Trident is a threat to our national security

 

A week from now Lib Dem conference will be debating our position on our Trident nuclear weapon system. Two years ago I wrote and proposed the amendment to our defence policy which called for us to oppose the renewal of Trident.

I still oppose the renewal of Trident and will fully support the Scrapping Trident motion.

But I’m not doing so because I oppose nuclear weapons out of principle or because I think unilaterally abandoning Trident will be a step towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Let’s be clear: a nuclear weapon free world is a dream which is highly unlikely to ever happen, let alone in my lifetime.

You will never be able to convince certain states to abandon them and as long as one state retains them then other states must retain their own nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Pakistan has them so India must have them, and vice versa, for instance.

However, that does not mean that the UK specifically needs a nuclear deterrent. Our party constitution contains, as an article of faith, a commitment to membership of NATO – which will always need a collective nuclear deterrent. But America is providing that deterrent, not us.

There are no countries in NATO other than Great Britain and France which have nuclear weapons. Germany doesn’t have them. Poland doesn’t have them. Canada doesn’t have them. Yet they are all just as protected by a nuclear deterrent as we are. And, in the event of a nuclear war, our 5% of the world’s share of nukes would be too small to make a difference but enough to single us out as a major target.

In any event, a nuclear deterrent is useless against the genuine threats we face. The Falkland Islands were invaded despite our nuclear deterrent and the 7/7 bombings happened despite it.

But because we insist on spending money on expensive nuclear weapons we don’t need at a time of massive budgetary pressures, the result is that our conventional military is being gutted. And it is our conventional military that we need to act as a real defence against terrorism and against emerging threats like Russia.

It is a sign of our degraded military capacity that in the Libyan intervention our forces ran out of ammunition within two days and had to get more from the Americans. I’ll say that again: in two days we ran out of ammunition.

In the event that Russia decided to invade Eastern Europe the only real military response we could mount would be using our nuclear weapons since our conventional forces would be completely overwhelmed within a matter of days. You can’t fight a Battle of Britain without bullets, believe it or not.

Yet this absolute lack of effective defence against real threats is the price we pay for Trident. And as the rest of our defence budget is increasingly squeezed to bear the cost of Trident we are all becoming less, not more, safe. Especially as the US starts to wonder what the point of its commitment to Europe is if its allies keep on spending less and less on conventional forces rather than shouldering their share of the burden.

All the facts point to one simple truth: Trident is one of the biggest threats we face to our national security.

* George Potter is a Vice-Chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a campaigner for Guildford Liberal Democrats, writing in a personal capacity.

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39 Comments

  • nigel hunter 14th Sep '15 - 10:24am

    I have sent a message to my local lib dem mp about this. The policy of getting rid of one trident is ok. the money saved could be spent on escort ships as we re a maritime nation. equally funds could be used for conventional forces.

  • “However, that does not mean that the UK specifically needs a nuclear deterrent. Our party constitution contains, as an article of faith, a commitment to membership of NATO – which will always need a collective nuclear deterrent. But America is providing that deterrent, not us.”

    If the US is willing to be the only country in NATO that lets other countries have a say into how its nuclear deterrent will be used then I would agree with you, but I am not aware of the US having expressed that position, and I doubt that they will. If the US doesn’t agree and Britain scraps Trident, then that would put pressure on other Nato allies to develop nuclear weapons, which would likely involve cuts to the conventional forces they contribute to Nato. At the present it makes no sense for them to have nuclear weapons because it would cause an unnecessary duplication of efforts, but this may change if Britain scraps Trident. There has to be at least 2 countries in Nato with non-independent nuclear deterrents for it to work as a nuclear alliance.

    “In any event, a nuclear deterrent is useless against the genuine threats we face. The Falkland Islands were invaded despite our nuclear deterrent and the 7/7 bombings happened despite it.”

    Those are not the type of threats that Trident is supposed to deter. While it is true that having Trident reduces the UK’s ability to launch unilateral strikes with its conventional forces, I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, not just because it has sometimes used it wrongly, but also because it also allows the rest of Nato (i.e. the part that doesn’t have nuclear weapons) to spend more on their conventional forces upon which the UK would be able to call if it ever faced a serious threat such as Russia.

  • Gwynfor Tyley 14th Sep '15 - 10:33am

    Possibly the possession of a nuclear deterrent should be put to a referendum for the whole population.

    Maybe word the question as:

    Do you want to spend £100 billion on a new nuclear deterrent that we will never use or do you want to spend £100 billion on the NHS which it is estimated will save [100,000] lives?

  • 75 years after The Battle of Britain one might have hoped that the military establishment would have learned that if your purpose is really to DEFEND the UK, the most useful military asset is a properly trained and equipped air-force.

    Large standing armies designed to fight battles like The Somme and a Navy designed to cope with the Battle of Jutland are as relevant in 2015 as the Charge of the Light Brigade.

    Spending £100 Billion on Trident would an obscene waste of money on George Osborne’s fantasies .

    If you are really worried about DEFENCE of the UK a properly trained air-force with adequate resources to ward off attacks on these islands is all that is needed.

  • John Barrett 14th Sep '15 - 10:55am

    I would like to send a message of support to all those supporting the policy to get rid of Trident.

    As someone who remembers the Harrogate debate all to well and the card vote after a great debate, which was only lost when Ming Campbell as leader spoke against scrapping Trident and added in the risk of undermining the new leader of the party.

    Although I will not be at Conference this year, hopefully we will get a different result this time.

  • Agree with Gwynfor and George 100%, glad there are many members still in favour of scrapping it completely. Getting rid of a single sub is the kind of wishy-washy policy that voters loathe us for, we must make a compelling case against Trident as a party, and that shouldn’t be difficult!

  • If I was at conference, I’d support the motion. I’ve also got a lot of flack in the past for proposing a referendum on Trident – so interesting this has already been suggested above.

    We need to map out a vision for what a nuclear-free British armed forces looks like, this article hits the tone of that quite well.

  • Things to remember:

    The £100 billion is a lifetime cost (40 years) and a fair chunk has been spent already. The figure seems to come from CND and they estimated an annual cost of 2 – 2.4 billion.

    The latest Typhoon programme cost $17.6 billion, the unit cost to the MOD being roughly estimated at £110 million. Obviously unit costs would reduce if more were bought, but then other costs would kick in (e.g. personnel to look after and fly the things – plus the long term costs e.g. military pension costs). To give an example, the estimated hourly cost of flying a Typhoon is £3,875, we’ll have a fleet of 160 so even if each was only flown for 10 hours a month the bill would be over £60 million per month. The planning for Typhoon replacement is starting very soon, I would guess that will probably cost more than the Typhoon programme (Typhoon replacement planned for 2030)?

    The estimated cost of the latest Type 45 Destroyer was £561.6 million, with 6 being built then you’re already looking at £3 billion (plus running costs of course). Again unit cost would probably fall if more were built but other costs would be incurred.

    The Main Battle Tank of the Army is Challenger 2, the unit cost was about £4 million. You could buy lots of those compared to Destroyers or Typhoons, but of course tanks aren’t much use on their own so you’d need more infantry and air power to support them (the whole combined arms approach).

    It’s very easy to look at big numbers and think of things that you could buy or support, but it’s probably even easier to forget the price of peace.

  • George Potter 14th Sep '15 - 12:59pm

    First of all, NATO is not a nuclear alliance, it is a military one with a common defence if attacked article.

    Secondly, it’s worth noting that various US defence sources have been quoted in the media saying that in their opinion the UK can either be a nuclear power or a real military partner – and that we can’t afford to do both. So let’s nail this idea that the US would be less likely to engage with us if we got rid of Trident.

    Thirdly, the actual annual cost of Trident will be over £3 billion a a year for 40 years. Now, yes, other military equipment is also expensive but to put things in context that’s enough to cover the capital cost of building a new aircraft carrier or buying 50 new tranche 3 Eurogighter Typhoons each year. Each year.

    We could significantly increase our conventional military capabilities and cover the associated running cost and still save money compared to the annual running cost of Trident.

    Fourthly, we do not face nuclear threats from other states. We face conventional military threats (like Russian expansionism) but our national deterrent has never protected us from those threats in the past.

  • @George Potter
    “First of all, NATO is not a nuclear alliance, it is a military one with a common defence if attacked article.”

    I’m sorry George, but you are wrong:

    “The Strategic Concept also reconfirmed that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance. Deterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of NATO’s strategy, even though the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote. ”
    http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_50068.htm

    “Thirdly, the actual annual cost of Trident will be over £3 billion a a year for 40 years.”
    Where did you source that?

    “cover the capital cost of building a new aircraft carrier or buying 50 new tranche 3 Eurogighter Typhoons each year. ”

    Cost of fast jet pilot training approx £3.2 million x 50 = 160 million
    Cost of aircraft (rounded down to 90 mil for guess in reduction of unit cost) = 4.5 billion
    Flying Costs (only 10 hours per month x 50 x 3875) = 1.9 Billion

    An aircraft carrier isn’t much use on it’s own, it needs other ships to provide protection and (obviously) aircraft

    I think that’s a bit more than 3 billion and it doesn’t cover a lot of the other costs that would be required (e.g. I would think that pilots will need more than 10 hours per month, ships would need to be sailed etc).

  • @John Marriott
    ” even the Nazis feared retaliation”
    I know it’s the wrong post and I apologise to George in advance, you may wish to find a book called “A Higher Form of Killing”, at one of his many interventions Churchill wanted to drop gas on Germany but was dissuaded, not because of some moral qualm but because it was impractical. If it had happened and Germany retaliated we’d have been toast as they had developed and stocked nerve agents years before (a well known dictator had been gassed in WW1 and wouldn’t sanction there use).

    Sorry again George.

  • Does Russia really want war with NATO?

  • As has been said our few ‘nukes’ would not even count if a war which needed a ‘Trident’ launch…..

    George Potter is right; the US would far rather have us with a more effective ally with conventional forces as a ‘tag-on’ nuclear partner…. “US President Barack Obama and his military chiefs have already expressed concerns over further cuts in Britain’s defence and warned it could damage the Army’s ability to fight future campaigns.”

  • @Sesenco
    Surely that’s the wrong question, most wars are caused by some sort of political failure, so can we be certain that there won’t be any such political failure in the future?

  • @George:

    I’m not sure that’s true, and whatever disagreements the US officials might have amongst themselves on that issue, the only way to be sure that we will have a nuclear deterrent at our disposal is if we provide it.

    It wasn’t that long ago that they gave indications that they wouldn’t be keen on our ditching Trident, see:

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/09/tory-labour-renew-trident-threat-reality-nuclear-election

    “Could we abandon nuclear weapons?

    The one option not on the table is abandonment of nuclear weapons. Some anti-nuclear campaigners cling to a hope that budget constraints might lead to disarmament. The optimism is partly based on the idea that if the US were forced to choose between the UK having a nuclear weapon or a sizeable army, the Pentagon would opt for the latter.

    But the US made it clear to a British defence minister on a visit to Washington that this was not the case. The Pentagon wants the UK to have both a nuclear force and a strong conventional force. But if compelled to choose, defence chiefs told their British counterpart, they valued the UK for only three things in terms of security: the British special forces and British intelligence – and that Britain remains part of the nuclear club.”

  • Are we naieve enough to believe that Western Europe would not have been lost if we had not had nuclear weapons after the war.. Okay if we accept that nuclear weapons deterred the Soviets in the 30 years or so after the war, including Cuba, I well remember our fright at that time, then we are arguing that we do not require our own deterrent but rely on the US and France for cover, from whatever source the threat comes. But is that reasonable or come to that fair say on France. If we are to sound reasonable and logical on this issue then not renewing Trident does not seem to come across well.

  • Richard Underhill 14th Sep '15 - 4:06pm

    We must all be careful not to imagine we are fighting the last war/s, or over-confident about information. Lessons include:
    Imagine the Kaiser’s navy equipped with the equivalent of Exocets at Jutland, making a score-draw;
    A “contemptible little army” not even equipped initially with metal helmets;
    Widespread leakage of a bold strategic plan, causing heavy losses of life and long term political effects to friends and foes.

  • Chris_sh wrote:

    “Surely that’s the wrong question, most wars are caused by some sort of political failure, so can we be certain that there won’t be any such political failure in the future?”

    Some wars, not most, I would suggest.

    Consider the following:

    (1) The US economic elite wishes to get its hands on Russia’s vast oil, gas and mineral reserves.

    (2) The US government (which is the puppet of the economic elite) has been going out of its way to stir up trouble with Russia (in Ukraine, Syria, etc).

    (3) Russia (along with China) is one of two remaining obstacles to US global hegemony.

    (4) War with Russian could devastate Europe while leaving the United States untouched.

    I am all for defending Britain (as we did when we defeated Galtieri’s Argentina), but I am uncomfortable at the idea of Britain being used, as Gore Vidal once put it, as a giant aircraft carrier for the United States.

    Just a thought.

  • George Potter 14th Sep '15 - 6:28pm

    @Chris_sh

    I should point out that, just for instance, the headline cost of a Eurofighter is €90 million – not £90 million. So that works out at £3.3 billion for 50 rather than £4.5 billion. When you’re out by £1.2 billion on something because of an accounting error please forgive me if I don’t place concrete faith in your other figures…

    (Incidentally, I’m 25 – I keep intermittently asking LDV to change that profile photo for my articles but so far it’s still 5 years out of date)

  • George Potter 14th Sep '15 - 6:33pm

    It’s also worth noting more generally Trident that most official figures for cost date back to 2006 to 2008 and after you allow for seven years inflation (both economic and due to going overbudget) the costs look considerably larger today.

  • @George Potter
    “(Incidentally, I’m 25 – I keep intermittently asking LDV to change that profile photo for my articles but so far it’s still 5 years out of date)”

    I’m guessing that this was directed at John Marriott?

    “I should point out that, just for instance, the headline cost of a Eurofighter is €90 million – not £90 million.”
    Oh really, and where did that figure come from, I only ask as http://www.armedforces.co.uk/ lists it as current,y £110 million.

    ” When you’re out by £1.2 billion on something because of an accounting error please forgive me if I don’t place concrete faith in your other figures…”

    Even if that were true, it is still beyond the budget saving that you quoted (just on one weapon system), hardly a ringing endorsement.

    Re the cost of Trident, well the figure of £100 billion quoted was from CND who, I’m sure, have no great desire to hide the cost. That figure is still quoted on their literature by the way.

  • John Minard 14th Sep '15 - 7:41pm

    I just don’t see why having a Nuclear Deterrent shouldn’t be down to a national referendum. And I’m sure it should not bleed funds out of the UK’s commitment to 2% defence spending – which needs to ensure our conventional forces are adequate and that those who put their lives on the line are equipped with the best equipment and afforded the best protection and support available. That’s sensible – we can sell that!

  • George Potter 14th Sep '15 - 9:13pm

    The source for the €90 million figure is here: http://www.bmvg.de/portal/a/bmvg/kcxml/04_Sj9SPykssy0xPLMnMz0vM0Y_QjzKLd4n3sXQCSYGYJu7G-pHoYm7mCLGglFR9b31fj_zcVP0A_YLc0IhyR0dFADbjUEY!/delta/base64xml/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS80SVVFLzZfRF8yOE81?yw_contentURL=%2FC1256F1200608B1B%2FW27T4K7S368INFODE%2Fcontent.jsp

    But equally you can go here and divide the 2012 £4.5 billion export deal to Saudi Arabia by the 72 aircraft to be delivered to work out a near identical unit cost.

    http://www.fast-air.co.uk/typhoon-block-tranche-summary/

  • Peter Bancroft 14th Sep '15 - 9:23pm

    I don’t feel too strongly on Trident either way, but I’m uncomfortable with an argument that says that we should continue to be a leach on American military generosity by using their nuclear umbrella. The argument against renewing Trident would be that we’d be happy to stand on our own two feet. In the 21st century we cannot afford to be vassals of the US any more.

  • Simon Foster 14th Sep '15 - 10:53pm

    Good article George – one of the best pieces I’ve seen so far – you’re certainly developing as a writer! 🙂

    Now, on to this nuclear alliance talk – we’ve forgotten somebody – they’re called the French #justsayin’

    I’ve written under Tim’s article about how we managed to drop some nuclear material onto the aborigines and their homeland in Australia when developing our own weapons, and how the area is still radioactive today, so consider me in the unilateralist column.

  • @George Potter

    As Jedi points out, prices are variable. You point to Saudi in your second link, but I could equally point to Austria on the same page (113 million). The cost we’re surely interested in is the price we pay, not the cost to Germany?

  • @John Minard
    I’m not particularly bothered one way or the other about a referendum question, however wouldn’t that be a bit of a political mine field for the Lib Dem Party?

  • @Simon

    The French’s nuclear deterrent is independent, they have no duty to use it to defend the UK.

  • Spot-on George. I hope the Trident motion passes and that conference declines to hear the referral back case. I hope an amendment might come up which delays the de-commissioning of the existing Trident fleet until the end of their effective life and that we would retain a residual nuclear capability (i.e. we will have the warhead material anyhow) a la Toby Fenwick … however I will still support the motion even if it is not amended.

    In these troubled times we must also commit to spending 2% of GDP on defence – and re-build certain of our capabilities (carrier force, cyber protection etc.).

  • Sesenco 14th Sep ’15 – 5:26pm ……………I am all for defending Britain (as we did when we defeated Galtieri’s Argentina), but I am uncomfortable at the idea of Britain being used, as Gore Vidal once put it, as a giant aircraft carrier for the United States……………..

    The invasion of the Falklands happened because we removed our conventional naval presence in the South Atlantic….
    I suggest you read ‘Operation Journeyman’ to see what a naval presence and secret warnings achieved 5 years earlier…

  • peter tyzack 15th Sep '15 - 11:43am

    as I am not going to chuck my nuclear bomb at somebody else, I therefore don’t need it anymore, and I don’t need a new one. I might as well have a Rolls-Royce on my drive to swank to the neighbours, and pay a mechanic to visit each week to keep it in working order, perhaps take me on a drive around the village too, just to show it off.
    But logically if I don’t want/need one and am not going to pay for a replacement, then I am damned if I am going to have a neighbour park HIS on my drive either.
    We should be giving the US notice to clear all their troops and equipment off our soil by 2025.

  • @peter tyzack
    “We should be giving the US notice to clear all their troops and equipment off our soil by 2025.”

    Why?

  • Katerina Porter 15th Sep '15 - 1:00pm

    Putin’s increasing hostility to the West – patriotically popular at home – is now using nuclear threats. The Danes have been warned that their warships “will be targets for Russia’s nuclear weapons ” if Denmark joins NATO’s missile defense
    system and if NATO moves more military forces to the Baltic states- who have become very nervous after events in Ukraine – Russia would consider a nuclear response. These countries are members of `NATO and the treaty obliges the Allies to come to their defense. Let us hope there is not a new Cold War but during the last one it was “mutual assured destruction” that kept the peace even during the Berlin crisis when Russia cut rail and road access to the Western zones in Berlin. Alfonzo E and Chris -sh have produced real facts. And Trident gives us a place at the table when there are talks with the US. There was a very strong disarmament movement after the horrors of the First World War and where did that get us?

  • J George SMID 15th Sep '15 - 2:04pm

    I should state at the beginning I am against scrapping Trident. Being from the communist Czechoslovakia preconditions my mind somehow.
    From that point of view the arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ are misguided. Firstly nuclear weapons have been imposed upon us by historical development. Secondly their continuous being has nothing to do with NHS, waste of money, or nuclear deterent, NATO, or anything else. The purpose of Trident has to do with the game theory of Non-Cooperative Games of John Nash and his equilibrium point. You unilaterally change your position only, and only, at your peril. Do you remember the ‘piece dividend’ of 1990′? Do you remember the 1994 Budapest Agreement? Or removal of UK naval forces from Falklands mentioned by expacts above. You unilaterally change your position only at your peril.
    Unless the scrapping will be replaced by a new, equally valid, equilibrium point, scrapping is not an option.

  • There is absolutely no way that I as a Briton want to rely on the US, who let us swing in WWII until Pearl Harbour, or France, who have an attititude towards NATO which ranges from ambivalent to hostile. Yes possessing nukes makes us a target, which is why they are mobile and concealed on subs. The way the world is we would be crazy to scrap these defences, probably as crazy as those pushing disarmament in the 1930s. Wishing the the world were a better safer place does not make it so.

  • Mike Turner 17th Sep '15 - 3:08pm

    Trident, and nuclear weapons, are strategically irrelevant from whichever aspect you look at it. On the news today we are warned of a very high terrorist risk. Even if a terrorist group had a nuclear weapon both Trident and our nuclear arsenal would be totally incapable of any useful response. Regardless of cost arguments it makes no sense to spend ANY money on a system which is of no value.

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