NEW POLL: was Clegg right to ditch Trident?

by Stephen Tall on June 17, 2009

The big domestic political news last night was Nick Clegg’s announcement that the Lib Dems would oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, arguing “the world has changed, the facts have changed, you’ve got to change with them. So like-for-like replacement for Trident is just not right.”

As Nick himself has admitted, this is a reversal of the position he adopted in the leadership contest with Chris Huhne in late 2007. The Nick argued that dumping Trident would destroy the UK’s bargaining power in non-proliferation talks in 2010. Here’s the BBC news report:

Mr Clegg hit back that there was little point attending the next non-proliferation talks in 2010 if “we’ve already thrown all our cards away”. “We’ve got to bring the Trident deterrent down to the absolute minimum and use the remaining capability to act responsibly and multi-laterally, not only to disarm ourselves but the world too,” he said.

What has changed Nick’s mind in the last 18 months? Well, most obviously the world economy has tanked, with all political parties now having to review their spending priorities and work out what’s affordable at a time of ballooning national debt. So now Nick has asked former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell to lead a review on how Britain could operate a scaled-down deterrent.

Ironically, of course, it was one of the rare public triumphs of Ming’s leadership to persuade the party’s 2007 spring conference to back his line that the number of Trident warheads should be cut by 50%, but a decision on replacing them delayed to 2014, following the 2010 non-proliferation talks.

There’s already been a good deal of comment on Nick’s decision on last night’s LDV thread, the vast majority of fully in favour of his announcement. But let’s put that to the LDV poll test, and ask: Do you agree with Nick Clegg’s decision to rule out a like-for-like replacement of Trident?

  • Yes – Trident is the wrong deterrent and too expensive
  • No – we should defer a decision until after the 2010 talks
  • No – we should commit now to renewing Trident
  • Other
  • Over to you…

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    No comments

    Wow, you mean Nick Clegg has come up with a new policy just to suit the political climate instead of relying on any form of principles or ideology?

    I’m shocked, really.

    by Letters From A Tory on June 17, 2009 at 9:42 am. Reply #

    Clegg is surely going with the grain of party opinion.

    by Frank H Little on June 17, 2009 at 9:53 am. Reply #

    Yes – Trident is the wrong deterrent and too expensive.

    If Britain is to argue for multi-lateral disarmament, which I think it should, it is right that we take a uni-lateral step such as this to show that we’re serious.

    Also, we live in a new world where threats to our nation don’t come from defined states we could deal with using conventional military force, so we have to be smart about defence.

    Oh, and it costs a ridiculous amount of money and in this economic climate is a ruddy waste of funds!

    by Teek on June 17, 2009 at 10:22 am. Reply #

    Also, Trident is not an “independent” weapons system. The button is pressed in Washington.

    by Sesenko on June 17, 2009 at 10:29 am. Reply #

    I have lengthy comments over the years on this issue in my own blog and have never been in agreement either with offical party policy or the main altenatives offered at conference – see foot for a posting with many links to my Cassandras.

    On the NTP this is what I think an effective british stance would be:

    If we are to go into NPT negotiations in good faith and with the intention of actually getting results, we need to be able to show the world:
    1 What the UK nuclear weapons system actually means in terms of financial costs and defence opportunity costs.
    2 Give an awful warning to other states – ‘if you go down the nuclear road this is the kind of burden you will take up’.
    3 Show other states that we know that disarmament measures would mean for us, have thought them through, and are politically capable of taking on the vested interests in the status quo (industrial and military and Freudian) should international agreements require us to do so.

    Link to my latest Cassandra posting:

    by Edis on June 17, 2009 at 10:46 am. Reply #

    A very sensible move and long overdue. Keeping Trident would mean big battles at conference. Scrapping Trident will go through almost on the nod.

    The only quibble is the comment that we “still need a deterrent”. This is of course nonsense – if we are to have a deterrent the submarines are the only acceptable one. If we don’t want or can’t afford Trident (both in my view) we have to grasp the nettle – and use the opportunity to pursue a campaign against the spread of nuclear weapons.

    Tony Greaves

    by tonygreaves on June 17, 2009 at 11:29 am. Reply #

    Don’t forget that some communities rely heavily on MoD contracts related to Trident, e.g. Barrow-in-Furness where they make the submarines. Although this in itself is a poor argument for keeping Trident, I think that part of Ming’s brief should definitely look at what we can do to lessen the economic impact in these areas.

    by Foregone Conclusion on June 17, 2009 at 11:46 am. Reply #

    I welcome the commitment not to renew trident or a like for like replacement

    When this comes to conference for ratification, I hope we go even futher and say no nuclear deterrant at all.

    by lloyd on June 17, 2009 at 12:14 pm. Reply #

    I can’t figure out what he’s saying here. We won’t renew Trident, but we still need a deterrent to use for leverage in the NPT talks, but he will be unhappy if Ming’s review recommends that we keep a deterrent? This is just incoherent. For all I know that may be the Guardian’s fault rather than Nick’s, but I’m going to reserve judgment on the policy until I understand what it is.

    by Liz W on June 17, 2009 at 12:56 pm. Reply #

    If you really care about halting the spread of nuclear weapons, you should try and get something for our scrapping our nukes. This would mean throwing them in as a bargaining chip in 2010. Anything else is just shallow populism. I don’t want nukes as much as the next man, but I was also prefer less Russian nukes.

    You could now make the argument that the economic collapse has made even the illusion that we would keep Trident ridiculous. However, the government of the day don’t seem to think so.

    by Simon R. on June 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm. Reply #

    It’s probably premature since it’s never going to *happen* before 2010 at this point, but… what the hell, you don’t get rid of nukes by building more nukes. Every one disposed of is an improvement. There’s nobody to fire nukes at any more anyway – cold war’s over.

    by Andrew Suffield on June 17, 2009 at 3:05 pm. Reply #

    Question is how do you maximise the number of nukes reduced? Do it unilaterally, or ask another country to match you? As an internationalist, multilateral-favouring party, this should be one where principles win out over going with the populist wind.

    by Simon R. on June 17, 2009 at 3:30 pm. Reply #

    I’ve voted for ‘Other’ as my response to that question would be ‘Yes, as we don’t need any sort of nuclear weapons system’.

    by Bernard Salmon on June 17, 2009 at 3:32 pm. Reply #

    Saying No to the renewal option of Trident will present,as a stark contrast to Govt. and Tories at the General Election, as a vote winner.

    The saving of £6 B can now be invested in help for need in growing Elderly Care in the campaign week to `End Elderly Abuse’ and to introduce the full `Pupil Premium’ and to relieve unemployment for the 2.3 Million.

    by Cllr Patrick Smith on June 17, 2009 at 5:38 pm. Reply #

    No – we should renew Trident.

    Scrapping it will save some money but it is a fraction of the overspending that is occuring (GBP170 billion this year alone, when scrapping Trident saves 20 billion or 12%). Don`t use scrapping Trident a figleaf for not pursing further public sector efficiencies.

    by Mike on June 17, 2009 at 6:42 pm. Reply #

    We face many risks to this country at the moment. The biggest risk is global warming, and I wonder if we will ever spend enough money to mitigate that.
    Yet somehow our policians have go their priorities skewed. Some of it, especially in the case of Ming Campbell, is a throwback to the outdated piolitics of the 1980s.
    Looking at how the vote is going, I really wonder how it is that we passed the policy that in theory we still have.
    If we have nuclear weapons, it is hard to see that they will have any leverage at all in NPT talks. No one feels we are going to use them against them. It is hard to imagine they could be a deterrent against anyone. As far as NPT is concerned, we should let the major powers get on with it, they have their own incentives to make reductions. We should simply get rid of our nuclear weapons.
    This is an important first step. Since there is such a big majority in favour of the new policy, then why not go the whole distance?

    by Geoffrey Payne on June 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm. Reply #

    As a lifelong Liberal in the (tiny) minority that fully supports Nuclear Weapons I am appalled at this U-turn.

    I can respect those who oppose Nuclear Weapons out of principle because their position is (a) coherent, (b) moral and (c) based out of the same concern as my support for Nuclear Weapons – wanting to protect human life.

    Nick Clegg however wants to tell us the world has changed lots since his leadership contest. This is simply nonsense. The significant change which (arguably) points to Trident being scrapped was the collapse of the Eastern Bloc 20 years ago.

    The significant (geo-political,economic and military) changes since Nick’s election as leader all point to less stability in the world not more.

    Like a whole load of other issues Nick should have said what he meant before his leadership election not after. Then we could have voted (or not voted because there wasn’t a choice) accordingly.

    by Richard Coe on June 17, 2009 at 11:40 pm. Reply #

    No, we should keep Trident while other countries have nuclear weapons.

    by Cabalamat on June 18, 2009 at 7:55 am. Reply #

    I have to say I support the research that AWE currently conducts. It produces a lot of highly skilled jobs from a range of scientific disciplines. Plus they fund a number of PhD’s and postdocs in surrounding Universities. Some of the offshoot technology found from this research is very interesting and finds applications outside of the WND remit.

    That said I actually agree with Nick, we should scrap the stockpile – but retain the ability to produce warheads, if ever required. This coupled with multi-purpose launch platforms could potentially save us £100 bn!

    I like that Nick is trying to be a bit radical for a change – more of this please. But we only have 200 warheads – will scrapping these really make any difference internationally? Especially when the US has 5500!

    by Glenn on June 18, 2009 at 11:39 am. Reply #

    As pointed out before, your point about our leverage at a disarmament conference is simply not true. The Russians regard British weapons as part of a Western arsenal that they have to counterbalance, which is why they were so annoyed when we got them in the first place. Were the Pershings deployed in Europe not bothering the Russians because they were not on US soil?

    Also, maybe you can’t foresee the British using these weapons and maybe you think that the world agrees with you. What about the Russians and the US? Would they use them? Is that why Obama and Medvedev were in talks to reduce them?

    Really, geoffrey, you have to be more intellectually honest about it.

    by Simon R. on June 18, 2009 at 11:52 am. Reply #

    Honestly, I never knew we still supported the nuke deterrent at all! (Okay I’ve been in the US and must have missed some decisions, but as Libs we didn’t support this – when did we change? David Owen’s influence I guess…)
    Ridiculous posturing to keep the Trident – get rid of it and no new nukes!

    by felix holt on June 20, 2009 at 4:03 pm. Reply #

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