Demand for a new vote on replacing Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, is now coming from the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee. This is an all party group of MPs which carries considerable weight. In its extensive report ‘Global Security: Non-Proliferation’ published today, it recommends that the government holds a further parliamentary debate on Trident Replacement before proceeding to the Design Phase of the system.
A decision to go ahead with plans to replace the submarines which carry the Trident missiles and nuclear warheads was taken by parliament in March 2007. Since then, the Ministry of Defence has been engaged in the ‘Concept Phase’ of the process.
The MoD is currently planning to submit its first ‘Initial Gate’ report on this process to the government in September 2009 – during the parliamentary recess. This would mean that the process would go ahead without any parliamentary scrutiny, despite increasing calls for a new debate from across the political spectrum – including from retired generals who have described Trident as ‘militarily useless’. Last week, signatures on parliamentary Early Day Motion 660, calling for such a debate, exceeded 150.
The demand for a further debate on Trident replacement is growing on a daily basis. Many people question whether such large sums of money – £76 billion in total – can be justified at a time of economic crisis. With increased public concern about public spending priorities, and with top military figures advocating scrapping Trident and reopening the debate it would be irresponsible not to. The government must abandon its planned behind-the-scenes decision and put this crucial issue before parliament again.
The report also recognises that the decision to replace Trident is seen as contradictory to the government’s declared commitment to strengthening the international non-proliferation regime. This is something that CND – and others – have been saying for a long time. Our government cannot say one thing and do another. It cannot claim to oppose nuclear weapons proliferation and simultaneously pursue new nuclear weapons itself. If the government is serious about preventing nuclear proliferation it has to lead by example and end plans for Trident replacement. Otherwise we will help provoke a spiral of nuclear weapons proliferation which will eventually lead to nuclear war.