Scrap Trident nuclear weapons, urge 58% of Lib Dem members

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

58% say scrap Trident, just 26% back leadership line of reduced deterrent

Currently the Trident system has FOUR nuclear armed submarines. This means that at least one nuclear armed submarine can always be on patrol, even if others are undergoing maintenance or training, and therefore the country has a continuous nuclear deterrent. One way of having a less expensive nuclear weapons system would be if a new system only had TWO nuclear armed submarines, meaning there could be times when both submarines were receiving maintenance or training and there was no nuclear armed submarine on patrol. Which would you prefer?

    9% – A more expensive system, where there is always a nuclear armed submarine on patrol

    26% – A less expensive system, where there could be times when there was not a nuclear armed submarine on patrol

    58% – Neither – Britain should not have a system of submarine based nuclear weapons

    5% – Don’t know

A clear majority of Lib Dem members in our survey want the UK to ditch the Trident nuclear weapons system altogether. 58% want it not to be renewed compared to just 26% who back the party’s preferred ‘contingency posture’ of a reduced number of submarines. A smaller minority still (9%) want Trident to be renewed to guarantee ‘continuous at sea deterrence’.

This result will come as a disappointment to the party leadership which has thrown its backing behind The Trident Alternatives Review overseen by Danny Alexander advocating a scaled-down deterrent. This will be the subject of a vote at party conference and judging by these results the party leadership will have to battle hard to avoid defeat.

Here’s a selection of your comments:

We should have a joint deterrent with other countries in the EU.

Britain shouldn’t have and doesn’t need nuclear weapons.

There is no justification for having nuclear weapons, however cheap they are. The financial arguments are good, but the moral ones are better.

The two submarine is a massive copout. I could have accepted it as the result of a compromise between the positions of the members of the coalition, but to adopt it from the start is weak and without principle – and will result in a coalition compromise that looks very much like the current ‘deterant’ at an outlandish cost the country cannot afford.

So far the coalition agreement has been worthless on this. A good hard working Liberal Democrat minister has been axed (Sir Nick Harvey) and Philip Hammond has been able to settle the first tranche of R & D monies. He has also put down £270 million deposit for VSEL to commence work on the hulls of “our” next generation Mk5 Trident submarines….So much for the agreement

The report was a farce. It’s dumb politics to commission a report that makes a mockery of your initial position. Clear decision to be made now: either we renew Trident or we decommission our nukes.

You either have a deterrent or you don’t. There is no point in having one that is only part time. That is not a deterrent.

I’m not entirely sure why we can’t have a Western Europe joint defence. Would share the cost around.

It’s a capability that needs to be 100% if we’re to retain a serious position in global affairs.

It is hypocritical and illogical to try to dictate to countries like Iran that they should NOT have nuclear weapons, if Britain continues to consider them vital to its security. Britain is engaging in the equivalent of bullying.

In the longer term Trident should be abandoned, but we should proceed one step at a time.

Defence of the realm against unforeseeable events in the decades to come is paramount

Time to accept our diminishing role in the world …

We should scrap all nuclear weapons eventually, any measure that sets us on that path is OK. Status quo does not. We should also take nuclear possession out of the qualification for security council.

I do not think a Trident type system is appropriate but if a two sub system of the Trident type is the only accepted solution then it may be that the UK and France could work a mutual four boat system with a potential enemy never knowing which one of the 4 is on patrol.

When I joined the Liberal Party in 1961, the argument was between collective nuclear defence and unilateralism. No one in the Party was in favour of a supposedly independent deterrent, which even Michael Portillo has said is neither independent nor a deterrent, but rather the price to be paid for a seat at the Top Table (whatever that is). The new proposal offers so little in policy or financial terms, we might as well keep all the submarines for their employment and economic benefits. But better to scrap the lot.

I support a scaling down of the Trident deterrent based on the report from Sir Menzies Campbell and the need to divert money allocated to Trident to reduce rising lower taxation/state pensions etc.

I look forward to a world without nuclear weapons but the public don’t support this as yet. But there is surely no justification for spending so much on renewal of a weapons system we simply don’t need any more. Our threats don’t come from massive nuclear powers any more. Trident won’t deter terrorists.

Reducing the scale of the Trident system is a logical step post-cold war. But with posturing from states, including North Korea and Iraq, the case remains to keep a nuclear deterrent.

At some point we have to be ready to make the decision not to be a nuclear power.

This is an “all or nothing” system, we either have a deterrent system, or we don’t and a fudge where we only have it sometimes is meaningless.

There is no potential enemy that would be deterred by nuclear weapons

I’d like to see all nations disarm their nuclear weapons. Whilst we’re still in a military stand-off though, it’s never going to happen. Someone needs to slowly back-away first. That, in itself, would be worthwhile – saving any costs is just a bonus.

I am wholly opposed to any form of nuclear weapons

The arguments made by Danny Alexander have a logical endpoint of no nuclear weapons. If there is any need for these, they should be collectively held by NATO. There never was a case for an independent British deterrent – not that it ever was.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. Just over 600 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 23rd July.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    24 Comments

    • paul barker 8th Aug '13 - 11:48am

      Theres a tension here between what we want & what most voters want, clearly the end result (if we are in Government) will be a compromise. The question is how we negotiate that final compromise, I imagine the Leaderships worry is that we end up sounding intransigent & out of touch.

    • Geoffrey Payne 8th Aug '13 - 12:50pm

      Since we can’t afford the pay the benefits of the poorest people , how can we then find the money to pay for weapons we do not need?
      The party leadership make a good point when they criticise Labour and the Tories for being stuck in the politics of the 1980s. However that argument goes further than the issue of like for like replacement. Today the question is why do we need them? David Cameron tried to argue recently that we need them to protect ourselves from North Korea, but that is absurd. Where ever North Korea decides to aim it’s nuclear weapons it will have devastating consequences for the whole world. The idea that they might be thwarted in such ambitions by our replacement for Trident, whatever it is, is laughable.
      We do today have serious security threats, but none of them will be deterred by our possession of nuclear weapons. Today we need to invest in our security sevices, they are our best hope for our security. In addition our biggest security threat is from global warming. Now how much are we investing in the Greeen Investment Bank? And how much for replacing Trident? That in itself is a good indicator of where our priorities are.

    • nigel quinton 8th Aug '13 - 1:23pm

      @Robin – very true. The report was an example of grown up politics, ie lets be clear about the evidence and the options. But having had the benefit of the report, the obvious conclusion seems to be that there is no ‘middle way’ here, or at least not one that makes any strategic sense. Based on that, the party should (as the majority of respondents agree) return to a clear position of non-replacement, and effectively become a unilateralist party, although some will argue that one can achieve (modest) multilateralist goals at the same time. Supporting a totally bizarre ‘neither one thing nor the other’ makes very little sense to me.

    • Kevin White 8th Aug '13 - 3:20pm

      I am convinced that an unambiguous Scrap Trident – No Replacement campaign will strike a real chord with voters. The arguments for scrapping Trident are strong and the extravagant costs are hard to ignore at a time of austerity. We could have an Iraq moment with such a policy, win back previously lost voters and make gains amongst those who aren’t stuck in the 1980s MAD frame of mind.

    • William Barter 8th Aug '13 - 3:23pm

      My main issue with the middle ground “contingency posture” where weapons and some submarines are kept but there is not a continuous at sea deterrence is this: we are informed that should the international situation escalate we would launch our subs. However, for the policy of deterrence to work, we would need to inform the world that the subs were at sea. How could we launch our subs without this being seen, in what would be a delicate international situation, as an inflammatory gesture? Following this logic, I worry that we must either accept that we need continuous deterrence or we should completely disarm. A halfway house is arguably the most dangerous option. I am not sure which conclusion I draw otherwise, aside that I think this is very important to debate. And I would be very welcome to be corrected. Please do let me know if there is a way we can have a system with fewer submarines, where we can launch submarines at minimal notice without worrying about inflaming delicate international situations.

    • Robert McClair 8th Aug '13 - 5:59pm

      This is without doubt THE most valuable thing ANY party could do for the country, but Scottish members of the party have the mother and father of opportunities to rid the UK of these vile objects by simply voting “Yes” in the coming Independence referendum.
      It,s a no brain decision when it comes to a choice between an on-going Trident threat for the nation, or a UK where, (because the Scots won,t have them, the whole of the british isles…and the whole world) immediately becomes both safer at home and less warlike to others.
      What a gift to the world……..let,s do it !

    • Liberal Neil 8th Aug '13 - 8:17pm

      The problem with the fudge proposed by the report is that it is quite obviously a fudge and plays to the narrative that the Lib Dems don’t stand for anything.

      Far better to take a clear and rational position on nuclear weapons – scrap them -that also provides a massive saving in public expenditure.

    • Jonathan Brown 8th Aug '13 - 8:19pm

      I agree with Simon and with Kevin: we don’t need 100% of the public to support us – hell, we’re lucky to get 10% these days. A bold, sensible policy on disarmament would be a distinctive and popular policy with many people. The key though is not be embarrased and defensive about it. We should attack our opponents for being happy to cut the rest of our armed forces to the point where they’re no longer any use all so that we can posture at the ‘top table’. A promise to plough all of the Trident money back into the armed forces would be a pro-security, pro-defence, pro-evidence, pro-recognising the financial reality policy. And what’s more, I bet there’d be significant support for this among the armed forces. I bet Clegg is terrified of appearing in a TV election debate trying to defend something ‘pathetic and cowardly’, but he (we) should be putting the others on the back foot: see how Cameron likes defending a policy that means we can longer deploy our army abroad in combat situations?

      One final point is that I think we could and should go a step further and put a bit of money into maintaining a ‘breakout’ nuclear capability. Obviously we shouldn’t pretend that this is a ‘nuclear deterrant lite’. But the ability to rapidly re-arm, should the need arise, would be a sufficient insurance policy for if things look like they’re heading in a very dangerous direction. (And by quickly, I mean in a few years rather than decades.)

    • Neil – It would be an awful lot simpler if party policy and strategy was done on the basis of things we agree on 🙂

    • nuclear cockroach 8th Aug '13 - 9:28pm

      @jb

      I would happy so support such a proposal. Scrap Trident, but retain the warheads and the nuclear material, in case some future government felt compelled to redevelop a deterrent system. Commit indefinitely to spending 2.0% on conventional defence forces.

    • Martin Caffrey 9th Aug '13 - 1:37am

      As a colleague remarked to me recently, concerning nuclear weapons, “what good are they against a suicide bomber detonating themselves in Parliament Square? ”

      Get rid of them all!

    • I agree 100% with Jonathan Brown. The range of security threats we have is enormous – 10 years ago we would not have imagined the re-emergence of piracy, threats of cyber attack, biological warfare, internal terrorism, impact of global climate change and rising sea levels, R2P (responsibility to protect) which can require a global projection of power … the list is endless. We have already cut many of our conventional forces to the point that they are barely credible … and the situation is only likely to worsen,

      We have a perfect storm brewing in military procurement over the next 10 years and simply can not afford a Trident replacement (it is the subs that cost the lion’s share). We need a bold & distinctive Lib Dem policy on that:
      shows that we are deeply committed to and respect our armed forces and determined to serve them well in return;
      determined to counter all threats to our security in a sensible manner, including adequate procurement for the navy and RAF;
      support a joint NATO nuclear deterrence (I suppose this means the USA, where France fits in needs reconciliation);
      strengthen our bilateral military cooperation relations outside of NATO to enable us to counter global threats – strengthening our historical ties with Commonwealth countries comes to mind here – we have lots of positives to build on!; and
      maintain a low cost reserve of the possibility of rebuilding a nuclear capability … we would still have weapons grade nuclear materiel after all.

      In this way we can have a bold, sensible, distinctive Lib Dem defence policy which can be sold to the public, be endorsed by senior forces personnel (those serving in private, some retired would likely go public), bit fit for purpose and above all, be moral in a world where sadly we have to have armed force capability to defend ourselves (and others suffering more i.e. R2P). This would be bold not weak, distinguish us from the other parties, and be a real selling point for our “brand” in the manifesto.

    • 1. I have little doubt that LDs want to end the Trident era. But gradually scaling down the use of Trident is easier to promote than a sudden ending. Think of the gift a proposal of sudden ending would hand to the two large parties!
      2. The increasingly supported “working within NATO” seems an even better plan than maintaining UK’s stand-alone capability. But the negotiation of working in NATO needs to be well framed – preferably over a sensible time-frame.
      3. Standing “alone” will be promoted by most of the other parties and the media – playing to the “Great Britain” of land of hope and glory – and heading off Russia etc.

      The Lib Dem position, if it includes 1. or 2. of the above, will be hard to defend at the general election but will be distinctive. This is why the party needs to be vary wary [and hold back the timing of our cherished principles] at Conference – and propose much more work, negotiation, statesmanship. Proposals to rapidly remove Trident and any potential successor will lose the few votes the Lib Dems have left – and be as damaging as anything we have suffered so far.

    • Jonathan Brown 9th Aug '13 - 7:57pm

      Robdn – I wasn’t, and am still not a gung-ho unilateralist disarmer… I thought the policy we fought on at the last election was a good one. But I don’t think it’s credible to fight on it again, in light of the review we’ve just had. And if you think defending disarmament would be a gift to our opponents, just think of the field they’ll have with ‘wishy-washy lib dems want to have it both ways – a part time detterant at almost the same cost as a proper one’.

      My point was that we shouldn’t be on the defensive. I don’t know how much of the public supports unilateral disarmament (and what I’m proposing with a credible rearming capability is a bit more nuanced), but I’m sure it’s much bigger proportion of the population than is currently thinking of voting Lib Dem. I think you (we) are worried about losing ‘security conscious’ voters who probably don’t vote for us anyway, when we could be focussing on millions who would like to vote for a different policy. It’s risky, certainly, but any policy we adopt is. I think we should be brave and – where we can put forward a rational and sensible policy – go with our principles and take the fight to the enemy. As I say, let them defend cuts to our armed forces that prevent us from projecting power abroad.

      John Innes makes a very good point too – we don’t even need to disarm entirely to save on the costs of Trident. Having a nuclear weapon in storage would not be a detterent in the way that we’re used of thinking of it, but it would demonstrate a seriousness still – the ability to re-arm relatively rapidly should we for some very unlikely reason head towards another cold war type scenario.

    • Clear Thinker 10th Aug '13 - 11:12am

      What good are security systems that detect would-be suicide bombers in Parliament Square, but are wholly ineffective against rogue states sending a nuclear missile someone’s way?

      We face a range of threats and delivery techniques, including indirect ones that effect not us, but our allies and suppliers. About the worst thing we could do in response is to focus on just one only. Those who threaten are not blind – they’ll see weaknesses and go for those.

    • Mike Gillbard 11th Aug '13 - 7:13am

      After a quick scan of the comments there has been little or no reference to the idea of a joint nuclear sub patrol with France.
      Don’t we already have an agreement over aircraft carriers at present ?

    • Jonathan Brown 11th Aug '13 - 4:36pm

      @Jedibeeftrix “This security conscious voter wants to see the Lib-Dem’s with a credible Defence policy.”

      I’m not sure whether you’re implying that keeping, scrapping or splitting the difference on Trident would amount to one.

      I’m arguing that giving priority to our army, navy and air force (which are generally good and very useful) over our nuclear deterrent (which deters no one who might want to attack us, is a huge financial and opportunity cost and which isn’t considered necessary by most countries in the world today) would be a very credible defence strategy indeed.

      Perhaps I should have re-framed my point about ‘security conscious voters’. What I meant was that (small ‘c’) conservatives who are very concerned about our historic role as a world power and who think that nukes are important and who think of themselves as being ‘security minded’ don’t vote and probably never will vote for us – because they also probably disagree with us on loads of other issues. We’re not going to win them over with any defence strategy because they are fundamentally conservative voters.

      We ought to have a credible defence strategy because it’s morally and politically the right thing to do, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that arguing for 3 subs instead of 2, or even going for renewal of all 4 is going to win us any votes from dyed in the wool retired admirals who’ve been propping up conservative associations since the 1960s.

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