Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hooray - But Trident costs only start of urgent debate that we need 

It is good news that Nick Clegg is moving onto a more realistic position on ‘Trident’.
I support the slightly qualified pleasure Lindy blogs to this news. Yes we MUST have a full debate at the next Federal Conference. Our present voted-on policy is not a fudge, it is an acid drop.

‘Trident’ (the missile system) is only a minor part of the problem we face and we need to look at these wider issues if we as a party are to regain full coherence on this issue. Pushing Trident as the issue is in a way a smokescreen hiding the real problems.

On the question of costs we must demand a proper financial statement of the overall ‘nuclear weapons’ policy. The Armed Forces insist that huge chunks of the current Nuclear Weapons costs never appear in the Defence Estimates, but are scattered over several other budgets. Claims that this extra expenditure amounts to several thousand million pounds over the last decade need to be investigated. If substantiated, the sums should be publicly admitted and placed before the public as evidence in debates on the cost of the deterrent. As costs which might be cut if certain decisions are made. Just scrapping the Trident missile will not bring is real savings, if hard choice cost savings are the driving impulse for a review.

Back in July 2008 some of our MPs signed an open letter on nuclear warhead replacement. I have blogged at boring length on all this over the years, but to summarise many of my comments from my posting on that initiative:

We should for example:
1 Look at the way the debates on this are put into ‘defining frames’ that shut out important questions and make sure we bring in some neglected frames and themes. Please, no more tribal ‘unilateralist or not’ hot-button posturing.
2 Insist that the whole question of expenditures on AWRE Aldermaston is put in the public domain, at least to equal the public accountability enforced on equivalent establishments in the USA.
3 Insist on a complete review of the way all our weapons procurement policies are managed especially on whether purchasing decision are made to subsidise industries rather than to meet vital defence needs.
4 Make clear the connections between the procurement mess and the corruption allegations about the dealings of BAe and certain foreign customers.
5 Examine the evolution of new non-nuclear high-destruction weapons that may make nuclear devices an expensive obsolescence in the next couple of decades.
6 Above all, insist on a clear strategy for armed forces evolution and for equipping our forces actually to do the jobs we say they must.

Nick Harvey’s February 2007 blog from before the last Federal Conference debate has some points on the issue that I raised, but were not as far as I can see answered. Also some points on a Nick Harvey led discussion in LibDem Voice (February 26th 2007). Looking back at these official party positions now makes it clearer than ever that we need a full debate at upcoming Federal Conference 2009

(Just to remind ourselves that the Non-Proliferation Treaty comes up for re-negotiation in 2010. Almost certainly now an election year in the UK. So nuclear stances could be live political themes for once…)

I put this forwards as a policy line in the February 2007 discussions:

If we are to go into NPT negotiations in good faith and with the intention of actually getting results, we need to be able to show the world:
1 What the UK nuclear weapons system actually means in terms of financial costs and defence opportunity costs.
2 Give an awful warning to other states – ‘if you go down the nuclear road this is the kind of burden you will take up’.
3 Show other states that we know that disarmament measures would mean for us, have thought them through, and are politically capable of taking on the vested interests in the status quo (industrial and military and Freudian) should international agreements require us to do so.

This party has rightly taken a strong line on Civil Nuclear Power issues, and in particular on the disgraceful attempts of the current Government to ‘fake’ consultation processes. We need to take an equally strong line on the current attempt to ‘fake’ a debate on the nuclear future of the UK.

Now that Nick Clegg has shifted his position, we need to move urgently to tackle these themes. Yes we should have done this a few years ago… but better late than never

Just so I can keep track of previous posts, some links:

The Nuclear Weapons dance goes on (July 2008)

Nukes: Chris has it (nearly) magnificently right (Nov 2007) (this has a slightly polemic content now outdated but some core stuff I hold to)

Like it or not, defence policy must be debated again (Oct 2007)

Astute: the ongoing nuclear navy issue (and the BAe row) (June 2007)

Getting at the real costs of so-called Trident (February 2007)

Is ‘Trident’ a deliberate diversion from the real nuclear debate? (January 2007)

Trident, new weapons, and intelligence (December 2006)

Vanguard: the complexity or framing debate on ‘Trident’ (December 2006)

Nuclear independence and realities (December 2006)

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