TEHRAN ,YJC. -- As Britain marks the 100th Vanguard patrol, Prime Minister David Cameron explains why he believes it is vital to renew Trident
This week marks the completion of the 100th patrol by the Royal Navy’s Vanguard-class submarines, which carry our Trident nuclear missiles. Every hour of every day, one of these submarines is patrolling the oceans – silent and invisible, armed and alert, our ultimate insurance against nuclear attack. As I visit HMS Victorious to welcome home her returning crew today, I want to thank all those who provide our deterrent.
The submariners, away from their families for months on end, who show the highest degree of dedication in training for a duty they hope never to carry out. The families who support them, and who endure such long periods without contact. And the 20,000 people who work onshore – including the engineers and mechanics at Faslane and Devonport; the teams at Rolls-Royce and the Atomic Weapons Establishment; and the architects and construction workers in places like Barrow who design and build our submarines. All play their part in maintaining this nation’s ultimate weapon of defence.
I know there are some people who disagree with our nuclear deterrent and don’t want us to renew it. There are those who say that we don’t need it any more, because the Cold War has ended. There are those who say we can’t afford Trident any more, so we either need to find a viable cheaper option, or rely on the United States to protect us. And there are those who say that we should just get rid of our nuclear weapons entirely, in the hope that it would encourage others to do the same. I recognise these are sincerely held views. But as Prime Minister, with ultimate responsibility for the nation’s security, I profoundly disagree with them. Let me explain why.
First, we need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British Government embarked on it over six decades ago. Of course, the world has changed dramatically. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But the nuclear threat has not gone away. In terms of uncertainty and potential risk it has, if anything, increased. The significant new factor we have to consider is this: the number of nuclear states has not diminished in recent years – and there is a real risk of new nuclear-armed states emerging. Iran continues to defy the will of the international community in its attempts to develop its nuclear capabilities, while the highly unpredictable and aggressive regime in North Korea recently conducted its third nuclear test and could already have enough fissile material to produce more than a dozen nuclear weapons. Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK. Can you be certain how that regime, or indeed any other nuclear armed regime, will develop? Can we be sure that it won’t share more of its technology or even its weapons with other countries? With these questions in mind, does anyone seriously argue that it would be wise for Britain, faced with this evolving threat today, to surrender our deterrent? At the end of the day these issues are matters of judgment. My judgment is that it would be foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuing, and growing, nuclear threat.
Second, to those who say we can not afford a nuclear deterrent, I say that the security of our nation is worth the price. Of course, the deterrent is not cheap – no major equipment programme is. But our current nuclear weapons capability costs on average around 5-6 per cent of the current defence budget. That is less than 1.5 per cent of our annual benefits bill. And the successor submarines are, on average, expected to cost the same once they have entered service. It is a price which I, and all my predecessors since Clement Attlee, have felt is worth paying to keep this country safe.
All governments should, of course, carefully examine all options, but I have seen no evidence that there are cheaper ways of providing a credible alternative to our plans for a successor and I am simply not prepared to settle for something that does not do the job. Furthermore, trying to save money by just relying on the United States to act on our behalf allows potential adversaries to gamble that one day the US might not put itself at risk in order to deter an attack on the UK. Only the retention of our independent deterrent makes clear to any adversary that the devastating cost of an attack on the UK or its allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain.