Last night, regarding the Liberal Democrats’ somewhat negative opinion of the Trident programme, I tweeted:
Goddamnit Lib Dems, I so nearly voted for you. :S http://is.gd/bd7B3
This, and the ensuing debate on Facebook, got me thinking that I should probably elaborate on my point of view.
I work in the defense industry, specifically the naval part of it, and my main interest in a potential refresh of the Trident system is that it means upgrading or replacing our existing fleet of Vanguard-class submarines, and that potentially means more work for me and for my company. That’s the only part that concerns me – I don’t really give a hoot whether they have nukes on them or not.
However, I do believe the nuclear deterrent is important, and if the Lib Dems really are angling to get rid of it, I’m not too impressed. It’s expensive, yes, but in my opinion it’s a regrettable necessity. Disarmament’s a nice goal, but I’m not sure we will or even should get there. If we lose the nuclear deterrent, we must then maintain a large enough conventional force to deter nations from developing nuclear weapons in the first place – and looking at Iran and North Korea today, I don’t think that’s going to work.
It also gives us a guarantee of being taken seriously on the world stage. These days we’re increasingly being seen as America’s lackey, and dismantling our own deterrent would inevitably come with an agreement for the US to ‘cover for us’, which wouldn’t help the situation there at all.
If we are, then, to keep our own nuclear arsenal, submarines are the logical choice simply because we have the infrastructure already. Even if the Vanguard fleet needs to be replaced under the Successor programme, we still have Faslane and Rosyth, we still have all the expertise in submarine building.
A land-based ballistic missile system is something we don’t have the expertise in yet, never having done it before, and there’ll be the additional problem of NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard. Missile silos don’t make great neighbours. And an air-delivered bomb is just not as good a tactical solution as the ballistic options.
So, certainly I think the Trident refresh should be included within the Strategic Defense Review – the Lib Dems are right to suggest that leaving out the country’s biggest defense programme kind of defeats the point. However, I can’t see a way forward that makes more sense than modernising or replacing the current Trident missiles and Vanguard fleet.