The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has responded to the growing row between the Defence Secretary and the Chancellor over the cost of Trident, saying that "the vast spending on nuclear weapons is the millstone round the neck of British defence policy, distorting priorities to face a threat that simply doesn’t exist."
With the Chancellor saying "I have made it very clear that Trident renewal costs must be taken as part of the defence budget" it seems increasingly certain that the cost of building new Trident submarines, on which design work is already underway, will come from the MoD equipment budget, consuming at least 25% of it. Cost over-runs are a near certainty, with the current Astute submarine programme running 48% over budget and almost four years late [note 3]. Similar cost over-runs on the Trident Replacement submarines could decimate army, air force and surface naval projects. The National Audit Office had warned that crucial decision on the new Trident subs needed to have been taken by September 2009 but the ‘initial gate’ approval point has now been delayed yet again, until ‘towards the end of 2010’ putting the project badly behind schedule already [note 4].
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said "It is up to those who want to retain and upgrade Britain’s nuclear weapons to justify why there should be swingeing cuts to the rest of the armed forces – and government spending in other areas – to pay for them. Using the government’s own figures, the cost of the new submarines would be bad enough but these huge projects routinely run billions of pounds beyond expectations. And this is before anything is said of the cost of developing new warheads and maintaining and operating the nuclear fleet once it is built.
"It seems that the MoD wants it, but not badly enough to pay for it. They won’t cut back anything else and want ‘someone else’ to fund it – but whichever budget it comes from, the reality is that we’re all having to endure huge cuts elsewhere so that this white elephant can be retained. The vast spending on nuclear weapons is the millstone round the neck of British defence policy, distorting priorities to face a threat that simply doesn’t exist.
"Liam Fox is reduced to scaremongering about runaway nuclear proliferation, but if it really is the government assessment that countries like Saudi Arabia will renege on their treaty commitments and develop nuclear weapons, why are we continuing to supply them with vast amounts of weaponry, subsidised by taxpayer loan guarantees?
"The MoD knows that the public won’t accept spending billions a year on nuclear weapons – a system that senior military leaders describe as ‘completely useless’ and polls show a majority of the public oppose [note 5]. If Trident really were essential to national security it would top the MoD’s spending priorities – the fact they’d rather not pay for it at all suggests that even they understand that the £100bn cost of Trident and its replacement would be a complete waste of national resources."