Thursday, 1 November 2007

Chris Huhne's Trident Policy Stands Up

The Trident system has three parts: the missiles, which are American-owned, the 192 warheads, which are British-made and owned, and four British Vanguard-class submarines that carry and fire the missiles. Chris Huhne, if I understand him rightly, thinks there is no convincing case for replacing the Trident system with a system of equal capacity. So the preparatory work now being carried out on a new generation of submarines can be cancelled.
As I understand his views, Chris Huhne does not advocate scrapping Trident now because he is not a unilateralist. However, Trident has a finite life, and he thinks a replacement system of equivalent scale and performance to Trident is unnecessary in relation to the threat, its expense is unjustifiable and it would mean technical dependence on the United States which should be avoided. He thinks that we should decide in 2010 after the next round of disarmament talks between either having no renewed system, or having a minimum deterrent.
I gather it has been suggested that a minimum deterrent would be nearly as expensive as replacing Trident and would have to be land-based but from information I acquired as a member of the Trident Working Group I do not believe these criticisms are sustainable. In the event of failure of the 2010 disarmament talks, even if the UK’s current nuclear weapon stockpile were dismantled the UK could assemble small fission weapons quickly using plutonium from the stockpile of about 70 tonnes at Sellafield, much of which comes from reprocessing fuel from the Magnox reactors in operation since the 1950s. The UK would continue to operate nuclear powered submarines whether or not Trident was replaced so it would only need to purchase a delivery missile from the US or France or alternatively use aircraft.


Left Lib said...

Hi Jo,
It is reassuring that from someone who knows that Chris Huhne's policy is not as half baked as his opponents maintain, although I do worry that he has not been robust in defending his position. I suspect that politically he does not want to be labelled as a unilaterist (although since our nuclear weapons are independent then the fact that we have them in the first place could also be described as unilateralist).
However in order to avoid been labelled unilateralist, I am not sure that the UK being in possession of the weapons that you describe would have any credibility anyway. He still has to make a case for having them.
My own difficulty is that I do not think we need nuclear weapons in the first place.

Jo Hayes said...

The Trident working group did hear from some experts who thought that having them has a deterrent effect, and therefore possessing them was in the interests of the UK's security. However they were vague as to who or what the weapons were deterring. The government white paper talked about them as an insurance policy - you never know what the future may bring. This is not even an attempt at rational risk assessment. My own view is that since their destructiveness is so huge and indiscriminate, we cannot ever use them, so it is pointless and a criminal waste of money possessing them and having our leaders pretend they are prepared to use them which is a charade. My concern is that Parliament, by giving the go-ahead to the next generation of nuclear weapons system, has sent a message to other countries that the UK sees advantage in having nuclear weapons and is not going to give them up, which harms the prospects of the next Non Proliferation Treaty talks. The United States has been sending similar messages but I hope that by 2010 a wiser President may be in the White House.