£97 billion for Trident: five times government estimates

Posted by louise - 18 September 2009 at 7:35am - Comments

This week's news has been dominated by debate about the dire economic outlook facing the nation, and the likely severity of the cutbacks we'll need to make to pay down our now massive national debt. Ministers wring their hands about it but can't escape the reality that Britain plc needs to make cuts across the board - unless, of course, it's weapons of mass destruction that are under discussion.

Remarkably the cost of maintaining our 'independent' nuclear deterrent  continues to increase in inverse proportion to it's usefulness. And apparently we can't do without it, even though senior military advisers admit there's already a multi-billion pound 'black hole' in our defence procurement budget.Certainly Labour have in their wisdom decide to exclude it from their planned defence review.

New research from Greenpeace, using only the government's own figures, puts the actual cost of building and operating Trident's replacement at over £95bn, and also questions serious cost overruns in plans to build and equip two new 'supercarriers' for the Royal Navy, which are on order to help us maintain our 'global reach'.

"The government must
ask whether it can afford Trident or whether it can afford to give up what it’s got to give up in order to afford Trident."
Lord Ramsbotham,
former Adjutant-General
Defence Management,
8 January 2009

In The Firing Line, released today, has received the backing of many senior political and military figures: former shadow defence secretary Michael Ancram wrote the report's forward, while Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable says that it is "powerful evidence" that "supports claims that MOD equipment plans are totally unrealistic in the light of Britain's serious budgetary constraints".

There is so much spin around Trident that it's hard to know where to start. In the first place the government has tried to spin the renewal project as 'routine maintenance'. Which may fool us poor citizens, but not the governments of other nations. They see it see it for what it is – re-armament, and a breaking of our legally binding pledge to disarm. Secondly, the level of intentional obfuscation around timings and costs have practically been elevated to an art form.So much so that it took our researchers months to work out the real levels of expenditure involved.

The headline figure (the one the government is willing to tell us) is a sizeable £15-20 billion, but in fact this only covers the costs of new submarines, warheads, and some building work at military bases. Annual running costs of over £2bn over new Trident's planned 30 year life span have been excluded, as have hidden costs like those for the missiles on which the warheads fly, and the military escorts which accompany Trident while it's out at sea. Once these are factored in, we're won't be getting much change from £100bn.

Trident costs graphic

While the headline cost of the two supercarriers is just a fraction of this at £4bn, there's the small matter of at least £10bn for 150 new F35 planes to fly from them, plus a whole host of running costs which bring the total package in at around £33bn. It's unclear whether this even covers the small matter of funding a task force of submarines and destroyers to protect them.

All this for hardware which many politicians and ex military personnel agree is irrelevant to the security challenges Britain faces in the next decades. Our biggest problems are likely to centre around international terrorism, failed states, pandemic diseases and above all, the knock-on effects of climate change. What use are Cold-War relics against these kinds of threats? They are not even popular with many in the military, who would far prefer to see the money spent on equipment which our armed forces genuinely need and find useful.

And, politicians please note, it's not as if the public doesn't understand this. Public support for abandoning Trident renewal has never been more widespread. A new poll in the Independent showed 58% of people are happy to see the project scrapped, preferring to see the money spent on key frontline public services. One can only speculate how these figures might increase if the true £97bn cost of Trident was more widely known.

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Escorts that accompany Trident while out at sea? Are you insane? Each SSBN travels alone, surrounding it by escorts would be ludicrous.

Talk about spin! You’re just looking for any excuse to add to the price tag.

Can you guarantee that we will never need naval based air power? Can you guarantee that there will never be a nuclear threat to the UK? Can you guarantee that the UK will be as influential as we are now without a nuclear deterrent or ability to project hard power?

Of course not, because you live in an idealistic la la land.

We lose these capabilities, we don’t get them back. If we find we need them in the future then we are done, far better to carry a gun and not need it than need it and not have one.

We should get rid of Trident because it is the right thing to do, to show moral leadership, not because we can't afford it.

Someone came up with the phrase 'live by the sword, die by the sword', and I think - because I have thought about this - the person who came up with said phrase was onto something!

An 'annoyed' person with a gun...why not get friendly with a tree instead!

John, the person that said live by the sword, die by the sword was tortured, nailed to a cross, stabbed with a spear then left to die a slow and agonizing death. Says something doesn’t it.

No, nobody can guarantee that there will never be a nuclear threat to the UK, but the problem is that a nuclear deterrent isn't really going to help. All we can do with one is take revenge if some idiot decides to fire on us.

First question: would anyone in their right minds, knowing full well that they were going to die anyway, fire back and wipe out another few billion people just to feel a bit better in their last minutes? I don't have a great deal of respect for the kind of people who become important politicians, but I don't think even they would be that plain evil/stupid.

Second question: who's going to fire? In the world we live in, it wouldn't be another country, with borders we can see and fire back at. It would be some trigger-happy terrorists who don't care what happens to them in return (suicide bombers are the ultimate example of how little they care) as long as their point gets across. They'll also be hiding among innocent people, and so a return nuclear strike in any event would be complete overkill.

Third question: exactly what does our nuclear deterrent do for us? Ignoring whether we should have fought these wars or not in the first place, we haven't "won" in Iraq and we aren't making progress in Afghanistan because we have nuclear warheads. We're making progress because we have well-equipped and well-trained soldiers (who sadly aren't well-equipped or even well-trained enough and are dying far too often -- because the MOD doesn't have enough money to buy them what they need to do the job properly). A soldier can fight, can hold ground, can pacify, can do useful things in the community they're stationed in (like building, say) -- not just kill things -- making them an actually valuable tool, if used properly. All a nuclear warhead can do is blow up a lot of stuff at once. Tactically, in the kind of warfare we wage in the modern world, it's simply not useful, and it isn't what gives the ability to project our "hard power".

So even if you ignore the moral arguments entirely, a nuclear deterrent is practically a waste of time as well.

Although I agree with Annoyed2 entirely on one point -- if Greenpeace have been doing so much research on Trident, they surely know that it operates by itself, and so hinting that there are extra costs for an escort is a little misleading, to say the least. I hope that was a mistake, because I hate to think that organisations I support are turning to exactly the same tricks as the people I support them against are using.

(My apologies for the length of this comment; I felt I had a lot to say!)

Q 1 – The question isn’t would we fire back it’s would anyone risk the possibility. The evidence and logic points quite clearly to no; that is why it acts as a deterrent.

Q 2 – You claim to know the state of the world in 50 years? How about 20? 10? How about 2? In 1980 people expected that Britain would only realistically be fighting in Northern Europe, we even made moves to scrap our aircraft carriers because of this obvious fact. Two years later we relied on those carriers in the Falklands. No one predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, no one predicted the first Gulf War, and no one predicted 9/11. Of course the ultimate example of the folly in this thinking would be the “war to end all wars”; that worked out well didn’t it!

The threat today is from terrorists and insurgents but there is absolutely no way you can say the same thing for tomorrow. It is that uncertainty combined with the huge difficulty and time associated with regaining lost capabilities that means we need to maintain a broad military capability, including a nuclear deterrent.

Q 3 – My car doesn’t help me do the washing up, but then it was never meant to. The nuclear deterrent is a deterrent, it is designed to deter attack; it is not meant to be used in medium sized conflicts, peace keeping or anything else. As you say, tactically it is not useful but it’s a strategic weapon. Your argument could be applied to anything, what use are the RN’s survey vessels in the desert? Oh we should get rid of them then! How does the NHS help police the streets, it doesn’t?! Scrap it then. Your argument makes no sense.

Here are a few questions for you.

Do you believe that a weaker UK would not wane in influence?

Do you believe that other states will abandon any military, particularly nuclear ambitions because the UK scraps its own conventional or nuclear capabilities?

Do you believe that the EU or US would step in to help defend British interests if Britain couldn’t?

Chiru: A deterrent you're never going to use is not a 'deterrent' - it's called a 'bluff'. Or is what you're saying that any enemy has to believe that the UK is so morally degenerate that it would fire back in response? Would you support a tit for tat nuclear exchange or aren't you man enough to use our nukes?

"... a weaker UK" - do believe that real strength flows from military might? My Dad's bigger than your Dad, and all that. Is that how you behave with friends and other people you know? "Wane in influence"? Hey, maybe we should try staying ON TOP, like the US: "US President Bush has signed the fiscal 2009 defence budget into law, authorising a $512bn budget to support overall military readiness, as well as $66bn for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." The US budget deficit is currently projected to run at $1.84 trillion!

In 2008/2009, the UK 2009 budget deficit is almost £90 billion! And against this backdrop, you want to spend how much exactly, of the taxpayers' money (mine, yours, your friends', my Mum's, etc.) on Trident? So when we don't have enough money to install free insulation in all homes, fund our schools or hospitals properly, provide a decent pension for the elderly, offer a humane cold weather payment system to the people who die each year in the winter, and so on and so on, it will be fine. Just say to them, "Don't worry, there's a fantastic, nuclear-powered, shiny, macho, big black submarine with loadsa warheads (which we won't use of course) sneaking around the UK waters to protect you from any madmen who want to fire nuclear weapons at us! "Whew!" They will say - "That's alright then."

And of course the enemy would have to me mad wouldn't they? Surely no sane person/government would authorise the first use of nuclear weapons? But then, if they are mad, maybe they wouldn't care if we fired back because that's what madness would mean, surely? A bit like a suicide bomber but a whole country instead? But then we wouldn't fire back anyway because that would mean we are mad too! Oh no, my brain's melting ...

The UK is fading in world significance and will continue to do so and who cares? We are no longer an Empire. We are moving to a new world where social justice, fairness and concern for each other and the planet and ALL its inhabitants must come to the fore of all our decision making because if it doesn't we can forget the human experiment as we currently understand it. All of this posturing with subs and nuclear missiles and the like is a product of fossil fuels and as they decline, so will the availability of energy to continue this warped set of priorities. Of the 54 oil producing countries in the world, 30 have passed peak oil and 10 appear to have plateaued. That number of 30 will rise as sure as does the sun. The UK peaked some years ago - that means our income from North Sea oil and gas which we have squandered over the years will decline further and further in the years ahead and our imports of oil and gas will rise until they reach nigh on 100% and that won't be that far away. ( http://tinyurl.com/nh6xls ) Imagine what our budget deficit will be then. Will you STILL be clamouring for Trident then? Remember, unless we just keep printing money when you spend it on one thing you can't spend it on something else. If you blow all your savings on a Ferrari, you probably won't be going on holiday next year and you may have to sell your house to pay for it. Or what if you lose your income? The government is currently losing it's North Sea income, so where will the cuts fall. There's no free Trident lunch.

(KiltedGreen: Yes, I meant to suggest that the nuclear deterrent is nothing but a bluff, precisely because the UK hopefully wouldn't see the point in striking back if fired upon. I just called it "nuclear deterrent" for simplicity's sake, but thanks for clarifying exactly what I meant :)

I believe that the UK does not have to rely on having a nuclear deterrent to maintain our influence and strength. Because we have an economy which is integral to the global economy (think London as an international financial centre, for example) and because we can, if we really want to, maintain a standing army for tactical purposes to maintain our interests abroad, losing our nuclear deterrent will not make us appreciably weaker.

I believe that other states will certainly not abandon their nuclear ambitions if they continue to see Western powers flaunting their nuclear strength. Someone needs to start the process, and by doing so lend some credence to our insistence that WMDs are evil.

(Japan barely has conventional armed forces, let alone nuclear capability, and see what a major player she is on the world stage.)

And I maintain that nuclear weapons do not enable us to defend our interests. If that's going to be done militarily (and that's a whole 'nother argument in itself), it will be done by conventional forces, which would benefit considerably by even a small proportion of the cost of Trident.

Annoyed2, Your argument is solely that, if we threaten people with destruction, they won't destroy. The death sentence is a nice parallel. In states of the USA with the death sentence, murder is not appreciably less common than in the UK. Desperate people (like terrorists) will still commit murder, whatever you threaten them with; pragmatic, normal people (like Russia, or the USA) don't commit murder in the first place. And we can't destroy terrorists with nuclear weapons, so they're no use.

Kilted,

“do believe that real strength flows from military might?”

Unfortunately, in the real world, that is how it works. Not solely military might of course but soft power that is not backed by hard power has proven time and time again that it falters very easily; look at the number of sanctions placed on various regimes that have been totally ineffective.

“you want to spend how much exactly, of the taxpayers' money … on Trident?”

This is another nonsense argument. The logical conclusion of which is that we must only spend on one area to the point that it is fully funded. If we scrap Trident and we still can’t fully fund these other areas do we then scrap investment in science? If we still can’t provide free insulation what do we scrap then? The point being that you can’t focus solely on immediate needs; long term thinking is required.

“And of course the enemy would have to me mad wouldn't they? Surely no sane person/government would authorise the first use of nuclear weapons?”

The fact that no one would risk themselves in the face of potential retaliation is the whole point. As for mad dictators, are you suggesting that because some madman could push the button it’s not worth deterring those (semi) sane leaders?

Please see my reply to Chiru later on.

“The UK is fading in world significance and will continue to do so and who cares?”

I certainly care and when it comes to the point that we can no longer influence our own trade agreements, or laws then I imagine you will care then too. But by then it’ll be too late.

“All of this posturing with subs and nuclear missiles and the like is a product of fossil fuels and as they decline”

So industrial minerals, fresh water, food and any number of other resources don’t exist in your world? There are no territorial disputes going on are there? There are no competing ideologies? For all of our sakes take a stroll in the real world for once, it’s not all sunshine and roses.

Chiru,

It’s a bluff in your summation but would you take the risk in threatening the UK to test this theory? I doubt you would.

The death sentence is no parallel to this at all. When you are talking about the capitol punishment you are talking about individuals, individuals that make decisions either in the heat of the moment or due to mental illness. States, even seemingly insane ones like Zimbabwe, generally do not act in this manner; they are far more calculated. If you can reasonably present them with the possibility that action would result in them losing their power base they will back off.

By the way, this debate also includes the QE class carriers without which the UK’s conventional power would most certainly wane. Without organic air power you lose the ability to safely transport any significant number of men and equipment by sea; the armed forces would be castrated.

Mr. Annoyed2,

The discussion whether Trident is useful in a future nuclear attack, and which extra costs are necessary for it, I would rather leave to experts. Independent experts, that is - not those that make a living out of Trident.

But there is another important point. It strikes me that some people argue that we should stay armed because the risk of a nuclear attack is never guaranteed to be gone, while some people (often the same ones) argue that we should not do anything against climate change because it is not guaranteed to happen?!?! In other words, one risk we should cover because it is larger than 0%, while another we should NOT cover, because it is smaller than 100%!

Yes, a nuclear attack is always still possible. But the risks of international terrorism and of climate change are far more imminent. And since Trident is currently taking money away from covering -in particular- that latter risk, it is in fact harmful to our safety, not beneficial.

(And then I'm not even talking about the danger of arms proliferation, which most of use were well aware of toward the end of the cold war...)

Dear Annoyed2,

Your idea of establishing 'our place in the world', how ever you see that, seems to be based on intimidation backed up with the threat of force; well, that may have created the world we currently live in but given the amount of bloodshed around the world it doesn't seem a very humane model. I'd like to see a better world without mass slaughter and I don't think piling on more weapons is the way to go about that. The possession of nuclear weapons has not decreased human suffering in any way and I would say that the chances of it doing so in the future are zero.

You say that "I certainly care and when it comes to the point that we can no longer influence our own trade agreements, or laws then I imagine you will care then too. But by then it’ll be too late." Why do you think that we will no longer be able to influence our trade agreements? Will people not want our money or our goods? So what are you proposing - that we enforce our trade agreements/laws by the threat of a nuclear strike if they don't buy our sofas? Our current modus operandi is to use the resources of 3 planets to sustain our current lifestyles - common sense says that it cannot continue. The way we in the UK fund this deficit is by using other countries to supply our excessive wants. Should those countries decide that, perhaps not unreasonably that they would like their own resources - be they oil, minerals, food and so on for their own population - what is your response? Threaten them until they hand them over? Or, radical I know, we could use what money we have left to create a sustainable society in this country where we don't need military force to bend other nations to our will.

The UK has limited and shrinking available financial clout. That is the real world and it's going to get worse for us. You obviously find the idea of us being less significant on the world stage somehow worrying and want to shore it up regardless. Our material wants are now mostly supplied from other countries and we have to pay for them using our tourism and financial services which seem to be all we have left to sell for what we want to buy. Against that backdrop again, Trident is an obscene amount of money to spend to gain a fragile illusion of our place and power on the world stage.

The UK does not have bottomless reserves - look at the quote at the top of this page from Lord Ramsbotham. You seem to live in a world where you imagine that we can have everything. This is after all the attitude of the majority of people in the UK who have now racked up more than£1,100 of credit card debt per person (on average). This is because we want everything and we want it now. We can play games like this amongst ourselves, but not on a planetary scale with essential things like food and water. We don't have to fund everything like insulation or the health service to a maximum as you suggest, but if the UK spends money on Trident, then by definition surely, it cannot be spent on anything else. I am thinking long term - how will we feed ourselves, supply our energy, supply our water, how will we work and travel in 20 or 30 years time are issues that concern me. Could you explain how spending on Trident will address these issues? You regard Trident as worth paying for, I think it's an obscene waste that yields no benefit, when real people with real problems in our own country could benefit from that money right now, not in some imagined future where we are threatened by an imaginary crazed dictator, or as you imply, a semi-sane (or is that semi-mad?) leader with his finger on the button.

At the end of the day, Trident is an expression of a world view where we must remain a 'major player' on the world stage, projecting our power to all corners of the globe to ensure that we get whatever we want (or more accurately, what the military/industrial complex wants), now and in the future whilst recognising that our wants may conflict with those of others and so we many need the military to back up our corporate greed. This world view has run through history killing millions and millions over the centuries. If we have any claim to empathy, compassion and consideration for other members of our species and the other species inhabiting this planet, that attitude has to end. That attitude is currently despoiling our land, killing species at unprecedented and horrifying rates, killing our fellow humans, miring billions in grinding poverty, polluting the oceans, causing Climate Change and sacrificing any true long term view of where we are going as a race to short term profit above all else. Refusing to use or renew funding for Trident acknowledges that the only way we can have a better future is by taking practical steps to make it happen right now.

Mvdkamp,

I’m not one of those people; I prefer a balanced approach that considers all of our national requirements. There are plenty of inefficient quangos, bureaucratic systems and govt inefficiencies that can be sorted out before dropping defences.

Kilted,

“The possession of nuclear weapons has not decreased human suffering in any way”

I imagine those liberated from Japanese prison camps after their surrender in WW2 might disagree somewhat.

Which is exactly the point; in your world where the major powers have disarmed Kuwait would be under Iraqi occupation, the Falkland Islanders would have been removed from their land, the genocide in the Balkans would be complete, China would have invaded Taiwan, Sierra Leone would be under the control of the West Side Boys, and depending on when this disarmament happened then the Nazis would still be in power or the Soviet Union would control Europe.

There will always be those willing to use force and so long as there is no one to oppose this use then they will do it more readily than not. Every day in history has shown this to be true.

“Why do you think that we will no longer be able to influence our trade agreements? Will people not want our money or our goods?”

If all it takes to have influence is to have something other people want why isn’t Africa doing better? Many African nations have a wealth of resources but these nations are continually exploited. They are exploited because they are beholden on other nations for aid including military.

Let’s say we want to buy resources from country X, but they’re worried about their aggressive neighbours, piracy in local waters and terrorists that want to install a dictatorship. This country has the option of trading with a militarily weak UK or a strong France; both have an interest in maintaining X’s sovereignty and keeping trading routes open but only France has the means to do this. Who are they most likely to trade with?

Or let’s say the EU is defining its foreign policy, who is going to have the most say? Those that will actually have to commit military resources to it or those that don’t?

That’s just two examples of how a strong military translates into influence in other areas and it has nothing to do with some warped 18th century idea of sailing into X’s port demanding they trade with us or face annihilation.

Your world will only ever exist when you are the only one that’s living in it. If there’s anyone else around when you lay down your arms they’ll more likely than not whack you over the head and steal your collection of Sting albums.

Annoyed2,

Firstly, I'm not arguing against the carriers here; I think that's another argument entirely, and why it's been tacked onto a discussion about our nuclear capabilities I don't know. All your arguments about military stength being able to encourage trade etc. I'm not disagreeing with (here); but Trident, as I've pointed out, doesn't help us to do any of that.

And secondly, there are plenty of powerful states out there -- Japan, Germany -- who have no nuclear capability and don't seem too worried. I know they couldn't have developed it if they wanted -- losers can't be choosers -- but their long-term security and development still don't seem jeapardised, deterrent or no. If they can manage without, I'm sure the UK could.

They survive because, in the 21st century's global society, nuclear weaponry is nothing but a redundant bluff; in the 20th, it may have been slightly relevant, but now we have a global economy and every country is increasingly closely tied together, the idea of a war between two developed nations is unthinkable. It would be too damaging to the victor for it to be worth it, and not because of mutually assured destruction.

I think that nuclear weapons are as close to global suicide as the human race can possibly go. I do not live in lala land, I live on the planet Earth. If certain groups of people want to kill themselves can they do it somewhere else and not risk destroying everything I love and value in the process. Who made them God?
It is ignorant and shows a great error in judgement and intelligence to believe that blowing people up and destroying their homes and families is ever going to solve the crisis of war and suffering.
Why can't these war-mongers just wake up and see the reality of the gift that life on this planet truly is.

Chiru,

Perhaps the conventional discussion is between kilted and me then.

With regards to Trident, the problem I have is your assumptions have all be made before, as already mentioned the biggest blunder was saying world war one was the war to end all wars. It was a genuine belief at the time which nearly led to the axis powers sweeping the rest of the world aside; if not for a small strip of water things would be very different today.

It’s undeniable that today nuclear proliferation is a problem. Combined with the fact that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented the threat will always exist. It is also not the case that the threat is only to our population; nuclear weapons can easily be used to halt a conventional force too.

As for Germany and Japan getting along fine, I think you’ll find that both are necessarily aligned to other nuclear power blocks; the EU (France and the UK) and the US. Germany doesn’t have much of a problem currently because it doesn’t have much of a local threat (as said, that can change) but Japan does face serious potential nuclear threats from NK and possibly China. That makes them beholden to the US, if they diverge too much from a US lead then they can quite easily pull the plug on their defences (the major US present and US ABM technology). Japan certainly is worried and that is not a position I would like to see the UK in.

Josey,

Who’s warmongering? If you are attacked would you not fight back? Would you not help a friend? If someone denied you food would you not do all that is required to get it rather than die?

That’s all this is. It’s not ignorant to understand that not everyone has your best interests at heart nor is it ignorant to think it prudent to maintain the ability to defend oneself. It is very ignorant however to think that kind words are enough to keep the wolves from the door.

How exactly would you have responded to the worst that human kind has offered up? How would you have responded in 1939? Disarmament as a moral example and show of good will?

The UK government has a history of 'underestimating' [hiding] the costs of nuclear weapons.

Or the story of how £24 million grew by 40X and became > £1 billion!

Years ago the UK government hid the costs of Polaris.

Wilson agreed a programme to improve Polaris [Chevaline]. In 1970 Wilson lost to Heath. In 1973 Wilson returned promising no extension beyong Polaris. But Chevaline was still ticking-over. In 1974 Wilson obtained a larger majority. He decided to press-ahead with Chevaline. Without realising what they were agreeing to, the Cabinet agreed to improve Polaris at £24 million . They were not told this was an upgrade with a completely new advanced system with multiple warheads and decoys. Within two years the cost had spiralled to £584 million , but Parliament and the Cabinet were not told. In 1976 Wilson resigned, Callaghan took over and Chevaline had now cost £1 billion , and was 5 years away from service and still no-one was told about the project.

Paraphrased from The intelligence game: the illusions and delusions of international espionage By James Rusbridger

"Escorts that accompany Trident while out at sea? Are you insane? Each SSBN travels alone, surrounding it by escorts would be ludicrous."

No, not insane hopefully - just able to read. Parliamentary answers to Trident-related questions reveal, like this one from September 2008, "annual operating costs of committed conventional force elements (protecting Trident) to be around £25-30 million".

Today these 'committed elements' include: one mine warfare vessel; one survey vessel (probably HMS Scott, as Trident needs charts of the sea-bed on a higher level of detail than are otherwise available); and probably one SSN on short notice. Back in the eighties the list of forces which were committed to protecting Trident was much longer, but today much of the kit has been shifted over to being defined as ‘contingent’ to Trident (i.e. It has other duties besides purely SSBN protection). These 'contingent’' forces include:

2 attack submarines

1 destroyer/frigate

Up to 3 mine warfare vessels

1 Royal Fleet Auxillary vessel

2 air defence aircraft

8 maritime and reconnaissance aircraft

5 Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopters

The cost of contingent forces is estimated to be £250-300 million a year. Greenpeace did not include any percentage of these contingent forces costs in our total estimate, as what percentage we should use was not clear.

If you want to you can check these details out for yourself in Hansard.

I grant you that the phrase "accompanying Trident while it's out at sea" gives a misleading impression, though. What it should have said was something like "available committed forces allocated to Trident support."

So while a Trident SSBN may appear to operate as a lone boat, at any given moment it has a whole flottila of support vessels and major air support which can be called into action on its behalf.

Hope that clarifies things for you, Annoyed2.

Cheers,

joss@gpuk

Annoyed 2,
I agree that it is a human right to be able to defend oneself and ones family from any threat, and that I am not so naive to think that everyone has other peoples best interests at heart, but there are many ways to protect oneself and ones country from these dangers, I admit that I do not know a great deal about the finer details of weapon and armament protocol around the globe but I do believe that a world in which people build bridges of communication and respect amongst nations and continents is a world that is moving towards Peace and security for all its inhabitants and that any groups or factions of people who are all out simply for their own gain and use nuclear or any other force of violence to achieve that are nothing more than criminals and should be treated as such. Power to the People.

What disappoints me is the continuous 'improvements' that are deemed to be necessary.

Why can't we just stand still with what we have got?

I cannot accept that we have to always have 'next year's model' when the current one is perfectly useful.

If I was about to be smacked round the head with a 2metre long stick I'd be just as afraid as if the stick was 2m50cm long.

Escorts that accompany Trident while out at sea? Are you insane? Each SSBN travels alone, surrounding it by escorts would be ludicrous. Talk about spin! You’re just looking for any excuse to add to the price tag. Can you guarantee that we will never need naval based air power? Can you guarantee that there will never be a nuclear threat to the UK? Can you guarantee that the UK will be as influential as we are now without a nuclear deterrent or ability to project hard power? Of course not, because you live in an idealistic la la land. We lose these capabilities, we don’t get them back. If we find we need them in the future then we are done, far better to carry a gun and not need it than need it and not have one.

We should get rid of Trident because it is the right thing to do, to show moral leadership, not because we can't afford it.

Someone came up with the phrase 'live by the sword, die by the sword', and I think - because I have thought about this - the person who came up with said phrase was onto something! An 'annoyed' person with a gun...why not get friendly with a tree instead!

John, the person that said live by the sword, die by the sword was tortured, nailed to a cross, stabbed with a spear then left to die a slow and agonizing death. Says something doesn’t it.

No, nobody can guarantee that there will never be a nuclear threat to the UK, but the problem is that a nuclear deterrent isn't really going to help. All we can do with one is take revenge if some idiot decides to fire on us. First question: would anyone in their right minds, knowing full well that they were going to die anyway, fire back and wipe out another few billion people just to feel a bit better in their last minutes? I don't have a great deal of respect for the kind of people who become important politicians, but I don't think even they would be that plain evil/stupid. Second question: who's going to fire? In the world we live in, it wouldn't be another country, with borders we can see and fire back at. It would be some trigger-happy terrorists who don't care what happens to them in return (suicide bombers are the ultimate example of how little they care) as long as their point gets across. They'll also be hiding among innocent people, and so a return nuclear strike in any event would be complete overkill. Third question: exactly what does our nuclear deterrent do for us? Ignoring whether we should have fought these wars or not in the first place, we haven't "won" in Iraq and we aren't making progress in Afghanistan because we have nuclear warheads. We're making progress because we have well-equipped and well-trained soldiers (who sadly aren't well-equipped or even well-trained enough and are dying far too often -- because the MOD doesn't have enough money to buy them what they need to do the job properly). A soldier can fight, can hold ground, can pacify, can do useful things in the community they're stationed in (like building, say) -- not just kill things -- making them an actually valuable tool, if used properly. All a nuclear warhead can do is blow up a lot of stuff at once. Tactically, in the kind of warfare we wage in the modern world, it's simply not useful, and it isn't what gives the ability to project our "hard power". So even if you ignore the moral arguments entirely, a nuclear deterrent is practically a waste of time as well. Although I agree with Annoyed2 entirely on one point -- if Greenpeace have been doing so much research on Trident, they surely know that it operates by itself, and so hinting that there are extra costs for an escort is a little misleading, to say the least. I hope that was a mistake, because I hate to think that organisations I support are turning to exactly the same tricks as the people I support them against are using. (My apologies for the length of this comment; I felt I had a lot to say!)

Q 1 – The question isn’t would we fire back it’s would anyone risk the possibility. The evidence and logic points quite clearly to no; that is why it acts as a deterrent. Q 2 – You claim to know the state of the world in 50 years? How about 20? 10? How about 2? In 1980 people expected that Britain would only realistically be fighting in Northern Europe, we even made moves to scrap our aircraft carriers because of this obvious fact. Two years later we relied on those carriers in the Falklands. No one predicted the fall of the Soviet Union, no one predicted the first Gulf War, and no one predicted 9/11. Of course the ultimate example of the folly in this thinking would be the “war to end all wars”; that worked out well didn’t it! The threat today is from terrorists and insurgents but there is absolutely no way you can say the same thing for tomorrow. It is that uncertainty combined with the huge difficulty and time associated with regaining lost capabilities that means we need to maintain a broad military capability, including a nuclear deterrent. Q 3 – My car doesn’t help me do the washing up, but then it was never meant to. The nuclear deterrent is a deterrent, it is designed to deter attack; it is not meant to be used in medium sized conflicts, peace keeping or anything else. As you say, tactically it is not useful but it’s a strategic weapon. Your argument could be applied to anything, what use are the RN’s survey vessels in the desert? Oh we should get rid of them then! How does the NHS help police the streets, it doesn’t?! Scrap it then. Your argument makes no sense. Here are a few questions for you. Do you believe that a weaker UK would not wane in influence? Do you believe that other states will abandon any military, particularly nuclear ambitions because the UK scraps its own conventional or nuclear capabilities? Do you believe that the EU or US would step in to help defend British interests if Britain couldn’t?

Chiru: A deterrent you're never going to use is not a 'deterrent' - it's called a 'bluff'. Or is what you're saying that any enemy has to believe that the UK is so morally degenerate that it would fire back in response? Would you support a tit for tat nuclear exchange or aren't you man enough to use our nukes? "... a weaker UK" - do believe that real strength flows from military might? My Dad's bigger than your Dad, and all that. Is that how you behave with friends and other people you know? "Wane in influence"? Hey, maybe we should try staying ON TOP, like the US: "US President Bush has signed the fiscal 2009 defence budget into law, authorising a $512bn budget to support overall military readiness, as well as $66bn for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan." The US budget deficit is currently projected to run at $1.84 trillion! In 2008/2009, the UK 2009 budget deficit is almost £90 billion! And against this backdrop, you want to spend how much exactly, of the taxpayers' money (mine, yours, your friends', my Mum's, etc.) on Trident? So when we don't have enough money to install free insulation in all homes, fund our schools or hospitals properly, provide a decent pension for the elderly, offer a humane cold weather payment system to the people who die each year in the winter, and so on and so on, it will be fine. Just say to them, "Don't worry, there's a fantastic, nuclear-powered, shiny, macho, big black submarine with loadsa warheads (which we won't use of course) sneaking around the UK waters to protect you from any madmen who want to fire nuclear weapons at us! "Whew!" They will say - "That's alright then." And of course the enemy would have to me mad wouldn't they? Surely no sane person/government would authorise the first use of nuclear weapons? But then, if they are mad, maybe they wouldn't care if we fired back because that's what madness would mean, surely? A bit like a suicide bomber but a whole country instead? But then we wouldn't fire back anyway because that would mean we are mad too! Oh no, my brain's melting ... The UK is fading in world significance and will continue to do so and who cares? We are no longer an Empire. We are moving to a new world where social justice, fairness and concern for each other and the planet and ALL its inhabitants must come to the fore of all our decision making because if it doesn't we can forget the human experiment as we currently understand it. All of this posturing with subs and nuclear missiles and the like is a product of fossil fuels and as they decline, so will the availability of energy to continue this warped set of priorities. Of the 54 oil producing countries in the world, 30 have passed peak oil and 10 appear to have plateaued. That number of 30 will rise as sure as does the sun. The UK peaked some years ago - that means our income from North Sea oil and gas which we have squandered over the years will decline further and further in the years ahead and our imports of oil and gas will rise until they reach nigh on 100% and that won't be that far away. ( http://tinyurl.com/nh6xls ) Imagine what our budget deficit will be then. Will you STILL be clamouring for Trident then? Remember, unless we just keep printing money when you spend it on one thing you can't spend it on something else. If you blow all your savings on a Ferrari, you probably won't be going on holiday next year and you may have to sell your house to pay for it. Or what if you lose your income? The government is currently losing it's North Sea income, so where will the cuts fall. There's no free Trident lunch.

(KiltedGreen: Yes, I meant to suggest that the nuclear deterrent is nothing but a bluff, precisely because the UK hopefully wouldn't see the point in striking back if fired upon. I just called it "nuclear deterrent" for simplicity's sake, but thanks for clarifying exactly what I meant :) I believe that the UK does not have to rely on having a nuclear deterrent to maintain our influence and strength. Because we have an economy which is integral to the global economy (think London as an international financial centre, for example) and because we can, if we really want to, maintain a standing army for tactical purposes to maintain our interests abroad, losing our nuclear deterrent will not make us appreciably weaker. I believe that other states will certainly not abandon their nuclear ambitions if they continue to see Western powers flaunting their nuclear strength. Someone needs to start the process, and by doing so lend some credence to our insistence that WMDs are evil. (Japan barely has conventional armed forces, let alone nuclear capability, and see what a major player she is on the world stage.) And I maintain that nuclear weapons do not enable us to defend our interests. If that's going to be done militarily (and that's a whole 'nother argument in itself), it will be done by conventional forces, which would benefit considerably by even a small proportion of the cost of Trident. Annoyed2, Your argument is solely that, if we threaten people with destruction, they won't destroy. The death sentence is a nice parallel. In states of the USA with the death sentence, murder is not appreciably less common than in the UK. Desperate people (like terrorists) will still commit murder, whatever you threaten them with; pragmatic, normal people (like Russia, or the USA) don't commit murder in the first place. And we can't destroy terrorists with nuclear weapons, so they're no use.

Kilted, “do believe that real strength flows from military might?” Unfortunately, in the real world, that is how it works. Not solely military might of course but soft power that is not backed by hard power has proven time and time again that it falters very easily; look at the number of sanctions placed on various regimes that have been totally ineffective. “you want to spend how much exactly, of the taxpayers' money … on Trident?” This is another nonsense argument. The logical conclusion of which is that we must only spend on one area to the point that it is fully funded. If we scrap Trident and we still can’t fully fund these other areas do we then scrap investment in science? If we still can’t provide free insulation what do we scrap then? The point being that you can’t focus solely on immediate needs; long term thinking is required. “And of course the enemy would have to me mad wouldn't they? Surely no sane person/government would authorise the first use of nuclear weapons?” The fact that no one would risk themselves in the face of potential retaliation is the whole point. As for mad dictators, are you suggesting that because some madman could push the button it’s not worth deterring those (semi) sane leaders? Please see my reply to Chiru later on. “The UK is fading in world significance and will continue to do so and who cares?” I certainly care and when it comes to the point that we can no longer influence our own trade agreements, or laws then I imagine you will care then too. But by then it’ll be too late. “All of this posturing with subs and nuclear missiles and the like is a product of fossil fuels and as they decline” So industrial minerals, fresh water, food and any number of other resources don’t exist in your world? There are no territorial disputes going on are there? There are no competing ideologies? For all of our sakes take a stroll in the real world for once, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Chiru, It’s a bluff in your summation but would you take the risk in threatening the UK to test this theory? I doubt you would. The death sentence is no parallel to this at all. When you are talking about the capitol punishment you are talking about individuals, individuals that make decisions either in the heat of the moment or due to mental illness. States, even seemingly insane ones like Zimbabwe, generally do not act in this manner; they are far more calculated. If you can reasonably present them with the possibility that action would result in them losing their power base they will back off. By the way, this debate also includes the QE class carriers without which the UK’s conventional power would most certainly wane. Without organic air power you lose the ability to safely transport any significant number of men and equipment by sea; the armed forces would be castrated.

Mr. Annoyed2, The discussion whether Trident is useful in a future nuclear attack, and which extra costs are necessary for it, I would rather leave to experts. Independent experts, that is - not those that make a living out of Trident. But there is another important point. It strikes me that some people argue that we should stay armed because the risk of a nuclear attack is never guaranteed to be gone, while some people (often the same ones) argue that we should not do anything against climate change because it is not guaranteed to happen?!?! In other words, one risk we should cover because it is larger than 0%, while another we should NOT cover, because it is smaller than 100%! Yes, a nuclear attack is always still possible. But the risks of international terrorism and of climate change are far more imminent. And since Trident is currently taking money away from covering -in particular- that latter risk, it is in fact harmful to our safety, not beneficial. (And then I'm not even talking about the danger of arms proliferation, which most of use were well aware of toward the end of the cold war...)

Dear Annoyed2, Your idea of establishing 'our place in the world', how ever you see that, seems to be based on intimidation backed up with the threat of force; well, that may have created the world we currently live in but given the amount of bloodshed around the world it doesn't seem a very humane model. I'd like to see a better world without mass slaughter and I don't think piling on more weapons is the way to go about that. The possession of nuclear weapons has not decreased human suffering in any way and I would say that the chances of it doing so in the future are zero. You say that "I certainly care and when it comes to the point that we can no longer influence our own trade agreements, or laws then I imagine you will care then too. But by then it’ll be too late." Why do you think that we will no longer be able to influence our trade agreements? Will people not want our money or our goods? So what are you proposing - that we enforce our trade agreements/laws by the threat of a nuclear strike if they don't buy our sofas? Our current modus operandi is to use the resources of 3 planets to sustain our current lifestyles - common sense says that it cannot continue. The way we in the UK fund this deficit is by using other countries to supply our excessive wants. Should those countries decide that, perhaps not unreasonably that they would like their own resources - be they oil, minerals, food and so on for their own population - what is your response? Threaten them until they hand them over? Or, radical I know, we could use what money we have left to create a sustainable society in this country where we don't need military force to bend other nations to our will. The UK has limited and shrinking available financial clout. That is the real world and it's going to get worse for us. You obviously find the idea of us being less significant on the world stage somehow worrying and want to shore it up regardless. Our material wants are now mostly supplied from other countries and we have to pay for them using our tourism and financial services which seem to be all we have left to sell for what we want to buy. Against that backdrop again, Trident is an obscene amount of money to spend to gain a fragile illusion of our place and power on the world stage. The UK does not have bottomless reserves - look at the quote at the top of this page from Lord Ramsbotham. You seem to live in a world where you imagine that we can have everything. This is after all the attitude of the majority of people in the UK who have now racked up more than£1,100 of credit card debt per person (on average). This is because we want everything and we want it now. We can play games like this amongst ourselves, but not on a planetary scale with essential things like food and water. We don't have to fund everything like insulation or the health service to a maximum as you suggest, but if the UK spends money on Trident, then by definition surely, it cannot be spent on anything else. I am thinking long term - how will we feed ourselves, supply our energy, supply our water, how will we work and travel in 20 or 30 years time are issues that concern me. Could you explain how spending on Trident will address these issues? You regard Trident as worth paying for, I think it's an obscene waste that yields no benefit, when real people with real problems in our own country could benefit from that money right now, not in some imagined future where we are threatened by an imaginary crazed dictator, or as you imply, a semi-sane (or is that semi-mad?) leader with his finger on the button. At the end of the day, Trident is an expression of a world view where we must remain a 'major player' on the world stage, projecting our power to all corners of the globe to ensure that we get whatever we want (or more accurately, what the military/industrial complex wants), now and in the future whilst recognising that our wants may conflict with those of others and so we many need the military to back up our corporate greed. This world view has run through history killing millions and millions over the centuries. If we have any claim to empathy, compassion and consideration for other members of our species and the other species inhabiting this planet, that attitude has to end. That attitude is currently despoiling our land, killing species at unprecedented and horrifying rates, killing our fellow humans, miring billions in grinding poverty, polluting the oceans, causing Climate Change and sacrificing any true long term view of where we are going as a race to short term profit above all else. Refusing to use or renew funding for Trident acknowledges that the only way we can have a better future is by taking practical steps to make it happen right now.

Mvdkamp, I’m not one of those people; I prefer a balanced approach that considers all of our national requirements. There are plenty of inefficient quangos, bureaucratic systems and govt inefficiencies that can be sorted out before dropping defences. Kilted, “The possession of nuclear weapons has not decreased human suffering in any way” I imagine those liberated from Japanese prison camps after their surrender in WW2 might disagree somewhat. Which is exactly the point; in your world where the major powers have disarmed Kuwait would be under Iraqi occupation, the Falkland Islanders would have been removed from their land, the genocide in the Balkans would be complete, China would have invaded Taiwan, Sierra Leone would be under the control of the West Side Boys, and depending on when this disarmament happened then the Nazis would still be in power or the Soviet Union would control Europe. There will always be those willing to use force and so long as there is no one to oppose this use then they will do it more readily than not. Every day in history has shown this to be true. “Why do you think that we will no longer be able to influence our trade agreements? Will people not want our money or our goods?” If all it takes to have influence is to have something other people want why isn’t Africa doing better? Many African nations have a wealth of resources but these nations are continually exploited. They are exploited because they are beholden on other nations for aid including military. Let’s say we want to buy resources from country X, but they’re worried about their aggressive neighbours, piracy in local waters and terrorists that want to install a dictatorship. This country has the option of trading with a militarily weak UK or a strong France; both have an interest in maintaining X’s sovereignty and keeping trading routes open but only France has the means to do this. Who are they most likely to trade with? Or let’s say the EU is defining its foreign policy, who is going to have the most say? Those that will actually have to commit military resources to it or those that don’t? That’s just two examples of how a strong military translates into influence in other areas and it has nothing to do with some warped 18th century idea of sailing into X’s port demanding they trade with us or face annihilation. Your world will only ever exist when you are the only one that’s living in it. If there’s anyone else around when you lay down your arms they’ll more likely than not whack you over the head and steal your collection of Sting albums.

Annoyed2, Firstly, I'm not arguing against the carriers here; I think that's another argument entirely, and why it's been tacked onto a discussion about our nuclear capabilities I don't know. All your arguments about military stength being able to encourage trade etc. I'm not disagreeing with (here); but Trident, as I've pointed out, doesn't help us to do any of that. And secondly, there are plenty of powerful states out there -- Japan, Germany -- who have no nuclear capability and don't seem too worried. I know they couldn't have developed it if they wanted -- losers can't be choosers -- but their long-term security and development still don't seem jeapardised, deterrent or no. If they can manage without, I'm sure the UK could. They survive because, in the 21st century's global society, nuclear weaponry is nothing but a redundant bluff; in the 20th, it may have been slightly relevant, but now we have a global economy and every country is increasingly closely tied together, the idea of a war between two developed nations is unthinkable. It would be too damaging to the victor for it to be worth it, and not because of mutually assured destruction.

I think that nuclear weapons are as close to global suicide as the human race can possibly go. I do not live in lala land, I live on the planet Earth. If certain groups of people want to kill themselves can they do it somewhere else and not risk destroying everything I love and value in the process. Who made them God? It is ignorant and shows a great error in judgement and intelligence to believe that blowing people up and destroying their homes and families is ever going to solve the crisis of war and suffering. Why can't these war-mongers just wake up and see the reality of the gift that life on this planet truly is.

Chiru, Perhaps the conventional discussion is between kilted and me then. With regards to Trident, the problem I have is your assumptions have all be made before, as already mentioned the biggest blunder was saying world war one was the war to end all wars. It was a genuine belief at the time which nearly led to the axis powers sweeping the rest of the world aside; if not for a small strip of water things would be very different today. It’s undeniable that today nuclear proliferation is a problem. Combined with the fact that nuclear weapons cannot be uninvented the threat will always exist. It is also not the case that the threat is only to our population; nuclear weapons can easily be used to halt a conventional force too. As for Germany and Japan getting along fine, I think you’ll find that both are necessarily aligned to other nuclear power blocks; the EU (France and the UK) and the US. Germany doesn’t have much of a problem currently because it doesn’t have much of a local threat (as said, that can change) but Japan does face serious potential nuclear threats from NK and possibly China. That makes them beholden to the US, if they diverge too much from a US lead then they can quite easily pull the plug on their defences (the major US present and US ABM technology). Japan certainly is worried and that is not a position I would like to see the UK in. Josey, Who’s warmongering? If you are attacked would you not fight back? Would you not help a friend? If someone denied you food would you not do all that is required to get it rather than die? That’s all this is. It’s not ignorant to understand that not everyone has your best interests at heart nor is it ignorant to think it prudent to maintain the ability to defend oneself. It is very ignorant however to think that kind words are enough to keep the wolves from the door. How exactly would you have responded to the worst that human kind has offered up? How would you have responded in 1939? Disarmament as a moral example and show of good will?

The UK government has a history of 'underestimating' [hiding] the costs of nuclear weapons. Or the story of how £24 million grew by 40X and became > £1 billion! Years ago the UK government hid the costs of Polaris. Wilson agreed a programme to improve Polaris [Chevaline]. In 1970 Wilson lost to Heath. In 1973 Wilson returned promising no extension beyong Polaris. But Chevaline was still ticking-over. In 1974 Wilson obtained a larger majority. He decided to press-ahead with Chevaline. Without realising what they were agreeing to, the Cabinet agreed to improve Polaris at £24 million . They were not told this was an upgrade with a completely new advanced system with multiple warheads and decoys. Within two years the cost had spiralled to £584 million , but Parliament and the Cabinet were not told. In 1976 Wilson resigned, Callaghan took over and Chevaline had now cost £1 billion , and was 5 years away from service and still no-one was told about the project. Paraphrased from The intelligence game: the illusions and delusions of international espionage By James Rusbridger

"Escorts that accompany Trident while out at sea? Are you insane? Each SSBN travels alone, surrounding it by escorts would be ludicrous."

No, not insane hopefully - just able to read. Parliamentary answers to Trident-related questions reveal, like this one from September 2008, "annual operating costs of committed conventional force elements (protecting Trident) to be around £25-30 million".

Today these 'committed elements' include: one mine warfare vessel; one survey vessel (probably HMS Scott, as Trident needs charts of the sea-bed on a higher level of detail than are otherwise available); and probably one SSN on short notice. Back in the eighties the list of forces which were committed to protecting Trident was much longer, but today much of the kit has been shifted over to being defined as ‘contingent’ to Trident (i.e. It has other duties besides purely SSBN protection). These 'contingent’' forces include:

2 attack submarines

1 destroyer/frigate

Up to 3 mine warfare vessels

1 Royal Fleet Auxillary vessel

2 air defence aircraft

8 maritime and reconnaissance aircraft

5 Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopters

The cost of contingent forces is estimated to be £250-300 million a year. Greenpeace did not include any percentage of these contingent forces costs in our total estimate, as what percentage we should use was not clear.

If you want to you can check these details out for yourself in Hansard.

I grant you that the phrase "accompanying Trident while it's out at sea" gives a misleading impression, though. What it should have said was something like "available committed forces allocated to Trident support."

So while a Trident SSBN may appear to operate as a lone boat, at any given moment it has a whole flottila of support vessels and major air support which can be called into action on its behalf.

Hope that clarifies things for you, Annoyed2.

Cheers,

joss@gpuk

Annoyed 2, I agree that it is a human right to be able to defend oneself and ones family from any threat, and that I am not so naive to think that everyone has other peoples best interests at heart, but there are many ways to protect oneself and ones country from these dangers, I admit that I do not know a great deal about the finer details of weapon and armament protocol around the globe but I do believe that a world in which people build bridges of communication and respect amongst nations and continents is a world that is moving towards Peace and security for all its inhabitants and that any groups or factions of people who are all out simply for their own gain and use nuclear or any other force of violence to achieve that are nothing more than criminals and should be treated as such. Power to the People.

What disappoints me is the continuous 'improvements' that are deemed to be necessary. Why can't we just stand still with what we have got? I cannot accept that we have to always have 'next year's model' when the current one is perfectly useful. If I was about to be smacked round the head with a 2metre long stick I'd be just as afraid as if the stick was 2m50cm long.

I’m not one of those people; I prefer a balanced approach that considers
all of our national requirements. There are plenty of inefficient
quangos, bureaucratic systems and govt inefficiencies that can be sorted
out before dropping defences.

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