Thursday, April 30, 2009

Davis Questions The Need for Trident Upgrade

David Davis has written a piece for the Financial Times today in which he questions whether a future Conservative government should commit itself to a wholesale replacement of Trident. it was written as a wider piece on how a Tory government could reduce public spending. His logic is, on the face of it very sound. The threat we are under today does not require the same kind of independent nuclear deterrent which we needed in the Cold War. He argues...
We should also, as Conservatives, address some of our own sacred cows. There is no firmer advocate of nuclear deterrence than me, but even I have some difficulty seeing the justification for a wholesale upgrade of Trident. Our system was designed to maintain 100% retaliatory capacity after a full-scale Soviet nuclear onslaught. Now our likeliest nuclear adversary will be a much smaller, less sophisticated state. Should not the costs reflect that?

When the government announced it was to proceed with a full scale replacement of Trident I wrote that while I would probably support that, it would have been nice for there to have been a real public debate about it and whether it really fitted into our future defence needs. That's why I am glad that David Cameron has committed himself to a full Strategic Defence Review upon taking office. ConservativeHome reports that David Cameron did not dissent from David Davis's view at his press conference this morning.

I suspect that there may be some in the Conservative hierarchy who will not welcome this debate and view Trident as a sacred cow. I believe they are wrong. It may well be that we need it fully upgraded, but I'd prefer there to be a proper assessment of our defence needs for the next thirty years before committing ourselves to spending £20 billion.

What do others think?


Nick Drew said...

Trident is a blunt, expensive instrument when sharp, cost-effective instruments are what is needed; and most damagingly, it is by no means independent.

I strongly favour retaining a nuclear deterrence: and it should be truly independent. (My own choice would be a home-grown cruise missile that could be launched from subs, ships, aircraft, or land-based platforms; and could carry either nuclear or conventional warheads.)

The problem for independence of such a system is of course reliance on US satellites for navigation. The more general problem is the sheer number of defence procurement cock-ups in British history.

In theory, this is nothing that £10 billion couldn't solve ...

Freddy said...

A nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance, and, like any insurance, it is not there for the best case outcome.
Maybe today our most likely nuclear threat is Iranian nutcases - but will the same be true 5 years from now ? Or ten years ? Are we so sure that Putin or some later Russian nationalist won't go back to the old ways ? Or the Chinese ?

Silent Hunter said...

Thank God someone in the Tory Party is finally realising that Trident is a collosal waste of money on a pointless weapon system which can never be used.

When is David Davis going to be invited back to the 'A' Team?

Unknown said...

I agree. I think it'd be wrong for us to unilaterally disarm, but the defence context is quite different now from what it was in the 80s; and given the renewed movement towards disarmament from Obama and Russia, it would be a good time for us to do our bit to reducing arms, and fulfil our non-proliferation obligations too.

Dave said...

Trident is a luxury, to upgrade it is to try to maintain the ridiculous facade that Britain is still a major global player. Reduce it, scale it down to reflect medium term threats. Allow the next government and their successors to help make Britain strong again through trade and use the savings to invest in the educational and financial infrastructure of the country. Britain can be great again, but it need not be achieved through clinging on to out dated and out moded illusions of power.

Elby the Beserk said...

Spot on. And maybe some money could be squeezed out of dropping Trident to make sure our troops are properly equipped, and properly looked after when they return home.

Mark Thompson said...

Yes, I agree there should be a review. The reason there was not one previously is because Blair/Brown wanted to look "tough". It is one of these situations where traditionally Labour were seen as not trusted on this issue so they feel they have to be strong on it. It is a reverse of the situation they find themselves in with the NHS where they are generally trusted on it and the Tories are not.

Anyway, of course it is sensible to review this, and especially in the light of the current economic situation. I personally am not convinced it is needed, or if so perhaps we could reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal from what is proposed.

trueblue said...

Of course, Trident is indefensible when it comes to todays wars, but that's not the point, is it? Back in 1925, no-one saw the rise of Nazi Germany, ditto in 1905. We need to plan for tomorrows challenges.

IanVisits said...

While I think retaining some sort of nuclear deterrent would be wise as we can't be sure that there wouldn't be a large scale war in the medium-term, I am wary of the costs/benefits of the Trident renewal programme.

I think a suitable compromise would be to cut the renewal program back drastically - but also to then guarantee that a sizable percentage of the saving is still spent - boosting conventional armed forces.

I believe that would be sensible from a military perspective, but also popular with the general public.

Oop Norf said...

Trident simply needs to die. The only time we'd have any need of it would be for a strike that the US wasn't going to support, and it's inconceivable that we could use Trident without US support anyway. There's just no circumstance under which we could actually use it - it's just an expensive willy-waving exercise.

Tony said...

I agree. Our entire military equipment strategy needs urgent review, not to reduce cost so much as matching equipment to 21st Century need.

Just run through the failures of recent years - personal body armour, snatch Land Rovers, Chinooks, Nimrods, and much more - to see how much needs to looked at.

MoD needs a complete overhaul, especially procurement, to remove the 'cold war' desk wallahs and get in those who truly understand current engagement techniques and defence competencies.

AD627 said...

Absolutely right. We could live with 20 billion when we were told the economy was in great shape and the treasury was flush. In the current circumstances, there must be a cheaper means of maintaining a credible deterrent in the short to medium term, while the economy is rebuilt.

Holyrood Patter said...

I agree 20 billion should be better spent. when alex salmond mentioned it in westminister last week, there was silence from the tory benches. perhaps not the most popular view within his own party?

Daily Referendum said...

I've always been massively in favour of keeping out nuclear defence capabilities. However, due to the shit state Labour are going to leave us in financially, I think we could reduce our future capability.

After all I don't think any aggressor will care if we only kill 20 million of their citizens instead of 40 million.

Old Dominion Tory said...

At a time when the United States also is looking at reducing the size of its nuclear forces, the idea of a reexamination of Trident doesn't seem all that outlandish.
However, care must be taken to consider the possible ambitions and capabilities of future (ahem) "strategic competitors." It would be irresponsible for the Western nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear forces to levels that would tempt such states as China and Iran to embark on an effort to achieve nuclear parity with--or nuclear superiority over--the West.

Colin said...

Hmmm, yes how interesting. Didn't the last tory government
give us something called a "peace dividend", which was code for - let's cut spending
on the armed forces to the bone, whilst pretending
to care about defence ?

Look how that turned out...

When will chrarcters like D.D. And the rest of his tory chums
Learn that running a country is not like running a PLC.

If he can't see the obvious strategic value of a well funded, up to date
Nuclear deterent, than Dave was right to off him.

WillS said...

The problem here Iain is that when people hear the words "Strategic Defence Review" without the opposition having laid out its thinking on defence issues in even the broadest manner, everyone assumes this is just the usual code for "knee-jerk, badly thought out cuts".

an ex-apprentice said...

Anyone who still imagines there can be any "sacred cows" after the next election hasn't understood the scale of our financial catastrophe.

Nothing will be sacred.

We're not talking "efficiency savings" here, we're looking at slash and burn time, no exceptions. The alternative is unthinkable.

Personally, I can't wait to hear all those public sector little piggies squeal.

Steve_Roberts said...

It's a lot more than 20 billion, you have to include the annually recurring costs too.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that Trident is expensive, there has to be an les expensive independent nuclear deterrent option which is wholly British. We cannot trust Iran and its mad leaders. This means reviving engineering industry in the UK which is not bad at all. I was wondering about David Davies silence these days and he broke it to grab some attention. If Brown survives wounded and does a Summer cabinet reshuffle, David Davies is reminding Cameron that he is around!

James Mackenzie said...

Recession or no recession, it's no bloody use, as retired general Hugh Beach put it.

HF said...

Let us have an independent affordable nuclear deterent.

100 cruise missiles with nukes for £1bn would be ideal.

After all the Scots do not even want to host the subs and we may have a multilateral reduction in nukes in 10+ years time. Why waste the cash?

Unknown said...

By the way, I think it'd be great if more people read C.P. Snow's Corridors of Power, an excellent political novel about a Tory minister trying to steer his government stealthily away from nuclear defence policy.

Anonymous said...

The only problem with getting rid of Trident or not replacing it is the fact that the Russians have still most of their thousands of Nuclear weapons.

Menworth Hill and that place near Goathland are just two Russian Targets.

Maybe the detterent would be better stuck on ships/subs/bombers.

But there is still a case fot it, especially with all sorts of nasties getting bombs.

It is not so much the fact that a Russian Nuclear strike would kill most of anyway but the fact if they ever did have a pop I would like to think that some of them would be creamated curtesy of the British tax payer back!

John said...

Freddy said... "Our most likely threat is Iranian nutcases".

Iran doesn't have any nukes. Maybe he means Israeli?

Trident is the biggest waste of f***ing money ever devised. Who could we possibly use it against? - even if the Yanks would let us fire it!

Spend 10% of the money on giving the troops better kit, the rest on paying off debts.

Face it guys, we're maxed out. After Trident is axed, let's move on to chopping ID cards, useless IT systems, PFI and all public money being spent on "consultants" who borrow your watch to tell you the time then charge you £250 an hour for the privilege.

Invest the money saved on new railways, roads and other things which will help make UK plc competitive again.

neil craig said...

It is a decent article from Davis & I regret the concentration on the brief mention of Trident. Probably if his call for savings of £9/10 bn a year on "welfare gimmicks" is to be accepted the tories will have to give up one of their sacred cows too.

Personally I think the first saving should be getting rid of the 200,000 Health & Safety gestapo who claim to save about 100 lives a year, excluding the fact that 1% less GNP costs 72,000 lives a year.

Gatting rid of them should save about £20 bn but the real gain is that every £1 spent on enforcing rules means an average cost of £20 to the economy.

Getting into solvency & growth is much more important than the largely symbolic Trident issue.

M.A. Destruction said...

We don't need it and we can't afford it.

Stepney said...

Scrap it.

But ring fence 50% of it to upgrade equipment, recruit significantly more and upgrade accommodation. A military hospital wouldn't be too far fetched either.

We fight different wars now.

Jon Lishman said...

What a relief.

Once we have a government that knows how to say "we can't afford that" the whole, ridiculous Trident upgrade programme should become more-or-less moot.

As far as other, more legitimate defence spending goes, if the technology (capital ships and so forth) is developed in the UK, then - unlike Trident Mk3 or whatever the system is called - the spending is not a zero sum game in terms of UK jobs and industry and therefore the economy.

I appreciate the new subs needed for the Trident upgrade would be built here (eventually), but that should play second or even third(!) fiddle to a bluewater navy in desperate need of those carriers and destroyers and a mechanised infantry in desperate need of re-fitting. Trident III will not deter Taliban RPGs or provide essential, mobile air cover for troops on the ground.

This government, predictably, has got its priorities consistently and disastrously wrong on defence procurement (which has always been a shambles in Britain anyway - so no change there) and on spending generally.

Let's hope that Davis is heard by his party's leadership so the next government isn't doomed to make the same mistakes with fatal consequences.

Cameron's highest priorities have to be the carriers and the army. Trident can wait.

David Lindsay said...

Far from representing or effecting national pride or independence, our nuclear weapons programme has only ever represented and effected the wholesale subjugation of Britain's defence capability to a foreign power. That power maintains at least no less friendly relations with numerous other countries, almost none of which have nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons (like radiological, chemical and biological weapons) are morally repugnant simply in themselves. They offer not the slightest defence against a range of loosely-knit, if at all connected, terrorist organisations pursuing a range of loosely-knit, if at all connected, aims in relation to a range of countries while actually governing no state. Where would any such organisation keep nuclear weapons in the first place?

Furthermore, the possession of nuclear weapons serves to convey to terrorists and their supporters that Britain wishes to "play with the big boys", thereby contributing to making Britain a target for the terrorist activity against which such weapons are defensively useless. It is high time for Britain to grow up.

Britain's permanent seat on the UN Security Council could not be taken away without British consent, and so does not depend in any way on her possession of nuclear weapons; on the contrary, the world needs and deserves a non-nuclear permanent member of that Council.

Most European countries do not have nuclear weapons, and nor does Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Are these therefore in greater danger? On the contrary, the London bombings of 7th July 2005 were attacks on a country with nuclear weapons, while the attacks of 11th September 2001 were against the country with by far the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. The only "nuclear power" in the Middle East is Israel. Is Israel the most secure state in the Middle East?

It is mind-boggling to hear people go on about Iran, whose President is in any case many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and in any case only wants one (if he does) to use against the only Middle Eastern country that already has them. What does any of this have to do with us?

Numerous Tories with relevant experience – Anthony Head, Peter Thorneycroft, Nigel Birch, Aubrey Jones – were sceptical about, or downright hostile towards, British nuclear weapons in the Fifties and Sixties. In March 1964, while First Lord of the Admiralty and thus responsible for Polaris, George Jellicoe suggested that Britain might pool her nuclear deterrent with the rest of NATO. Enoch Powell denounced the whole thing as not just anything but independent in practice, but also immoral in principle.

For that matter, the Campaign for Democratic Socialism explicitly supported the unilateral renunciation of Britain's nuclear weapons, and the document Policy for Peace, on which Gaitskell eventually won his battle at the 1961 Labour Conference, stated: "Britain should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power, since that neither strengthens the alliance, nor is it now a sensible use of our limited resources."

Unilateral nuclear disarmament did not cause the secession of the SDP, since it did not become Labour Party policy until two years and a General Election after that direct intervention in the British electoral process by a President of the European Commission as such, a true betrayal of Gaitskell, Bevan, Bevin, Attlee, the lot.

Diverting enormous sums of money towards public services, and towards the relief of poverty at home and abroad, precisely by reasserting control over our own defence capability, would represent a most significant step towards One Nation politics, with an equal emphasis on the One and on the Nation.

Yak40 said...

Iran is going nuclear.
Pakistan is nuclear.
North Korea is going nuclear.
etc etc

How are you going to pressure them to not build weapons without an implied "or else" ? Now, maybe Trident isn't the best way to go but what's the alternative (more expensive?) and is there the will to build it ?

Despite what Obama & the left believe, being nice to such regimes does not get you increased respect, you still need a big stick.

Anonymous said...

I would keep nuclear weapons. But there is no need to rush and commit to a Trident type replacement.

Other options such as air launched or cruise missiles and a mix involving smaller submarines are possible.

Likewise these new carriers are too big for what we need and the aircraft are hugely expensive. They do not have catapults so cannot fly off long range early warning radar planes. Pointless.

Anonymous said...

A few misinformed comments around...

The Captains of the Vanguard subs dont need US approval to launch, they use British warheads from British subs, the only American thing in it is the missile itself. They dont use GPS, they use star sighting to presisely target their position.

If the worst came to the worst and the UK was turned into a nuclear wasteland, the SSBN could independantly(depending on the PM's last instructions)launch. US Subs need the authorisation of the Pentagon to launch, ours dont.

Lots of people suggesting cruise missiles etc:

1. US Tomahawk nukes are deactivated under SALT. They only have a 1,500 mile range, which means you have to put your expensive nuclear warhead armed sub in harms way, instead of in mid atlantic being quiet.

2. Air launched, from what? US has B52's, we dont. Unless France is in the firing line, the planes wont have the range to reach mid Russia!

Trident is expensive, but £20Bn over the 20-25 years it will operate is pocket change for the government spending £600Bn in a single year. There is no other system that is as difficult to intercept as Trident.

Anonymous said...

What a novel idea - discussion then decision rather than diktat.

Unsworth said...

@ Carl Gardner

Actually it would be rather better if people read all of Snow's works, fiction and non-fiction - there aren't too many of them, after all.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we could look at the base question: should Britain maintain a nuclear deterrent? The emplatic answer is YES! We unilaterally disarmed our chemical weapons back in the 1960's and effectively proved the unilateralist argument false then. Chemical weapons were deployed but not against the UK.
Were trident not to be replaced, the track record of governments of all colours suggests that the funds will be spent anywhere other than Defence. The bottom line position is that our armed forces in their entirity constitute the insurance policy for the nation and only an idiot goes without insurance.
The £12 billion VAT fraud that epitomised the Decade of Disaster that Brown has supervised (if such a term may be addressed to such a lightweight) could have paid for the two carriers, 10 destroyers, 6 submarines and requipped the Army for good measure. Instead, to meet an anti-piracy EU gesture, the Falklands guardship is now in the Indian Ocean. A good demonstration of the flexibility of Naval Power but also an admission that since 1997 Labour has not ordered a single warship. Britian is an island, most of our food, raw materials and goods come by sea. If anybody thinks this is unimportant, try living for 7 days without any item that arrived by sea (and yes, that includes petrol).
I believe that if Britian gave up the deterrent force completely, the permanent seat in the UN security council will be gone within 24 hours. The old certainties of the cold war are gone, the threat is growing and takes many forms. To allow our defences to fossilise to meet only one threat leaves us more vulnerable to others. E.g. Have you considered what would happen in just a few modern mines were laid in the English Channel?
Thanks & sorry for going on (and on!)

Weygand said...

We should retain nuclear weapons but Trident is pointless.

Any nuclear attack from a rogue state here will probably involve a device brought in and planted in situ.

It is impossible to envisage any scenario in which Russia, China etc would launch a mass attack, and even if such were to happen we would depend on the US in any event.

As usual the military are still looking to fight the last war rather than the next one.

And of course they love to have these nice big pieces of kit.

Time for a rethink.

Hey said...

What should be slashed is the welfare state. 20B for the defence of the Realm is nothing, when so many sponging Chavs and Jihadis take multiples of that number. End Welfare and secure the Realm.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (6:20pm) is correct.

Cruise missiles are not a viable deterrent - why else did we abandon them in the '60s for SLBM? They fly too slow and low. They have a shorter range and cannot carry decoy warheads. They can be shot down by any decent surface to air missile. In other words, there is no guarantee they will reach their target.

neil craig said...

Britain could order a launch of these weapons without Americann consent however Teident is an American system & if the US President was displeased & cut off spares it would brakdown in a short while. It is also theoretically possible that the programming, written by Americans, contains an overrife that they could activate, but obviously that would only be conceivable if we dont' totally trust them to totally trust us.

I also think we should scrap the aircraft carriers for a very different reason - mobile lasers are currently capable of destroying shells in flight & therefore also aircraft. Before the new Prince of Wales gets launched it will be even more obselete than the Prince of Wales in WW2 when it encountered Japanese aircraft.

Anonymous said...

Trident is not the only holy cow.
The international development budget under Short, Benn and Alexander has bloated to 5-6 billions. Nearly 1 billion aid to India when it has got a large number of billionnaires, dishes out millions of dollars to cricketers in IPL league etc.. ridiculous. Reduce this budget to under a billion. Tightly control immigration and asylum saving a few billions in benefits. These will save nearly 10 billions, enough to maintain ballistic missile capability of some sort.
I do agree that when we are talking about 600-700 billions for bail out, 20 billions is a short change.

Jon Forest said...

I, too, wonder whether a less expensive alternative might be an effective enough deterrent to any likely aggressor.
All right, we might not be able to promise total annihilation to a potential foe the size of Russia...but the potential to take out a few of your biggest cities is surely enough deterrent for any sane adversary - and no deterrent would necessarily put off an insane one.
We should at least consider the merits of patching up Trident for as long as possible and developing a cruise missile and/or bomber-delivered system to go along with it. Oh, and let it be known that we have also developed handy suitcase-sized bombs for possible delivery by special forces.

Unsworth said...

It's also noteworthy that the resultant contracts and taxpayer's money will mostly be poured into areas which have Labour MPs.

Cynical, moi?

Unknown said...


Agreed. I've read several of the Strangers and Brothers novels - CoP, The Light and the Dark, The New Men, The Affair - and they're all excellent.

Rexel No 56 said...

We should just say that we are renewing Trident...... Sadaam kept everyone on their toes by pretending to have WMD.


Anonymous said...

Some fcatual errors:

We are not upgrading or replacing Trident. We are building a new set of submarines to carry the exisitng Trident, as the current V class hulls will not last as long as the Trident programme.

It is more than likely that the final design will have fewer than the current 16 missile tubes, and it is also possible that there will be fewer than the current 4 hulls, so the programme in all probability will represent a progressive, gradual disarmament that we committed to in the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and START. The government have recently reduced the number of operationally available warheads from 200 to 150.

Trident is not a cold war weapon, it has flexible options of deployment to reach a range of threats. This allowed us to get rid of the RAF tactical nuclear weapons in 1999 once Trident was fully online.

Analysis of TODAY's threats is irrelevant . we are talking about threats in 50 years' time, which may well be simialr to the cold war scenario.

All of the above information is in the public domain. If DD wants a debate, he should start by doing some basic research.

GWH said...

Trident is useless. This is true. That is the beauty of the system. The time we need it and don't have it is the ultimate 'low probability, high impact' risk. The worst possible situation to be in, however unlikely, is for us not to have a nuclear deterrent when we most need it. It may seem like wasted money, but even as much as 20 billion over ten years is peanuts compared with the annual wastage in the larger of the government departments. It's not that expensive, and while the Vanguard SSBN platforms are relatively new and have a long service life, they take a very long time to develop and build.

Anonymous said...

Another factual error:

The deployment and firing of Trident is independent of any other nation or international organisation.

Maintenance, the rolling upgrade programme and technical expertise resources are pooled between US/UK.

jossc said...

Greenpeace has just produced a new report, In The Firing Line, which reveals true costs of £97 billion for Trident: five times government estimates.

How can this expensive project be justified at a time of economic crisis and emerging threats to national security such as international terrorism, failed states, pandemic diseases and above all, climate change?

And does it really deliver genuine security for the UK?

The report has received the backing of many senior political and military figures, including former shadow defence secretary Michael Ancram, who wrote the report's forward, Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable, and Lord Ramsbotham, former Adjutant-General of Defence Management.

You can read a summary of the report’s findings at:

And the full report at