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The plans to halve the Trident nuclear deterrent are a 'reckless gamble'

By Deborah Haynes, Defence Editor

The Times – 19 September 2013

Plans by the Liberal Democrats to halve the Trident nuclear deterrent are a

“reckless gamble with the UK’s national security”,

a cross-party group of Britain’s most senior military and defence figures warn today.

The coalition party’s “hare-brained” proposal to deploy two submarines with unarmed missiles – rather than replace a fleet of four fully-weaponised vessels – could even result in a pre-emptive strike against the country, they claim.

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, the former head of Nato and one-time Labour defence secretary, Admiral the Lord Boyce, former Chief of the Defence Staff and General Sir Mike Jackson, former head of the Army, are among the 15 signatories who launch a withering attack on Nick Clegg’s party in a letter to The Times. They are joined by Liam Fox, and Lord Hutton of Furness, also former defence secretaries.

Their comments come after Lib Dem members voted at their autumn conference this week for what the party argues would be a radical change to Britain’s defence posture, setting an example to other nuclear powers about the desire for a world without nuclear bombs.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon voted in favour of the plan, which was debated at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.

“Trident was invented for the Cold War. The Cold War is long over. The threat to the future is not nuclear obliteration but weapons of mass destruction. This is a sensible step which maintains our nuclear deterrent and takes an important step towards a nuclear free world.”

Taking aim at the letter-writers, Lord Ashdown added:

“Heavens, we must have done well at our conference if this collection of hoary old war horses from the past come together for change designed to take us back to a better Cold War yesterday”.

The future of the nuclear deterrent is a divisive issue within the coalition government. Conservatives are strongly in favour of a like-for-like replacement of the UK’s four submarines, armed with Trident ballistic missiles at a cost of between £20 billion and £25 billion. The Lib Dems forced their partners to conduct a review on the alternatives, which found that the country could save £1.7 billion by reducing the size of the fleet to three submarines.

“If the UK is serious about nuclear deterrence, it must do it properly, and if the Lib Dems want a policy of unilateral disarmament, they should come out and say so rather than hiding behind various hare-brained schemes for a part-time deterrent, which in reality is no deterrent at all,”

the former officials and serving MPs wrote in a letter to The Times.

The letter’s authors said:

“The UK’s current posture of continuous at-sea deterrence means that the UK is ready to respond instantly to any nuclear threat, and any potential aggressor knows this to be the case. Unarmed missiles clearly do not provide such deterrence.”

They noted that any move to arm the missiles with nuclear warheads at a time of an international crisis would surely be seen as a dangerous escalation and could provoke a pre-emptive strike.

“This is not nuclear deterrence, but a reckless gamble with the UK’s national security driven by a Lib Dem desire to scupper Trident at any cost, even though the Lib Dem-led Cabinet Office review into ‘alternatives to Trident’ found that Trident was the only realistic option remaining for the UK.”

Philip Hammond, the current Defence Secretary, was also damning of the Lib Dem policy:

“I’ve previously attacked the Liberal Democrats for proposing a part-time deterrent, but having seen their latest policy it is clear I was wrong; their policy of occasionally putting submarines to sea with unarmed missiles is no deterrent at all.”

The full list of signatories is: Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, Lord Hutton of Furness, Lord Moonie, Admiral the Lord Boyce, Admiral the Lord West of Spithead, General Sir Michael Jackson, Liam Fox MP, Bernard Jenkin MP, Julian Lewis MP, John Woodcock MP, Professor Sir David Omand, Sir Kevin Tebbit, Sir Keith O’Nions, Professor Paul Cornish, Dr David Fisher, Commodore Tim Hare RN.