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UK Strategic Defense and Security Review Avoids the Main Strategic Question

Arms Control NOW

HMS Vanguard, one of four Royal Navy SSBN vessels

By ACA intern Daniel Salisbury

The U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been ruffling feathers in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in recent weeks. He has ruled that Trident, the U.K. nuclear deterrent, will now be paid for by the MoD and not a special Treasury fund. This is putting the already strained MoD budget under even more pressure. The Financial Times reports that he made the following comment when questioned during his recent India trip:

"All budgets have pressure. I don't think there's anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defence. I have made it very clear that Trident renewal costs must be taken as part of the defence budget."

This conflicts with the comments of his colleague, Secretary of State for Defence, Dr. Liam Fox. The MoD is under immense budgetary strain with an estimated £36 billion black-hole in the defense budget. Dr. Fox has not only indicated that he is in favor of the previous system for funding Trident – when the MoD paid operating costs, while the Treasury picked up the bill for the much more substantial capital costs – but also that defense expenditures generally should be exempt from any budget cuts.

This change in the funding arrangement and overall economic conditions may lead the British government to ask some important questions. The post-election Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) is already underway in Whitehall. Prior to the election in May, Dr. Fox had indicated that Trident would not be included in the SDSR, but that its "value for money" would be considered. It is still not clear whether this consideration will take place within the SDSR or outside it.

There is a clear case for the inclusion of this strategic weapons system in this strategic defense review. Not only do the Chancellors changes in the funding situation and the MoD shortfall point in this direction. The strategic debate needs to focus on Britain's future role in the world. It needs to consider the strategic ends and hence the means which will be required to reach these ends.

Other factors are also pushing in favor of Tridents inclusion in the SDSR. A June 2009 Guardian poll revealed that 54% of Britons would like to see the end of Trident and other nuclear weapons, senior British generals have come out against the utility of the system, and the Liberal Democrats, now part of the governing coalition, have constantly been pushing for alternatives to be discussed. Now is a better time than ever to instigate a balanced and lively debate over the future of Trident. Let's hope that the SDSR considers this strategic weapons system.