Liberal Democrat Spring Conference will debate nuclear weapons again on Saturday. David Grace has tabled an amendment to end Trident and cancel its replacement, below he explains why. 

Would you buy an explosive, poisonous device to protect your house against intruders (when there aren’t any) or would you first fix the roof, repair the boiler and get a new car? If it was hard to make up your mind, what if you were told that the device would take 10% of your income for 30 years and might not work? No brainer, eh?  So why the hell do the Tories, Labour and the establishment of the Liberal Democrats want the device? It’s called Successor and it’s the replacement for Trident.

The UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 identifies the main risks to our security as “terrorist attacks at home and abroad, cyber-attacks against the UK or its interests and international military conflict between states and/or non-state actors where the UK’s national interest requires our involvement.” Successor is not the answer to those problems and even the MoD doesn’t pretend it is. Even Tony Blair said, “Its utility is non-existent in military terms”. But he wanted it for status reasons. No really, that’s what he said. 

Everything about Trident and Successor missiles and warheads is American; the hardware, the software and we actually lease the missiles from the USA. They are guided by the USA’s GPS. I give you Boris Johnson in the Torygraph: “If you do not invest in your own satellites, you end up as a satellite power, which is effectively what we are.” Some status.

So why will we see the usual parade of establishment figures trotted out in York to tell us how we need our nukes in a dangerous world. Here’s the argument: “Oh my God, Putin! Oh my God, Trump!  We need nukes.” No one feels obliged to show how that conclusion follows from those premises. An old episode of Yes, Prime Minister makes the point well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxbFk4viTSQ - not entirely out of date. 

The Successor programme is not the answer, but worse, the resources it will gobble up prevent us from pursuing the alternative of rebuilding our conventional defences, if not health and education. The UK now has its smallest army since Napoleon, poorly equipped and with fewer main battle tanks than Switzerland, a tiny navy that cannot operate continuously in warm waters and could not mount the Falklands campaign and a long-range strike force of only six bombers. 

Supporters of nukes cannot provide a scenario for their use so they nod wisely and say, “Ah, but the future is uncertain”. Well there you go, better spend £200 billion then, but wait. The deterrence doctrine of the new Dreadnought submarines that come into use in the 2030s is also uncertain.  They depend upon being undetectable but underwater drones being developed now could end that. Rapidly progressing cyber warfare could prevent missiles from firing or change their intended targets. Isn’t it a bit rash to bet the country’s defence on a system that may be out of date before it even comes into service, a system we can’t really afford?

Since 2006 Liberal Democrats have held three working groups looking at Trident and the question has figured in five conference debates. Our current ‘Contingency Posture’ is regarded as a joke. The working group whose report comes to party conference this week was picked to ensure that some such muddle would emerge again. In fact, the report – Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons – endorses the Tories’ like-for-like Successor programme, with some minor differences and calls for more of those so-successful multilateral negotiations.

I believe Liberal Democrats can do better. Listen to the words of Sir Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Under-Secretary of Defence: “You should get rid of it but you’re the same as the other parties. You haven’t got the guts!”

Come to York, vote for the amendment on Saturday afternoon and prove him wrong.


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