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Trident Replacement


John Reid maintains a two-faced Janus posture. He says there will be an open debate on Trident Replacement. At the same time he stonewalls MPs when they ask questions in Parliament. He refuses to cooperate with the Defence Committee. The Committee decided to look at the future of British nuclear weapons and held an initial series of hearings in March. The Ministry of Defence did not allow any of its officials to speak to the Committee. No doubt on the orders of the same John Reid.

Despite this the Committee hearings provided an insight into the question of Trident Replacement. One of the most interesting contributions came from David Broucher. Until last year Mr Broucher was the British Ambassador at the UN Disarmament Conference. He played a leading role in the British delegation at the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference.

The pro-nuclear lobby claim that if Britain gave up its nuclear status this would have no impact on the Russian nuclear arsenal or on whether more countries will try to join the nuclear club. Mr Broucher torpedoed this argument. He said “we are, as it were, an actor in this play and the actions of others are conditioned by the way in which they perceive us”. He argued that confidence in the NPT was flagging, not just because of the actions of North Korea and Iran, but “through the failure of the existing nuclear weapons states to live up to their obligation to pursue negotiations on multi-lateral disarmament in good faith”. Strong words from the man who only months ago was leading Britain’s contribution to these negotiations.

Mr Broucher and his colleague from Southampton University, Professor John Simpson, argued that the Trident Replacement decision presents an opportunity for Britain to kick-start negotiations on disarmament and the NPT. They said that any decision on replacement should be linked to progress on wider disarmament. CND could not accept an approach which meant that Britain would keep nuclear weapons if there was no progress on global disarmament. However there is some common ground between the Southampton University position and our own. We should be arguing not only that Trident should not be replaced, but that this decision should go hand-in-hand with Britain taking a leading role strengthening the NPT and promoting global nuclear disarmament. With the end of apartheid, South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons programme. This enabled South Africa to play a leading role in strengthening the NPT during the 1995 review conference. A nuclear-weapons-free Britain would be well placed to use its diplomatic influence to promote disarmament and to discourage nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. This would be a far better way to tackle the dangers of nuclear proliferation, than keeping our own Weapons of Mass Destruction.

The MPs on the Defence Committee asked how France would respond if Britain did not replace Trident. Dr Bruno Tertrais, an expert of French nuclear strategy, replied that they would be two reactions. Some might feel it made France more important. But there would also be pressure on France to follow Britain’s example. He added that the French were content with the current situation where both nations have the bomb. Again this revealed that not replacing Trident could break the mind-set of nuclear deterrence and encourage others to follow suite.

Several witnesses before the Committee argued that Trident should be replaced. Their main claim was that Britain needed to have an insurance policy in an uncertain world. Professor Simpson criticised this approach as “ a very unsatisfactory basis for committing scarce defence resources to this activity”.

Peter Whitehouse of Devonport Management Limited said that concept studies should start now to decide what kind of submarine should replace Trident. A recent report showed that it would take 15 years to design and build a submarine based on the existing Astute Class. A substantially new design would take 17 years. This is probably the main factor driving the timescale for Trident replacement. Work on a substantially new design would have to start in 2008. This assumes that the life of the existing submarines can be extended by 5 years.

Sir Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Secretary at the MoD, argued that while the hardware for Trident is procured from the US it is operationally independent. Dr Dan Plesch challenged this view saying “the historical record and documentary evidence shows that for some considerable time this country has effectively not had an independent strategic nuclear deterrent”.

The Defence Committee also heard from Kate Hudson (CND Chair), Dominick Jenkins (Greenpeace) and Professor Shaun Gregory (Bradford). The strength of evidence clearly showed the absurdity of replacing Trident. It remains to be seen how much logic will survive the political deliberations of the Committee.
John Ainslie




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