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Tony Allen

The Ultimate Deterrent or Not

Tue 6 Jul 2010

By Tony Allen

Security can mean many things from locking garden sheds to preventing nuclear war, so there is always plenty of scope for filling these columns. This time I thought I would have a look at an aspect of national security that has had much prime time in recent prime ministerial TV debates amid wide discussion of the size of the national debt (what was it - £389bn plus or minus a bit more?).

Rise and fall of empires........

There is no doubt that prior to the First World War atlases had great parts of the world map coloured pink, which reflected the remit of the British empire at that time, and the vast tracts of the globe that needed our protection. Since then, our empire has been in steady decline to its now near non-existence, while the rise and subsequent fall of communism and the soviet republics led to other pressures and defence requirements.

After World War Two Britain became a nuclear power, along with the USA, France and Russia. Our own deterrent at that time was primarily aimed at the Soviet bloc, and any rogue states that might want to adopt nuclear arms. You can now add China, India, Pakistan and North Korea to the list of nuclear countries, with Israel and Iran seeking to join it. Some of these states are now undergoing massive growth, while others (including ourselves) are in relative decline, and the world order is changing.

Open ended costs and limited budgets?........

Our current vehicle for deterrence (Trident, which replaced Polaris in the mid 1980s) is a four submarine missile-carrying fleet operating continuous sea patrols supported by work forces at Faslane and Devonport naval dockyards. The replacement for Trident is estimated at £20bn with lifetime costs of around £100bn. This is not taking into account budgetary overruns and inflationary influences.

The new coalition government is taking severe steps to make massive savings in the public purse by cutting costs and putting on hold many needed investments in infrastructure and society, no doubt for many years to come. So, in the context of this ravaged British economy today, what are your thoughts on forking out these enormous costs on Trident's replacement? Would you prefer to see the money spent on other things here at home (e.g. health, education, police services, to name a few)?

Should we start disarming?......

Seen alongside this can be the initiative by President Obama for multilateral nuclear disarmament. There is hope of a new nuclear non-proliferation treaty this year. Bearing in mind the end of the cold war, should we support this? Or do you feel it should apply to everyone else except Britain? Do we now need a nuclear deterrent at all? Is the concern nuclear proliferation by unstable and so-called rogue states, or do you think we need it because of risk of terrorist nuclear attack? Iran's nuclear ambitions seem to remain, North Korea is totally unpredictable, and Pakistan, with its close ties to Britain, has become a bed of unrest.

........or delay the procurement?......

According to parliamentary papers, the Labour government's reasoning in 2006 for the replacement of Trident was based on a major nuclear threat possibly re-emerging in the next 20 to 50 years. Because of this, there are those who feel therefore that the decision on procurement does not need to be taken until 2014 at the earliest (when the submarines start to become due for replacement). This would be part of the Strategic Defence Review, to assess what is the best deterrent to adopt against possible threats in the future.

What about our troops?......

The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has been a source of much anguish amongst the British populace because of the under-funding of the resources and equipment needed for our forces in the field there, with the casualties that has caused. The current UK budget deficit does not offer much hope of addressing the MoD's own calculations that the forward equipment plan is under-funded by £35bn. Would the replacement costs of Trident be better used to improve the arming and protection of our traditional forces instead? This is a very real and valid question to ask.

How reliant are we on the USA?......

The Soviet Union is no more, but other states have or are seeking nuclear weapons. So, if we had a replacement for Trident, would we actually be able or likely to use it? Unlike the French, who have their own unilateral system, ours would be totally dependent upon USA satellite systems. The USA is the main deterrent to these other states ever using nuclear weapons in earnest. So would we be better served by total dependence upon the Americans, rather than bearing the cost of our own deterrent, which many believe we would never be in a position to use without the USA's consent and support.

Can we afford the spend?.......

Does our crippling national debt, and the need to redirect our limited finances, lead you to believe we could and should delay or even scrap the replacement for Trident?

I hope this article will at least make you think about what is at stake, whether our deterrent is needed or not, or indeed worth the cost, when our nation is no longer the world power it was, and has massive funding requirements elsewhere here at home.



Other columns by Tony Allen

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