The Independent View: Dropping the bomb

A report launched this week caught the headlines by describing the replacement of Trident as “nonsensical”.

“Replacing Trident makes no sense” said the BBC, while the Guardian led with “Trident nuclear deterrent upgrade ‘nonsensical’”.

But they were not quoting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or any other campaigning organisation. Rather, they were quoting the liberal thinktank CentreForum, which David Cameron has previously commended “for their excellent work”.

Nick Clegg has also indicated the policy significance of CentreForum: “Many of the policy areas my party is implementing in government were developed, tested and refined through dialogue with the CentreForum team.”

The report, ‘Dropping the Bomb: a post Trident future’, is a salient analysis of the strategic and economic arguments against Trident. It argues for the immediate scrapping of Trident, with all of the savings being directly reinvested into bolstering Britain’s flagging conventional armed forces.

That’s certainly not everyone’s choice for the destination of the savings, but the most significant aspect of the report is that it is indicative of the breadth of opposition to the government’s dogmatic approach to Britain’s nuclear weapons possession. There has long been opposition to Trident in the UK, but this dissent is now reflected in the establishment: and that includes Tory MPs, not just their Lib Dem coalition partners; senior military figures; policy analysts and defence strategists.

What’s more, it is no surprise that these very serious questions are now being asked in Westminster. There comes a point at which debate outside the Westminster bubble achieves such a scale and significance that it is no longer dismissible as the clamouring of ‘usual suspects’ like CND.

Of course it is of crucial importance that a majority of the population are opposed to Britain wasting more than £100bn over the lifetime of a replacement nuclear system.

But many of those who are in favour of Britain maintaining a strong military, including those in government, are increasingly of the opinion that the evisceration of the defence budget can only be ameliorated by cancelling the exorbitant proposed spending on Trident.

Yet it is not simply a myopic economic argument. Rather, it is when the strategic argument is synthesised with the economic context that the compelling case emerges: particularly for those who were previously in favour of replacing Trident.

Senior military figures have described Trident as “completely useless” and “virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics”. CentreForum’s report concludes that Trident simply has no “role to play in current or likely future UK security scenarios”, which makes spending such a crippling fee on it “nonsensical” and “inexplicable”.

Finally, the government only needs to look at its own findings for confirmation of these opinions: its National Security Strategy in 2010 downgraded the risk of a state-on-state nuclear attack to a two-tier threat.

Britain is now at a crossroads. We can choose to plough money into a strategically redundant and economically catastrophic weapons system which even the military don’t want. Or we can become world leaders in tackling nuclear proliferation, have a strong moral footing in diplomacy against states seeking nuclear weapons and at the same time save ourselves over £100bn which could be invested in ways which are socially beneficial. The choice seems obvious to me.

* 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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This entry was posted in Op-eds and The Independent View.


  • Philip Gilligan 9th Mar '12 - 7:19pm

    An excellent article from Kate Hudson. The party leadership needs to listen to these voices of sanity and recognise that scrapping the the Trident nuclear weapons system would free-up resources needed for socially useful public spending.

  • Despite all the anti-missile missile effort there is no defence against nuclear attack – only retaliation. President Obama & his Russian equivalent have realised this & have agreed to reduce their nuclear weapons stockpile. This is symbolically very significant even though what is left could still destroy the world many times over. It is reasonable to conclude that there is no British military need for Trident, or a successor. Senior military officers agree with this view. This does not mean that the UK ceases to be a nuclear power. We have a significant number of nuclear warheads and the means of delivery. Some years ago it was Liberal Democrat policy to cut our existing nuclear arsenal in half and prolong the life of Trident. Essentially that hasn’t changed although the argument is based on politics rather than military sense.

    For the sake of the politics let us accept (although it is arguable) that, as a leading member of the international community Britain needs the nuclear deterrent, that goal is fulfilled, as are much better military and political ones, by the Lib Dem policy, especially in the current economic climate. As far as one can see into the future our military are going to be engaged in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo type activities. The resources needed for this are varied but it beggers the imagination to see a need for a Trident type system. Mostly it involves foot soldiers and associated air power. Particularly with respect to soldiers money needs to be spent on their equipment, personal needs and aftercare which is currently a disgrace.

    Polaris [the fore runner of Trident] which I worked on, was conceived in the 1950’s to respond to the perceived threat and military technology of those times. It was successful. But as warhead power increased and the means of delivery from a variety of mobile launch sites became ever more varied the need for ones retaliation capability to be hidden a huge expense beneath the sea diminished & is now zero. To replace Trident with anything like a similar system is a triumph of ego over sense. So we’ll probably do it.

  • Richard Johnson 12th Mar '12 - 6:14pm

    In the light of the arguments – the strategic redundancy, the terrible waste of resources, the extraordinary moral priorities shown in Replacement – the puzzle becomes why do sections of our elite hold onto a non-independent non-deterrent. My own view, based on listening hard to political statements, is that the decisive argument (for them) remains that of prestige and influence in international affairs. But whose influence? Nations aren’t unified items. Many (most?) of us don’t crave to continue a quasi-imperial role and ‘grandeur’. We would be happy, for example, with a genuinely defensive posture against those threats that are real and with the capacity to intervene in genuine human disasters in humanitarian ways. So I often think that replacing Trident is another example of the self-interest of elites who wish to remain powerful in the nation and in thew orld matching in important ways, the plutocratic concentration of economic power. Against this there is a long and honourable liberal tradition of peaceful international policies embracing the economic benefits of peace (associated with trade etc).As a peace campaigner, I warmly welcome any liberal (re-)thinking on this vital issue.

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