Ending 'cold war' nuclear sub patrols would save money, Lib Dems say

Danny Alexander advice to step down nuclear ladder clashes with Tory stance on Trident and ‘continuous deterrence’

Britain should “step down the nuclear ladder” and save money by ending its cold war posture of round-the-clock patrols by a nuclear-armed submarine, the Liberal Democrat leadership said on Tuesday – clashing with its Conservative coalition partners as Whitehall released its review on alternatives to Trident.

Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, who oversaw the long-awaited review on behalf of the Lib Dems, described it as the “most comprehensive study ever published” by a British government on the country’s nuclear weapons posture. Britain should “step down the nuclear ladder” he said, describing Trident as the “last unreformed bastion of cold war thinking”.

Nick Clegg said he hoped the report would open a “fact-based debate” on Trident, prior to the big decisions on the submarine replacement programme due to be taken in 2016, after the general election. “It clearly shows that there are options for our country that do not simply involve us sticking to the same strategic positions that were taken in the cold war,” he said.

The review, demanded by the Lib Dems as part of the 2010 coalition agreement and drawn up by senior Cabinet Office officials, says “the fundamental and enduring premise is that the UK deterrent will remain a political tool of last resort rather than a war-fighting capability”.

It concludes that while alternatives to Trident would enable the UK to be capable of inflicting “significant damage such that most potential adversaries around the world would be deterred”, none offered “the same degree of resilience as the current posture of continuous at-sea deterrence [CASD], nor could they guarantee a prompt response in all circumstances”.

Alexander said on Tuesday that if a new Trident fleet consisted of three rather than four submarines – a reduction that would not guarantee CASD – then £4bn would be saved over a lifetime of 30 years. That is a small proportion of the estimated cost of £20bn-£25bn of building four Trident submarines, plus a sum at least double that to maintain them. The review did not consider halving the size of a new Trident fleet to just two.

The review said placing nuclear warheads on missiles based on land, or on bombs carried by aircraft, would be ineffective as deterrents and expensive.

It said placing nuclear warheads on cruise missiles carried by submarines – an alternative once suggested by the Lib Dems – would cost an extra £10bn and would take 24 years.

The debate will centre on whether Britain still needs a CASD posture. The review lists four alternatives: focused deterrence, whereby a Trident submarine would be deployed for a specific period against a specific adversary; sustained deterrence, whereby patrols would be regular but not necessarily at high readiness; responsive deterrence, where there would be gaps between patrols; and preserved deterrence, with nuclear weapons on low readiness.

Many in the Labour party want Britain to abandon a CASD posture, which they say is no longer necessary. However, the shadow …read more  

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