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Published on July 3rd, 2014 | by Charles Fleetham
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Trident to remain?

On the 1st of July the Trident Commission announced that maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent is in Britain’s national interest. The Trident Commission was a cross party endeavour, thus high level officials from all the major parties were able to have a role in the report and consequently would have a reduced platform for criticizing the commission’s conclusions. This may prove particularly problematic for Liberal Democrat backbenchers, many of whom have campaigned for the elimination of Trident. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats and commission member Sir Menzies Campbell hedged his role in the commission by still advocating a reduction of Trident Vanguard submarines, from 4 to 3, rather than the like for like stance of the Conservative party.

The simplified theory behind Trident goes back to the Cold War status quo of Mutually Assured Destruction, ironically MAD for short. By having our own nuclear weapons we could ward off violent threats from other nuclear powers. The cost of acquiring Trident was at the time £9.8 billion, with annual running cost circa £2 billion. These figures, however, are not certain and have been disputed by a number of anti-nuclear organisations. A further issue is that the Trident submarines will reach the end of their service life by 2028, thus fuelling the replacement debate. A quick rundown on the issue of replacement: Conservatives want a like for like replacement, Labour is committed to maintaining a nuclear deterrent and the Liberal Democrats are seeking an alternative. The latest official figure for replacement is around £25 billion, but, as is the nature of these matters, this is subject to change. To have a replacement system ready by 2028 construction would have to begin by 2016 latest – thus the continued debate on whether maintaining the Trident nuclear deterrent is in Britain’s best interest. The question of whether this is the best use of taxpayer money, especially when the UK has only just limped out of the worst recession seen for decades, was the subject of research for the Trident Commission.

The most important finding of the Trident Commission’s report was that:

‘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.’

This is the crucial issue that has been argued from both sides, critics of Trident say that it is an antiquated system from the Cold War era, no longer representative of the UK’s defensive requirements in the present day. Yet it can be reasoned, as evident from the current Ukraine crisis, the Cold War is still alive and well. The US and their Western allies are still aligned against the former Soviet Union and its erstwhile ally China, fighting proxy wars in Eastern Europe so as to increase, or defend, their spheres of influence. It has to be remembered that the Ukraine conflict only erupted due to two vying economic treaties, one with Russia and the other with the EU – the West has consequently gained a new level of influence in Ukraine because of the EU treaty whilst Russia has reacted by encouraging the secession of the regions of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. Therefore I find it difficult to argue that the Cold War ended with the Berlin Wall coming down in 1990.

Regardless, even if the Cold War still survives, the main fear of the Cold War has reduced to a near non-existence. No longer do citizens in the West dread the sudden outbreak of a nuclear World War. I do not believe that we, as citizens of the UK, are presently at risk of nuclear blackmail in any manner. So the emphasis must be placed on ‘a decisive future role’ that Trident may play. As shown by the conflict in Ukraine, the Arab Spring and inherent ambiguous nature of the future political landscape, the argument can be made that Britain, or NATO, will find itself in a situation where the Trident nuclear deterrent is necessary for our defence. Consequently I find myself in the position where I have to agree with the findings of the Trident Commission – the future is too uncertain for us to revoke our nuclear deterrent, however I would encourage the Government to find a more cost effective deterrent. The Liberal Democrat notion of reducing the number of Vanguard submarines to 3 is one option, reducing the number of warheads and missiles is another. Despite cost issues, with a cross party commission in favour of maintaining Trident, it is likely that the Trident nuclear deterrent will remain in one form or another.

For those of you who feel strongly on this subject there has been an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, EDM 37, that urges the Government not to replace Trident, in favour of greater spending priorities. As of 2nd July 2014, 32 MPs have signed EDM 37, with the majority (19) being Labour MPs. No Conservatives have signed. If you wish to encourage your local MP to sign the EDM then please visit the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament website where you can send a quick and easy message to your MP.

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About the Author

Charlie is a graduate from the University of Kent, having achieved a Bachelor's degree in War Studies, and a Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis. He has recently concluded a research internship with the conflict resolution non-government organisation the Next Century Foundation, and is also a regular contributor to the political blog the Institute of Opinion.

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