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
    +4

    Comment number 491.

    The government scaremongering has really worked....

    We have been attacked since we had a nuclear deterrent, we got attacked by Argentina in the falklands, we got attacked on 7/7 by terrorists and we are getting attacked by military cyber hackers in China very regularly...

    Can someone point to an exact situation in which our nuclear deterrent stopped someone attacking the UK??

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 490.

    We need nuclear weapons, we need to spend more on the armed forces, this country is getting to weak, things need to change fast....

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 489.

    A major attack anywhere in the world would send stocks and markets tumbling down, this hurts everybody. A price nobody is willing to pay.
    This is the reason why over the past decades we have stability in the world.
    Not nuclear deterrence.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 488.

    It's only a deterrent if our enemies know we will use it. Theater nukes are the way to accomplish this. Deploy small nuclear weapons against our enemies the next time there's a war. If we refuse to do this we should scrap trident because our politicians are too cowardly to use it.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 487.

    472. nicknack1
    It really worked stopping those nasty people on 7/7 and the Argentinians in the Falklands......
    ---
    Neither of which were exactly major world conflicts were they? You might as well make the argument that we should abolish the police force, army, intelligence services & the fire brigade because they also failed to prevent 7/7.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 486.

    If there are still some states where a nuclear deterrent is effective (If N Korea ever developed capability to deliver a nuclear attack for example?), so it does make sense to keep it. But why does the UK need to do it alone? Treaties with other countries on a nuclear deterrent would seem to make sense.

    Though personally I would like to see the UK take a step towards disarmament.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 485.

    The bottom line for me I think is that those who are pro nuclear weapons really don't get how destructive these weapons truly are. I mean they are absolutely disgusting. Total and utter indiscriminate death. Toxic atmospheres for centuries afterwards. We don't want this. If there was a devastating attack in my town, no way in a million years would i want a device to be launched.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 484.

    @ 354 Tanglewood

    What Snowdon has done is focus attention on how far politicians are prepared to go with their lies, and it`s a long way.

    See UN DoHR Articles 5,9,10,12 & 19. Now look the Constitution once enjoyed by US citzens, that they surrendered in panic.

    I have no hatred of the US or it`s citizens but US citizens greatest enemy is it`s own Govt, and the UK is no better.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 483.

    So what is the aim here? Save money, or give credence to an idealist aim? Use the savings money to: Use on the NHS money pit? ha ha ha, benefits/welfare? ha ha ha, H2S? ha ha ha . Not worthwhile until their houses r in order, and NHS, until we the public stop abusing it. (can i have an ambulance coz i cut my finger brigade clogging AE). At least with a deterrent it actually prevents an aggressor.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 482.

    444.Stan Greek

    The best form of defence is a attack system that is not seen and your enemy does not know were it is

    There are too many rouge states that would like to start Armageddon but they know if they did they would suffer as much or more

    We had it in the 30s with Hitler when he came to power
    We have to learn from history

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 481.

    So now we know where the money saved from the benefits cap is going.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 480.

    467.dave
    'When the 3rd world war starts, all the whiners will say why didn't we have a defence system.'
    Firstly a nuke is an attack weapon not a deffence system, secondly if WW3 starts those lucky/unfortunate enougf to survive are more likely be struggling to eek out an existance whiile cursing the warmongers who were pro nuclear weapons.

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 479.

    Trident is there to prevent wee mad ******** from firing nukes at us. The CND protesters outside Faslane every Wednesday afternoon keep going on about how Trident kills. Since when has Trident killed anyone?

    If we scrap Trident, then we have to scrap the dole

  • rate this
    -5

    Comment number 478.

    With the world become more and more dangerous. With democratic nations at stake the UK has no other option but to keep the Trident missile system and any other means to try and keep the world stabile. There are far too many potential enemies out there. China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and other potentially dangerous states could hold the free world hostage if the Trident is reduced or abandoned.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 477.

    @ 446

    Well if a rogue state or superpower tries to bully us with nuclear weapons and we don't have a deterrent to fight back with, we'll just tell them how morally outrageous you find the whole thing and I'm sure they'll stop being so mean.

    I've also heard that the moral high ground is a great place to get away from nuclear fallout, if the worst comes to the worst.

  • rate this
    +21

    Comment number 476.

    We have them to ensure our permanent seat on the UK security Council! In fact, if the massive cost were instead invested in conventional naval forces (cruise missile equipped subs, destroyers and carriers), we could have more genuine influence on world affairs and better protect our trade and citizens at home and overseas - but perhaps the US prefers us not to as it might tread on their toes!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 475.

    454. Owlsoflaughter "a million nut cases...that wish our country harm...you do not speak for everyone"

    Neither do you. When we stop interfering militarily with other nations and start promoting peace instead of embodying corporate greed through force, we will be getting somewhere. There has been no real threat to this country for 70 years. You sound fully programmed by interested parties to me.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 474.

    It's quite insane to have nuclear weapons. They do nothing except ensure the seat of power for those in power. The common man would rather learn a new language and use a new currency than GLASS THE ENTIRE SURFACE OF THE PLANET.

    But, since the people in charge insist on having them, can we have an option that does not have a USA Launch Approval keyswitch, or worse yet a USA access denial backdoor?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 473.

    Keep them in London then, we Scots do not want our country to be used as Londons arms dumping ground! Thank you.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 472.

    Think about the alternative things we could spend with £20+ billion (a massive under estimate btw)

    By my maths we could sort out housing, the NHS and education and have a much better country or we could build a sub fleet which most likely we will never use as a "deterrent"...

    It really worked stopping those nasty people on 7/7 and the Argentinians in the Falklands......

 

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