As there is a vote coming up about the renewal of the Trident system, I felt it was important to write to my MP, although I anticipate he, along with the majority of MPs, will back renewal. However, regardless of the side one takes, this is a bad time to make a big decision, and I still question how much impartial research has been done into whether this is a cost-effective choice, even for those who are pro-deterrent. With a sinking pound and public finances squeezed, this is an issue which could have very real knock-on effects on our doorsteps. My letter also omitted the very real question of how a deterrent so reliant on US support can be truly independent
Here is my letter with added hyperlinks to sources:
Dear Mr Morris,
I understand that there will be a vote in Parliament as to whether the United Kingdom should renew its Trident nuclear submarine fleet. Regardless of the side one takes, I feel this debate is badly timed, taking place in the turmoil of the formation of a new government and the aftermath of the referendum result. I strongly believe there would be wisdom taking more time, following our nation’s recent trauma.
However, I expect the debate and vote will happen, so I feel I must write to you. I must state up front that I have huge moral objections to nuclear weapons, so I'd be glad to see the end of a UK nuclear deterrent. However, even if one doesn’t have that over-riding moral objection, it's hard to see the justification for a new Trident system strategically, financially or militarily. Here are my reasons:
The official cost estimates in 2010 were £15-20 billion, although many believe it will be much higher. As there is US input, and the pound has devalued against the dollar by around 10% since the referendum, this is bound to rise. Ongoing operational costs and maintenance will take this total much higher.
Over my adult lifetime, there have been many examples where it was believed that our conventional forces on active duty were imperilled by shortages – of ammunition, helicopters, body armour, and using vulnerable Land Rovers due to a lack of armoured personnel carriers. The savings from abandoning Trident could ensure that does not happen again. I’m not a pacifist, so I feel that when our personnel are deployed it’s vital they actually have all the resources they need, decent houses to come home to, and proper support for those injured or traumatised, along with their families.
The point is often made that Trident is for our security – to make us safe. Is this well-founded?
The British nuclear deterrent was conceived to ensure the UK had the independent means to deter the USSR during the Cold War. We couldn't hope to win a conventional war against the USSR, so it was to ensure the UK could not be intimidated, and an aggressor would pay for using nuclear weapons on the UK, if it ever came to that. As I’m sure you know, the British deterrent (whether Vulcans, Polaris or Trident) was always a 'second strike' weapon. They would be deployed once Britain was about to be devastated by an incoming attack, or after such an attack had done its worst. In the Cold War scenario, it was assumed the USSR would be the aggressor, and it was very hard to imagine circumstances where Trident would be fired in isolation from a US response, or that as a NATO ally, they would simply watch European allies attacked. This is presumably why, apart from France, no other European country has nuclear weapons. The difference 'our' deterrent makes to that overall scenario is more symbolic than significant.
So at most, Polaris and Trident would have been a kind of posthumous revenge. In his old age, Denis Healey once admitted that back in the 60s if he had been in bunker after a Soviet attack, he wouldn't have launched Polaris. What would the point have been in slaughtering millions of Russians after the damage was done?
The same surely applies now with regard to the big nuclear powers. Russia (and China) might have too much at stake to risk such a war with the West, but don't we need a deterrent to protect us from Iran, North Korea et al? The answer is the same: a nuclear strike by any 'rogue state' would certainly get a US response (possibly with support from Russia/China), so if that doesn't deter them, will a couple of Trident submarines? Furthermore, if the UK is seeking to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it reduces the credibility of that stance by renewing Trident.
Probably the most pressing threat to national security is terrorism. Nuclear deterrence is no use against such a threat. We don't know where they are, and the best hope of stopping them will be through good police and intelligence work. Many terrorists are happy to die in their cause; indeed some actively seek it. The Cold War peace was said to be maintained by the dangerous balance of mutually assured destruction (MAD) between the USA and USSR. However, if one side is happy to die, that balance is destroyed.
I don’t expect you will agree with me, as I know your party seeks Trident renewal. However, it isn’t as simple as a left/right issue. Military chiefs and even Michael Portillo (hardly a lily-livered lefty!) have questioned spending these huge sums of money to maintain a nuclear deterrent, when there are so many other pressing needs on our nation (including other military requirements).
Last night I was at a local public meeting seeking to keep Morecambe Library and 3 Childrens’ Centres open, which are threatened because of the cuts Lancashire County Council must make. Austerity is biting very hard locally, so it’s very hard to understand why such an expensive prestige project remains a priority.
Trident represents a lot of money that could be used to:
a) invest in the towns like Barrow affected by the cancellation. Employment is important, but Trident is a very expensive way to keep people employed.
b) ensure the conventional forces being deployed actually have all they need and decent houses to come home to.
c) contribute to deficit reduction, instead of closing vital local facilities.
Even the lowest estimate of £15bn is a lot of money to spend on something you hope you never use.
I hope you have time to read and weigh these arguments. At the very least, I would ask you to support deferring the decision until things settle down, I think a proper impartial strategic review of the value of a UK deterrent would be very helpful, balancing the different threats we face. Of course I must also ask you to vote against renewal for the reasons I have outlined.