Trident: the elephant in the cuts 'debating room'

Posted by Louise Edge — 8 April 2010 at 4:53pm - Comments

Cuts, cuts, cuts! – the papers are full of debate about the budget, whether it was radical enough, what cuts different political parties are going to make if they get elected, what should be protected, what should be axed, when they should act…

Yet so far our politicians are missing the easiest cut of all. Cutting plans to waste money on new nuclear weapons which, as last year's In the Firing Line investigation revealed, will cost UK taxpayers a shocking £97 billion over the next 30 years.

In fact this simple concept is apparently so far off the agendas of both Labour and the Tories that they are trying to exclude the question of Trident replacement from the 'comprehensive' defence reviews they promise to conduct should they win the election.

The flaw in this is pretty obvious – how can a defence review be comprehensive,  making 'hard choices’ about spending, if it excludes (in the military's own words) ‘one of the most expensive defence procurement programmes this country has ever seen?'

The plain fact is that for a few years now a whole series of senior military figures have been making a fuss about Trident replacement - warning that Trident is, in practical terms, irrelevant to dealing with  the sort of threats and conficts we're likely to face in the future.

This high-level criticism from those who might be expected to be the biggest supporters of nuclear weapons is already making the Labour and Tory position less and less tenable.

Then more news came this week which makes holding their line nigh on impossible.

It emerged from the dry sounding 'House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts: MoD Major Projects Report 2009'.

“It’s very hard to preach the virtues of non smoking when you have a cigarette dangling from your lips and are about to buy a new pack…”
Dr Mohammed el Baradei

Not a catchy title I admit, but there's some pretty amazing content in there. In a nutshell the report said that if the defence budget stays the same it faces a £36bn hole over the next ten years. But if the budget is cut – say by 4% over the next five years - this hole could grow as big as £80 billion.

Is this a likely scenario? – yes, according to the respected Royal United Service Institute, which recently estimated that defence budget cuts between 2010 and 2016 could be as high as 10 to 15%.

The fact is it's crucial that the defence review – whoever is running it – includes the question of whether the UK should build a new generation of nuclear weapons.

And this isn’t just because they are vastly expensive. It’s because our world will clearly be more secure if we eliminate nuclear weapons. With President Obama committing to reduce nuclear weapons, and the US and Russia agreeing a new arms control treaty, we have the best chance since the end of the cold war of making serious strides towards that goal. So we need to get behind this programme, not jeopardize it by repeating the old mantra that no-one else can have nuclear weapons, but we need to keep them (and build new ones) because ‘the future is uncertain’ and ‘threats may arise’.

As former head of the International Atomic Energy Authority, Dr Mohammed el Baradei, once put it: “It’s very hard to preach the virtues of non smoking when you have a cigarette dangling from your lips and are about to buy a new pack…”

To make sure the parties hear this message loud and clear we’ve set up a new action which makes it easy for you to write to all your parliamentary candidates in one go – and ask them if they are happy to waste £97bn on a weapon which is irrelevant to the real threats we face. And to demand the question of trident renewal is included in any strategic defence review.

Also visit our video wall to get ideas about how we could better spend this enormous amount of money. For just £2bn, for example, we could reduce class sizes in UK schools down to an average of 20 by 2020 – coincidentally that’s what it costs to keep our nukes operating for just one year!

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