Keeping Trident nuclear weapons 'in UK's national interest'

A Trident submarine At the moment there is always one nuclear armed submarine on patrol

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It is in the UK's national interest to keep the Trident nuclear weapons system, a group of former ministers, diplomats and generals have argued.

The Trident Commission says holding on to nuclear weapons could help deter threats to the UK's security in future.

But it said continuous patrols could be relaxed if the UK showed it was serious about working towards further international disarmament.

A final decision on whether to renew Trident will be taken in 2016.

The decision has been put back until after the 2015 elections following disagreements between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

While David Cameron supports the like-for-like renewal of the UK's existing submarine-based ballistic missile system, the Lib Dems say the same level of protection could be afforded if the number of submarines was reduced from four to three to save money.

Credible threats

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, also a commission member, said: "There's evidence to suggest that technical advances may allow it to be possible with three boats - it's all about the re-fitting schedule of the submarines."

However, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, head of the Royal Navy, argued that four boats would deliver "100% availability".

"A posture which delivers less than 100% availability is... not credible - not just in the eyes of potential adversaries, but in the eyes of our key strategic partners as well," he said in a keynote speech at the Royal United Services Institutes' International Sea Power Conference 2014.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Trident "an effective deterrent"

Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker welcomed the commission's recommendation that it was in the UK's national interest to retain a nuclear deterrent.

But SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said the only way Scotland could get rid of Trident was to vote "Yes" in the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September.

He said the SNP had not been involved in the cross-party talks. "We would certainly not have agreed to the conclusion of the commission," he said.

Publishing its report, The Trident Commission said it believed that "retaining and deploying a nuclear arsenal" was necessary to protect the UK and to fulfil the country's international responsibilities as a Nato member.

Trident submarine

It said Trident met the "criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach and readiness" and alternative delivery options touted "simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings" should not be contemplated.

The commission's members include former Conservative foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former Labour defence secretary Lord Browne and former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, as well as former Chief of the Defence Staff Lord Guthrie and Sir Jeremy Greenstock, UK ambassador to the United Nations.

Their report stated that a nuclear capability should not be justified on the grounds of it being an "insurance policy" against an uncertain future or to maintain Britain's diplomatic standing in the world.

The rationale for keeping Trident, it added, lay in its ability to counter "credible" threats to the UK's security.

It identified three scenarios in which such threats could arise; from a long-standing nuclear state with an "aggressive posture"; from an existing or emerging nuclear state which "enters into direct strategic competition with the UK"; a "massive overwhelming" threat involving weapons of mass destruction.

"If there is more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role in the defence of the UK and its allies in preventing nuclear blackmail, or in affecting the wider security context within which the UK sits, then they should be retained," the report stated.

"The impact of the UK's falling victim to ongoing strategic blackmail or nuclear attack is so significant that, even if the chances appear slim today, there is sufficient uncertainty surrounding the prospect that it would be imprudent to abandon system that have a high capacity to counter such threats."

'Always at sea'

The commission was divided over the question of whether the current practice of always having one submarine at sea at any other time should be maintained.

Some members argued that continuous-at-sea patrolling should continue until there was an "improvement in the security environment" while others argued that without a direct threat to the UK's interests, this could happen immediately while retaining the capacity for increased patrols at times of crisis.

But the commission was united in its call for the UK to consider what it could do to further the cause of nuclear disarmament and to discourage proliferation.

While acknowledging the steps that had been taken since the end of the Cold War, it said the UK could consider a further reduction in missile and warhead numbers, enhanced verification procedures and commitments to control or decrease stocks of fissile materials.

"The commission would recommend that the Ministry of Defence study the steps down the nuclear ladder more thoroughly to give greater confidence to the international community that we are considering such steps seriously in preparation for multilateral disarmament negotiations," it said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    @85 biddim
    Trident is the main reason why Faslane didn't get the chop in line with the military cutbacks, thereby losing the non Trident jobs as well. Add to that the jobs up the road at Coulport, the local businesses dependent on the depot's workers wage packets. It all adds up. You can also add the jobs lost when Govan shuts down, as UK warships will only be built in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Very true. Never know when them pesky muslamic rayguns could strike!

    On a serious note a nuclear deterrent seems ever more irrelevant for the United Kingdom, just us trying to pretend we are some global power, or more accurately, America's little sidekick.

    The invasion ongoing is by stealth not weapons...

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    95.Tesco Finish
    The guardian is very left wing and would expect the majority to be against. I've yet to talk to anybody who thinks it's a good idea though!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    and here I am thinking that the only reason that we kept Trident was to keep our place on the security council - you know just so our over inflated egos that called themselves the Government can big themselves up on taxpayer funded jollies... obviously I stand corrected...

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Trident cannot be used without US permission although we pay them billions of pounds for it. It is not an independent UK deterrent and can only be deployed if it serves US interests. The vast amount of money we waste on it should be used to solve our economic and social problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    Might be of some advantage if we did not have to ask the USA for permission to use it.How independent is that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    If the RumpUK and the Better for London Campaign are so in love with Trident, I'm sure they'll not mind the subs being stationed 25 miles from their capital city on the Thames, then? Simples!

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Sorry but all these comments about " We will never need it " or "We haven't needed it yet" how exactly do you think you know this? I was unaware that Mystic Meg was posting under several usernames. A deterrent is exactly that, it deters people from wanting to attack us for all we know it could of already done that several times over. Just because we don't know that it's happened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Junckers to Cameron "Any revison or rebate is impossible".
    Cameron to Junckers "Hmmm, renewing Trident is going to cost a bit, who else in Europe has nuclear cover, ah! only France; well that is a pity about that"
    Junckers to Cameron "Well perhaps we can talk a bit more about a possible rebate"

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    In the national interest for those who seek to destroy, kill & maim.

    Not wanted by those who do not wish to see further misery & war.

    I had an email from CND claiming what Trident replacement would cost Shropshire.

    After dividing up the cost between peeps aged 14 - 65 & presuming this money would be raised by Council tax and parking fines the cost per person was over 20% of the average CT bill

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    We would never use nuclear weapons first, and if we needed to deploy them, the world would likely already be over. Time to move on from this cold war deterrent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    You know a country which doesn't have nuclear weapons? Germany.

    That's right, the largest economy in Europe doesn't feel that it needs them, yet we do?

    There's a reason why places like Finland, Switzerland and Iceland don't feel they need nuclear weapons - they don't tend to cause upset in unstable parts of the world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    "Might is right", it is sad but true. If North Korea didn't have nuclear weapons do you think it would be respected ? Unfortunately some countries (USA) believe that might is right and to gain respect you need to have nuclear weapons. If you don't they will just invade and walk all over you (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan)

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Scrap Trident and concentrate on defence from missile attack by missile detection systems made by British companies. A lot cheaper and a lot safer.

    How can we preach to North Korea or Iran about Nuclear weapons if we have them, what makes us so morally superior?.

    Get rid now

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    It is useful to have these sinister, prowling monsters of the deep, able to strike anywhere. It doesn't have to be nuclear warheads either, just the threat of conventional ones would be enough. Much better than having a large standing army that we are never going to use.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    It is in Britain's interest to have a nuclear deterrent force, although I am not convinced that Trident is the best system for the modern world or that it is independent of the US.

    I would much prefer a deterrent which could utilize our attack submarine force & the new carriers which was not dependent on the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    5000 African immigrants from God knows which countries on illegal boats arrived to Italy during the last weekend (!) alone; for some insane reason they will be allowed to stay in Europe, and they are saying we need Trident to keep us safe. Please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    would someone please explain how, with non-sovereign terrorist or paramilitary, modern day international threats, having the capability to deliver a 100KT 4km fireball and irradiating vast swathes of a foreign field is in the UK's interest?.. Oh! the illusion of power and the cold and empty comfort that this brings to a Tory. okey dokey..

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    who is this deterring? Russia and China would stomp us before we could press the button.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    A nuclear deterent like ours, is not really a deterent against other nations using nuclear weapons against us.

    Its likely an attack would come from a group within a nation in a terror strike. Who then do we launch our nukes at?

    Even if WW3 breaks out, a preemptive strike will take our retaliatory capabilities out first.


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