'Defending the Future': A rational approach to Britain's future nuclear arsenal

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The UK faces a major strategic choice at the 2015 election over whether to renew the UK’s nuclear weapons systems beyond 2042. This briefing was commissioned by BASIC and WMD Awareness for the Liberal Democrat Party Annual Conference this month. It outlines the debate, the options, and other considerations that need to be taken into account by decision makers during this time of deliberation.

Summary

Current Conservative-led plans call for a like- for-like Trident replacement and retention of the Cold War Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD) posture will require a significant increase in the defence budget between now and 2032 to avoid major sacrifices to the UK’s conventional defence capabilities. The Conservatives have not made clear how they would find the c. £25bn to do this, leading to a likely crimping of the UK’s ability to engage internationally.

Following the Trident Alternatives Review, the Liberal Democrat leadership are promoting a partial replacement of the Vanguard ballistic missile submarines, ending CASD. This will be debated on Tuesday 17 September from 1120 – 1250 as part of the Defence Policy Paper (Motion F32).

Dubbed “Trident-Lite”, this policy covers a number of options. Depending on how it was implemented, this could lead to savings of between 3% and 20% of through life costs. However, there remain questions over the political impact of the UK sailing an armed submarine in a crisis (crisis stability) and how much the Trident Lite options would actually cost.

There are options outside of the scope of the Trident Alternatives Review: uncosted air delivered nuclear weapons, and a “virtual deterrent” in which the UK retains the capacity to build nuclear weapons but does not actually field them. The amendment to the Defence Policy Paper proposed by George Potter would move Liberal Democrat policy to this position.

Finally, there are more radical proposals that renounce nuclear weapons entirely.

Click below to read the full briefing.

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