14 May 2015

RN Trident after the UK General Election

During the election campaign Labour made it clear that they would continue with a UK nuclear deterrent and that it would by implication be in the form of SSBNs with Trident SLBMs:
Labour remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. We will actively work to increase momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, and look at further reductions in global stockpiles and the numbers of weapons. (page 78 and 79, Britain can be better, The Labour Party Manifesto 2015)
Elsewhere there were four mentions of NATO, none in the context of nuclear deterrence.

Almost as near to the end of their manifesto, the Conservatives were more specific about the number of submarines and the Trident system:
We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our safety and build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines – securing thousands of highly-skilled engineering jobs in the UK. We will work closely with our allies to continue to strengthen NATO – supporting its new multi-national rapid response force. We will maintain our global presence, strengthening our defence partnerships in the Gulf and Asia. Later this year, we will hold a National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review to plan for the future. (page 77, The Conservative Party Manifesto 2015)
There were six other mentions of NATO, again none were in the context of nuclear deterrence.

By comparison, the SNP seemed mildly obsessed with Trident and nuclear weapons, a subject which appeared six times in their manifesto spread from pages 3 to 38 (see Annex below). However, there was no mention of NATO at all, even though the “High North and Arctic are a key priority for Scotland”. Of course, this avoided any need to address the problem of pursuing unilateral disarmament and in so doing destabilising a nuclear alliance, as had been apparent in the 2013 white paper, Scotland’s Future Your Guide to an Independent Scotland (discussed here last year).

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon at a CND rally in April 2015
But the election of a Conservative government seems to have given a green light (if not a blue one) to four new SSBNs with Trident missiles. The bloc of 56 SNP MPs at Westminster could not win a vote against it, even with the support of left-wing Labour and Liberal (Democrat) members. But this ignores the new reality of Scottish politics with the SNP seeking to make any suitable issue – the repeal of the Human Rights Act, for example – into one of Westminster dominating Scotland and so bolstering the case for another independence referendum.

In terms of defence planning, with its timescales of years or even decades at the level of the “National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review”, endorsement of the future of the deterrent can hardly avoid addressing the contingency of another independence referendum in which the No/Yes vote of 45/55% in 2014 might be reversed. So adamant are the views of the SNP on the subject in their manifesto that it seems unlikely that any compromise would be forthcoming in any independence negotiations. The relocation of the deterrent from Scotland to SW England has been the subject of more than one post on this blog. Most recently, last October, I concluded:
Following the referendum result, the problems that might have arisen after independence, of which Trident’s future was just one, have moved off the political agenda. Although the possibility of Scottish independence cannot be ruled out for all time, it seems most unlikely that resourcing submarine relocation would be recommended in the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) due in 2015.
Now I’m not so sure – and having taken so many Lib Dem seats in SW England, the Conservatives will doubtless want to hold on to them. An article in the Financial Times on 14 May, Conservative vote rose in seats receiving extra government money, drawing on Social Market Foundation research, makes the point nicely.

Annex Stronger for Scotland 

And we want the precious resources of our country to be invested in building a better future for our children, not on a new generation of nuclear weapons. (page 3, Stronger for Scotland, SNP Manifesto 2015)

• For no new nuclear weapons – we continue to oppose nuclear weapons and will seek to block a new generation of nuclear weapons, saving as much as £4 billion a year in the mid-2020s. (page 5)

We will invest in our economy to create more and better paid jobs. And we will oppose a new generation of nuclear weapons. (page 7)

We will oppose plans for a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons and seek to build an alliance in the House of Commons against Trident renewal. We will vote for the £100 billion that the Westminster parties plan to spend on Trident renewal to be invested instead in better childcare, education and the NHS. (page 8)

We also propose different spending and taxation priorities. At a time when thousands of our citizens are forced to use food banks, there can be no doubt that spending billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons is unjustifiable. A vote for the SNP is a vote to halt progress on Trident renewal, delivering a saving of £100 billion over the next 35 years. (page 14)

And in a lengthy section on Defence that works for the people of Scotland:

As a northern European nation, our near neighbourhood including the High North and Arctic are a key priority for Scotland. The forthcoming UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) must take full account of the particular challenges and opportunities of the northern regional dimension, and of the need to be more effective at combatting cyber-terrorism where the SDSR must lay out a clear strategy, including continued engagement with the Scottish Government.

The SDSR must review the current Ministry of Defence record, which includes falsely inflating spending commitments, mismanaging Army personnel reforms and creating dangerous capability gaps.

In particular, we believe there should be ocean going conventional patrol vessels based permanently in Scotland and will seek the early procurement of multirole Maritime Patrol Aircraft purchased ‘off the shelf’ by the end of this parliament and operating from Scotland. The SDSR must also fully consider the advantages of a defence policy without weapons of mass destruction and wasting £100bn renewing Trident. We will continue in our principled opposition to nuclear weapons and believe that the UK should abandon plans to renew the Trident nuclear missile system. In addition, the MoD should also publish in full current and projected annual costs of the Trident system and its proposed successor programme, including nuclear weapons through-life costs. (pages 19 and 20)

The SNP goes into this election with a clear message - none of us can afford more austerity. Our NHS, our economy and our children can't afford the billions of pounds of additional cuts that the Tories, Labour and Liberals have signed up to. And none of us can afford the £100 billion they plan to spend on new nuclear weapons. (page 38)

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