U.K. Deputy PM Suggests Support for Trident Slowdown

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday seemed to give his backing to delaying a final decision on modernizing the United Kingdom's submarine-based nuclear deterrent until after parliamentary elections in 2015, the Press Association reported (see GSN, Sept. 22).

Clegg's party, the Liberal Democrats, voted yesterday to oppose the divisive $30 billion plan which would fully replace the country's four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. Meanwhile, speculation has been mounting that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government might postpone the decision now set for late 2014 or early 2015.

"I have always argued we should be looking at alternatives to a like-for-like replacement for Trident," Clegg said in a BBC interview.

"We will need to arrive at a decision on all these things, on timing, and cost and detail, between now and the Comprehensive Spending Round," he added.

As the junior partner in the government, Liberal Democrats have argued the United Kingdom's current deterrent is no longer necessary to defend the country. Party members have also criticized the high cost of the replacement plan at a time when other government departments, including the armed forces, are looking at severe budget reductions.

"It's a perfectly sincere, level-headed debate about what are the security threats the country faces in the coming period," Clegg said.

"Given that we are fighting a war in Afghanistan, given that we will no doubt have to fight other conflicts in the future, it begs the question about how you can stretch the [Defense Ministry] budget," he added.

Clegg emphasized the expense of the modernization plan would have to be funded by the Defense Ministry's central budget, a position that Conservative Defense Secretary Liam Fox has staunchly opposed.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative government officials -- the latter who have supported the existing modernization plan -- are attempting to find "an approach we are all happy with" on the issue, he said (Smith/Ashton, Press Association, Sept. 22).

Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey, a Liberal Democrat, said yesterday that delaying the Trident decision until after the general elections would not make much of a financial or military difference but would have a "profound political significance," the Irish Times reported.

"Conservatives know that they are not going to be able to look to the Liberal Democrats to get that through Parliament, so the issue will be a hot potato for Labor," Harvey said. The replacement plan originated under the former Labor government.

Labor lawmaker John Woodcock criticized the comments saying, "Harvey is brazenly admitting to playing politics with Britain's national security -- that is the height of irresponsibility from the new government," (Mark Hennessy, Irish Times, Sept. 23).

September 23, 2010
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British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg yesterday seemed to give his backing to delaying a final decision on modernizing the United Kingdom's submarine-based nuclear deterrent until after parliamentary elections in 2015, the Press Association reported (see GSN, Sept. 22).