Trident is 'economically untenable and deeply unpopular'
by Kate Hudson
Large-scale spending on Britain's Trident nuclear deterrent and its replacement is unacceptable, but it is not too late to stop it - argues campaigner
What kind of government commits to a billion pound contract, only to admit on the day it is announced that the next administration may have to "negotiate its way out" of the deal? That happened on Monday of this week. But before dissecting the absurdity of this British Ministry of Defence's admission, let us recap how we got here.
In a Westminster Hall debate in December 2011, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn voiced a concern shared by many fellow parliamentarians on the implications of current spending on the United Kingdom's Trident nuclear weapons system. With a decision on whether or not to replace the system's submarines not due until 2016, he argued that the sums being spent prior to that decision threatened to pre-empt parliamentary authorisation.
He stated: "Quite simply, we are moving to an enormous expenditure before a parliamentary vote in, presumably, 2016 or whenever - when all of us might still be members of parliament or when none of us are. There will be a new parliament and a different parliament will make that decision. I could write the speech for the (defence) minister or his successor now. It will say: 'We do not want to do it and we do not like it. It is not good, but we have already spent so much money that it would be a shame to waste it.'
Those who oppose the replacement of Trident have long argued that there is a serious possibility that, come 2016, such swollen expenditure will result in a replacement being presented as a fait accompli. The MoD announcement this week of a £1.1bn contract with Rolls Royce is just the most recent manifestation of such profligate advance spending. The past year has seen announcements of £350m on design work for the next generation of nuclear-armed submarines, as well as a £2bn investment in new warhead assembly facilities, high-explosives units and research buildings at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston & Burghfield.
The recent £1.1bn contract will see a £500m refurbishment of Rolls Royce's Raynesway plant in Derby, and includes £600m for developing nuclear reactor cores to be used in powering Britain's nuclear submarines. The revamping of the Raynesway plant itself is also inextricable from, and essential to, the building of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines. For the uninitiated, clarification is needed here. Britain has two classes of submarine - both of which are nuclear-powered. The Astute Class submarines are conventionally armed - they do not carry nuclear weapons - while the Vanguard Class carries Trident missiles with nuclear warheads.
Some of the reactor cores to be built as part of this contract will be used to power the Astute Class submarines, but the MoD has confirmed that they will also be used in the first of the potential "successor" – or replacement - submarines. Given that parliament has not voted on whether or not to build these successor submarines and will not until 2016, this kind of spending is both outrageous and unauthorised. Indeed, the MoD has itself confirmed the entirely ludicrous position it is now in.
Minister for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey stated on Monday: "The money that has been committed today is a spend over an 11 year period, so if we decide in 2016 not to go ahead with some of these engines - the government of the day would have to negotiate its way out of that. At a time when the public are being told that there isn't enough money for crucial services, it's natural that people baulk at this kind of economic irresponsibility in government." As spending escalates, commentators have quite rightly expressed concerns about the MoD's dogmatic commitment to replacing Trident.
But this week has already seen some commentators predictably claim that Trident replacement has cost us too much to cancel. The rhetoric is worrying, but the detail is inaccurate. With the manufacture of replacement submarines billed at around £25bn, and with the lifetime cost of a successor fleet amounting to well over £100bn – we are clearly not near the tipping point yet. Trident is economically untenable and deeply unpopular, with polls consistently showing majority opposition to replacing it. And £100bn is an unconscionable figure when placed alongside the slashing of public spending on schools, hospitals, libraries and other services. Current spending on Trident and its replacement is unacceptable - and it will only get worse. But we are not too late to stop it.
Kate Hudson is general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Trident will never be replaced - the costs are too high and the economic outlook is too uncertain. Opinion polls show that the great majority of the public would welcome cancellation of the Trident replacement project. The money should be spent on meeting modern security threats - cyber attack, extremism, climate change - not on keeping an out-of-date Cold War weapons system staggering on.
Paulo - Maidenhead