Should Britain renew Trident?
The Liberal Democrats have differentiated themselves from the other two main parties by calling for the renewal of Britain's nuclear deterrent to be reconsidered as part of a Strategic Defence Review after the general election. This proved an important issue during the second leaders' debate on 22 April, with both Gordon Brown and David Cameron accusing Nick Clegg of potentially putting Britain's security at risk. But were they right? Should Britain renew Trident?
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Trident is essential for Britain's security
Britain needs to be able to deter rogue states such as North Korea and Iran. Moreover, given the instability of the current global situation and the uncertainty about what the world will look in 20 years' time, it makes sense to ensure Britain's security against unknown future threats by renewing its ultimate deterrent.
No rational state would employ nuclear weapons against a Britain allied with the US and France and with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Any such use would inevitably result in a global nuclear conflict, whether or not Britain was itself a nuclear-weapon state. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons can do nothing to deter states that are irrational and therefore don't care about the consequences of their actions.
Britain's independent nuclear deterrent underpins its global influence
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are also the only five declared nuclear weapons states (Pakistan and India are known to possess nuclear weapons, but have not declared their nuclear status, whilst Israel and North Korea are suspected of possessing nuclear weapons but have also made no declaration of nuclear status). Britain's independent nuclear deterrent is therefore the foundation stone of its global influence. During the second leaders' debates, David Cameron accused the Liberal Democrats of wanting to take away Britain's seat on the UN Security Council, insisting that it is "one of the things that actually gives us the ability to punch above our weight in the world" [[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/23_04_10_seconddebate.pdf]]. If it were to undermine Britain's claim to retain its permanent seat, any decision not to renew Trident would thereby drastically reduce Britain's global influence.
Britain is obsessed with its international status, to the detriment of its real national interest. Attempts to prove Britain's international standing, such as the Suez crisis in 1956, have only further undermined it. Taking a stand on nuclear disarmament provides a far more productive way to assert global leadership, especially in the context of President Obama's call for a nuclear-free world [[http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7983963.stm]]. There is no necessary connection between decisions about renewing Trident and Britain's retention of its permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
Britain cannot rely on the US and France's nuclear armament as part of its own defence.
1. Opponents to removing Britains nuclear military capability on the grounds that "no one will ever attack a Great Britain allied with France and the US" only highlight how effective a nuclear deterrent is.
2. This also does not solve the problem, merely moves it to arms length? What then, if France or the US decide (or wish) to disarm? Are we not burdening, morally and financially, two allied nations.
3. It is impossible to predict the nature of international relations in the future - how strong our alliances with the US or France are should not determine our military capability or effectiveness.
4. Nuclear threats are only one part of a holistic military capability. If we can say "no one will ever attack a Great Britain allied with France and the US" with regards to nuclear armaments, why can not the same argument be made for conventional weapons? This then leads back into point #2
The Trident nuclear weapons system is an anachronism
Britain's nuclear deterrent is a Cold War weapons system designed to deter a nuclear attack by the then Soviet Union. This threat no longer exists in the post-Cold War world. Britain is not threatened by any of the declared nuclear weapons states and genuinely rogue states are unlikely to be deterred anyway. The main nuclear threats faced by Britain are from a terrorist dirty bomb – renewing Trident will not help to counter this threat. Renewing Trident may also such suck scarce resources away from efforts to combat the more urgent security threats that Britain faces, including suicide terrorism, cyber-warfare, global warming and pandemic diseases.
The first point is that simply because Britain is not threatened by currently declared Nuclear States does not mean that it will not be in the future. An example would be Iran, who in the future could declare itself a nuclear state and become a threat to Europe. see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/zimbabwe/7628750/Iran-strikes-secret-nuclear-mining-deal-with-Zimbabwes-Mugabe-regime.html ) If Iran strikes, then Britain will need a way to launch a response.
Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent is not in fact independent
Although Britain prides itself on possession of an independent nuclear deterrent, the entire system is leased from the US. Delivery is dependent on use of American-controlled software, such that Britain cannot even freely decide where to target its nuclear missiles. So not only does it fail to deter Britain's main enemies, but it makes Britain dependent on the US for what security it does offer.
[Replaced "bought" with "leased" in line 2 - both Labour and Tories say it's Our Independent Nuclear Deterrent - 4 words/3 lies]
Trident is actually bad for Britain's security
Being a nuclear-weapon state, especially one that is necessarily closely linked to the US (see above) makes Britain a target for disenfranchised and discontented groups around the world. It also undermines Britain's counter-proliferation efforts. It may, moreover, be illegal under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Britain is a signatory [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_Non-Proliferation_Treaty#Second_pillar:_disarmament]].
Britain is target, not because of its nuclear deterrent, but of its history of imperialism and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. For example see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8116245.stm.
It is not illegal under any of the current treaties for Britain to have the Trident system. The Non-Proliferation Treaty states that Britain should
"pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control." http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/nptfact
The emphasis is on the word 'negotiate'. It has an obligation to 'negotiate'.
Renewing Trident is unaffordable
Renewing Trident is estimated to cost anything up to £130bn [[http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/sep/18/trident-replacement-hidden-cost-revealed]]. At a time when Britain has an annual budget deficit of £162.4bn [[http://www.financemarkets.co.uk/2010/04/22/uk-budget-deficit-races-away/]] and every major party acknowledges the need for major spending cuts, this is unaffordable, especially for a weapons system which no longer serves its purpose.
It must be clairified that the 130bn is spread over the lifetime of the submarines.
For the next three years the spending will be 500 million per year. In 2016 that will rise to 1 billion per year, in 2018 to 2 billion and in 2020 4 billion per year. It will fall in 2028 to 2 billion per year for the next 14 years. http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/douglasfraser/2010/04/what_savings_from_nuclear_fall.html
Thus over the next few years when cuts need to be made, the savings from cutting the trident will be under 3 billion.
What do you think?