Trident: master plan or major waste?

An important vote will take place in the House of Commons on the renewal of the nuclear defences of the UK today.

The current Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD), called Trident, is due to go out of service in the late 2020s, and any new system could take up to 13 years to deliver.

Trident was commissioned under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s to replace Polaris which had been the system used since the 1960s.

Trident came into service in the 1990s and is made up of 3 parts; the submarine, the missiles and the nuclear warheads.

The logic of having nuclear capabilities hidden beneath the waves somewhere in the world is to deter a nuclear attack on the UK because, even if the UK’s conventional defences were ruined, the submarine would still be able to retaliate on the aggressor. This is known as mutually assured destruction.

So is replacing Trident a good deal?

The estimated lifetime costs of replacing the system would total around £100 billion. It includes the designing of the new submarines, the building costs (which at 2006-07 prices are estimated at £15-20 billion) and the running costs (estimates suggest this would be 5-6% of the annual defence budget roughly £2-£2.5 billion per year).

Many would say that no matter what the cost, the defence of our country is worth the outlay.

At a time when the government is cutting back its spending, others, including myself, question whether Trident is worth the money?

Could the money be used to provide additional funding to our conventional armed forces, invest in cyber crime prevention, help our wounded soldiers and provide for families who have lost loved ones in conflict? Or perhaps funds could be channelled into the NHS or education or housebuilding. The list is endless.

So what are the alternatives? One option, which the Liberal Democrats presented in 2013, is that in order to save costs, the continuous patrols at sea should end and the number of submarines be reduced from four to three.

If the threat of attack was heightened, the patrols could restart.

Others argue that a land based system would be vastly cheaper as there would be no need for submarines to be built, however a land based system would be more vulnerable to attack and has been widely rejected as an option.

There is the option in which the nuclear weapon could be launched from an aircraft, which is again cheaper than the submarine option.

The other alternative is to not renew at all and leave our nuclear capabilities aside. Some people think this is the approach we should be taking, and becoming a pioneer for nuclear disarmament worldwide.

However, with uncertainty in the Middle East, the rise of Daesh and an antagonistic Russia, many think nuclear weapons are the best form of defence and a unilateral disarmament would leave us vulnerable and diminish the UK’s standing in the world.

With the UK being one of only nine countries in the world holding nuclear weapons, it is certain that our new prime minister’s first major foreign policy decision will not be unilateral disarmament.

However, is it not worth a chance to look at all the alternatives before upgrading Trident on a like-for-like basis?

I would be interested to hear you views on the nuclear deterrent and whether we should renew it or not.