The way David Cameron uses his backing for Trident replacement to appear “tough on defence”, one would be forgiven for thinking that the military is four-square behind the Conservatives.
But a new report shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact – across the armed forces – there are grave concerns that Britain’s nuclear weapons system neither addresses the real security threats facing Britain, nor represents value for money.
In a serious political intervention, Major General Patrick Cordingley, who led British forces in the first Gulf War, said:
‘Strategic nuclear weapons have no military use. It would seem the government wishes to replace Trident simply to remain a nuclear power alongside the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council. This is misguided and flies in the face of public opinion; we have more to offer than nuclear bombs.’
The report – British military attitudes to nuclear weapons and disarmament – by the Nuclear Information Service and the Nuclear Education Trust – is a ground-breaking study into military thinking on nuclear weapons. And it is startling to find that the military establishment is far from unanimous on the issue of Trident replacement.
Some participants in the study, commenting on the exorbitant cost of Trident replacement, stated that “no circumstances justify the large amounts of money required by [Trident] and this money would be better spent elsewhere.”
Many participants in the survey were also unclear about many aspects of the UK’s nuclear weapons, including their costs, purpose and credibility.
With a final decision on Trident replacement due in 2016 – at a price tag of £100 billion – now is the time for a hard-headed look at the strategic utility of nuclear weapons.
We already knew that the Government’s own National Security Strategy in 2010 downgraded the threat of state-on-state nuclear attack.
We already knew that former Defence Secretaries across the political spectrum from Michael Portillo to Des Browne have concluded that Trident is a waste of money.
Now we know that many in the military think Trident is a “political” tool and little more – that many in the armed forces would rather see the money spent on equipment which could actually be used: especially at a time when the military has been faced with spending cuts.
Many across the UK think Trident should be scrapped. Whether that is for moral, legal, economic or strategic reasons – the Government cannot afford to ignore public opinion from all quarters.
The time has come to scrap the UK’s nuclear weapons once and for all – and to ignore the opinion of both those who have served in the military and the British public would be an enormous folly.
Kate Hudson is the head of CND. British military attitudes to nuclear weapons and disarmament is released later today.