On Tuesday, 18 March, IISS hosted the event Continuing the Trident Debate: Role, Alternatives and Opportunity Cost.
Three members of the Top Level Group, Sir Nick Harvey MP, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, Baroness Williams of Crosby discussed together with Dr Julian Lewis MP the implications and options that the UK will have to address leading up to the 2016 ‘Main Gate’ decision.
Following the July 2013 publication of the Trident Alternatives Review, and ahead of the May 2015 general election, this was a timely point to address salient questions which remain to be fully aired, including but not limited to the role, system options, deterrence postures and opportunity costs.
On 5th February 2013, the Telegraph published an article by Des Browne, former Defence Secretary and Convenor of the Top Level Group and Dr. Ian Kearns, Chief Executive of the European Leadership Network, in which they argue against like-for-like replacement of Trident.
Whilst not promoting unilateral disarmament, they make the case that Trident is no longer the most effective, nor cost-effective, deterrent. With like-for-like renewal consuming 25-30 per cent of the defence equipment budget in the years 2020-2030, this leaves less money to spend on conventional forces. With imminent defence budget cuts the UK necessarily faces a choice between reducing its nuclear or conventional capabilities
Kearns and Browne describe the decreasing likihood of nuclear war between sovereign states, and point to new research which demonstrate how the knock on effects on global agriculture would make the use of nuclear weapons disastrous for the aggressor.
They argue that any significant nuclear threat is more likely to come from nuclear terrorism, and as such would be difficult to trace, making retaliation unviable, and a nuclear weapon useless.
The Government’s Trident Alternatives Review is due in the first half of this year. If an effective alternative to like-for-like renewal of Trident is found, Browne and Kearns argue that it should be pursued.
Debates, and both written, and oral questions have all addressed the topic of Nuclear weapons this week.
Jim Cunningham MP has written to ask Liam Fox if he will publish in full the Trident replacement value-for-money review.
Read Dr Fox’s response here.
Bridget Phillipson MP also wrote the Defence Secretary to ask (1) how many suppliers of (a) equipment, (b) personnel, (c) parts and (d) assembly facilities for the Vanguard-class Trident submarine maintenance project there are in each (i) Government Office region, (ii) local authority area and (iii) parliamentary constituency; read the Minister’s reply here.
TLG member Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP in a debate on NATO in the Commons addressed Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, he stated:
The Lisbon statement said nothing on the future of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. As the Foreign Secretary will be aware, the United Kingdom gave up its tactical nuclear weapons in the 1990s, as militarily useless and politically irrelevant. Will the British Government now support multilateral negotiations between NATO and Russia, so that tactical nuclear weapons can be removed from Europe as a whole?…you can read Mr Hague’s response here.
In a debate in the House, Jeremy Corbyn MP addressed the Secretary of Defence to ask him, ‘Exactly how much money, would be spent between now and then  in preparing for the decision to replace [the current Trident Missile System]?’ Read Dr Fox’s reply here.
Tessa Munt MP and John Woodcock MP have submitted questions regarding Britain’s Trident Nuclear Deterrent.
Tessa Munt’s question to Liam Fox was to ask by what mechanism his Department has achieved cost savings in joint work with the US to procure a common missile compartment for the planned successor submarine; and how much funding has been allocated by his Department to the common missile compartment project to date. Read Dr Fox’s reply here. She also asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) on what date he expects to present to Parliament the full results of the Trident value for money report; and (2) if he will ensure that Parliament is given the opportunity to review the Trident value for money report and the strategic defence and security review before any contracts for the Future Submarine programme are placed. Read Dr Fox’s response here.
John Woodcock wrote to the secretary of defence to ask about (1) how many staff are employed on the Trident Value for Money review; (2) how much has been spent to date on carrying out the value for money review of Trident; and what estimate he has made of the final cost. Read the minister’s response here.