Yesterday’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) gave us the welcome news that plans to replace Trident have been put on hold and reductions will be made to our existing nuclear weapons. "Five year delay" shouted the papers who widely interpreted the move as a compromise to keep the coalition government together.
The reality is that in the face of military cuts and a National Security Review (which concluded the threats we face are cyber crime, terrorism, a foreign crisis "drawing in Britain", and natural disasters) it’s hard to imagine how David Cameron could have ticked the yes box on spending £97bn replacing Trident. Particularly as there was already a joker in the SDSR pack in the shape of the aircraft carriers.
The carriers – what a farce! Politicians decided they didn’t need them, then looked at the contracts and realized whoops, canceling them costs more money than building them! So, now we get two aircraft carriers we don’t want. Then to top it off, instead of buying 150 F35 fighters, we can now only apparently afford 12 per ship – and that not for a decade.
"Who exactly signed these contracts - and were they drunk on complimentary arms industry champagne at the time?" Wow. Those "four acres of moveable sovereign airfield" (as the MoD used to like to describe the carriers) are going to be looking awfully empty...
This begs the question: "Who exactly signed these contracts, and were they drunk on complimentary arms industry champagne at the time?"
Could all this have been foreseen? Well yes. In fact we flagged it up in our 2009 report, In The Firing Line, which not only highlights the £38bn hole in MoD budgets, but also the ever increasing costs of both carriers and the F35 jets supposed to fly from them. In it, we quoted a navy commentator saying, "I sadly prophesise that if HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales ever carry more than 18 F35Bs, that is because a US marine corps squadron has been embarked for an exercise."
Which brings us to the question of Trident, and whether it really has been kicked into the long grass.
If you look at the details, what was announced yesterday is that we got a two-four year delay in making the final 'main gate' decision to go ahead with building submarines (kicking it until after the next election). In line with this we get a four year delay in those submarines being expected to go to sea. But the first tranche of contracts (signed after what's known as 'initial gate') will go ahead at the end of this year tying us into... who knows what?
On top of this, the Financial Times hinted of deals being done with BAE Systems, to 'assure' them that three Trident replacement submarines will be built.
It’s not hard to imagine flashing forward to 2016 and imagining the defence minister standing up and admitting that canceling Trident makes no sense as the majority of funds are already committed and that cancellation will cost rather than save money.
That’s why Greenpeace are pushing for a full review of our national nuclear policy – one that addresses the question famously posed by Field Marshal Lord Carver: “Trident – what the bloody hell is it for?”
Meantime, we will be interrogating our politicians on the detail of what was announced yesterday, and keeping a sharp eye on what arms deals are being signed – we'll keep you posted.