Christopher Lee

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The Binning of Trident – a Great Opportunity to Guarantee Election in 2015

16th July 2013

Today the LibDem view on the options on what to do about replacing the UK Trident intercontinental ballistic missile system have been published.  How come Clegg & Co are supporting nuclear weapons anyway?

They’ve joined the club called government when all three major political parties have agreed not to even consider getting rid of the UK’s nuclear weapon system altogether. Thus even the LibDems, that party of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, have copped out of eye-balling the US and saying we’re still your conventional pals but not nuclear inmates.

The Tories have always been the Party of nuclear capability so their position is understandable.

Labour wants to keep nuclear weapons because in spite of it s general image as a Party against them its leadership has always been in favour of nuclear weapons policies since the leadership of Hugh Gaitskell in the early 1960s. Modernization of nuclear systems have been carried out nunder Labour governments.

The decision to deploy American cruise missiles in the UK in 1979 may have been a Thatcher decision, but the original agreement with the United States to bring them to the UK was made by the Callaghan Labour government in March – two months before the Tories got in that Spring.

The LibDems have been the Party against the deployment of nuclear weapons. Today they publicly agree to stay a nuclear power because that’s the only way they see of staying in government. No point in voting for them if you’re looking for the obvious solution for the appalling A&E system. (Trident costs = A&E costs for 20 years. You choose.)

The government is thinking about Trident because the present system of aging submarines and out-dated missiles will need replacing in about ten years or so. The first replacement should, if that’s the way the UK goes, should be in service by about 2028.

The system works its theoretical task with four boats each with 16 missiles carrying multiple re-entry warheads. A crude illustration would imagine a missile launch from somewhere deep in an ocean, going into orbit, re-entering the earths atmosphere and multiple warheads descending like a cascade onto more than one target.

To do this properly, the Royal Navy “needs” four boats. One is on a three month submerged patrol. One is getting ready. One is on standby, assisted maintenance or testing and the the fourth, is in total refit. The idea then is that there is always one fully nuclear armed submarine at sea. That would be the easiest replacement option, albeit an expensive one, to go with the system you know works.

Of course even that proposition is hard to get along with without asking the obvious question: how do you know it works? You have never been tested.

There is no record of a British nuclear warhead in a submarine ever scaring off an enemy about to attack or as it is is said it does, of acting as a deterrent to other countries not to mess with the UK.

The other options open to the government and ones that will be discussed at the Royal United Services Institute in London today include keeping the present system but with three instead of four Trident boats; putting nuclear armed missiles cruise missiles in more conventional submarines; returning to cheaper but vulnerable land-based systems.

What no one will properly consider is why the UK still wants a so-called nuclear deterrent. The Cold War was an easy strategic assessment.  The USSR had missiles and aimed them at the UK. So British missiles were aimed at the USSR. Simple. But that was then. Who today are we to aim at?

The deterrence is aimed at other nuclear states – a couple of which appear on the Intelligence Upsums as Unpredictable – Could Do Anything.

If we are aiming at basket-case powers, then no Brit deterrent is going to scare them off.  If we are aiming at another nuclear power,  say, China does anyone believe that the British force will stop what is known in the military jargon as a Nuclear Release? (Under present planning contingency, the UK has Washington as one of its targets in case the world is upside down one day).

When he was Defence Secretary in the 1980s, Michael Heseltine – one of the best in that trade – was convinced that if the UK did not have nuclear weapons, it would not buy them. That is the question that is not in government thinking this week and will not be.  There are no big thinkers in government. But Cameron et al should be asking the Heseltine question: if we did not have nukes, would we order them? Answer is No. So todays question is this: why replace them?

Britain says it supports nuclear disarmament. Yet new nuclear systems to replace Trident will violate existing treaties.  That is almost a political decision. So it matters not.

But why is it that no British political leader has the guts to say: we must ask ourselves what water-tight case is there for getting new nuclear warheads. No one will ask that question because the answer is there is no water-tight case.

Without taking a moral or CND position it is a fact that the UK no longer needs these systems.  It will not be in a more vulnerable place if it did not renew. In times not so long past, Labour and Liberals would say get rid of Polaris or Trident and the UK could fund the NHS A&E for decades to come. In the present economic difficult the British electorate would buy that. A smart politician should do the sums in time for the 2015 general election.

The decision on Trident does not have to be taken until the year after.

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