The Defence Select Committee report published this week on the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and National Security Strategy expressed concern that the UK Armed Forces are already outstretched and may not be able to deliver the commitments they are likely to face between 2015 and 2020. The report reveals that the MOD has drastically increased the estimated gap in their funding and it is now “in excess of £38 billion”.
For this and many other reasons the decision to renew Trident needs to be urgently reviewed.
The overall estimated cost of replacing the Trident submarines at £25bn, £3bn of which will be spent before the decision in 2016 on the construction or ‘Main Gate’ decision. And of course this is at a time when most other areas of public spending are facing drastic cuts. When announcing the ‘Initial Gate’ decision the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, announced: “The nuclear deterrent provides the ultimate guarantee of our national security.”
But confusingly the government now believes that some of the main threats facing the country are terrorism, cyber crime and civil emergencies like flu pandemics. Nuclear weapons have no role in dealing with these threats. During his statement, even Fox admitted that no nuclear armed nation currently poses a threat to the UK. Surely Britain’s commitment to Trident renewal is only encouraging nuclear proliferation and so making our country more insecure.
The Labour Party has welcomed the Government’s commitment to Trident renewal. The main decision on construction will not be made until after the next election. Opinion polls have consistently shown low levels of support for renewal, and the debate has moved on considerably from the 1980s.
We need to look at this issue again especially at a time when massive public sector cuts are and will have such a detrimental effect on some of the most vulnerable people in our country. I believe we will find a real appetite for this kind of cut. Many will think it makes more sense to ensure proper funding for more essential projects and that the Labour Party should not be committed to spending such a large amount of money on a totally unnecessary nuclear programme.
The Labour Party must not shy away from discussing this at September’s conference and leading the debate in the coming months.
Katy Clark is the MP for North Ayrshire and Arran.
This article was published on the New Statesman website on 6th August 2011.