Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Lib Dem’s New Trident Policy Will Please No-one

At the Lib Dem autumn conference in 2015, ahead of the Parliamentary vote on whether to renew the Trident nuclear weapons system in 2016, delegates voted against a motion calling for Trident to be scrapped by 579 votes to 447. This meant that the party voted against a like-for-like replacement of the Trident system but not to endorse unilateral disarmament by the UK in the Parliamentary vote.

Instead, the Lib Dems established a working group "to develop policy on the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party." The decision effectively side stepped the Parliamentary vote by kicking the issue into the long grass with only a commitment to report on future policy within 18 months of the conference.

The new leader, Tim Farron and much of the Lib Dem establishment, got their way when delegates voted for an amendment to the motion, which set up a working group to consider the issue and to report to spring conference in 2017. Lib Dem MPs did though vote against a ‘like for like’ replacement of the Trident system in the 2016 vote, mainly on the grounds of costs, whilst the party review was taking place.

Well, the time has arrived, a report has been produced in time for the Lib Dems spring conference on 17 to 19 March this year, entitled ‘Towards a World Free of Nuclear weapons.’ I know this because I was perusing the Lib Dem Voice website, I don’t know why, because I rarely do this, but the piece by Lib Dem activist, Neil Stockley, caught my eye.

The policy paper concludes that the UK should maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent, which is no great surprise for a seasoned Lib Dem watcher like me. They are a party that feigns a kind of radicalism, but when push comes to shove, they meekly adopt a policy which is a millimetre away from the safety of the status quo.

In a political contortion only a Lib Dem could manage, Stockley writes:

“This is an important debate for Liberal Democrats, because we understand all too well the catastrophic consequences of detonating nuclear weapons. The ethical questions they raise go to the heart of our party’s values: we believe that any nuclear war is morally unacceptable and must never be fought. We appreciate that as a founding signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK has a legal responsibility to reinvigorate international nuclear disarmament initiatives. And we have always recognised the Government’s duty to protect the British people from attack and to play a full part in protecting the UK’s NATO allies.”

The paper says the current continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) that is Trident could be discontinued without threatening the UK’s current or future security. Instead, it recommends adopting a medium-readiness responsive deterrent posture, meaning not being at sea continuously and not carrying nuclear warheads sometimes, in an effort to reduce costs, whilst making any possible nuclear weapon holding adversary, unsure whether we could strike back, or not. There would also only be three submarines, rather four.

This policy is so piecemeal that it is pretty meaningless, unless we were unlucky enough to not have any nuclear armed vessels at sea when attacked, but would save some money. I assume that the committee considered a land based or airborne (carried by aeroplanes) nuclear deterrent, which would save a lot more money, but rejected this approach for some reason. Probably judging it to be too radical?

I have always been against having nuclear weapons at all, but I know the majority of the British public would disagree with me, so I would be prepared to support a much cheaper option, like land or air based systems. At least this would save a considerable amount of money over the Trident system, and perhaps move us towards nuclear disarmament.  

With the new under water drones, it is doubtful whether a submarine based nuclear weapons system is any less likely to be neutralised than a land or air based one, whether they were carrying nuclear warheads or not, so I can’t really see what the point that this Lib Dem stance is meant to achieve?

You can always rely on the Lib Dems to fudge an issue, and to try to please everyone, by having a policy stance which is neither one thing or the other. No doubt they will say this is a realistic, pragmatic position, but in truth it is no position at all, other than a pale imitation of the established policy.

We know the Lib Dems are unprincipled, but they don’t even appear to be able to be properly pragmatic, with this ridiculous compromise. Will the conference delegates approve it? After some bluster, yes, I think they will.

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