The last Labour Government reaffirmed its commitment to Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent, based on Trident, in 2006-07. The current coalition government, in its Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) concluded in October 2010, maintained a commitment to this decision in principle, but also announced some changes to UK nuclear doctrine, a reduction in the number of warheads and missiles possessed by the United Kingdom, and a delay to the timetable for the construction of the replacement submarines on which the Trident system crucially depends. The decision to delay the final judgment on replacing the submarines until after the next election (which must take place by May 2015), has created a window of opportunity for further deliberation on UK nuclear weapons policy.
The starting point for the BASIC Trident Commission is a belief that it is important to make the most of this opportunity.
We are living through a massive period of change in international affairs with new powers emerging, increasing nuclear proliferation risks within both the community of states and terrorist groups, and growing financial pressure on western defence budgets. Since the original 2006-07 decision on Trident renewal the United States and Russia have also recommenced strategic nuclear arms control negotiations after a gap of almost two decades, and President Obama has talked openly of pursuing the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The signing of the New START Treaty in April 2010 (and then its ratification by the US Senate in December 2010) has improved the diplomatic environment within which to pursue further efforts at multilateral nuclear disarmament and a strengthening of the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. The consensus document agreed at the NPT Review Conference in New York in April 2010 has also contributed to the momentum.
There is a strong case, both in this context and in the national interest, for lifting the issue of the United Kingdom’s own possession of nuclear weapons out of the day to day party political context and for conducting a fundamental review of UK nuclear weapons policy, including the desirability of Trident renewal. The BASIC Trident Commission is filling the gap by facilitating, hosting and delivering a credible cross-party expert Commission to examine the issue in depth.