Lib Dem leadership in government stakes out its ground ahead of Trident Alternatives Review

Interviewed in today’s Guardian, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander outlined his Liberal Democrat perspective on Trident renewal. Speaking as one of the senior members of the coalition responsible for financial control, he highlighted the importance of financial aspects in Britain’s choices over a new nuclear weapon system, and the need to save money across the board.

Alexander is also in charge of the government’s Trident alternatives review, due to report imminently to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister… though this news report suggests it could now be delayed until the Spring. In the interview Alexander strongly hints that the review will include powerful arguments in favour of ‘credible and compelling alternatives’ to the current plans, highlighting in particular the need to review again Britain’s policy of keeping at least one nuclear weapons submarine at sea at all times, known as ‘continuous at-sea deterrence’, or CASD. The review is thought to include 7 or 8 nuclear alternatives. He said:

“It is the first time for a very, very long time the British state has engaged in this debate in this way and so it is quite a significant moment… The economic and financial circumstances reinforce the wisdom of our policy [to oppose like-for-like replacement of current Trident submarines with four new SSBN ballistic missile submarines].”

“Given all the financial pressures across the whole of the public sector, all the things the government has to do and wants to pay for, and all the pressures in different areas, I just think the idea that somehow, out of thin air, we can carve a multibillion pocket to pay for this, that is not financially realistic.”

The timing of his interview, coming as it does before the report goes to the PM/DPM and then on to the Cabinet, hints at a desire to influence the way this report is received at the highest level of government. However, there are no immediate decisions to be taken other than to receive the report and to decide whether any of it should be made public. The report will influence government thinking, and whether published or not in all likelihood will inform the growing public debate in Britain. BASIC also expects to be publishing its own Trident commission report later in the year. This will take account of the governments and deliberations, but will go further in considering all options and the broader context of the decision.


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