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Lords question Trident replacement

Two former Defence Ministers, Lord Browne (Labour) and Lord King (Conservative) were among those who criticised the Government's plans for Trident replacement and keeping a submarine at sea at all times in a debate in the House of Lords on 24 January

General Lord Ramsbotham:

" .. what concerns me and many others is the reluctance of successive Governments to examine the criteria that should guide the choice of any nuclear weapon system ..

"I suggest that it is on our decision on whether to replace Trident with a similar system capable of taking out Moscow that our real credibility in the eyes of the world will rest-a credibility that is bound to include appreciation of the thoroughness of our decision-taking"

Field Marshall Lord Bramall:

"The first question, from a military point of view, is whether we still need the successor to Trident which the Government presently seem to have in mind. Will it be able to go on doing the job it is supposed to do under any relevant circumstances? To this I believe the answer is unquestionably no. For all practical purposes it has not and, indeed, would not deter any of the threats and challenges-now more economic than military-likely to face this country in the foreseeable or even longer-term future. It has not stopped any terrorist outrage in this country nor, despite America's omnipotent deterrent, did it prevent the very traumatic 9/11. It did not stop the Argentines trying to take over the Falklands, nor did any nuclear deterrent stop Saddam Hussein marching into Kuwait or firing missiles into Israel. Nor indeed, in a now intensely globalised and interlocked world, could our deterrent ever conceivably be used-not even after a serious hostile incident which it had presumably failed to deter-without making the whole situation in the world infinitely worse for ourselves as well as for everybody else.

"For all practical purposes our deterrent has never been truly independent, and if this country had not had a national deterrent over the years, dominated by the formidable balance of terror between the USA and the old Soviet Union, it would certainly not be seeking to acquire one now. I see no reason why these circumstances should change, because conflict is moving inexorably in an entirely different direction. Indeed, even that often-quoted justification for such a status symbol-a seat at the top table-has worn a bit thin, with prestige and influence more likely to be achieved by economic strength, wise counsel and peacemaking than by an ability to destroy en masse. ...
Other countries may not necessarily follow our example if we were to start to run down our own white elephant and be seen to be stepping further down the nuclear ladder. However, to encourage them in the completely opposite direction, to follow our particular stance, seems to me to be very irresponsible for a country such as ours, which rightly has aspirations to be a leader in international affairs. ..."

Lord Browne (Defence Minister in Tony Blair's government):

"Fifthly, we have to work harder to strengthen the grand bargain at the heart of the non-proliferation treaty or risk losing it. We are becoming dangerously complacent about it. All states have a responsibility here, but the nuclear weapons states bear a special responsibility. Successive Governments have reduced the number of warheads in the UK arsenal, but we need to do more. Formally, we are committed to the like-for-like renewal of Trident and the operational posture of continuous at-sea deterrence. The Government and all Members of this House need to reflect further on this position. Are we telling the countries of the rest of the world that we cannot feel secure without nuclear weapons on continuous at-sea deployment while at the same time telling the vast majority of them that they must forgo indefinitely any nuclear option for their own security? Is that really our policy? If so, do we expect the double standard that it implies and indeed contains, to stick in a world of rising powers?"

Lord King (Defence Minister in Margaret Thatcher and John Major's governments):

". The issues that we face include terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, piracy and cyber threats. However, against none of those do nuclear weapons look like God's gift to solving the problem. It is against that background that I look on the present situation. It is certainly not obvious to me that there is any longer a need for a major nuclear system based on 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week availability. ...

"As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said, the blockage to this has really been the political judgment. Can any political party in this country go to the electors and say, "We have dismantled the basic, fundamental, ultimate defence of our country"? That is the challenge that we face and that has to be addressed. As to whether it ultimately gives us top-table credibility, in the current world we live in, top-table credibility comes from being available to help with peacekeeping and conflict resolution, and in having Armed Forces that are able to exist, co-ordinate and co-operate with the new high-technology and highly sophisticated systems. ...

"Against that background, the cash pressures are very much an issue here. I think that our place at the top table would be more threatened by committing ourselves to a system for 40 years or more that may mean, in what are likely to be pretty stringent economic times for the foreseeable future, that we are less able to contribute in the United Nations and under United Nations leadership in some of those other roles than by whether we can say that we have these very substantial weapons, which we have never had occasion to use."

Lord Hannay (former ambassador to the UN)

"Finally, because this has been mentioned by several other noble Lords, I would like to say a word about the false argument that Britain's permanent membership of the Security Council of the UN somehow depends crucially on our possession of nuclear weapons. That is simply not the case; it is totally unhistorical to suggest that it is. When the five permanent members of the Security Council were established under the UN charter, only one had nuclear weapons. China, the last of them to join, did not have them for another three decades. The link is really not there. The noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, put his finger on it when he said that the sustaining of our permanent membership depends infinitely more on the role that we play in peacemaking, peacekeeping and conflict prevention, and matters such as that, than it does on making this false linkage with nuclear weapons."

Full debate: Hansard




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