31 March 2014

Not Vince, surely?

The Guardian’s chief political correspondent, Nicholas Watt, had a scoop last week when he reported on 29 March:
A currency union will eventually be agreed between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK to ensure fiscal and economic stability on both sides of the border, according to a government minister at the heart of the pro-union campaign.
… "Of course there would be a currency union," the minister told the Guardian in remarks that will serve as a major boost to the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, who accused the UK's three main political parties of "bluff, bluster and bullying" after they all rejected a currency union. The minister, who would play a central role in the negotiations over the breakup of the UK if there were a yes vote, added: "There would be a highly complex set of negotiations after a yes vote, with many moving pieces. The UK wants to keep Trident nuclear weapons at Faslane and the Scottish government wants a currency union – you can see the outlines of a deal."
It seemed odd to me that, although in extremis almost everything is negotiable, the two issues highlighted in the article, the pound and nuclear weapons, were ones which both sides have taken such hard lines on. However, the commentariat seemed more interested in who the minister might be, with Benedict Brogan in his Morning Briefing email on 31 March pointing the finger very directly:
Whodunnit? There's a mole hunt underway in response to the Saturday Guardian's comments from a Cabinet minister that an independent Scotland would be able to keep the pound; on Today, Alistair Darling insisted that "The only way a currency union can work is if you have a single government". The name doing the rounds - and few will be surprised by this - is Vince Cable.
Watt appeared as one of the three bright young things on BBC1’s Sunday Politics on 30 March, though his comments during their ‘week ahead’ chatter with Andrew Neil at the end of the show seemed to be concentrating on an article in that day’s Observer by a clever old thing, Andrew Rawnsley. Of course, “the minister told the Guardian” not the Observer, so any resemblance to something posted about here over three years ago would be quite false.

On Running Amok

Currently it seems that the remains of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, flight MH 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March, are in the southern Indian Ocean. Matthew Parris in an article, The flight swallowed up by a beautiful hell, in The Times (£) on 29 March described from personal experience the extreme nature of the areas which have been searched.  Annexed below are the expert opinions of Dr Philippe Blondel of the Department of Physics, University of Bath, on the difficulties of looking for lost aircraft using side scan sonar.

The first flight I ever made was from Penang to Singapore on a Douglas DC-3 belonging to Malayan Airways, Malaysia Airlines’ predecessor but several. The formal British colonial involvement, direct and indirect, with Malaya lasted from 1824 to 1963, although it now seems far less well-remembered than the experience of India. Wikipedia has a list of about 60 English words of Malay origin, “Loan words from Malay in English”, although some of these loans seem to be more taken for granted than others, for example: compound (enclosed group of buildings), gingham, gong, ketchup, launch (boat), sago, sarong. Amok, usually preceded by run or running, is a common useage, as is its Norse companion, berserk. It also appears as amuck and amock, all three words according to the Oxford English Dictionary have been used as a noun or an adverb, stemming from the Malay amuq, since the late 18th century.

Someone has provided Wikipedia with a detailed account of amok, which is, according to the article, a recognised psychiatric condition.

ANNEX by Dr Philippe Blondel of the Department of Physics, University of Bath for the BRLSI 

The news are still coming in from the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, and two weeks after the catastrophe, there is still no trace of the plane or its passengers and crew. Debris were sighted by satellites in the Southern Indian Ocean, several thousands of kilometres south of Australia and far from the intended route, but there has been no other indication since. How else can modern instruments help the search? Debris at the sea surface will be hard to find by the search parties, combing several hundred thousand square kilometres of some of the most challenging places in the ocean. Speaking from experience, I know how hard it can be to see objects in waves several metres high, from the bridge of a ship subject to the weather typical of the “Roaring Forties”. But even if tell-tale signs are still visible at the surface, two weeks after the catastrophe, most would have sunk several kilometres down to the seabed.

The best search tools are sonars, using focused beams of ultrasounds to probe all the way to the seabed. The first priority remains to identify with certainty the site on the seabed. Traces at the surface, from debris to oil patches, would drift with the currents and the prevailing wind patterns, and they need to be traced back to a potential source. Anything sinking from this source would then be affected by underwater currents, possible implosions at different depths, scattering over a large debris area and being affected in different ways by bottom currents. This part of the search is likely to take several weeks. Mapping the site itself can take several weeks or even months, imaging the seabed in overlapping swathes, in the difficult, autumnal conditions of this region.

A typical search, like the ones I have been involved in, would typically start with a low-frequency system (eg 30 kHz), to map large swathes (kilometres wide) with a lower resolution (close to 10 m). Any unusual return would be noted down and further investigated, using higher-frequency systems covering smaller ranges (hundreds of metres or less) but with higher accuracies, metric or submetric. The metallic or composite hull of an airliner would show strong acoustic returns, even in rough terrains, and assuming it has not exploded or sunk into gullies, it would be detectable with sonar. The sad truth is that the plane is most likely to have exploded at impact, or imploded as it sank several kilometres. Debris would therefore be scattered over a wide field, depending on the different currents on the way down and on the sizes of the debris. The debris field, especially with its larger or more reflective components, would still be identifiable. Human remains, even after a few weeks in water, should still be identifiable with very high-frequency sonars. All evidence is usually complemented with video and photographic imagery, taken with autonomous or remotely-guided underwater vehicles, covering every possible inch of ground, feeding into possible loss scenarios, and helping any recovery deemed necessary (in the case of the Air France 447 flight several years ago, this included bodies, critical pieces of equipment and the black box recorder, two years later).

17 March 2014

The Donebullying Club

It was two years ago that I posted The Blue Angel: Talking up Gove Again at a time when various journalists were pushing the line that Michael Gove had all the makings of a future PM. Now there is a new flurry of interest because of what Toby Helm in the Observer on 16 March reports to be “an outbreak of leadership plotting and backstabbing at the top” of the Conservative party. This time round:
[a senior Tory MP] and others are tearing their hair out at an outbreak of leadership plotting and backstabbing at the top. They can't believe that after years of taking flak for austerity on doorsteps, senior figures are at one another's throats, apparently jostling for position in case the Tories fail to win a majority in 2015 and Cameron has to go. The party seems gripped by fear. A series of briefings and resulting stories splashed over Tory papers, MPs say, show Osborne, Cameron and Michael Gove are clearly out to stop Boris Johnson seizing the crown when the prime minister goes. 
… The main players in the plotting, MPs say, are supporters of Osborne who believe their man has proved himself and think they have to plan now to stop Johnson supplanting him, in case there is a vacancy after the election. Gove is claiming not to be interested in the leadership himself, which is what ambitious politicians often say. His main aim, it is said, is also to help Osborne and stop Johnson, but he is keeping himself very much in the mix.
A day earlier Gove had been the subject of the FT Weekend Magazine’s cover and a feature by George Parker and Helen Warrell,  How far will Michael Gove go? Their article has attracted attention because it quoted Gove deploring the over-representation of Etonians in David Cameron’s inner circle and indeed its main focus appears to be on Gove’s activities as Education Secretary. However, the leadership question is unavoidable:
Two scenarios are widely discussed among Tory MPs: that Cameron would certainly quit after a 2015 election defeat or that he steps down in the next parliament after his 2017 EU referendum.
Gove, it seems, is dedicated to securing Osborne as Tory leader and stopping Boris Johnson. The article notes his protestations that he wouldn’t want the top job himself, although at its conclusion the authors don’t seem totally convinced. But earlier one of their comments on Gove hardly seemed like an enthusiastic endorsement of his potential as Prime Minister either:
Gove’s career path has in some ways been blocked by his own political views. He could not be sent to the Foreign Office lest he provoked a war or pulled Britain out of the EU, while his friends say he would be driven mad at the Home Office by the constraints of EU Law and the European Convention on Human Rights when dealing with Islamic extremists. As for the Treasury, Gove has never been animated by economics.
The intriguing question is why all this now? I don’t believe that the Conservatives have already abandoned all hope of winning in 2015. So why so much worry this week about Cameron’s successor in three year’s time? Perhaps a remark by Gove about being PM having “seen David close up” provides a clue:
The pressure of the job is phenomenal and it takes a toll on you and your family and I don’t think I could do that.
Could it be that if Cameron doesn’t lose and go in 2015, he intends to stand down soon after victory anyway? Either way, he would be joining that select group, the former Prime Ministers, at a very young age: 

From Bullingdon Club to Donebullying Club in 30 years, one could say.

(1)  Cameron assumed to depart in either May 2015 or November 2017.
(2)  PMs after Thatcher assumed to live to 90. PMs from Macmillan to Thatcher lived to an average of 89.
(3)  Major was the second youngest departing PM since Queen Victoria, Rosebery being 48 in 1895.

16 March 2014

Scottish Independence: from polling to voting

John McTernan writing in The Scotsman on 7 March gave his article, What next for Scots after No vote?, over to an examination of the politics of Scotland after September’s independence referendum. He made the assumption that the No vote will prevail. Nothing in the opinion polls suggests he could be wrong, but I thought it might be enlightening to look at a recent opinion survey in some detail to see what might underlie the way it was reported in the media. For example, on 4 March the Daily Telegraph, under a headline, Independence support drops after George Osborne's Scottish pound warning, compared the latest Ipsos MORI poll with an earlier one and concluded:
Overall, support for leaving the UK was down two points at 32 per cent compared to an identical survey conducted in December, while opposition to independence remained unchanged at 57 per cent.
Ipsos MORI have made the details of their survey available to anyone who wants to look at their Tables of data which are broken down as usual under various headings, eg age, gender, social class and so on. (Pollsters tweak their sample (weighting) to match what they think is the profile of the actual electorate – such adjustments are small and their effect won’t be discussed here). The interesting thing about a referendum is that on the day the votes can only be YES or NO, the only other options being to spoil your vote or not go to the polling station at all. But drawing conclusions from the responses to a survey like this one of 1001 people seven months beforehand is more complicated and I’ve attempted to indicate why in the diagram below:

At the top are the responses of the 1001 and, at this stage in the referendum campaign, as well as Yes and No, people quite reasonably can be Undecided. Also, some of the Yes’s and No’s have not made up their minds definitely (percentage figures from Table 3) and similarly some of those who feel Undecided may, nonetheless, have an inclination towards Yes or No (Table 22). The arrows indicate the changes in opinion that these uncertainties could lead to.

The survey asked the 1001 people how certain they were to vote on a scale from 1 (absolutely certain not to) to 10 (absolutely certain to) – 12 didn’t know (Table 24)! There were 779 who were 10s and in the middle layer of the diagram these are again broken down into Yes, No and Undecided. Again, some of these people, albeit definite voters, may yet change their minds (Table 8). It is the nominally Yes and No percentages here of 32% and 57% which the Daily Telegraph quoted. Again there are some arrows to indicate how these opinions might change as well.

779 in 1001 voters definitely voting would be a turnout of 78% of the survey. The table below shows the actual turnout by Scottish voters in elections and referenda since 1979*:

So 78% looks a bit optimistic judging by the last 15 years of turnouts. However, as the diagram indicates, it currently appears that for YES to secure more than 50% of the votes in September, one or more unlikely events would have to occur, for example a substantial failure to turnout by those currently intending to vote NO, or all the currently Undecideds turning out and voting YES, or substantial changes of mind by those who currently consider themselves committed to NO.

At which point, back to McTernan’s article.

*Data up to 1997 from Wikipedia, subsequently from Scottish Parliament.

15 March 2014

Jason Reitman’s ‘Labor Day’

Looking back at earlier posts, it is surprising how often US films are based on novels (eg The Descendants) or plays (eg August: Osage County). Labor Day derives from the 2009 novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard. It is mostly set in a small town in Massachusetts over a few days in the late 1970s with flashbacks to earlier years. Non-US filmgoers might need to remind themselves that Labor Day is the first Monday in September and regarded as marking the end of summer.

A single mother, Adele Wheeler (Kate Winslet), and her teenage son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith), encounter Frank Chambers (Josh Brolin) in the supermarket. He admits to being a newly escaped convict and for a few days the Wheelers provide him with refuge. The story then becomes a matter of waiting to see just how things will end badly. Or, since this is an American film, how it could possibly conclude on an optimistic note. As the main drama unfolds over the Labor Holiday weekend, the background stories of Frank's crime and of Adele's becoming a single mother are revealed through a series of flashbacks. I have to admit that one particular aspect of Frank's past which came out towards the end of the film eluded me - I only learnt about it from the plot summary on Wikipedia.

Although the pace of the film is slow, all three of the main characters were so convincingly portrayed, particularly in the way the relationship between Adele and Frank develops, that the implausibilities of the story didn't intrude. This is a very different film from Reitman’s Up in the Air with George Clooney, but it confirms his ability as a director to draw fine performances from actors of the first rank as Winslet shows herself to be.

13 March 2014

Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel Gallery

Art in Germany between 1919 and 1933 fascinates me and there have been posts here about the Bauhaus, George Grosz, Kurt Schwitters and the German Expressionist pictures in Leicester. So, very better late than never, I was glad to have been able to visit Hannah Höch at the Whitechapel Gallery before their show of over 100 works closes on 23 March.

Höch was born in Gotha in 1889 and escaped from a kleinburgerlicht family to Berlin in 1912 to study the applied arts and textile crafts. By 1919 she had become part of Berlin’s Dada movement, its only woman member, alongside Schwitters, Grosz, László Moholy-Nagy, Paul Citroën and her lover, Raoul Hausmann (left). There are two portraits of Höch by Hausmann in the show, one a 1917 nude, the other a woodcut on a banknote from 1923, the year of the most severe Weimar hyperinflation. However, it was arguably Schwitters who had the more enduring influence, possibly introducing her to collage (as is claimed at the end of the exhibition), and adding an h to Hanna to make her forename palindromic. Grosz and John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfelde) tried to keep her work out of the First International Dada Fair in 1920, but as a fine riposte to their chauvinism she produced a large collage, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through Germany’s Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch (Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die letzte Weimarer Bierbauch-Kulturepoche Deutschlands, 1919, not at the Whitechapel, above).  Smaller pieces of sardonic social criticism are Heads of State (Staatshäupter, 1918-20, below top) and High Finance (Hochfinanz, 1923, below bottom). The first shows the Weimar President, Friedrich Ebert, and his defence minister, Gustav Noske, who crushed the Sparticist uprising in 1919.

In the 1920s Höch was working for the publishers Ullstein and had easy access to magazine illustrations and articles addressed to the emerging New Woman. From 1924 to 1930 Hoch worked on a series called From an Ethnographic Museum (Aus einem ethnographischen Museum) combining photographs of contemporary women and non-Western women and sculpture (Untitled, 1930 right). The Whitechapel tells us:
At once beautiful and monstrous, these compositions allow for a complex discussion about the presentation of the female body, of notions of exoticism and of the legacy of colonial aesthetics and politics.
No, I’m not sure either.  Not all of her work was as serious, for example, Marlene 1930 (Dietrich’s legs, doubtless, below left) and the later Made for a Party (Für ein Fest gemacht, 1936, below right).

Höch’s relationship with Hausmann had ended in 1922 and in 1926 she embarked on a nine-year affair with the Dutch female writer Til Brugman. Unlike many artists who fled Germany when the Nazis came into power, Höch (“constantly being watched and demonised”) went into internal self-imposed exile by obscurity in a house on the outskirts of Berlin and in 1938 married Heinz Kurt Matthies, a German businessman, though they would divorce in 1944.

In 1945 she would emerge from what she called “12 years of misery – forced on us by a mad, inhumane, yes, bestial ‘clique’”. The exhibition includes many works after 1945 which show the effects of the expansion of colour printing on her source material and the tendency of her compositions to become either more fantastical and surreal or more abstract than before the war. The exhibition ends with a video which draws on documentary interviews with Höch in the 1960s and her ‘collage of collages’, Life Portrait (Lebensbild, 1972-73, below). Höch died in 1978, probably the last of the Dadaists.  There are few opportunities to see her work in the UK so get to the Whitechapel before it's too late!

(Some reviewers have titled the exhibition as “Hannah Höch: Radical Works from the Woman Behind Collage”, but the shorter the better, I think.)


Just an afterthought, but I wrote above:
Unlike many artists who fled Germany when the Nazis came into power, Höch (“constantly being watched and demonised”) went into internal self-imposed exile by obscurity in a house on the outskirts of Berlin…
Not an elegant sentence for sure, and I’m wondering also whether it wasn’t quite that simple. Nazi Germany was a police state so it seems a little doubtful that a marked man or woman could avoid attention from the authorities, starting with the local gauleiter, for long. Was it that the Nazis, who thought the proper concerns of women were Kinder und Küche, didn’t want to draw attention to a woman like Höch? It might have undermined the credibility of their attack on Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) to make too much of a collage artist, and was she considered best ignored as long as she kept quiet?

I envy those interested in this subject and in New York where the Neue Galerie currently has a show, Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.

9 March 2014

Long distance information

It would be rash to predict the outcome of the current crisis over Russia, Ukraine and Crimea but no-one seems to be doubting its seriousness. Perhaps with an eye to reassuring the public that “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”, photographs have been appearing of world leaders on the phone to each other discussing what should be done. The first seems to have been of Obama’s call from the Oval Office to Vladimir Putin:

Obviously the Russian equivalent of NSA and GCHQ wouldn’t be interested in listening to that one, but Obama’s call to David Cameron – well, they would if they could:

This was released via Twitter and subsequently generated numerous parodies with bananas and other surrealist substitutes. François Hollande was at work in the splendours of the Elysée when Obama rang:

who was on the line from Florida:

This is an interesting image - the others only show handsets whereas this shot includes the phone base station:

The LCD screen isn’t as easy to read as the coffee cup, but it also seems to carry the Presidential Seal. The base station and the handsets have some similarities to those of the Cisco VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone which appears on Wikipedia:

Now, what at auction would be a really expensive phone, Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone, c 1938:

1 March 2014


(ie the Royal United Services Institute for Defence & Security Studies and Continuous At-Sea Deterrence) 

There have been about 15 posts here relating in some way to the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent. This is not least because the submarines might, conceivably, have to be rebased in SW England if Scotland were to become independent, the subject of the last Trident post in December 2013. Since then there didn’t seem to be much of interest on Trident until a letter from two Conservative MPs appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 10 February:
SIR - We do not believe that the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) has, as an organisation, endorsed the idea that continuous at-sea deterrence can safely be abandoned by our Trident nuclear force (report, January 31). The views expressed in the Rusi analyst Hugh Chalmers's convoluted paper are clearly labelled as “entirely the author's own" and should not be ascribed to the institute as a whole. 
His conclusion that “even an inactive fleet of submarines can help to deter actors from seriously threatening the UK” is based on a fallacy. Though admitting that such a fleet “would be vulnerable to a no notice [enemy] strike", Mr Chalmers asserts that “such an attack seems highly unlikely without prior indication or provocation”. 
If we were known to have a part-time deterrent posture, any rational enemy would have maximum incentive to strike without warning, precisely to prevent the reconstitution of our power to retaliate. History abounds with cases of aggression which took the victim wholly by surprise. It also teaches us that some aggressors may take enormous risks if, but only if, they think they may avoid the consequences. 
It is the certainty of retaliation, as much as the magnitude of retaliation, which lies at the heart of deterrence. An uncertain deterrent may ward off some attackers, but it would be an open invitation to others that the risks are now worth taking. 
Julian Lewis MP (Con) 
Bernard Jenkin MP (Con) 
London SW1
Chalmers’ paper can be downloaded from RUSI. The point the MPs were making about responsibility for its contents is perhaps slightly more involved than they suggest. On page ii of the paper it is explained that:
This Occasional Paper is part of a series commissioned by the Nuclear Security Project (NSP) of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), which examines key factors that will shape the UK’s nuclear forces over the course of the next decade.
The views expressed in this report are entirely the authors’ [sic] own and not those of the NSP or NTI. For more information, see www.nuclearsecurity.org
whereas on page iv:
The views expressed in this paper are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI or any other institutions with which the author is associated.
which leaves out the “entirely” and introduces a “not necessarily”. As for NSP and NTI, the www.nuclearsecurity.org link didn’t work for me, but NTI does have a website:
The Nuclear Threat Initiative works to strengthen global security by reducing global threats from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons
as does the NSP:
… an effort to galvanize global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.
None of which would anyone want to argue against, although, noting the eminence of its four founders, NTI might seem a bit like a CND (“campaigns to scrap nuclear weapons and create genuine security for future generations”) for the Bilderberg/Davos set.

But what of the merits of Chalmers’ paper as disputed in the MPs’ letter? Its main title, A Disturbance in the Force, (as many readers probably know, but I had to turn to Google), is a quotation from the screenplay of Star Wars IV:
Obi-Wan Kenobi: I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
which doesn’t seem particularly apt, given the paper’s subtitle, Debating Continuous At-Sea Deterrence.

The opening sentence is:
The traditional theory of deterrence suggests that the most effective way of dissuading an enemy from hostile action is with the certainty that such action would be promptly followed by devastating retribution.
Surely the word “nuclear” is required before “deterrence” if the appropriate retribution is “devastating”? Then follows:
For the past forty-five years, the UK has provided this certainty by maintaining a nuclear-armed submarine on patrol at all times, ready to fire if required. However, it is also accepted that in practice such certainty is not always achievable.
What is the meaning of “such certainty is not always achievable” in this sentence, given the “has provided this certainty” in the previous one?  Does it mean “has not always been achieved”, or “is not always being achieved”, or “need not be achieved in future”. The sentence is endnoted to page 24 of Michael Quinlan’s Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems, Prospects, published in 2009. (Quinlan was the top civil servant in the UK Ministry of Defence and is the dedicatee of the second edition of Peter Hennessy’s The Secret State.) This seems to be the passage on page 24/25 which is relevant:
In ideal circumstances deterrence is most securely provided by certainty both that grave misbehaviour will be promptly detected and that condign retribution or rectification will follow. Amid the world's complexities, however, that partnership of assurances is not always achievable. Where that is so there is no option - for all parties - but to deal in probabilities and possibilities. That need not destroy deterrence. During the East/West confrontation leading figures as diverse as President Charles de Gaulle and Dr. Henry Kissinger at one time or another, in their own styles, reminded their hearers that it was at best unprovable that the United States would risk embarking, for European causes, on sequences of action that might imperil its own cities ('sacrificing Chicago for Hamburg'). But the contrary was also unprovable for Soviet leaders. Even a modest chance of a huge penalty can have great deterrent force. In different jargon, the 'expected value, of a disbenefit - the magnitude of the penalty factored with the perceived probability of its being levied - can outweigh even a high valuation of hoped-for benefit.
One is left feeling that Quinlan was dealing with certainty in terms of whether there would be the political will to make use of nuclear weapons, but was not addressing uncertainty in their availability. Nor was he addressing the impact on political will of there being any uncertainty relating to availability. The paper continues:
The fleet of Vanguard-class submarines that currently operates this tag-team patrol, known as continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD), will eventually retire to be replaced by a successor. While current UK policy states that a replacement fleet will take up this baton and maintain CASD for the foreseeable future, this will not be without cost. The UK government has stated that maintaining CASD will require a fleet of at least four submarines, one of which will patrol while the remaining three undertake training, undergo maintenance, or sit in reserve (see Figure 1)
At this point there is a danger of being too picky, for example about the expression “tag-team patrol”.  But if a paper has endnotes at all, wouldn’t it be appropriate to support categorical assertions such as “UK policy states …” and “The UK government has stated …”? The interested reader may wish to know the sources. And Figure 1 has to be remarked on:

Periods are illustrative only; a period may be longer or shorter than others” - Well, yes. A recent patrol by HMS Vigilant lasted three months, according to the Royal Navy’s website. This was after a five year (60 month) programme of overhaul. Figure 1 is hardly “indicative” or “illustrative” of timescales but could be misleading.

The paper then takes up the 2013 Trident Alternatives Review (TAR) and the subsequent Liberal Democrat policy proposal (covered in a post here, CASD, or not CASD, last October) and explores the relationship between non-continuous patrolling postures and having fewer than four submarines. Some interesting facts are offered. For example on page 4:
The next generation of nuclear submarine will be armed with up to forty warheads on eight missiles. [Endnote 13] On average, therefore, less than half of the missile’s capacity will be used, which increases the range of the missiles up to approximately 11,000 km. This makes far-flung deployments unnecessary by giving the UK’s missiles – in effect – a global range. [Endnote 14]
Endnote 13, (Initial Gate Parliamentary Report, page 4) certainly supports the first sentence. But an 11,000 km range for a partially-loaded Trident D5 missile is not exactly the implication of Endnote 14, the TAR, which, when examining generic delivery vehicles, said:
2.17 Ballistic Missiles (BM): Ballistic missiles perform a guided rocket boost into space before releasing their payload onto a ballistic trajectory early on in flight (i.e. letting the payload “fall‟ through space). This “throwing‟ of the payload onto a high arc gives ballistic missiles long range (circa 10000km). The re-entry vehicles (the payload) then fall through the atmosphere at high speed, requiring advanced defences to neutralise them. Given current UK-US arrangements for the Trident D5 ballistic missile and our knowledge of and experience with this system, it was decided only to model the D5 in this review.
Again, in a paragraph on page 7 of the paper:
Every generation of submarine so far has required a long period of overhaul to conduct repairs and to refuel the nuclear reactors that power them (known as Long Overhaul Period (Refuel), or LOP(R)). During these periods, major refurbishment work is conducted on the propulsion reactors, drive systems, weapons systems and other elements of submarine infrastructure. While the current Vanguard-class submarines require a three-year LOP(R), [Endnote 26] successor submarines will be equipped with a new reactor (the PWR-3) that will fuel each submarine for the entirety of its lifetime, removing the most significant element of current LOP(R) procedures. [Endnote 27]
Endnote 26 is a Babcock International Group PLC media release concerning the current refit of HMS Vengeance in Devonport Royal Dockyard (Plymouth, SW England) which is expected to take three-and-a-half years. Endnote 27 is “Ibid”, but, perhaps not surprisingly, Babcock made no mention of PWR3. However, the Endnote 13 reference (Initial Gate Parliamentary Report) does state on page 5:
PWR3 provides superior performance over PWR2. In availability terms the simplicity of PWR3 and the application of modern design practices and newly matured technology will significantly reduce periods in upkeep and maintenance.
but nothing about “entirety of its lifetime”. On page 13, the reader is told that:
… submarines can be held at varying levels of readiness. As a crisis loomed, submarine reactors could be activated within a day or two, crews could be mustered, and provisions loaded without actually launching the submarine. For instance, even if submarines were not deployed, a ‘sustained’ posture would maintain one submarine ‘on deterrent duty’ and ready to deploy swiftly, perhaps by keeping its reactor online or by a host of other measures.
The practicability of submarine reactors being “activated within a day or two” or kept “online” seems to be key to the feasibility of non-CASD postures. Chalmers, according to his LinkedIn profile, has a degree in astrophysics, so presumably his opinion is informed, but again an endnote source supporting it would be useful. In such non-CASD circumstances (page 14):
Rather than being faced with a single ‘terrible choice’, as a crisis emerged or receded the government would be faced with an array of choices with inactivity at one extreme and the rushed deployment of armed submarines at the other. Choosing which (if any) steps to take may not be easy; calibrating the readiness of nuclear forces in such a way would be entirely unfamiliar to those accustomed to the simplicity of CASD. [Endnote 45] 
(Endnote 45: In contrast, the UK often has to consider the international implications of overt changes in readiness of its conventional forces. “accustomed to simplicity”)
which seems to echo a comment on the first page:
… the civil servants and armed forces that develop and implement the UK’s nuclear-weapons policy have spent their entire careers working within the constructs of CASD. For them, a step away from CASD would be a step (both bureaucratically and philosophically) into the unknown.
Perhaps an explanation for this conservatism can be found later on page 14 when the possibility of A Bolt from the Blue is discussed:
By monitoring the submarines and training activities at the UK’s naval base in Faslane, one can imagine an unknown adversary covertly developing an impression of how quickly the UK could deploy its submarines in the event of an imminent attack. Such an adversary might feel tempted to exploit this window of vulnerability by striking the UK’s forces out of the blue. 
If the UK were unaware of this threat, it would have little chance to prepare a response. Deploying an inactive submarine would not be instantaneous … Without any prior preparation aside from training, current deployment procedures would require a submarine to be activated, loaded with supplies, checked over, carefully armed with up to forty warheads, and then piloted to a safe patrolling zone. In all, these activities take up to two weeks to complete. [Endnote 47]
Endnote 47, unfortunately, is not a source reference for this process but a comment from the author: “To keep health and safety risks as low as reasonably practicable (the ALARP principle) warheads are currently transported and fitted to missiles one at a time.” Even in such extreme circumstances?  But later on page 15 we are told:
… a pre-emptive strike against inactive nuclear forces (through conventional or nuclear means) would be an extremely drastic move. A serious threat to the UK would not come out of the blue in this way.
In the unlikely event that this threat emerged without any warning, an aggressor would have to be extremely bold to ignore the probability that such pre-emptive aggression would be met with stern punishment from sources other than the UK, which is likely to remain a member of NATO.
But doesn’t the UK provide part of NATO’s nuclear deterrent, and wasn’t Polaris (and subsequently Trident) made available to the UK under the Nassau agreement of December 1962 on the basis of its being committed to NATO but with independence of operation if supreme national interests were at stake? I suspect that by this time many readers of this post will have lost interest or alternatively will have decided to read Chalmers’ paper for themselves. But in short, the paper goes on to examine the implications of a non-CASD deterrent and how it might be perceived by an adversary. However, on page 18 there is an interesting concession, extracted here but worth reading in full:
… the immutability of CASD disengages nuclear forces from the day-to-day management of international relations. While crises may erupt and recede, the UK’s nuclear forces continue their patrols unchanged and would only play a part in crisis management in the most extreme circumstances. … Adopting a flexible approach to non-continuous postures, in which the UK would calibrate its forces from high to low readiness, would require the UK to consider the status of its nuclear forces on a more frequent basis. In the face of an evolving crisis, the UK would need to take a number of decisions over whether and how to initiate, sustain and ultimately terminate extended periods of patrolling – decisions that are currently unfamiliar. 
… a non-continuous nuclear force would not ‘de-couple nuclear weapons from the day-to-day calculus of national security’; instead, it would pollute areas of decision-making where it was previously of little relevance. 
In this case, a key challenge to abandoning continuous at-sea deterrence may not be the preservation of credible nuclear threats, but the development and implementation of organisational structures that would allow decision-makers the time, freedom and confidence to calibrate nuclear forces in response to emerging threats. At the political level, overt changes to nuclear readiness may have to be explained not just to the public, but also to the UK’s adversaries and allies. …
And on page 19:
A former submarine officer has voiced concerns that if the UK’s nuclear forces are rarely, if ever, called upon to deploy (such as in a ‘preserved’ posture), then a similar rot [to that affecting silo-based USAF ICBM crews] might eventually set in. In this case, rather than reinvigorating morale by moving back to continuous at-sea deterrence, the wholesale abandonment of the UK’s nuclear forces would be a more suitable alternative.
Regrettably there is no endnote as to where these concerns were voiced. Finally, one of the concluding remarks has certainly got it right:
… the desirability of abandoning continuous at-sea deterrence rests upon a rigorous analysis of how non-continuous postures would actually work in practice, with explicit consideration of when the UK might have to call upon its nuclear forces and how exactly it might calibrate them in response to an emerging threat.
Possibly such an analysis wasn’t provided by this paper, but as its author pointed out on page 2, “As always, the devil is in the detail.” My guess is that at some point in the future a Conservative or Labour National Security Council, or some ministerial subset of it, will meet to decide whether to order the third and fourth Successor submarines. They will know things that we don’t, like the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum and the extent of the recovery of the UK economy, and many things we probably never will, like the maintenance requirements of PWR3. One can imagine that if extensive analysis by the RN and the Ministry of Defence shows that CASD can be maintained for a very high proportion of the Trident Successor in-service life (ie to the fifth or sixth decade of this century) with three submarines, there might be reluctance to order a fourth. However, if the fourth Successor makes the difference between sustainable CASD and any of the alternative postures identified so far, it would have to be a group of politicians with a high degree of confidence in their ability to manage a crisis who would decide to spend the money on something else.