Why I will be voting against Trident renewal today
Writing for PoliticsHome ahead of the Trident debate, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Crispin Blunt explains why he believes Trident renewal is a missed opportunity to strengthen Britain's defences.
It’s because I care about my country’s security that I am opposing the renewal of Trident. I’m not prepared to be party to the most egregious act of self-harm to our conventional defence. This is a colossal investment in a weapons system that will become increasingly vulnerable and for whose security we will have to throw good money, after bad – in fact tens of billions more than already estimated – to try to keep it safe in the decades to come.
Britain’s independent possession of nuclear weapons has been turned into a political touch-stone for commitment to national defence. But this is an illusion. The truth is that this is a political weapon, effectively aimed against the Labour Party, whose justification rests on the defence economics, the politics, and the strategic situation of over three decades ago. But it is of less relevant to the defence of the UK today and certainly surplus to the needs of NATO.
We were told last November that the capital costs for the replacement of the four Vanguard submarines would now be £31bn, with a contingency fund of £10bn. We’ve also been told that the running costs of the Successor programme will be 6% of the defence budget.
At this level this one programme will consume around a quarter to a third of the defence procurement budget for the whole of the next decade. Programme cost are of the order of £180 billion, and the costs are likely to rise much further.
Emerging technologies, including distributed sensors and unmanned aircraft detecting surface wake, will render the seas increasingly transparent in the foreseeable future. Marine biologists are already able to track shoals of fish in real time from several hundred miles away.
Ballistic missile submarines depend utterly upon their stealth by utilising the sheer size of the oceans. If we are today able to detect the gravitational waves first created by the big bang, how can we be so confident that a capable adversary would not be able to track our submarines 20 years from now?
The system vulnerabilities are not restricted to its increasingly detectable signatures. Trident might also be risk from cyber attack. There is every incentive for adversaries to invest in offensive cyber capabilities in order to neutralise them.
If in future we are uncertain that Successor is not being tracked we cannot be certain that it will not be eliminated in the early stages of a crisis.
This issue of vulnerability is key. There is a clear direction of travel in defence against big platforms in favour of distributed capability. Are we really in 2016 going to bet the shop that the foreseeable risk to these massive steel tubes does not include the period before 2060?
I am not a unilateralist and I believe we can afford to remain a nuclear power. I want to challenge the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review that had incomprehensible assumptions.
We should be considering alternatives, such as deploying modernised free-fall bombs on the new F35 jets. Such a system would be a significant contribution to NATO’s nuclear posture, tailored to the type of threats NATO could face in the worst conceivable scenarios, at a fraction of the cost.
Rather like the weapon system, this debate is about politics rather than the substance of security. If we were applying any rational application of available resources to meet threats to the UK we wouldn’t be going down this route. We wish to seem resolute on defence, but the deep irony is that we are doing fearful damage to our conventional defence and acquiring an expensive liability in the process.
Crispin Blunt MP (Cons.) Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee