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Friday, 16 April 2010

Following the debate...

Well, I enjoyed watching the the first TV Prime Ministerial Debate, and not just because Nick Clegg has been declared the winner in the polls. I actually thought it was good television and really enhanced the election campaign. Anyway, for those people who liked what Nick Clegg had to say tonight: that's why I'm a Liberal Democrat. For precisely the reasons that Nick Clegg articulated tonight.

By the way, did Gordon Brown really say that, next year, there will be NO under-performing schools? What, none at all?! This is precisely the sort of unrealistic attitude that we DON'T need from a British government. As if we'll ever see a situation in which there are precisely ZERO under-performing schools. There are many excellent schools, but everybody knows that some schools continue to under-perform.

On a more positive note, I was pleased to hear a mention of the campaign against Territorial Army cuts - I was part of the campaign against those cuts with my Downing Street Petition against them, and we won! Oh, and also on defence, Nick Clegg is absolutely right that the UK should not spend £100 billion on a like-for-like replacement for Trident. That doesn't mean having no nuclear weapons, though. We could replace Trident with a minimum nuclear deterrent, while entering with renewed vigour into multilateral disarmament talks. That is my favoured approach, which I would pursue if elected as Hendon's next MP.

And here is the Liberal Democrats' detailed policy on the Trident issue:

The policy in brief

Liberal Democrats will not renew Trident on a like-for-like basis. Wholesale renewal is unnecessary and unaffordable. The current Trident system is able to operate for another 20 years at least. We will therefore hold a Strategic Security and Defence Review to establish the best alternative for our security. Liberal Democrats will focus on relevant security challenges. Our armed forces cannot tackle the threats of today and tomorrow if they are kitted out for yesterday's wars.

Why it is Necessary

The Cold War is over. There is no longer a major nuclear threat to the United Kingdom. President Obama is leading a bold international push for a world free of nuclear weapons. Today's nuclear threat is not from a super-power stand-off but from rogue regimes and terrorist groups. The estimated lifetime cost for Trident replacement is around £100bn[i], with at least £15-20bn on submarines alone[ii]. Given the huge spending deficit, the MOD's own budget crisis and the Government’s failure to provide our troops with more relevant equipment, this price-tag is simply unacceptable.

Policy Detail
Government Plans for Trident Renewal

Labour has proposed a like-for-like replacement of Trident based on four Vanguard-class submarines. Labour and the Conservatives supported the plan. Only the Liberal Democrats voted against.[iii]

Liberal Democrat Proposals

We do not support like-for-like renewal of this expensive Cold War system. The current submarines have many years of service left to run and will not be decommissioned until the 2020s. A decision on a replacement system need not be taken until 2014 (later if the life of the system is further extended). The Government claims there are no credible alternatives to their plans. We believe there are. We will consider the best alternative as part of a defence and security review, and in the light of the outcome of major multilateral talks in May, the negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Options include:

1. Life Extension - Experts believe that the submarines could have their lives extended by up to15 years. This would allow decisions on a replacement system to be deferred for several years.
2. Ending Continuous at-Sea Patrols - Without the Cold War threat of an overwhelming pre-emptive attack the case for continuous patrols is no longer compelling. De-alerting the system could provide savings and further extend the life of current submarines.

3. Modified Submarine Platforms - Experts argue that the Astute-class submarine could be modified to carry a small number of Trident missiles, or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

4. Strategic Insurance Policy - Rather than building a new weapons platform, the UK would retain a certain amount of nuclear weapons know-how at the Atomic Weapons Establishment. This would provide a long-term hedge against any unforeseen threats.

5. Complete disarmament - Liberal Democrats believe that the UK should continue with a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. However, if talks made significant progress, the UK could consider disarmament. Trident should be on the table for negotiation.

Secret papers have revealed that Trident was designed to destroy major Soviet cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, killing half the inhabitants and leaving devastating levels of radiation for years to come. Yet Trident never even saw service in the Cold War. It was launched in 1994 and has never been targeted since. It would be irresponsible to renew Trident on the same basis.

Costs/savings

Over its lifetime Trident is expected to cost around £100bn. The replacement submarines will cost at least £15-20bn alone. However, the savings from this policy will not fall in the next Parliament and are contingent on the choice we make about alternatives. We have not therefore costed this policy into our deficit reduction and spending plan.

Key Statistics/Quotes

  • The lifetime cost of Trident renewal is estimated at around £100bn over its whole lifetime. (£97bn according to Greenpeace, and rising to 8.5% of the defence budget.)[i] Liberal Democrat research suggests it will be even more - as much as £100bn over just 25 years.
  • Former Head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt (now a Conservative adviser) on the nuclear deterrent: “On balance - on a very narrow points decision - that is probably right for now. It might not be right in five or 10 years' time.”[ii]
  •  Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie: “Is there a cheaper way of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent? Extending the life of the existing system or exploring alternative delivery systems might save us billions, without losing the value of deterrence against aggressive small states.”[iii]
  • Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach: “Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.”[iv]
The Case Against Like-for-Like Replacement of Trident

We accept there is now a case for a minimum nuclear deterrent. But we must prioritise future spending on the threats of today and tomorrow, not the last century. That means climate change, international crime and broken countries that foster terrorism. In today’s world it is irresponsible to spend billions of pounds on a Cold War weapons system designed to flatten Moscow at the touch of a button. If we spend billions of pounds replacing Cold War weaponry we will deprive our troops of equipment on the front-line and actually make the country less safe.

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[i] p.11 In the Firing Line, Greenpeace, September 2009 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/peace/ITFL_trident_report.pdf

[ii] “Dannatt questions nuclear deterrent” PA, 23, February, 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/8958583
[iii] “Where Britain should cut to defend the realm”, Financial Times, 29 July 2009, Charles Guthrie.

[iv] Letter, ‘UK does not need a nuclear deterrent’, Times, 16 January 2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5525682.ece

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STORY BOX: ‘Top-secret document reveals Trident was set up to kill half of Moscow’s citizens’, Sunday Herald, http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2487768.0.topsecret_document_reveals_trident_was_set_up_to_kill_half_of_moscows_citizens.php

[i] p.11 In the Firing Line, Greenpeace, September 2009 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/peace/ITFL_trident_report.pdf

[ii] p. 7 Government White Paper The Future of the United Kingdon’s Nuclear Deterrent http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/AC00DD79-76D6-4FE3-91A1-6A56B03C092F/0/DefenceWhitePaper2006_Cm6994.pdf

[iii] Parliament voted in favour of the Government’s plans on 14 March 2007.

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