Re-think urged on UK nuclear deterrent

Author: By Gavin Cordon, Press Association

A report by a high-level commission for the Institute for Public Policy
Research (IPPR) think-tank urges ministers to consider whether the
submarine-based system is the most cost-effective way of maintaining
Britain’s “minimum” deterrent capability.

The recommendation is one of a raft of proposals, covering the whole spectrum
of Britain’s national security, made by the commission chaired by former
defence secretary Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and former Liberal Democrat
leader Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon.

Other members include former chief of the defence staff Lord Guthrie of
Craigiebank, former UK ambassador to the United Nations Sir Jeremy
Greenstock, and former Association of Chief Police Officers president Sir
Chris Fox.

In its report, the commission called for major innovations in defence policy
to adapt to the “post 9/11 and post recession world”, with
investment in cyber-warfare, command and control, and the creation of a
joint civilian-military stabilisation and reconstruction taskforce.

It said that there should also be strengthening of the special forces in order
to deal with a Mumbai-style terror attack in the UK.

At the same time it called for a review of £24 billion of existing defence
equipment projects with a view to making cuts, with the new aircraft
carriers, the joint strike fighter, the Type 45 destroyers and the Astute
class submarines all “in the frame”.

On Trident, the commission said that while it believes that Britain does still
need a minimum UK deterrent, this should be reviewed as part of a wider
strategic review of UK security going beyond just defence.

It suggested that one option could be a further life-extension for the ageing
Vanguard class submarines which carry the Trident missiles beyond the
current five-year run-on to 2024 already planned.

It said that Britain should be be prepared to put part or all of its nuclear
weapons capability on the table as part of international nuclear disarmament
negotiations.

More broadly, the commission called for a major overhaul of the Whitehall
policy-making machinery, with the introduction of a single,
cross-departmental, security budget, and a new national security council.

It urged the development of a greater European role in Nato defence, with the
UK taking the lead in creating “permanent structured defence
co-operation” among a “pioneer group” of EU countries –
although not in the form of a European army.

“UK reliance on the United States is complacent and it is delusional to
believe the UK can go it alone. We need a major increase in European defence
and security cooperation to strengthen Nato,” it said.

In other measures, the commission called for a major increase in strategic gas
storage capacity to lessen Britain’s exposure to “energy blackmail”.

It said that Britain should also end the deportation of terrorist suspects on
the basis of controversial memorandum of understandings that they will not
not face torture and abuse unless they can be backed up by robust,
independent monitoring.

Lord Robertson said that in the current strategic climate, greater European
co-operation was essential.

“In the post 9/11, post financial crisis world, we must be smarter and
more ruthless in targeting national resources at the real security risks and
be more willing to make difficult national choices,” he said.

“But we also can’t delude ourselves. When it comes to security national
self-reliance is a dangerous fantasy. European co-operation is the only
viable way forward in many areas. We need to make it work.”

Lord Ashdown said that in terms of security, Britain needed to change the way
it thought and the way it organised itself.

“In a world where power is no longer the sole preserve of nation states,
and where security is no longer only about defence, we need new joined-up
machinery in Whitehall, a truly integrated strategy that links all of our
policy instruments together, and a much greater focus on how we link the UK
effort to the efforts of others around the world,” he said.

The Defence Minister Bill Rammell said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “We
have got the best funding environment for the military since the 1980s, but
we do face immense challenges.

“We have withdrawn from Iraq, but we face challenges in Afghanistan and
elsewhere, and therefore we constantly keep our policies under review and I
welcome this contribution.”

Mr Rammell stressed that today’s report did not advocate the unilateral
scrapping of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, and said it was wrong to suggest
that alternatives to the submarine-based Trident system may be more
affordable.

He said: “We don’t put forward proposals to invest in equipment unless we
believe it is necessary. We remain committed to the policy we set out two
years ago (on Trident).

“We keep it under constant review and that is not very much different at
all to what this report is saying.

“Our position is that we remain committed to working towards a world free
of nuclear weapons. We are the most forward-leaning nuclear state in terms
of disarmament – we have reduced the explosive capability of our nuclear
arsenal by 75% over the last 10 years.

“But when we look at the risks moving forward over the coming decades, we
don’t believe at the moment it would be safe to fail to make decisions now
which would effectively commit us to unilateral disarmament in the future,
regardless of the circumstances.

“We are talking about our national security. Yes, I believe we can afford
it, but we constantly need to keep our position under review and we need to
work for multilateral nuclear disarmament, which is what we are emphatically
committed to.”

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