Lib Dems accuse Tories of trying to 'rubbish' Trident report

 

Lib Dem Danny Alexander: "It's fair to say that the two parties in government have very different approaches to this issue"

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The coalition parties are at odds after a Lib Dem-prompted government report set out options for replacing the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Lib Dems favour reducing the number of Vanguard submarines from four now to three, saying the existing system was designed for the Cold War era.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be "naive or reckless" not to have a like-for-like replacement.

But Lib Dem Danny Alexander accused him of trying to "rubbish the report".

A final decision on the issue is to be made in 2016, after the next election.

The UK has had a continuous-at-sea nuclear weapons system, with at least one submarine on patrol at any given time, for more than 40 years and has used the Trident system since the early 1990s.

While the government remains committed to Trident, the coalition partners agreed to undertake a review amid disagreements over future capability and cost.

The review makes no recommendations but set outs a range of options.

Its main findings are:

  • There are alternatives to the current posture which would enable the UK to inflict "significant damage" and deter aggressors
  • Submarines could potentially be operated at "reduced readiness" when threat levels are lower
  • A continuous-at-sea presence is the most "resilient" posture and guarantees the quickest response
  • Land and air-based delivery systems effectively ruled out
  • An entirely new system, using cruise rather than ballistic missiles, would be more expensive than renewing Trident
Trident graphic showing range of missiles, comparing size with 747 and explaining there are four submarines, one is at sea, one is undergoing maintenance and two are in port/training.

The UK's current four-submarine fleet will reach the end of its lifespan in the 2020s and one of the main arguments surrounds how many "successor" submarines - which take 17 years to build - should be commissioned.

Analysis

The Trident Alternatives Review was never going to settle the debate about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

The review asked three key questions. The first two were: Are there credible alternatives to a submarine-based deterrent? Are there credible submarine-based alternatives to the current proposal - such as modifying the Astute submarines?

In both cases the answer appears to be no. Basing nuclear missile silos on land was never really a starter. Too controversial and too easy to target. And the review appears to conclude that modifying the Astute submarines to carry nuclear cruise missiles would be both more expensive and less effective.

The one hope for the Liberal Democrats is in the last question: Are there alternative nuclear postures, such as a non-continuous at-sea deterrent?

For the Conservatives the answer is still no. Philip Hammond says it would be like having a part time deterrent. He wants a like-for-like replacement.

But the Liberal Democrats argue you could save billions of pounds by having two submarines instead of four. There will be clear blue water between the two parties before the next election.

The report suggests four boats would be required to maintain a continuous-at-sea presence and a smaller fleet would risk "multiple unplanned breaks" in 24-hour patrolling and could affect the UK's ability to respond in crises.

It says the UK could still operate a nuclear weapons system with three or even two boats but that would depend on "political confidence" that there was no chance of an unexpected pre-emptive attack and more regular patrols could be reconstituted.

But Mr Hammond told the BBC that nuclear submarines were the "most complex man-made object on earth" and reducing the numbers available would leave the UK extremely "vulnerable".

"Just because we do not perceive an immediate threat today, does not mean there would not be a threat over the 60-year odd time horizon we are looking at," he said.

"The truth is, at the end of the day, we can have continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrents or we can have a part-time deterrent. The part-time deterrent will save us only trivial sums of money."

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander accused Mr Hammond of trying to "rubbish the report" and said his Conservatives colleagues "were worried about losing the argument".

'Nuclear ladder'

The UK's nuclear policy had "not moved on very much since the end of the Cold War", he said, and the review showed there were "credible alternatives" to the current arrangements.

TRIDENT TIMELINE

  • 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
  • 2011: "Initial Gate" procurement phase to begin. 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

"We can move on by ending 24-hour patrols when we don't need them and buying fewer submarines," he said.

"That way we can move down the ladder of disarmament as a country without compromising our national security."

Critics have questioned whether the UK can continue to pay for Trident in its current form. The government estimates renewal costs will be between £15bn and £20bn but anti-nuclear campaigners say the figure will be much higher.

Mr Alexander said £4bn would be saved in the medium to long term from moving to three submarines but the Ministry of Defence says the current cost of operating the Trident fleet is about 5% of the annual £34bn defence budget.

'In denial'

Parliament will debate the findings of the report on Wednesday.

Labour said it remained committed to maintaining the "minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent" and it believed that was best delivered through a continuous-at-sea submarine presence.

"It would require a substantial body of evidence for us to change that but this review does not appear to offer such evidence," shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

The SNP, which has vowed to remove nuclear weapons from Scottish soil if it wins an independence referendum next year, said the review was "not worth the paper it is written on".

"The Westminster establishment seem to have forgotten that Trident is based in Scotland, and neither the people nor parliament of Scotland want it here," said its Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

"This review is in denial, and panders to the vanity of the Westminster system which wants to keep this out-dated, dangerous arsenal of nuclear weapons on the Clyde."

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 191.

    If you're going to have a nuclear deterrent, it needs to work. For it to work it has to be 4 subs. For goodness sake, if money saving is needed, perhaps we should spend less money helping USA bomb innocent brown people across the globe in the name of fighting terrorism when in the same cases it was the west that created, financed, armed, and provoked those terrorists in the first place.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 190.

    If a terrorist gets a nuclear 'suit-case' bomb... what good is having a replacement for Trident going to be?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 189.

    Waste of money. Westminster doesn't even have the guts to store these monstrosities in England.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 188.

    If a terrorist cell flew a plane into a nuclear reactor who would we retaliate against? A bit more defence of these sites would be reassuring. Cut the trident fleet, we have, in half. and spend the money on creating jobs away from the South East.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 187.

    "We need Trident to protect ourselves against countries like North Korea and Iran."

    Yeah, 'cause the UK nuking another country is going to make them super popular, isn't it?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 186.

    Amazing! Top news!

    Lib Dems and Tories have differing views on a number of issues. In other news water is wet.

    Seriously though, at least their on the same song sheet with regards to fixing the economy after 13 years of Labour recklessness.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 185.

    The Tories will maintain the pretence that the UK remains a great power until it bankrupts us. Blair's part in the Iraq invasion probably gets us a discounted Trident I, but even so it will cost us dear. I prefer the German / Scandinavian policy of not poking noses into the USA's dirty wars and adopting a more positive foreign policy. As for the jobs argument, there are better things to finance.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 184.

    174.Paul M
    We need:
    *A minimal (cut back to a bear minimum) nuclear deterrent, to ensure our seat at the table, and keep our dog at the door."

    Ah, you're advocating replacing our nukes with bears and dogs.

    Excellent idea. No foreigner is going to be able to stand up to a charge from a grizzly and pack of pit-bulls.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 183.

    124.blackarthur
    "Never in the entire history of the whole world has there ever been one single example of the peace-nik position being proven right in the medium-to-long term."

    Wrong.

    Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948/9.

    They have no standing army and they've had no civil wars, no invasions and they've not been nuked.

    They spend the money on education and culture.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 182.

    121.Peter_Sym

    You need to wake up to the real world. We are no longer in the cold war. The only States with the capability to 'knock out homeland airfields' are our Allies. The threat today is asymmetric, state-sponsored terrorism. If a dirty bomb detonates in London tomorrow, who are you going to retaliate against?

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 181.

    "128.PhilC
    Why not just declare martial law and drop any pretense that there is freedom of sppech in this country!"

    Said on a public forum, freely, without fear of retribution. You might want to actually try going to a dictatorship, you might realise how good you have it here.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 180.

    Pre WWII, there was a European alliance of combined nations miltarys to supposidly put off Germany from attacking
    Britains army had been undermined by years of cuts, appeasing politicians & voters who demanded money be re-directed from military into social expenditure.
    The costs of that folly are recorded in the words "lest we forget".
    Disposing of nukes would mean we have forgot

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 179.

    We only have Trident because it is in the USA's interest for them not to be the only nuclear armed power in what used to be called the "west". It provides no strategic defence function for the UK other than the USA might launch a nuclear strike if the UK were to be the victim of one from Russia or China - but I wouldn't bet on it.
    We don't have an independent nuclear deterrent-Trident is a waste..

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 178.

    Hopefully one day we will be able to exist on this planet without the threat of mutual destruction.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 177.

    A REAL DILEMMA! A scenario of a country like China (Still Communist) or Russia getting a leader like Hitler, accumulating Nuclear weapons & deciding to use some ---- is Britain going to push the button & release Trident with it's awesome power! A god-like decision to make, with all the consequences of both countries non existence forever. I think this would be so hard a decision to make! ScrapT

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 176.

    It is a naive gesture to drop one's guard, when the world is becoming a more dangerous place. If we allow our basic Christian moralities to dictate our defence posture in the hope that nobody is going to hit us, because we are the good guys, we live in cloud cuckoo land. Take off your flack jacket, and someone will stick a knife in your back. Drop one's defences at our combined peril !!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 175.

    NigelUK: In 1939 the Germans guaranteed Dutch neutrality. Look where it got them in 1940. I dread to think where following Holland in 2013 would get us. In 1939 the Dutch were not re-arming and suffered the consequences. It is not imperialism but the first rule of a government - to defend the Realm. In my view there is danger "out there" and that, together with other threats, needs addressing.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 174.

    We need:

    *A minimal (cut back to a bear minimum) nuclear deterrent, to ensure our seat at the table, and keep our dog at the door.
    *Increase, not decrease, our conventional forces (wars will be fought conventional). We have and always will be a military nation, we can't lose that experience.
    *Improve our infrastructure, education, health etc.
    A great nation at home, and a power at it's door.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 173.

    Why should it be "naive" to have no nuclaer weapons?
    Germany has no nuclear weapons and are not naive.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 172.

    The naivety of British trust in the assurance of Russia's, or China's, indefinitely harmonious disposition is staggering. It is typically liberal to think "If I feel this way, everyone should do". Really, some mentalities are light-years removed from that of the average comfortable Briton who cannot think of a reason why on earth anyone would want to attack him in his garden on a Sunday morning.

 

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