What next on Trident?

The previous Labour government had a habit of taking as gospel views from senior members of select professions. Whilst many professions were instinctively seen as self-interested dinosaurs when speaking up for their professions, both senior police and senior military were however often treated as if unimpeachable experts.

It’s been a welcome sign from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of the new government that senior military are seen as they should be – often expert, certainly experienced but by no means infallible and often to be questioned. That’s the right attitude, but it’s one that is clearly ruffling some feathers in the military given the little dig reported last week in the Daily Telegraph at Armed Forces minister Nick Harvey (see third paragraph).

That followed a speech he gave to the Royal United Services Institute in which, after talking about his Liberal predecessor, Nick Harvey also went on to talk about the future of Trident:

The last Liberal Minster to be closely involved in reforming the Armed Forces was the Minister for War, Richard Haldane, who greatly reformed the Army for the challenges that lay ahead of it in the 20th century.

He also made the famously poor prediction in 1907, four years after the Wright Brothers took to the skies, that “the aeroplane will never fly”.

So I am pleased that as we undertake a fundamental look at our Armed Forces to ensure that they are fit for the 21st century, we have Liberals in Government once again – we’ll help to drive the change we know is needed, but we will be careful not to predict the future with absolute confidence…

The current policy of maintaining the UK’s essential minimum nuclear deterrent remains unchanged.

The Trident Value for Money Review is looking at whether this policy can be met while reducing the cost of successor submarine and ballistic missile systems, including by shifting the balance between financial savings and operational risk.

The work will cover: the programme timetable; submarine numbers; numbers of missiles, missile tubes and warheads; infrastructure and other support costs; and the industrial supply chain.

But we do ourselves a disservice if we confine the concept of deterrence to nuclear weapons alone.

After all, deterrence is about applying power to influence potential adversaries, mitigate risks, and address threats without recourse to war.

In pursuing our national interest and protecting our national security, we must also remember the powerful deterrent effect of our conventional forces, particularly in the context of our military alliances.

In other words, the future of Trident is still up in the air – but there’s also a welcome emphasis on the reality that non-nuclear forces need to be able to fulfil their role, particularly in the many areas where using nuclear missiles are never going to be a credible deterrent whether or not you believe they are in matters of major inter-governmental relations between nuclear states.

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