Posted by: Stephen Connelly | March 8, 2016

Trident Renewal

In 2007 MPs voted to back the renewal of Trident, the UKs independent Nuclear deterrent by 409 votes to 61.  At a time when Labour had a healthy majority this suggested a high degree of cross party support for the maintenance of these weapons of mass destruction.  The system needs updating but the 2010 coalition government decided to delay the renewal decision until 2016 in deference to their LibDem partners. Having secured a majority in 2015 the Tories can now force that decision through the House of Commons and the time when that decision needs to be made is rapidly approaching.

What is Trident?

Trident was acquired in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher’s government as a replacement for Polaris.  It came into use in the 1990s and consists of three separate components – submarines, missiles and warheads and represents our independent nuclear deterrent.  In the current configuration there are 4 submarines with one permanently at sea, armed and ready to launch its missiles at a moments notice.

It relies for its deterrent value on the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), that is if we have been wiped out in a Nuclear strike we can posthumously order a counter strike wiping out our enemy.  On board each of the four submarines there is a safe and in that safe is a letter from the Prime Minister.  The letter gives the submarine commander instructions about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike on the UK.  The contents of this letter are confidential and on a change of government the letters are destroyed, unopened.  Dennis Healy was one of the ministers trusted by Harold Wilson to make the decision were he unable to and famously said ‘he would not have pushed the button’.

sub_vanguard3_416The Problem with Trident
The Tory pro-renewal position is strong on rhetoric and weak on economics. The government has continued to prevaricate about the timing of a vote to renew Trident despite cross party support. The decision has now been pushed back to the summer beyond the EU referendum on June 23rd.  The cost of renewal seems to fluctuate from one announcement to the next.  The permanent secretary’s evidence to public accounts committee in October identified that the previously estimated £25bn cost had now risen to some £41bn.  Opponents of the programme often quote £100bn as the cost.  Some say that the technology is outdated and simply doesn’t meet the kind of security threat facing us in the twenty first century.  The fundamental question unanswered by the government is does spending 6% of the defence budget on Trident make any kind of sense?

Labours Policy on Trident
‘National Security is too serious to play politics with, I’m not going to throw away our independent deterrent’, said Ed Miliband the Labour leader until 2015, he went on to say he also supported multilateral disarmament.

Jeremy Corbyn, elected leader later the same year has been a lifelong member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, CND and is fundamentally opposed to Nuclear weapons.  The media went into overdrive when he, perhaps naively,  said as PM he would not be prepared to push the button.  The phrase ‘threat to our National security’ was shoehorned into every frontline ministers briefing from that day on.  Interestingly, David Cameron never seems to have been asked the same question.  We have to assume he’d gleefully unleash Armageddon in the interests of tit for tat nuclear devastation.

The Labour Party is currently carrying out a review of its Security and Defence Policy.  Emily Thornberry, appointed shadow defence minister in January 2016 will have the final say on Labour’s Trident review but until the review is complete current policy is to support renewal.


There is no doubt that for the electorate defence is an important issue but it is also certain that if we are to provide any kind of meaningful security a proper debate about how best to deliver it is necessary.

Notes:- You can read the full text of Emily Thornberry’s speech to the Royal United Services Institute, RUSI  by clicking the link







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