Peter Hoskin

The politics of Trident

The politics of Trident
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Some intriguing revelations about Trident in Rachel Sylvester's column today: 

"Behind the scenes ... the Government is taking a long hard stare at the programme. It is estimated that the replacement will cost between £15 billion and £20billion, but with annual upkeep of £1.5 billion, the total over 30 years could rise above £65 billion. That's an awful lot of schools and hospitals. As one minister put it, to get rid of Trident would be a 'welcome relief on public spending'.

It won't happen immediately but scrapping Britain's nuclear deterrent is on the cards for the first time since Labour came to power...

...Although the official line remains that Britain will retain its nuclear capability, the language in Whitehall has changed. One minister says that Trident is more useful as a 'tool for global disarmament than for UK defence'. This means that even if the Government did want to abandon it eventually, it would be wrong, tactically, to announce such a plan yet. 'The when and how of playing the card matters,' the minister explains. 'Just dumping it gets you nothing. You do it when it will spur maximum disarmament by others.'

According to Baroness Williams of Crosby, the Liberal Democrat peer who advises the Prime Minister on nuclear proliferation, and was praised by him last week, Britain could use its nuclear weapons as a bargaining tool in the runup to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference next spring. 'Trident could be a crucial factor in reaching a serious international agreement,' she told me. 'But to announce it now would be to chuck your queen away when you've only just started the chess game.'" It's encouraging that the Government is thinking again about renewing Trident.  Given the fiscal and geopolitical landscapes, it does seem an obvious sacred cow to slaughter - or, at least, to adapt.  But the dubious strategic caveats (is Trident really the queen in a global, nuclear chess game?) do suggest that the final decision will be left to a future government.