A report launched this week caught the headlines by describing the replacement of Trident as “nonsensical”.
“Replacing Trident makes no sense” said the BBC, while the Guardian led with “Trident nuclear deterrent upgrade ‘nonsensical’”.
But they were not quoting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament or any other campaigning organisation. Rather, they were quoting the liberal thinktank CentreForum, which David Cameron has previously commended “for their excellent work”.
Nick Clegg has also indicated the policy significance of CentreForum: “Many of the policy areas my party is implementing in government were developed, tested and refined through dialogue with the CentreForum team.”
The report, ‘Dropping the Bomb: a post Trident future’, is a salient analysis of the strategic and economic arguments against Trident. It argues for the immediate scrapping of Trident, with all of the savings being directly reinvested into bolstering Britain’s flagging conventional armed forces.
That’s certainly not everyone’s choice for the destination of the savings, but the most significant aspect of the report is that it is indicative of the breadth of opposition to the government’s dogmatic approach to Britain’s nuclear weapons possession. There has long been opposition to Trident in the UK, but this dissent is now reflected in the establishment: and that includes Tory MPs not just their Lib Dem coalition partners; senior military figures; policy analysts and defence strategists.
What’s more, it is no surprise that these very serious questions are now being asked in Westminster. There comes a point at which debate outside the Westminster bubble achieves such a scale and significance that it is no longer dismissible as the clamouring of ‘usual suspects’ like CND.
Of course it is of crucial importance that a majority of the population are opposed to Britain wasting more than £100bn over the lifetime of a replacement nuclear system.
But many of those who are in favour of Britain maintaining a strong military, including those in government, are increasingly of the opinion that the evisceration of the defence budget can only be ameliorated by cancelling the exorbitant proposed spending on Trident.
Yet it is not simply a myopic economic argument. Rather, it is when the strategic argument is synthesised with the economic context that the compelling case emerges: particularly for those who were previously in favour of replacing Trident.
Senior military figures have described Trident as “completely useless” and “virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics”. CentreForum’s report concludes that Trident simply has no “role to play in current or likely future UK security scenarios”, which makes spending such a crippling fee on it “nonsensical” and “inexplicable”.
Finally, the government only needs to look at its own findings for confirmation of these opinions: its National Security Strategy in 2010 downgraded the risk of a state-on-state nuclear attack to a two-tier threat.
Britain is now at a crossroads. We can choose to plough money into a strategically redundant and economically catastrophic weapons system which even the military don’t want. Or we can become world leaders in tackling nuclear proliferation, have a strong moral footing in diplomacy against states seeking nuclear weapons and at the same time save ourselves over £100bn which could be invested in ways which are socially beneficial. The choice seems obvious to me.
– This blog was originally hosted on Liberal Democrat Voice –