Ahead of the publication of the Government’s White Paper, Liberal Democrat Leader Ming Campbell today launched the proposals of his party’s policy working group on the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.
The proposals, to be debated at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Harrogate, include:
- Retaining the current Trident system but cutting Britain’s nuclear weapons by half, retaining only up to 100 warheads.
- Extending the life span of the current Trident system and keeping options open on a final decision until at least 2014 in order to allow a clearer picture to develop with regard to nuclear proliferation and to threats to Britain, its neighbours and allies.
- Using the cut in warheads to kick-start multilateral disarmament talks and sending a strong signal to non-nuclear weapons states that Britain takes its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty seriously.
- A presumption in favour of the most cost effective replacement for the current Trident system being a submarine system based on the Trident missile of 3 boats carrying no more than 24 warheads each.
Ming Campbell added:
There is a measurable danger that if North Korea and Iran are confirmed over the next decade as nuclear states, they will set in train a course of nuclear proliferation which will materially alter the strategic situation.
It would be unwise at this time for Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons altogether. But a deterrent of approximately half the current size, and extending the life of the current submarine system, would be sufficient to provide for Britain’s ultimate security until we have more certainty about proliferation.
As the Defence Select Committee has concluded we can delay making the final decision without wasting billions in the meantime.
A nuclear weapon-free world is highly desirable. Cutting our stockpile in half would send a strong signal that nuclear disarmament is back on the international agenda and that Britain is prepared to act first.
Britain could at anytime choose to scrap its nuclear deterrent completely if the strategic situation were to be favourable, and this option remains on the table.
It is essential we have a debate on all options on this issue of such strategic importance within Parliament and within the country as a whole.
These proposals will be presented to the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee and the Liberal Democrat conference will have the final say in spring at Harrogate.
The draft motion for party conference proposed by the Trident working group reads:
The Future of Britain’s Nuclear Weapons
- Conference reaffirms the Liberal Democrat commitment to achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons and the Liberal Democrat policy on Britain’s nuclear weapons, as set out in Defending Democracy 2002 and the General Election Manifesto 2005 The Real Alternative, that “we would retain the UK’s current minimum nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future, until sufficient progress has been made towards the global elimination of such weapons”.
- Conference pledges the party to do all its power to ensure that Britain abides by its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
- Conference urges all nuclear weapons states, whether party to the NPT or not, to engage through negotiation and through independent actions in a process of nuclear disarmament; in particular it urges India, Pakistan and the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) so that it can enter force.
- Conference considers that none of the world’s current nuclear weapons states poses a present threat to the UK and that nuclear weapons provide no defence or deterrent against terrorism.
- Conference recognises the medium and long term possibility that threats could arise to the United Kingdom as a result of global or regional instability and conflict caused by factors such as competition for resources particularly energy, the effects of climate change, failing states, aggressive or oppressive regimes, social and economic marginalisation and the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons, expertise and materials.
- Conference observes with serious concern the nuclear weapons test undertaken by the Government of North Korea and the continuing enrichment of uranium by the Government of Iran in contravention of Security Council Resolution 1696 and urges these states to cease these programmes.
- Conference particularly recognises the danger over the next decade of the proliferation of states possessing nuclear weapons and the pressure this would place on other regional powers to consider acquiring nuclear weapons themselves, including the possibility of one or more of such states posing a threat to Britain, its neighbours and allies.
- Conference considers that a decision by Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons capability can be taken at anytime, while recognising that the timing of such a decision has financial implications, and would be, in practice, irreversible.
- Conference therefore believes that in the light of such circumstances it would be unwise for Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons but that in the current situation Britain no longer needs the size of deterrent that the present Trident system represents.
- Conference notes the House of Commons Defence Committee 2006 report “The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent” which concludes that with a programme to extend the life of the four Vanguard class submarines no binding decision needs to be made on a replacement for Trident until a date between 2010 and 2014 depending on what system is chosen.
- Conferences recognises that on current planning assumptions, the most cost effective replacement system to provide the UK with a minimum deterrent would be a submarine system based on the Trident missile reduced to 3 boats with a 50% cut in warheads.
- Conference further believes that such a significant reduction to Britain’s nuclear arsenal would:
- send a strong signal to non-nuclear weapons states that Britain continues to meet its obligations under the NPT;
- offer the possibility of extending the timetable for replacing the current Trident system by at least 2 years; and
- provide cost savings that could be used for other purposes.
- Conference therefore resolves that:
- The current Trident nuclear system should be retained and its operational life extended so that a final decision on whether and how to procure any successor system be taken not before 2014 when the significant associated capital costs begin to be expended.
- Britain should reduce its nuclear arsenal by 50%, retaining no more than 100 warheads; with each Trident submarine carrying no more than 24 warheads when on deterrence patrol.
- Conference calls on the Government to delay a final decision on the procurement of a successor to Trident until at least 2014 in order to allow:
- A reduction of Britain’s nuclear capacity by 50% to reinvigorate multilateral disarmament talks;
- A clearer picture to develop concerning the proliferation of states that possess nuclear weapons and their ability to directly threaten Britain, its neighbours and allies; and
- Further consideration of the alternatives available based on a reduced minimum deterrent, including investigating co-operating more closely on the procurement and deployment of nuclear systems with NATO and European allies subject to the constraints on such co-operation imposed by Article I of the NPT.
The party’s Federal Policy Committee will be deciding the final text of the motion for conference.