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Conference Countdown 2015: Trident debate: the fourth way

September 17, 2015 11:51 AM
By Richard Allanach in Liberal Democrat Voice

Current Liberal Democrat policy is that we reduce our fleet of nuclear missile submarines from four to three - but reducing the cost of our nuclear programme by less than a quarter. Most of the time we intend to have a nuclear missile submarine at sea but not armed with nuclear missiles. However at times of international tension we would sortie a submarine armed with nuclear weapons.

Trident and its successors are designed to penetrate sophisticated air defence systems such as those developed by Russia. I can think of no occasion when it would be rational for the United Kingdom to launch missiles at such a foe without the support of other major powers. [As I am not seeking to be prime minister I believe I can also safely say, as an aside, that I have also failed to imagine a scenario when it would be rational for us to launch missiles at such a foe with the support of our NATO allies.] No scenario in which an independent launch against such a major foe would be a sensible option has been put forward in the current debate.

Delegates to conference who think the three submarine strategy is a sensible use of £100bn can keep this policy by voting down the motion before conference.

Baroness Jolly's amendment keeps the three submarine strategy but holds out the distant prospect that in eighteen months time, and after the United Kingdom has taken its main decision on procuring a Trident replacement, the Liberal Democrats might produce a better policy.

The motion before conference is a better policy than either of these options. It is clear - the UK should scrap all its nuclear weapons. It is principled. Some delegates and certainly a substantial slice of the public may regard it as too principled.

However there is a better option than any of these three and that is to vote for the Rugby amendment. The Rugby amendment recognises the folly of spending £100bn to provide the United Kingdom with the capacity to breach the air defences of a foe which it would never be in our national interest to strike independently.

However unlike the main motion the Rugby amendment does spell out what we regard as a sensible objective for Liberal Democrats. Rugby wishes to see the pursuit of international agreements to halt nuclear arms proliferation and to reduce the stocks of nuclear weapons held around the globe with the overall objective of a comprehensive ban on the possession of nuclear weapons. It may well be that an interim step along that way is for the United Kingdom to forgo its nuclear weapons capability. The Rugby amendment holds the possibility of keeping the United Kingdom's nuclear capability as a bargaining card to be used in achieving progress in international arms reduction talks.

Delegates to conference thus have the possibility to choose one of four options: first our current part time nuclear deterrent policy; secondly the part-time nuclear deterrent policy with the possibility at some future stage it will be replaced with a more sensible policy; thirdly the pure unilateral policy of the main motion and fourthly the more pragmatic approach of the Rugby amendment aimed fairly and squarely at reducing global stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

* Richard Allanach is a vote less Scot living in England who has been campaigning with Better Together in Aberdeenshire.

Read more by Richard Allanach or more about autumn conference 2015, conference countdown or trident.