The BASIC Trident Commission was launched in Parliament on February 9. The evening demonstrated the Commission’s promise to be the most important initiative on nuclear weapons policy in 2011.
To see a short film of the Launch Event click here
Several speakers pointed to its fortuitous timing and approach – to create a considered space to have a genuine and highly informed rethink. In introducing the meeting, Paul Ingram, BASIC’s Executive Director, said that the government’s recent decision to delay the start of construction for the new submarines until 2016, after the next election, guaranteed that this would be an election issue and that parties would need to be reconsidering their positions in the next few years prior to writing their manifestos.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind identified three key questions for the Commission: is there a need for a deterrent today; if so, is Trident the best solution; if so, can its structure and operational posture be modified in helpful ways? He also said that whilst all members of the Commission inevitably came to such an issue with established viewpoints, they were all open to change; indeed he said that his own view had shifted a great deal over the last five years in response to international changes.
James Blitz of the FT pointed out that recent experience demonstrated that it was important for defence projects to be closely scrutinised at an early point, and highlighted two questions: how do the costs of Trident weigh on overall defence spending? and what scope was there for moving away from continuous-at-sea deterrence (CASD)?
Lord Hannay roundly welcomed the Commission, giving his understanding of the international dimension, and the difficulties demanding proactive action to reduce the dangers from nuclear weapons.
Sir Menzies Campbell commented that the Commission could represent a unique opportunity to set the agenda, and identified his key issues for the Commission as: CASD; finances; alternatives; and industrial/scientific issues.
Lord Browne hoped that the Commission’s process would engage a broad cross-section of the public, and criticised the government for excluding Trident from the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010.
Lord Guthrie (Commission member and former Chief of Defence Staff) asked what it was we had to give up to retain Trident, and whether there were not cheaper forms of deterrent, given Pakistan’s ability to keep everyone guessing with a far less sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
John Duncan (UK Ambassador for Disarmament) pointed out the need to ensure that states’ initiatives took appropriate account of the international context, and that there was a need to consider multilateral disarmament moves on the part of all nuclear weapon states, a point picked up by Des Browne in saying that the United Kingdom could not and should not avoid the multilateral disarmament process.
Prof Alyson Bailes (Commission member and former Foreign Office Policy head) agreed on the need to consider the impact of its approach on others, pointing out that no matter what one’s final position on disarmament is, there are a range of options for the Commission to consider.
Lord Rees (Commission member and recent President of Royal Society) claimed that there was a lack of expert involvement in the public debate (when compared to the United States), and hoped the Commission would in some way improve on that situation.
Minister of State for the Armed Forces Nick Harvey attended the launch, strongly welcoming the establishment of the Commission. He too observed that there was a tendency in these decisions to neglect important options, and to decide on insufficient information, and hoped that the Commission would encourage officials to go deeper in some neglected areas. His remarks were reported by the Guardian later that evening.
Using the Question Time format, audience members were invited to submit questions on the United Kingdom’s nuclear weapons posture and plans. Anita Anand, presenter on Radio 4 and 5, was the Chair. The panelists were:
- Baroness Shirley Williams
- Dr. Julian Lewis, MP
- Sir David Omand, former senior official, Ministry of Defence
- Tim Hare, former director, nuclear policy, Ministry of Defence
- Prof. Michael Clarke, RUSI
The meeting was sponsored by Lord Browne of Ladyton, co-Chair of the Trident Commission alongside Sir Malcolm Rifkind, MP and Sir Menzies Campbell, MP. It was held in the Palace of Westminster.
For the full event summary, please click here.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Security and Non-Proliferation featured the Trident Commission’s work in an event entitled ‘The Trident Commission: work in progress’. Authors of the Trident Commission’s second and third briefing reports, Professor Keith Hartley and Bruno Tertrais, were there to discuss their publications alongside of Trident Commission co-chair, Lord Browne of Ladyton who explained the progress of the Commission’s work to date.