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Former UN Undersecretary General for Disarmament Affairs
January 28, 2004
Trident: Alternatives and potential cost cutting?
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Arms Control NOW

Are there viable alternatives?

By ACA Intern Daniel Salisbury

The costs of the British Trident nuclear deterrent have emerged as an issue in British politics; with HM Treasury looking to cut costs and the Ministry of Defence insisting that cuts are unnecessary. While the current plan for a "like-for-like" renewal of the system was passed in 2007, the British government could choose to make more aggressive cuts to the program. Two pieces highlight the range of options facing the British government.

In "Continuous at-Sea Deterrence: Costs and Alternatives," Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute presents four alternatives to the current renewal plans. These options represent incremental shifts from the status quo, and do not radically reconsider the purpose of, or need for, the British nuclear deterrent.

  1. Reduce to three the number of nuclear missile submarines, while essentially maintaining CASD.
  2. Remove the "constant" requirement, while retaining the capability to deploy submarines for extended periods if needed.
  3. Switch to a dual-role (SSBN/SSN) submarine force, thus reducing the total number of submarines.
  4. Move to a "non-deployed strategic force."

Rebecca Johnson, on the other hand, considered a wider spectrum of more radical options in her April 2006 Arms Control Today article penned prior to Parliament's vote to renew the system. In "End of a Nuclear Weapons Era: Can Britain Make History?" she presented four options of her own.

  1. A like-for-like replacement of Trident.
  2. Extending the life of Trident past the 2019 – 2026 planned decommissioning period.
  3. A brand new capability – possibly tactical and delivered on Submarine-based cruise missiles, delivery by air, or possibly a movement to a more joint European capability (all less likely to be accepted she acknowledges.)
  4. Using the next 15 years to manage the transition to a nuclear-free defense and security policy (deliberately omitted as an option by the government at the time.)

Did Britain make history? No it seems, at least not for now. The renewal of Trident and maintenance of Britain's nuclear deterrent look like it is a near certainty in the immediate future. However, we can hope that all options are assessed when Trident is considered under budget constraints in the next few months.