Posts Tagged ‘Trident’

Why Corbyn’s Sword Won’t Rattle the Military – Yet

September 13, 2015


14 September 2015. London.

The word on the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is that he wants out of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) wants no part of foreign wars and wants to bin the Trident renewal programme.

So a bad election for Britain’s chiefs of the military staffs? Not really.

Firstly, you don’t have to be Left Wing Labour to question the idea of more Afghanistan-type interventions.

Secondly, you do not have to join CND to be thinking twice about Trident renewal.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Labour is not in government. There is no scheduled General Election until May 2020.  So all the headlines suggesting that Corbyn is about to turn over the Chiefs of Staff is way off mark.

But during this year and 2016 there are sign-post Parliamentary debates and decisions on the UK’s military policy.

In November of this year the Chancellor will announce his autumn spending round.  Shortly after that will be due the 2015 defence review with its strategic annexe of foreign policy and where the military may be asked to guarantee support of the policy.  It will be a rewrite of what the military is for and what form it will have to take to defend the security of the UK.

As a sign of that report’s complexity, the House of Commons all-Party Defence Committee (HCDC) under the chairmanship of Conservative MP Julian Lewis has a list of some 20 threats and risks to UK security that it wants the government’s views on.

The breadth of the Defence Review and the HCDC inquiry illustrate perfectly that the Chiefs of Staff, the Treasury, the government and the Shadow Front Bench have to get their heads around more complex ambitions than labels like Ban the Bomb and Trident Out.

Moreover, whatever the stated belief of Mr Corbyn on nuclear weapon policy there is the important feature of the authority of Labour Policy.  A change of leadership does not necessarily mean change of policy.  Any Parliamentary leader is obliged to speak for accepted and published Party policy until such times as he can convince others that it should be changed. Mr Corbyn is not a character who toes precedent but as things stand he is obliged to accept the Labour policy of support for Trident modernisation and therefore presumably the acceptance of Britain having a so-called nuclear deterrent.

Mr Corbyn does not accept nuclear deterrence theology and so we can expect him to attempt to change Labour policy, but that will take time.  Most Labour MPs support the policy and when it comes to a Parliamentary vote (as it will) Mr Corbyn would need to rely on Scottish National votes to get a No to Trident vote against the Tories.  On voting numbers alone that will not succeed and with such determination to relaunch Labour in Scotland, few of Mr Corbyn’s MPs will want to be seen in league with the SNP.

When it comes to the Defence Review, the Corbyn leadership will be on easier ground to criticise defence policy. For example, the principle of a 2% of GDP as a NATO benchmark on defence spending  does not stand much examination. The figure of 2% is held up as the key to defence spending.  It is not. The guideline to defence spending is this: government decides its foreign policy ambition and the military decides what it must have to support that policy.  The Defence ministry, industry and the Treasury costs it. If it is 2% so be the coincidence – nothing more.

The valid percentage of GDP is the cost, not a set NATO figure. Corbyn’s people will argue that way when the Review followed by the Defence Budget are published. But whatever the argument and expression of defence economics Corbynism will have no influence on the outcome of November’s review. The Chiefs of Staff will fear the Chancellor, whatever the political hue of defence funding.

We then come to NATO.  Mr Corbyn does not think much of the Alliance.  But then most military have doubts other than some sort of coalition of the willing is necessary. NATO is as far as it ever can be a self-reforming limb of European and part transatlantic foreign and defence policy. Ironically, the weaknesses of the organization are two-fold: the structure of its military wing under the commander of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACUER) and its political restrictions.  That weakness of NATO decision making and commitment has been question by the events in Ukraine and the bravado of President Putin.

NATO still happens to be a good military alliance if one were needed and the much presented European model is no better. A Corbyn gesture does not have to be withdrawal.  He or anyone else can satisfy scepticism by simply not signing up for some NATO operations.  Mr Corbyn’s sense of realism would also suggest that it is time to re-ask What Is NATO for in 2020? The supporters of such a debate would include the British military.

Furthermore, getting a convincing answer to the what’s it for question will allow a better understanding of national policy responsibilities and most of all, the transatlantic alliance function.

So a summary of the likely relationships between the British military and the defence policy makers working for Mr Corbyn would include that there is unlikely to be any influence on the defence debate between now and the next General Election. Public gasps of breath and headlines warning of damnation will run and run.

There could be two codicils: not this year’s but a not too distant defence review could indeed radically change the shape of British defence. The 1981 defence review carried out by the then Defence Secretary John Nott would have radically changed what the military especially the Royal Navy could and could not achieve. If Nott had been implemented immediately the 1982 Falklands War might not have have gone the way it did.

Would a simple White Paper change radically the British military? Could do easily.

A near-future defence review could be a good case for a radical change in policy by concentrating for example on home security including air defence, mine counter measures and territorial control of the British Isles instead of having a strategic long distance commitment. No armoured division, no long range air force no naval force projection using a carrier task force and no strategic deterrence.  It would not be hard to write. That is the one that would rattle more than there sabres of the Chiefs of Staff.

The second codicil is more of a reminder. The military is there to protect British policy, not to invent it.

Corbynism is not bothering the military at the moment because it is political Shadow boxing.

But there will be a few who remember the June 1981 Defence White Paper and shudder to think if Corbyn proved every one wrong and the face of British politics were to change in 2020 – and the face of the British military the following year.

Christopher Lee

July 14, 2013


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.