The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament condemned today’s decision to authorise billions of pounds of further spending on the Trident replacement programme, prior to the major decision point on the nuclear weapons system, not due to be taken until 2016. However, CND welcomed the launch of a government study into alternatives to Trident, to be led by Lib Dem Defence Minister Nick Harvey as providing the opportunity for other options – so far excluded for reasons of dogma rather than on an evidential basis – to be considered.

A further £3bn is due to be spent ahead of the main decision point in 2016 on top of the 900m spent on planning the replacement to date plus the costs of the current system. Whatever choice is reached in 2016, major elements of the first boats will already have been ordered. It was announced today that £380m is expected to be spent on the first submarine and £145m will be spent on the second, even before Parliament has had a chance to debate whether they are needed.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said “Committing billions more to this ruinously expensive white elephant is something the government should be forced to justify every time police numbers are cut, hospitals reduce their services or public servants are laid off. The government seems willing to pay whatever it takes for these weapons, with the estimated bill almost doubling since they were first proposed. The cost estimate is now reaching £25bn. Tens of billions more can be added to that for the other parts of the system and for running costs. And that is not taking into account the fact that runaway increases in costs have blighted almost every major defence project in recent years.

“The Defence Secretary told MPs that no country currently has intent and capability to threaten the UK. With the US and Russia ridding themselves of hundreds of nuclear weapons, now is the perfect window of opportunity for Britain to push this global process forward by eliminating our own stockpile. Having city-destroying missiles eight times the power of the Hiroshima bomb patrolling 365 days a year is an expensive and irrelevant hang-over from a different era. Unfortunately, the fact that the Cold war ended 20 ago seems to have passed the government by. As a consequence, British taxpayers are being landed with a bill for a weapons system that actually makes the country and the world less secure. The Prime Minister today said he hoped to ‘elevate’ Trident beyond party political debate – surely due to a desire to exempt from scrutiny the decision to spend billions on a project that has yet to be agreed-upon.”

Commenting on the review into alternatives to be led by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey, she continued:

“We welcome the announcement of the review into alternatives to the current plan, but the disdain with which it was introduced by Liam Fox suggests he will consider nothing but a ‘like-for-like’ replacement which maintains the Cold War posture of continuous submarine patrols. Even if the review proposed a half-way house towards disarmament, such as creating a ‘virtual’ deterrent with the materials and boats on stand-by to be reconstituted if a future threat emerges, it seems that the Conservative part of the Coalition see Trident as such an article of faith that they will not question it regardless of cost or usefulness. We will push for the fullest possible publication of the findings of this review, which should inform the thinking of all political parties who may be taking the final decision on Trident in 2016.