Summary: Ahead of a final decision on the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, due in 2016, and amid controversial arguments from the MOD regarding the Scottish independence ‘Better Together’ campaign, Liberal Democrat Chief Executive to the Treasury Danny Alexander has outlined his party’s Trident Alternatives Review in a speech to parliament.
The Review, which was agreed as part of the Coalition Agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, has been in progress for two years. It seeks to discover whether “complete renewal of Trident in the way previously planned is the only way to protect our country in the future”.
The main findings of the Review were that while a continuous-at-sea presence is the most “resilient” posture and guarantees the quickest response; and that an entirely new system, using cruise rather than ballistic missiles, would be more expensive than renewing Trident, submarines could potentially be operated at “reduced readiness” when threat levels are lower.
Speaking after the publication of his party’s review of the proposed alternative nuclear deterrents, Mr Alexander recommended to Prime Minister David Cameron that the number of Trident submarines should be cut from four to three, and that continuous 24-hour patrols should be ended, predicting that this would save £50-60m annually.
He said: “We have a big decision to make in 2016, and this study shows that there are credible alternatives that don’t compromise our security but do allow us to move on from the cold war.
We can adapt our nuclear deterrence to the threats in the 21st century by ending 24-hour patrols when we don’t need them, and buying fewer submarines. That way we can take a big step down the ladder of disarmament and keep our country safe.”
For and against
The arguments for and against Trident have been well documented. Labour and the Conservative Party both believe that cutting or scrapping Trident would be reckless and would effectively be a gamble with the safety of the nation.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond recently said that it would be “naive or reckless” not to invest in a like-for-like replacement of the UK’s nuclear weapons system.
The Liberal Democrats, however, hold that the existing system is outdated and no longer relevant, a model designed for the Cold War and no longer applicable in today’s military climate.
Meanwhile the argument has been reinvigorated in light of the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence. The SNP maintain that an independent Scotland would vote to remove all nuclear weapons from Scottish soil.
In controversial revelations in the Guardian newspaper, Ministry of Defence officials have reportedly commented that, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote on independence, the nuclear base at Faslane which houses Trident could be made a sovereign UK state, in order to keep Trident where it is. This idea has since come under heavy criticism, with the UK Government disowning the idea last week.
Following the publication today, Mr Cameron is reportedly dismissing the findings of the report, saying: “Government policy remains as set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review. We will maintain a continuous deterrent and are proceeding with the programme to build a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines. Final decisions on the successor submarines will be taken in 2016.”
Read the full report: Trident Alternatives Review