclear submarines.
    Distorts the build schedule of every 28 months for (all) nuclear submarines.
    Creates a more expensive nuclear submarine industry.
    Damages the viability of our strategic (nuclear) submarine industry.

    There is more to this than ballistic missiles, and I have long argued for dual-use submarines with four cmc tubes fitted for, but not necessarily loaded with, trident d6 missiles.

    The policy is not credible.

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Jul '14 - 12:03pm

    I think Jedi’s idea of , presumably,, stretched Astute class subs with 4 missile tubes would make sense IF it really is necessary to have a nuclear deterrent. However, you do need to go back to the rationale for Trident, such as it was:
    In the event that the USSR carried out a devastating first strike on the UK, possibly including parts of Western Euroope, while holding in reserve sufficient missiles warheads to devastate the USA, there was a considerable risk that the USSR policy makers would believe that they could deter a retaliatory second strike from the USA because of the risk of further nuclear mayhem on the USA. The UK’s independent deterrent ensured that those decision makers would know that there would definitely be retaliation in such a case, thus, we hoped, ensuring that it didn’t happen.

    Now, however, there are no states with anything like that capability. Iran, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and China, all have some sort of nuclear capability (or potential) but the first 4 are only really interested in regional power; and Iran specifically has no missiles which could conceivable reach the continental USA. (nor any nuclear warheads, for at least a while) China might conceivably have such a capability, but its global interests are served by the US world policeman role including dominance of the sea and trade routes; it’s of great benefit not to have to worry about piracy, and so on.
    So 5 have no capability, and one would clearly be acting against it’s own interests – and why would China ever want to take out a relatively minor European power?

    The current and foreseeable future, then, shows no need for a UK owned independent deterrent; the money potentially spent on this insurance would be better spent on conventional forces, reduction in austerity, or something else actually needed. Yes, things are uncertain, but they aren’t THAT uncertain.

  • Iran, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and China, all have some sort of nuclear capability (or potential)

    You forgot France.

  • Leekliberal 2nd Jul '14 - 12:25pm

    Danny’s nuclear-lite deterrent is simply not credible . Considering the huge number of demands on resources for such as the NHS etc and the scale of the debts we have inherited from Labour, scrapping Trident is a no-brainer!

  • Since part of the rationale for having Trident is to enable NATO to have a deterrent capability, perhaps now is the time to start spreading the cost across the other members and perhaps getting the EU to contribute…

  • This idea of a part-time deterrent for 97% of the cost of a full-time one is an absolute nonsense.

    It won’t satisfy people on either side. It will just make the party look ridiculous.

  • Jenny Barnes 2nd Jul '14 - 2:24pm

    “You forgot France” yes, And of course Russia. I’m not sure that I can see a French nuclear attack on the UK as at all likely, but you could be right.

    I have a further thought about the uncertainty argument. We don’t know what may happen yadayada.
    How about a way of detecting the position of a submerged submarine to within 10 metres or so?
    Then Nasty State’s first move is a nuclear strike on your one or two submarines at sea as well as the 2 in the base.

  • The key finding of the Trident Commission Report is: “If there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the United Kingdom and its allies in preventing nuclear blackmail or in affecting the wider security context with which the UK sits, then they should be retained.” The commission cites the re-emergence of Russia as a potential threat.

    The report was set up by the British American Security Information Council, a group dedicated to nuclear disarmament. Paul Ingram, executive director of BASIC, said: “The reason why we set up the commission was to stimulate a debate that we perceive has been dominated by electoral calculation. We believe Britain is well placed to lead global nuclear disarmament by renewing Trident.”

    We need to separate the issues of CASD (that many view as an outdated cold war strategy) and the strategic importance of maintaining an independent nuclear weapons capability in the UK.

    This review offers the opportunity for considering how we can meet our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and take concrete steps towards longer-term nuclear disarmament. We need to retain our focus on expanding the creation of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones in non-nuclear weapons states beginning with a NWFZ for Central and Eastern Europe

    Long-term middle-east peace proposals should include serious planning for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in the middle-east and the Indian sub-continent.as proposed by Iran. Simulataneous planning should be undertaken for a NWFZ in North Asia to encompass both Japan and the Korean peninsula.

    Effective containment of nuclear weapons proliferation is the only feasible route that may someday offer the prospect of a European-wide nuclear weapons free zone. If and when, Israel, Iran, India, Pakistan and North Korea are prepared to start down the road to abandonment of nuclear weaponisation, the way will be clear for the UK, France and potentially China to follow suit, leaving the two main players, Russia and the US to engage in SALT negotiations aimed at significant elimination of nuclear warhead stockplies.

    Lib Dem defence policy should commit our party to supporting unequivocally a Nuclear Weapons Convention, signed by all states and particularly by the minority which are nuclear weapon owners and taking the first tentative steps down the nuclear ladder by sharing CASD and Nukes with the French.

  • We don’t know what may happen yadayada. How about a way of detecting the position of a submerged submarine to within 10 metres or so?

    Then someone would invent a stealthier submarine to counter the new detector.

    Then someone would invent a better detector to counter the stealthier submarines.

    Then someone would invent an even stealthier submarine to counter the better detector.

    This is how military technology works, and you do not win by exiting the race.

  • Then someone would invent a stealthier submarine to counter the new detector.

    But the point is that the replacement submarines are meant to continue operating for 46 years – right up to the year 2062.

  • “Yes, I would prefer no replacement at all but until the Labour Party moves on from the Cold War (no sign yet) we need a policy we can negotiate with them.”

    What a terrible argument. How are the Lib Dems ever going to have any distinctive policies, if people are going to argue that they must always stay within negotiating distance of the other parties? In any case, you’re not likely to be in a negotiating position for years to come.

    And it’s not as though this policy has any merit as a negotiating position. It makes so little sense it would be dismissed out of hand.

  • A Social Liberal 2nd Jul '14 - 9:36pm

    The Lib Dem strategy of a two trident sub is flawed, not least because of the tactics needed to operate such a strategy.

    First, the tactic of not carrying nuclear missiles until a chrisis develops with a nuclear armed country. If that country has developed a submarine launched missile, then all that sub has to do is sit within range of Rosythe and when the British nuclear boats dock to load their nuclear arsenal it fires its missiles. Both our Trident subs are destroyed and we have no way of retaliating.

    Second, if Rosythe is struck with a nuclear weapon whilst a sub is at sea without them, then we have again lost our nuclear capability albeit we do have one sub with no missiles to put in it.

    Third, by abandoning continuous at sea we leave the country open to losing our nuclear capability via a suprise attack on Rosythe when both subs are in.

    Fact. Pakistan has developed a nuclear driven submarine. As sure as eggs is eggs they will go on to develop submarine launched missiles.

    Fact. Pakistan has given nuclear wherewithal to other countries. They are just as likely to offer their nuclear capable sub plans to other nations

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Jul '14 - 9:50pm

    :Danny Alexander: A like-for-like Trident replacement isn’t justifiable in terms of security or cost”

    A lot of people have said this about Danny over the years.But this does exaggerate, somewhat, his damage potential. 😉

  • I bet there were people in Ukraine in the Nineties saying, ‘The world has changed, the USSR is no longer a threat, Russia is reforming and becoming part of the international community, we don’t need all these nuclear weapons and the West is offering its protection and investment in return for giving them up.’

    I wonder what they are thinking now.

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