Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The future of the British nuclear deterrent

The government claims it is undergoing a period of debate and consultation ahead of a final decision although it is starkly clear that the decision to develop a new generation of weapons has already been taken. That much was clear nearly a year ago when The Sunday Times ran a piece entitled Revealed: UK develops secret nuclear warhead. I blogged about this at the time and my main concern was that the debate should take place in the open and parliament should have the final say on whether or not we want a replacement and if so what form that should take, when it should be developed by and what budget should be allocated to it. To be already spending money on a replacement weapons system without parliamentary approval was and is quite simply wrong.

The Liberal Democrats will be deciding their policy on this issue at their Spring conference in Harrogate on Saturday 3rd March. The motion can be found here.

In a nutshell the Lib Dem motion notes the Labour governments position namely to retain a nuclear deterrent, extend the life of Trident and reduce the number of warheads by 20% and commence procurement for a new class of submarine. The motion then goes on to propose that the Liberal Democrat policy should be as follows :

a) Britain should now begin a major reduction of its nuclear arsenal by approximately 50%, retaining no more than 100 warheads; with each Trident submarine carrying no more than 24 warheads when on deterrence patrol;

(b) The current Trident nuclear system should be maintained and its operational life extended;

(c) A final decision on whether and, if so, how to procure any successor system be taken at the point when the significant capital spending would begin to be incurred on a three boat replacement.

An amendment is to be tabled along the lines of conference resolves that the UK should not procure a successor nuclear weapons system to the current Trident system.

I hope that the amendment is passed and that we make a clear stand on what is the correct way forward for the UK. Why do I feel like this?

1. From a moral standpoint I do not see how we can justify the possession or usage of nuclear weapons let alone the design and production of a whole new system and the submarines which act as a delivery platform.

2. As I understand it the development and production of a new system would break our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for a start.

3. Were we ever to use nuclear weapons there would be disastrous consequences for the local population and the environment in the affected region. Not forgetting of course the continuing environmental impacts of the current weapons system just through the work going on to maintain the system in a safe state.

4. The governments own scientific advisor has stated that the greatest threat that the UK faces is global warming - perhaps we would be better employed spending our time and money on tackling this issue

5. The biggest threat to our security would seem to come from terrorism within our borders. The possession of nuclear weapons will not help us protect the security of our own people against this threat one jot. According to No New Trident one retired general has summarised Trident as: "useless, expensive and dangerous". The defence of the UK actually requires more and better equipped infantry and air and naval transport. Trident is a poor use of scarce resources needed elsewhere for our national security.

6. There seems to be a general consensus that we could not use our nuclear weapons without the consent of the United States - if this is so then we do not have an independent nuclear deterrent so why have one and pay for one if we have to ask someone else for permission too use it?

7. The potential cost of this new system is colossal. The figures I have seen quoted range from £65bn to £75bn depending on the option selected. The reality of what it will eventually cost is I suspect likely to be much greater than these figures given the propensity for such schemes to experience time and cost overruns. Indeed CND quote another figure - the savings which could be achieved if the UK were to spend at the EU average for military spending would equate to £8.5 bn per year (over 25 years that is £212.5bn)

If we accept that we should not have them and are obligated not to design and produce new systems then it seems far more sensible to scrap the system and have a genuine debate about the best way to spend the consequential savings. Some could doubtless go on conventional forces and security measures but I would prefer to see most of this money being invested in protecting us from the greatest threat we face - global warming. It depends on what figure you believe for the cost of a Trident replacement but a couple of ideas of how this money could be spent were given recently in The Ecologist :

  • Nine million homes in the UK need cavity wall insulation. Providing this would cost £16bn and would save 6.5 million tonnes of C02 emissions per annum
  • 25,000 onshore or 8,000 offshore turbines would generate 33% of the UK energy needs and would cost £75bn. I guess that if the government invested in this then the government would reap the income from the sale of the resulting electricity so providing further funds for other projects.
This is to say nothing of the many other issues which face the UK and desperately need tackling.

The NHS needs fixing once and for all, clearly some more money is required given the shortfalls but more importantly would be some form of cross party consensus which would take the NHS away from being a political football and towards being a stable organisation which can deliver a consistently high standard of health care and drugs throughout the UK.

The waste we generate and how we deal with it is a huge problem and we are only scratching at the surface of what needs to be done to invest in systems to deal with the waste as well as the requirement to ensure that we produce as little as possible in the first place.

Public Transport need some serious investment - it is just not acceptable to have stations (as we do) with no service whatsoever on a Sunday. More houses have been built near our station in recent years and even more are going up now. Wonderful until the occupants discover that the service is somewhat infrequent at the best of times and non existent on a Sunday and they will have to use a car anyway

If you want to read more about the issues go to No New Trident here or click on the button on my side bar.

1 comment:

MsDemmie said...

Thank you for the detailed look at these proposals.

The government does not know the meaning of the word consultation - either that or it puts the word CON into consultation.

I hope the ammendment gets passed. I think Trident should be allowed to be phased out(die) quietly.

I find the idea of them abhorrent.

That is even before the arguemtn that the nature of our foes has changed.

What however I feel most strongly about is that the government can find the money for such spending at the cost of supplying of supplying the medical care that we need.