The Trident Alternatives Review hasn’t changed our minds: it is right for the UK to maintain a continuous at sea deterrence

July 19, 2013 11:43 am

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It has taken over two years for the Government to publish its Trident Alternatives Review, the fudge agreed to as part of the Coalition Agreement. The deterrent had become a plaything of government, but we were assured it would be worth the wait. In January of this year, Danny Alexander briefed that his review would contain a “compelling” set of alternatives, hailing that the Liberal Democrats had forged a “significant moment” in the nuclear deterrent debate.

What then has the Liberal Democrat review this week concluded? Put simply, nothing. This is the Alternatives Review which rejects all of the alternatives, concluding that none of the other options offer “the same degree of resilience as the current posture of Continuous at Sea Deterrence [CASD]”. The Liberal Democrats have spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money and wasted over two years merely to discredit their own policies.

So what now for the Lib Dems’ nuclear deterrent policy? Documents obtained by the press shows their master plan is to send two unarmed submarines out to sea on an irregular basis, an option so ludicrous that it was not even considered worthy of study for the Alternatives Review.

This would end the UK’s continuous-at-sea deterrence posture, which since 1968 has ensured that one nuclear-armed submarine has been on patrol at any one time. This frankly bizarre Liberal Democrat policy would leave the UK open to nuclear blackmail, makes the submarines vulnerable to first-strike attacks, and would be significantly escalatory if the UK ever were to arm the submarines during a crisis. And we’ve since found out that the cost savings from this would be relatively negligible and potentially non-existent.

As Jim Murphy—the Shadow Defence Secretary—argued in the Commons this week, the Lib Dem plan is to put unarmed submarines out to sea is like installing a burglar alarm with no batteries on your house and placing a sign in the window asking burglars to ‘come in’. They want to take us to a nuclear no man’s land: unable to ensure the nation’s security; unable to reduce proportionate costs; and unable to meaningfully contribute to the global disarmament agenda.

We live in increasingly uncertain times. As Barack Obama argued in his landmark 2009 Prague speech, “the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those [nuclear] weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. In a less stable world there can be no justification for either unilaterally disarming or for decreasing the capabilities of the UK’s deterrent.

The Labour Party has rightly waited until the release of the Government’s Alternatives Review before passing judgement, and we have also undertaken rigorous work of our own on the subject, talking to industry, academics and our major international partners. Labour has maintained that we are committed to the minimum credible nuclear deterrent, and it would have taken a substantial body of evidence for us to conclude that there was a posture that fulfilled our criteria of capability and cost more than CASD.  There is nothing we have seen from the Alternatives Review or from our own extensive research that convinces us otherwise.

That is why Labour is committed to maintaining a continuous at sea deterrent. It is the only posture which ensures that our submarines are invulnerable to pre-emptive attack and that, therefore, the UK is able to possess significant second-strike capabilities. It is this which is the cornerstone of a minimum effective deterrent, offering a constant and credible guarantee. If we want to avoid the potential for the UK being subject to nuclear blackmail and causing escalation at a time of crisis, whilst ensuring best value for money and a credible deterrence, a CASD-Trident posture is the only serious option.

However, we will continue to explore ways in which this can be delivered most efficiently, aiming to drive savings throughout the Successor programme relating to submarine design and greater co-operation with our allies.

And Labour would keep momentum on our disarmament efforts, looking at further reductions of missiles and warheads on deployed vessels, as well as taking a lead internationally to push the agenda of global non-proliferation. The best way to advance our ultimate goal of a world free of nuclear weapons is to work on a multilateral basis, encouraging other nations to sign the pledges that we ourselves would make and making proportionate cuts in warhead holdings with other nuclear states.

It is right that the Labour Party has pledged its support for a ballistic missile-armed submarine platform based on continuous-at-sea deterrence. A part-time deterrent of the ilk being put forward by the Liberal Democrats is one that would make the world a more dangerous place, a price not worth paying for the dubious savings it would yield.

Kevan Jones is the Member of Parliament for North Durham and is the Shadow Armed Forces Minister

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    I don’t want the UK to have nuclear weapons at all, as I believe them to be both immoral and also impractical.

    Immoral because I do not think that the level of destruction, and the inevitable innocent deaths, and enduring effects are proportionate to anything that might be done to Britain, short of a nuclear attack on us.

    Impractical because even having received a nuclear attack, what is the utility in inflicting the same on the other country?

    Also impractical because they do not seem to be deterring those who are at war with us – the Al Qaeda currently, and their existence is not deterring other nations from developing nuclear weapons (Iran, Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea, and “allegedly” South Africa in the 1970s).

    They are also expensive, but monies are to be spent in accordance with priorities, so the amount is not so relevant as to the proportion of money available to spend.

    But, all of that said, that is only an opinion of one individual. It is completely uninformed by any inside knowledge of the threats we currently face.

    If it is the formal judgement that we as a nation should have the nuclear weapons, then I lose interest immediately. I don’t know whether 2 or 3 or 4 submarines are better than 100 aircraft or 500 cruise missiles. It is not something I have any expertise to add. If we are to have them, then they should be in whatever configuration makes the most sense, and it is up to the Defence Ministry to judge that and to budget in accordance with the outcome of their judgement.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      Impractical because even having received a nuclear attack, what is the utility in inflicting the same on the other country?

      The practical reason for keeping nuclear weapons has nothing to do with defending against nuclear attacks, it’s about keeping the Americans happy.

      We originally went nuclear because the US told our ambassador that they didn’t have to care what we think because we weren’t a nuclear power. We keep it because the US will get annoyed if we don’t keep buying it from them.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Is that still true now? I thought it worth doing a little research if I was to comment on something I know very little about, and it seems that the bombs or “warheads” themselves are made in the UK in Aldermaston, the submarines in Britain as well. It is the missiles that are made in America. And for the current argument about a replacement, it is not the missiles that are being replaced, but the submarines, so the Americans have little hold on us.

        These British jobs are perhaps good economically, but I’d still prefer Britain not to have the nuclear weapons at all, for moral and practical reasons. I do not mind Britain having submarines – they seem to be quite useful for conventional defence.

  • rekrab

    I’m no expert in this field neither but I’ll give my opinion, I’ll start by saying clearly I don’t believe in nuclear weapons.

    I think there will be some type of climb down on trident because I believe that the future threat of a nuclear attack comes from terrorist and you simply just can’t use a nuclear weapon to retaliate against a few terrorist, even if they come from a rouge state.My guess is that Western states will be upping their intelligence capabilities and and proposed savings from a lesser trident role will be piled into the intelligence front because the terrorist are firstly capable, motivated and have no fear of using such weapons. It’s a bleak out look but it’s how I see it and and don’t think I’d be a million miles from the truth on what I’ve said.

    • TomFairfax

      Hi Derek,

      Another thing to consider.

      Satellite tracking of hot water exhaust trails and magnetic anomaly detection. Exists now, but only for the people who can afford it now. 2060 is meant to be the end of service date for this replacement. It won’t be viable by 2040 on current development trends, as being secure from interception.

      Then there’s common or garden mining the approach to Faslane because they have to go back and forth through the same choke point.

      Effectively a 1950s strategy that is near its best before date.

      Hell, the French managed to ram one of our boats on patrol because we’re all using the same areas of ocean floor to hide in.

      This is a waste of money because the replacement needs to be something that is a viable deterrent, over the budgeted lifetime.

      Unfortunately if you were to believe in deterrence then it would have to be something less like sticking all the eggs in one basket which is what Trident is now. The USA, Russia and France don’t rely on just the one delivery option. Our politicians are claiming they are providing/maintaining effective deterrence when actually they are spending our money on a modern day Maginot Line, and hoping again nobody goes round the end of it.

      So I think we coming at this from different points of view, but we can agree that what is proposed isn’t effective.

    • Hugh

      “I’m no expert in this field neither but I’ll give my opinion”
      The blogger’s charter.

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  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    What a terrible link. You push people to your own website, which contains nothing at all intelligent, but instead is about advancing your personal ambitions. It is a “puff-piece”, or “click-bait” as it is called on the Guardian website.

    Shame on you.

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