Replacing Trident makes no sense, Centreforum argues

One of the UK's Vanguard submarines The renewal of Trident has major financial and political implications

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The government is being urged to cancel the "nonsensical" replacement of the Trident nuclear submarines and use the money to "revitalise" the armed forces.

Liberal policy think tank Centreforum says Britain is "sleepwalking" into replacing Trident at a cost of £25bn, while cutting the navy, Army and RAF.

It argues there is no current or medium-term threat to justify the cost.

The MoD said the government was committed to maintaining a continuous submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

In May 2011, the then Defence Secretary Liam Fox approved the £3bn first design stage for the new submarines.

However, the coalition government has delayed a final decision until after the next election amid concerns from the Liberal Democrats about the cost.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy supports the renewal of Trident, although many backbench Labour MPs are opposed to the idea.


  • 2007: MPs approve plans for renewal in Commons vote. "Concept phase" launched to assess future submarine designs and consider value for money of project
  • 2010: Defence review decides to delay final decision on renewal to 2016
  • May 2011: "Initial Gate" procurement phase begins. Some building materials and components of nuclear propulsion system to be purchased over five years
  • 2016: "Main Gate" decision due to be taken. Submarine design and missile component contracts to be finalised
  • 2028: First replacement submarine to be delivered

Centreforum proposes that Britain should retain the capability to design and build nuclear weapons in case they are needed in the future.

But, it says, the UK's ballistic missile submarines should now be converted to an attack fleet and equipped with conventionally armed cruise missiles.

It says the government should invest the billions saved by cancelling Trident in Britain's conventional forces, which would otherwise face further cuts by 2020.

Report author Toby Fenwick said: "Replacing Trident is nonsensical. There is no current or medium-term threat to the UK which justifies the huge costs involved.

"A critical assessment of the UK's strategic position and military requirements leads to a clear conclusion: Trident makes no effective contribution to our security. Cancelling it will provide a unique opportunity to rebalance and revitalise Britain's forces for the 21st century."

The issue of a like-for-like replacement of Trident is one that has divided the coalition.

The Ministry of Defence said that as part of the coalition agreement, the Liberal Democrats would continue to explore the possibility of an alternative approach to delivering a credible nuclear deterrent, with a report to the prime minister and deputy prime minister due to be published later this year.

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell, who is chairing the cross-party commission looking into the nuclear issue, said the report was ill-timed.

MPs were still considering a variety of evidence from experts and confidential sources and it seemed "premature to jump to a conclusion", he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The chief executive of Centreforum, Chris Nicholson, said: "We are pleased that the government is carrying out a study of alternatives to Trident.

"It is important that the option of removing Trident from service immediately is considered as part of this review."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Our weapons are designed to prevent attack by being the ultimate detterant. I.e. to be sure that no matter the damage inflicting to us, we will always be able to destroy any aggressor completley. The future is uncertain: Iran, Pakistan, China are states with potential to become a military enemy, all have or nearly have nuclear weapons.... to surrender our would be reckless in the extreme

  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    Where's the 'threat'? Most likely a 'rogue' state; in which case, 'deterrents' don't work because despot leaders know they won't be used. Trident is now an obsolete weapon but the MoD have a history of buying obsolete weapons (e.g. Typhoon).
    Astute is better, with medium range nuclear and conventional cruise missiles. The future is: aircraft carriers, naval ground attack aircraft and marines.

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    Re Calum Mckay's comments ..........Scotland doesn't pay the bill for Trident , the UK does . The Brits to whom you refer includes Scotland . Nonetheless please continue to post're doing the Independence vote no end of dammage .

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    "Why can't the current trident fleet be re-fitted & updated? This would surely be more cost effective"

    Because there becomes a time when it isn't cost effective due to limitations in technology from the original design. We have already put this off time and time again and now this argument cannot be used.

    Only issue I have is of supply-it should be UK designed and built.

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    Or 275. If the Govt gets wiped out the Captain of our current deployed deterrent gets to read Dave's personal letter of authority to him in the locked safe :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Why not just keep the current Trident? Is it *really* necessary to replace the current version?

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    At the height of RBS it was the 4th biggest bank in the world, which it achieved in 8 short years from not even being the 4th biggest bank in Britain. This is Westminsters fault, for their lax regulations and risk taking ethos when it came to the banking sector. Blaming the Scots is just offensive when it couldn't be further from the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.


    Read replies, it is very very easy, use the foreign aid budget we could replace Trident every three years from that money which is just thrown away!

    Money is not the issue, priorities are, our Government and centreforum put foreigners before our defence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    25 billion over the time of sevice is peanuts compared to the anual bill for the state. It meens we get to sit on the security council and punch way above our weight in the world . Small price to pay for security and a voice in the world . The US have no control over our deterant but in the end who will ever use it . Realisticaly it isnt there to be used its there to make sure others dont use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    The current 'deterrent' system is a stop-gap until global disarmament can be agreed, unless you believe that armed deterrence will deter for all time. Our Government should be bold and take the initiative on the permanent global disarmament that is so clearly needed rather than waste further billions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    The NATO pact, of which we and the USA are key UN Security Council members, dictates that if an ally is attacked, all NATO allies must respond in kind.

    Ergo, as long as the USA has nukes, we don't need our own. If the only reason we have them is to allow the US to save face and be able to point to us and say "well they have them too", then the USA should pay for them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    This is proof Politicians, of all colours, are insecure people with a cavalier attitude to spending other peoples money - ours!

    Either - Trident with very limited Army, Navy (good bye Aircraft Carriers) and Air Force (no Typhoon - replace with Drones) or No Trident and effective and efficient Armed forces - with fewer pointless "toys for the boys" -Aircraft Carriers and Typhoon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    Should a an organisation such as Centreforum have corporate partners?

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    If we took out Trident there would be spare room in our submarines. These could be kitted out to make habitable space to keep Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Mandy in comfort. Upon the slightest provocation they could be let out at night onto the shores of our enemies to give them "no more boom and bust "and year on year on growth" Go on Gordon they don't like it up 'em.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    I wish there was a deterrent to excessive use of the cap lock

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    248. davesr

    Trident is an independent nuclear deterrent. Like France has its own. They do not depend upon the U.S. giving permission to do anything. In a military command structure this would be laughable. The order to use sits firmly in the lap of the prime minister and down through his deputy etc. The U.S does not even know where the RN submarines are. It is not a game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Historically, countries who "aint gonna to study war no more" end up being conquered.

    I'm with Theodore Roosevelt.

    "Speak softly and carry a big stick."

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    239. eurosong
    In 1982 there was scant defence in the region
    The point was we had the nuclear deterrent then and that didn't put off Argentina, why? Because they knew we could never use it on mainland Argentina and nuking the Falklands was pointless.

    Without a carrier to provide air cover, any attempt to retake the island would be suicide. That's why Argentina are sabre rattling now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    #246 I know dude.

    My point was, if a man like Hitler had nuclear weapons, he would not even have needed to use them so long as his enemies did not.

    If we get rid of an EFFECTIVE deterrent, we would be at risk of nuclear blackmail. Of course its a small risk.... but a man like Hitler, could happen again.

    Trident is our countries ultimate security....get rid and accept your vulnerable....

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    "Centreforum proposes that Britain should retain the capability to design and build nuclear weapons in case they are needed in the future."
    I suspect by that time it would be a tad too late...

    I think UK and France should work together to operate a EU deterrent, with other countries chipping in for the cost.


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