Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Vanguard - the complexity of framing debate on 'Trident' 

How will the decision on ‘renewing’ UK nuclear weapons actually be made?

‘Replacing Trident: who will make the decision and how’ is an useful guide available from the Oxford Research Group. It includes detailed material on the issues the Government will actually be taking seriously. Some key points are not necessarily convenient to the emerging LibDem position, especially on the practical timetable for the deployment of replacements for the Vanguard class submarines. (It is more accurate to talk of the ‘Vanguard’ replacement programme rather than ‘Trident’ replacement) In particular there are projected bottlenecks in the UK naval construction programme which make it difficult to postpone decisions in the way we are suggesting.

However the overall view is that….

There are many difficult questions to be answered in the debate on Britain’s post-Vanguard strategic security policy and neither parliament, NGOs nor government have all the answers. Therefore a major step forward would be to initiate a full strategic security review to tackle these questions and see what Britain really needs for its strategic security in the first half of the 21st century.
The absence of such a review prior to a decision of this gravity is remarkable.

The full briefing paper ( in .pdf format) is available here.

The paper concludes:

Anti-nuclear activists and advocacy organisations face a difficult choice. It seems they can either advocate a significant reduction in Britain’s post-Vanguard as a pragmatic/realistic cost effective minimum whilst pushing for non-replacement and have a reasonable chance of being heard in Whitehall, or they can demand disarmament on moral grounds and risk shouting into the wind.
The moral and legal issues surrounding the possession and threat of nuclear weapons (as opposed to their actual use) are not black and white and no side in this debate can claim to know the ‘truth’ on these matters. This paper is an attempt to step into the government’s shoes, particularly MODs, in order to understand how post Vanguard decisions are likely to be made, the factors affecting that process and some of the limits and opportunities for accountability. If advocacy organisations do not engage in such a process then they can only hope to talk past government rather than with it. This is not to suggest the debate can only be conducted on the government’s terms, but to acknowledge the importance of understanding the government’s frame of reference in order to enter into constructive dialogue.

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