PoliticsHome | Only the latest five entries on the PhiWire are visible to non-subscribers
- Sign up to see last 24 hours
Dont have an account?Sign up here
Wednesday 14th December 2011 | 07:30
It is no exaggeration to say that the UK’s costly Trident submarine nuclear missile system has become one of the most taboo subjects in Whitehall in recent years.
The Coalition Government refuses to discuss its policy on our so-called ‘nuclear deterrent’, going so far as to exclude it altogether from the shambolic Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) last autumn – a move criticised by former head of the Army and defence advisor to David Cameron, Sir Richard Dannatt.
Meanwhile, Ministers have managed to keep the matter out of Parliament – and paper over tensions between the Coalition partners – by deferring key decisions on whether to replace the Trident nuclear warheads and the submarines that carry them until after the next election.
Given that a parliamentary decision on Trident is not due until 2016, that no proper debate has been forthcoming on whether the system is even necessary, and given the perilous state of the public finances, one might expect the Government to refrain from spending any money on it in this term.
But in his answer to a parliamentary question I tabled in November, defence minister Peter Luff revealed that the Ministry of Defence is already spending at least £2bn on making enriched uranium components, high explosives and putting together warheads at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.
These new investments include, for example, £734m on a facility called Mensa for dismantling and assembling warheads, and a £634m highly enriched uranium plant named Pegasus.
The culture of secrecy at the MoD which has allowed these crucial spending decisions to be pushed through with virtually no Parliamentary scrutiny is nothing short of scandalous – and points to a serious democratic deficit which the Government must now urgently address.
By signing off these costs now, the MoD is effectively pre-determining the future of defence spending while discussions about what we really need to protect our country in an age of rapidly changing security concerns are ongoing.
It also flies in the face of recommendations from some of the military’s top brass. A number of ex-Army chiefs have spoken out in recent years to challenge the relevance of Trident in 21st century conflict, and to question whether it really serves our defence needs. Lord Bramall, for example, has called it ‘useless’ and a ‘Cold War weapon’.
Replacing this extravagant and discredited white elephant project would mean locking the UK into the costly technologies of the past, at a time when we should be developing the realistic defence solutions of the future. It would also send out all the wrong signals to the rest of the world about our commitment to nuclear disarmament.
The Government's willingness to throw billions of public money at nuclear weapons facilities just as British taxpayers are paying the price of austerity is not only morally indefensible, it is also economically illiterate.
Let’s not forget that the total cost of Trident replacement – including warheads, missiles, submarines and lifetime costs – is likely to come in at an eye watering £100 billion over the next 30 years. The Royal United Services Institute estimates that 30% of the MoD’s new equipment budget will be allocated to Trident replacement throughout the 2020s.
Right now, our jobs, health, education and other vital areas of the economy are being hit with unprecedented cuts. The MoD, grappling with a huge ‘black hole’ in its finances, is slashing service jobs and capacity from our armed forces. Against this backdrop, are we supposed to believe that Trident is a good use of public money?
If the Government would rather spend taxpayers’ money on increasingly irrelevant weapons of mass destruction rather than invest in vital public services and jobs, it must come clean about its intentions – and give Members of Parliament and the public the chance to debate them.
Labour Party Political Broadcast for 2013 elections 19/04/13
UKIP Party Political Broadcast for 2013 elections 19/04/13
Green Party Political Broadcast for 2013 elections 19/04/13
Conservative Party Political Broadcast for 2013 elections 19/04/13
Lib Dem Party Political Broadcast for 2013 elections 19/04/13