The real reason for replacing Trident submarines
reason why the Government decided that there must be a second generation of
Trident submarines is to maintain in
On 14 March 2007, the House of Commons approved the following Government motion by 409 votes to 161 :
“That this House supports the Government’s decisions, as set out in the White Paper The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent (Cm 6994), to take the steps necessary to maintain the UK’s minimum strategic nuclear deterrent beyond the life of the existing system and to take further steps towards meeting the UK’s disarmament responsibilities under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
87 Labour backbenchers joined the Liberal Democrats and the Scots and Welsh nationalists in voting against. Earlier, an amendment which sought to delay the decision was defeated by 413 votes to 167, 95 Labour backbenchers voting for it.
The steps set out in the White Paper  to “maintain the UK’s minimum strategic nuclear deterrent” were (a) to build a second generation of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to come into service from 2024 onwards, and (b) to participate in the US Navy’s programme to extend the life of the US-built Trident missiles, for which these submarines serve as launch platforms, to around 2042.
The “further steps” set out in the
White Paper “towards meeting the
The key question for those who
“to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression against our vital interests that cannot be countered by other means” (Paragraph 3-4)
reasoning applies with even greater force to weaker states, like
Surprisingly, this question got a good airing in the debate – and, since the question is unanswerable, the Government wisely decided not to attempt an answer.
Unfortunately for William Hague, speaking in support of the Government, as the Conservative spokesman on Foreign Affairs, he had to attempt to do the impossible, because he foolishly allowed Liberal Democrat MP, Phil Willis, to intervene and ask him:
“... the logic of [your] position is that if every single state in the world were given a nuclear weapon, the world would be safer. That is nonsense, is it not?”
Hague replied weakly:
“That is not the logic, and it is the reason why we have the non-proliferation treaty, to which we are signatories.”
But it is the logic. And the reason we have a non-proliferation treaty is to attempt to constrain non-nuclear states from acting upon the logic, and developing nuclear weapons “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression”.
There isn’t the slightest doubt
Neither is there the slightest doubt that, if there was even a suspicion that Iran had a functional nuclear weapon today, the US would be seeking to negotiate with it, as it has done with North Korea despite its nuclear test last autumn, rather than continuing to threaten to use force, contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter.
William Hague continued his reply to Phil Willis:
“However, he must not
think that if we announced today our intention not to have a nuclear deterrent
in future, other countries – those in
That is a counter to the proposition
As Labour MP, Gavin Strang, said:
“We seek to persuade non-nuclear weapons states not to pursue nuclear weapons programmes ... . Those exhortations will be met with increasing cynicism if, at the same time as we make them, we buy a new generation of Trident. ... By renewing Trident we will effectively say to other countries that nuclear weapons are so vital that we are prepared to spend billions of pounds to make sure that we have them in the 2020s and beyond, even though the Government admit that we do not face a foreseeable direct military threat. Far from persuading other nations to remain non-nuclear, we will send a signal that nuclear weapons are vital.
“... There is nothing in the Government’s justification for renewing Trident that does not apply to every country in the world. That clearly undermines our argument that non-nuclear weapon states should continue to forgo nuclear weapons. The Government rightly say that we do not know what the future holds, but we can be sure that a decision not to renew Trident would avoid the damage that would be done to non-proliferation efforts if we go ahead with renewal.”
James Arbuthnot, the Conservative Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, also recognised that every state has a case for not going naked into the conference chamber:
“I have decided to
support the proposal. I am not inclined to take the risk of allowing the
unilateral nuclear disarmament of this country to send us naked into the
conference chamber, as Nye Bevan once put it. The trouble is that those
considerations apply just as strongly to
Answering a question about
“I suspect that if we had
which concedes the proposition that
a state’s acquisition of nuclear weapons is a reasonable response to a
perceived threat. With that, he hasn’t a
leg to stand on in resisting an attempt by
No doubt, William Hague would respond by saying that Iran is non-nuclear signatory of the non-proliferation treaty and is forbidden by the treaty from developing nuclear weapons “to deter and prevent nuclear blackmail and acts of aggression”, whereas Israel has never signed the treaty and has therefore been free to develop nuclear weapons as it sees fit – which illustrates the double standards that exist in this matter.
This is permitted under the treaty, Article IX of which says :
“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”
By any objective standard, every
state in the Middle East, including
Hague the imperialist
In the debate, those in
favour of maintaining
“The realistic planning that I have been speaking of has to assume that the UK will continue to be engaged in regional hot spots, including – but not limited to – the Middle East, and that British military operations might have to be conducted in the face of local states possessing weapons of mass destruction of some kind. Nuclear capability, even when its use seems remote, significantly enhances confidence in dealing with a potential adversary.”
In other words, if
An independent nuclear deterrent?
The White Paper continually speaks of our present nuclear weapons system and its successor as “an independent British nuclear deterrent”. Prime Minister Blair wrote in the foreword:
“We believe that an independent British nuclear deterrent is an essential part of our insurance against the uncertainties and risks of the future. ... An independent deterrent ensures our vital interests will be safeguarded.”
The use of the phrase “an
independent British nuclear deterrent” is clearly meant to imply that the
British state has complete freedom to take decisions about its use. But, how can that be when
At least eight states in the world
now possess functional nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. All of them, except
And the White Paper proposals, which are to replace the British-built submarine launch platforms, while continuing to use the US-built Trident missiles, won’t change that.
The plain truth is that, if Britain doesn’t maintain friendly relations with the US, then it won’t have a functional nuclear weapons system, despite having spent billions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money on it - because the US would simply cease providing Britain with serviceable Trident missiles.
So, there is a strong incentive for
Furthermore, it is inconceivable
As Clare Short said in the Commons debate:
“The third reason why the
“... every post-war Prime
Minister apart from Edward Heath, bless him – because he was so focused on
entrenching us in the European Union – has been obsessed with the special
relationship as the centrepiece of our foreign policy. Why? It goes back to
One might have thought that the questionable “independence” of our nuclear deterrent would have been a central issue in the Commons debate. But, only two MPs – Michael Meacher in addition to Clare Short – brought it up at all, and the Government wisely chose to ignore the issue, since it is impossible to justify the Prime Minister’s assertions of its “independence”.
Even the White Paper
conceded that our US-dependent nuclear deterrent will become non-functional if
relations with the
“We continue to believe
that the costs of developing a nuclear deterrent relying solely on
It would be more honest to say that
While admitting that our nuclear
deterrent is dependent on the
Personally, I doubt that the US
would sell any foreign power – even its closest ally – a weapons system with
which the foreign power was free to do catastrophic damage to US allies, not to
mention the US itself. Surely, the
Why is a second generation needed?
The other question that should have
been prominent in the debate is: why does the
In a submission to the Defense Select Committee, four eminent American scientists (Professors Richard L Garwin, Philip E Coyle, Theodore A Postol and Frank von Hippel), with long experience in US military procurement, have suggested that the life of the UK’s submarines could be extended like their US equivalents. See my article The decision to replace Trident submarines is highly premature, say US experts .
But the Government has continued to assert that 30 years is the maximum for the British boats. The Government did so in the debate – and only one MP, Peter Kilfoyle, questioned its assertion.
And the Government has continued to assert that it will take 17 years to design and build a second generation of Trident submarines to do the same job as the first generation. On this basis, the Government argued that the initial design work must begin in 2007, so that the first replacement submarine will be operational in 2024, when the second of the existing submarines is due to be retired after 30 years service.
By contrast, as Labour MP, Gordon
Prentice, pointed out in the debate, the
The real reason
Labour MP, Lindsay Hoyle, intervened in William Hague’s speech to ask him:
“Does he agree that if we do not go ahead at this stage, the design team that is in place to design the submarines will be dispersed, we will be unable to put a team back together and we will end up having to buy American submarines, thereby not taking advantage of this country’s engineering capability?”
That question, and William Hague’s
response, gets to the heart of why the Government has insisted that a decision
be taken in 2007 to design and built a second generation of Trident submarines –
and why extending the service life of the existing Trident submarines is not an
option. It is all about maintaining in
Of course, the Government has to pretend that a second generation of Trident submarines is needed for defence reasons. When it was put to Margaret Beckett in the debate that a decision was needed in order to “ensure that we have the expertise to secure our nuclear capacity, both militarily and domestically”, she replied:
“The decision to be made by the House is not on anything other than the political, strategic and security needs of the country.”
William Hague response to Lindsay Hoyle was more honest:
“We must have very
serious regard for the point made by the hon. Member for
“The Defence Committee was advised by Mr. Murray Easton of BAE Systems that ‘if there is a further delay, or any delay, in the submarine ordering programme it will have a significant and, I think, catastrophic impact on our ability to design and build and, therefore, for this country to have its own nuclear submarine design and construction’.”
BAE Systems is the only company in
While its Barrow-in-Furness shipyard will be occupied for the next 10 years or more building Astute-class submarines, design work on the Astute is coming to an end and, in order to keep the design team together and preserve Britain’s capacity to build nuclear-powered submarines, it is essential that the green light be given for initial design work for a new generation of nuclear-powered submarines. The White Paper said:
“There are ... risks that, in the event of a significant gap between the end of design work on the Astute-class conventional role nuclear submarines and the start of detailed design work on new SSBNs [submarines], some of the difficulties experienced on the Astute programme would be repeated because of the loss of key design skills.” (Paragraph 1-6)
The Astute programme got into such trouble that General Dynamics Electric Boat, the American company that builds SSNs and SSBNs for the US Navy, had to be employed as consultants to overcome the problems.
Defence Industrial Strategy
The Commons Defence Select Committee published a report on 12 December 2006, entitled The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the Manufacturing and Skills Base . It was in evidence to the inquiry that led to this report that Murray Easton of BAE Systems made the remark quoted by William Hague.
Nobody reading Section 3 of this
report, The submarine industrial base,
could be in any doubt that maintaining
In December 2005, the Government published a White Paper on Defence Industrial Strategy (DIS) , which, according to its foreword, sought to identify “those industrial capabilities we need in the UK to ensure we can continue to operate our equipment in the way we choose ... to maintain appropriate sovereignty and thereby protect our national security”.
In the maritime section, the DIS states:
“We require versatile maritime expeditionary forces, able to project power across the globe in support of British interests and delivering effect on to land at a time and place of our choosing.”
“To sustain this capability:
So, maintaining the capability in
On the submarine industrial base, the Defence Select Committee report said:
“Witnesses to our inquiry
warned that gaps in the submarine programme could lead to the departure of
highly skilled and experienced personnel to other industries. The 11-year gap
between the design of Vanguard and Astute submarines was cited by industry and trade
unions as evidence of just how rapidly the skills base can erode without
regular or sufficient specialist work, and of how difficult and expensive it is
to reconstitute once lost. Only with the assistance of the
“Without a new SSBN it is possible that there would be insufficient demand for nuclear submarines to sustain the industry.” (Paragraph 61)
Murray Easton of BAE Systems put it more strongly in evidence to the Committee:
“If there is a further delay, or any delay, in the submarine ordering programme it will have a significant and, I think, catastrophic impact on our ability to design and build and, therefore, for this country to have its own nuclear submarine design and construction ... If the successor programme does not go ahead then, obviously, depending on how many Astute submarines there are, our production facility at Barrow will grind to a halt.” (Paragraph 71)
Happily for BAE, the demand for its submarines has now been put on a sound footing by the Government’s decision to design and build a new generation of Trident submarines.
And the Prime Minister has had the satisfaction of forcing the once unilateralist Labour Party to embrace Trident.
Alex Salmond says
I leave the last word to Alex Salmond:
In the 1980s, many eloquent speeches were made by Members on this matter. I was particularly struck by the current Chancellor’s contribution of 19 June 1984. In a debate similar to this one, he said:
“The dominant theme of this debate has been the concern expressed by hon. Members about the escalating cost of the Trident programme, a project which is unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound. It is a project which, while escalating the risks of nuclear war, puts at risk the integrity of our conventional defences.”
Anybody in politics is entitled to change their mind – I have even done it once or twice myself – but I find it extraordinary that people could be against Trident when we faced the real and present danger of the might of the Soviet Union, yet for Trident when we face the potential might of North Korea. That is an extraordinary change of position to adopt. ...
In a world of 200
nations, 10 of which are nuclear powers and 190 of which are not, I would like
Surely in those circumstances the safe course of action for the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea, now that he no longer sits for a Scottish constituency, would be to advocate that the replacement of the weapons system be sited on the River Thames, as opposed to the River Clyde.
3 May 2007
Labour & Trade Union Review
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