In Spite of British Austerity Measures, Trident Replacement Here to Stay

Jun 22, 2010


By Oliver Bloom
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced today on behalf of the new British coalition government an austerity budget aimed at combating Britain’s budget deficit and growing national debt. Absent, however, from the proposed cuts was anything related to Britain’s nuclear weapons program, which is currently up for a costly and controversial replacement. While various political commentators, not to mention Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg, have argued for the Government to reconsider Trident replacement program cuts, British Defence Minister Liam Fox rejected possible cuts speaking before Parliament yesterday.
Questioned by MP Jeremy Corbyn on why Trident review was not part of the broader Strategic Defense Review, Fox said:
The nuclear deterrent is, of course, fundamental to our ability to deter the most extreme threats to the United Kingdom. [… In] 2007 the Conservative party in opposition supported the decision to renew the Trident system based on the analysis set out in the 2006 White Paper, and we remain committed to continuous at-sea deterrence.
As the coalition agreement has made clear, we are scrutinising the Trident renewal programme to ensure that we get value for money, and my Liberal Democrat colleagues will continue to make the case for alternatives. However, we underestimate the value of deterrence at our peril and we do ourselves a disservice if we merely confine the concept to nuclear weapons. We know from historical experience that a declaration of peaceful intent is not sufficient to dissuade aggressors and that a weakening of national defences can encourage them.
What’s more, when asked by PM John Woodcock on whether the “value-for-money Trident review is solely considering the ballistic missile submarine system, or are alternative systems being considered,” Fox replied
There are a number of elements in the Trident renewal programme, and we are looking for value for money in each of them, and trying to see where we can, if possible, get that capability for lesser cost. However, there is no question but that we will move ahead with a continuous, minimum, credible at-sea nuclear deterrent for the United Kingdom.
As our piece at PONI back in May discussed, none of the proposed alternatives would be able to meet the simultaneous demands of a continuous, credible, at-sea nuclear deterrent with any significant cost savings. 
The “value-for-money” review stems from Liberal Democrats coalition agreement, wherein the Conservatives agreed to “scrutinize to ensure value for money” and allow the Liberal Democrats to “continue to make the case for alternatives,” but nevertheless planned to “maintain Britain’s nuclear deterrent.” Defence Minister Fox reported yesterday that the review has already begun and will be concluded before the summer recess in July, well before the Government completes the Strategic Defense and Security Review . 
The point of tension, however, was not when the report was to be released, but whether it would seriously consider a major overhaul to Trident renewal, or would accept the plans for an SSBN and look at cost savings within. PM Bob Ainsworth pressed Liam Fox on whether the value-for-money study would allow the coalition partners to “pursue their separate views on the shape of the deterrent” , but Fox was generally evasive in his answer. When PM Dai Havard pressed Fox further on his answer, Fox responded:
As part of the coalition agreement, we agreed that we would have a value-for-money study o examine the costs of the programme and see where we could achieve better value within it [emphasis added]. That is the process that is now ongoing.
From these words, it appears that while the new coalition government is looking into possible cost savings within the program (however given how vague that comment is, we’ll have to wait for the final report to see specific cost savings), the government is not seriously considering revamping the program (shrinking the number of subs, switching from ballistic missiles to cruise missiles, abolishing the program entirely, etc). 
In short, the British nuclear deterrent seems here to stay, at least for the moment. Should the Government face stiff resistance in its austerity measures, especially because they fall so hard on social services and not on defense, then perhaps Trident will once more be on the chopping block. But right now, many of those officials most interested in tackling the British deficit and debt (the supporters of the austerity measures)  are simultaneously those least interested in reviewing Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent (most in favor of Trident replacement). A paradox indeed.  



//Crosbiesmith under Creative Commons License