Can Britain still afford nuclear weapons ?

September 16, 2009

BRITAIN-NUCLEAR/As the public spending axe starts swinging, attention inevitably turns northwards to the chilly waters of the Clyde where Britain’s nuclear deterrent is based.

The four Vanguard class submarines which make up what is left of the UK deterrent come to the end of their lives around 2019 and their Trident missiles will need updating in the 2020s.

The go-ahead for replacement, which will cost some 20 billion pounds, was given by Tony Blair in 2006.

Cheaper alternatives, like having a ballistic missile system or a plane-delivered bomb or cutting the number of subs to three have been mulled over the last few years.

Some people would like to scrap the deterrent altogether, arguing it was never necessary in the first place and that the nature of threats to Britain has changed radically since the Cold War.

Others believe a minimum level of deterrence is vital given the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the Middle East and Asian regions.

What do you think? Is the need to balance our books so great as to end the 52-year British independent deterrent?


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obviously we need nuclear protection. threats change over time. at this time nuclear weapons may not be a threat but in the future it may be. but with all the crimes and injustices we have committed with our pals america obviously we need protection.

Posted by mosh | Report as abusive

It would seem best to greatly reduce the spending in this area. The world is becoming a much smaller place, the ideas of nationhood are also changing and Britain cannot afford these costs. Money needs to be channelled increasingly into our changing societal needs. People are living longer and the population is increasing. Trident seems more and more like some kind of anachronism. We may need some kind of military response but we also need to be clear that there are humanitarian issues that will need to take priority.

Posted by James Burns | Report as abusive


Posted by M BURGESS | Report as abusive

Interesting to see the previous blog as stating we have committed ‘crimes & injustice’!By whom in particular, and against whom in particular?Why is it that these well ‘informed’ people only wan’t to see the world’s wrong doings from their own narrow perspective? Maybe they should take a urgent course in history, recent and past to really find out who have been the criminals and the instigators of injustice! It seems to be that it is one of those things that they can ‘blame’ all the problems of the world on us and our allies as it makes them part of the trendies and luvvies who seem to spend all there time in’La La Land’God help us all if we let these do gooders have their way and we all end up as toast because of their beliefs

Posted by james | Report as abusive

The nuclear genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. We must keep our nuclear weapons, though cuts to the size of the fleet or number or type of warheads might be possible.

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

lets face it, there’s no such thing as “nuclear protection”. if the bombs go off then everyone has had it. the fewer that are around, the better

Posted by Henry VIII | Report as abusive

Life time cost is not 20 billion pounds but more like 100 billion over its lifetime. That is the entire Department of Health budget for one year…..

Posted by chris rigby | Report as abusive

I believe in the classic arguments for retaining a submarine -based nuclear deterrent and will not rehearse the, reasonably well-known, arguments here. However the aspect of cost seems to be the current bogey man.Imagine you were considering investing a sum of money for the protection of your house and suppose there was one measure that, as a deterrent, to malefactors was unequalled in its efficacy. What proportion of your annual protective outlay would you devote to this measure?Last year’s defence budget amounted to £38 billion. Government estimates for the replacements, lie between £15B and £25B but, allowing for support and cynicism, let us call it £50 billion. This, spread over 30 years, is around £1.7 billion per year or less than 5% of last years defence expenditure.I don’t believe you could find better dissuasion for the buck.Economiser

Posted by VINCENT HOWARD | Report as abusive

Neuclear weapons are bad. Rouge governments with neuclear weapons are far worse. No one can predict what will happen in time. It is sadly probably only a matter of time until a dirty or (heaven forbid) a neuclear weapon is released as an act of terror. If this were to happen in the UK…The best option is to have a strategic defence of the whole EU, as this is unrealistic it is much better to have our own. Keep the subs, they are mobile and hard to destroy. Face it – Russia is not the enemy, the enemies are the rouge nations of the far east. The subs are cheap and keeps our technology at an advanced level.

Posted by Daniel Moström | Report as abusive

These weapons are vital to our safety.The question we should be asking is how much we can afford to spend on our welfare state after paying as much as is required on the nuclear deterrent.

Posted by Robbie | Report as abusive

Nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral. They are no defence against the threats of the 21t century. It is absurd to spend money on a weapon which, if used, would see the end of human civilisation.

Posted by Jenny Maxwell | Report as abusive

No. We don’t need Trident. I’m amazed that some people are still coming out with same tired old meaningless arguments in favour of Trident that they came out with in the 1980s, when I was actively campaigning against Trident. These arguments mean even less than they did then. Who, or what, is Trident even intended to defend us against now? Trident is not ‘vital to our safety’. If there ever were to be a nuclear war it would make us a target. It was ever thus. Otherwise why bother? Who wants to conquer a heap of radioactive dust.More than this, though, we are facing a major economic crisis. We need to make CUTS, or, actually, people WILL die – through lack of adequate health care, for example, and vulnerable elderly and young children. Let’s cut dangerous things we don’t need and help save lives now!

Posted by Julia Larden | Report as abusive

‘Peace Through NATO’, Olga Maitland’s WCD- we achieved total victory over CND back in 1990. But the mindless zombie is now trying to crawl back out of its grave is it?

Posted by rhoops | Report as abusive

“Nuclear weapons are illegal and immoral. They are no defence against the threats of the 21t century. It is absurd to spend money on a weapon which, if used, would see the end of human civilisation.”This view point is not simply naive, it’s a grotesque distortion of reality. The Cold War was ended by Ronald Reagan with his large conventional and high Tech armament built up, with which the Soviet Union could not possibly compete. The Soviet Union collapsed, and that repulsive social experiment that cost over 80 million lives finally came to an end. Nuclear weapons defended us from unwilling participation in that.The CND unilateralists were most vocal during the 80’s to try and stop Reagan’s rearmament plan’s hoping for what else but continuation the Soviet regime. For those pacivists to claim that they are morally superior is quite disgusting. They were sympathisers and apologists for mass murderers.

Posted by rhoops | Report as abusive

Britain should not have a defence that threatens the survival of the human race and other creatures as well.(a burglar alarm system that blows up the whole area and not only kills the invaded burglar – and it is known that burglar alarm systems can go off by mistakes).I rather see Britain free from the US involvement when it comes to nuclear weapons and therefore to be free to act independently.

Posted by Ulla Grant | Report as abusive

The human race is hell bent on destroying the earth with or without wars. The only way to prevent it happening is through population control, the earth cannot sustain an infinite number of people. In the past this happened through war, famine and disease, non of which have the same effect today.

Posted by brian Roberts | Report as abusive

Trident is immoral, illegal, expensive, a public health risk and rejected by a clear majority of the Scottish population where it is based. Its past and present effectiveness as a deterrent is highly contentious and totally unproven. Its real role is as a minor British geopolitical status symbol. However, since it is largely dependent on crucial American technical support for its operational effectiveness, its current or future contribution to the defence of the UK is highly speculative and a complete waste of taxpayer’s money.

Posted by Alan Wilkie | Report as abusive

A new class of hunter killer submarine is currently being produced, the “Astute”. This class of sub carries Tomahawk cruise missiles along with conventional torpedoes. In the 80’s these cruise missiles could carry smaller yield nuclear warheads. These would provide us with a credible yet reduced, cheaper and portable deterrent which would be just as hard to detect as the current system. The size of the current order for this class could be increased to maintain the jobs connected with the industry and at BAE where the Trident replacements would have to be built. This would maintain a deterrent for the UK and a responce to emerging threats from the Middle East, but pave the way for a gradual dissarnament with other countries like Russia and the US which is the only way to rid us all of the depressingly human invention of nuclear war.

Posted by Nick Whetton | Report as abusive

I personally think in this day and age keeping a nuclear deterrent helps ensure the security of our country. For example if Iran were to get “the bomb” with the knowledge that we also have “the bomb” they would be far less likely to strike due to the possible consequences.Just look at how the world reacted when North Korea demonstrated what it is capable of. The world is a much safer place with democracies having some sort of super deterrent against the rouge dictatorships.Just my 2 cents :-)

Posted by Greg Langford | Report as abusive

Our objective should be to eliminate all nuclear weapons.Nuclear weapons are unaffordable at any price. They are neither safe, nor sane.The people who sell nuclear devices never pay the true cost of having made them. The people who subsidize them are nuclear weapons’ first victims, countless more being expected to follow. Nuclear presence a lose-lose situation from the get-go.Promoting nuclear weapons as a deterrent to war is like spreading HIV to enforce sexual abstinence. To accept a nuclear “solution” as inevitable is weak; to embrace it, a gruesome abdication of humanity.Elimination should be our goal, the time-frame immediate.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive