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     Scottish CND      Magazine

New Labour New Arithmetic


Trident and the Defence Review

In July the Secretary of State for Defence, George Roberston, unveiled the results of the Strategic Defence Review. It was trailed as one of the most thorough reviews of Britainís military forces in modern times. But, from CNDís point of view it was very disappointing.

Mr Robertson made it clear from the outset that those carrying out the review would not be allowed to recommend that Trident be scrapped. But there were rumours that the Ministry might decide that the submarines should be taken off continuous patrol. From June 1968 until July 1998 there had been 246 such patrols.

In the end the Review announced that these continuous patrols would continue. So we still have one Trident submarine hiding in the depths of the North Atlantic ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon, for 24 hours each day, 365 days of the year.

One of the most revealing details of the new policy came in Mr Robertsonís reply to a question from Margaret Ewing MP of the SNP on 16th July. When asked how many Trident warheads the government was going to scrap, the Defence Secretary replied "we do not need to decommission any warheads to implement Strategic Defence Review changes." In other words not a single Trident warhead is going to be scrapped.

This appears to be a long way from the PR line when the Review was announced. The newspapers were proclaiming that the number of Trident warheads was going to be cut in half. But if you read the small print the Review only claims that the new number will be half of the previous "ceiling". This referred to a speech which Malcolm Rifkind gave when he was Defence Secretary. Mr Rifkind had said that the maximum number of warheads which might be carried on each submarine was 96. But he had never said there actually were 96 on each. And we now know that there were less than this.

To understand the changes it is necessary to look back at the number of warheads carried in the past. When Polaris submarines first sailed from Faslane in 1968 they were each carrying 48 warheads. In the early 1980s the warheads were modified and the total number deployed per submarine was reduced to 32. In 1995/96 there was a dramatic increase when Trident replaced Polaris. Each Trident submarine has been carrying 60 warheads, until now.

To implement the Review 12 warheads will be removed from each submarine. The new situation will be that "All three Trident submarines in the operational cycle will have 48 warheads loaded."

Any hopes that the Review would lead to the fourth Trident submarine being scrapped or mothballed have also been dashed. Vengeance is about to be launched at Barrow in Cumbria on 19th September, there will be a protest there to mark the occasion. The submarine is due to sail to Scotland "early in 1999".

The Government has failed to give any coherent reason for keeping Trident. During a debate in May Robin Cook said ".. our manifesto committed us to retaining Trident as long as there is an external threat to Britain." Alistair Morgan MP pursued this point with a written question to George Robertson asking him what nuclear threat, if any, there was to the UK. On 10th June the Defence Secretary replied "We do not see any immediate nuclear threats to the United Kingdom". Well if there is no immediate threat then why have Trident on patrol ?

The Defence Review is even more reassuring about the lack of any enemies, it says ".. there is today no direct military threat to the United Kingdom or Western Europe. Nor do we foresee the re-emergence of such a threat." Not only is there no threat to Britain today, but the official assesment is that there is unlikely to be one in the foreseeable future. Any reasonable person would conclude from this that there is no justification whatsoever for having Trident. But we have to remember that we are not dealing with reasonable peope here. The Ministry of Defence have as much sense as the Commander of the US Atlantic Submarine Fleet, Rear Admiral Roger Bacon who is on record as saying that Trident missiles and submarines were needed "as a defence against terrorism, drug trading and other global conflicts."

John Ainslie

Scottish CND      Magazine