by Daphne Liddle
PRIME Minister Gordon Brown is set to announce a reduction in the number of submarines in the Trident replacement nuclear weapons system this Thursday, 24th September, at a United Nations Security Council non-proliferation conference hosted by Barack Obama in New York.
Brown will say that he plans to build three, not four of the nuclear submarines, saving billions.
This follows announcements earlier in the week by Obama that he has dropped plans, formulated under the Bush government, for a nuclear weapons shield in Poland. Obama has also ordered officials to look at cutting the stockpile from 2,100 warheads to a figure in the hundreds.
Britain has already reduced the overall explosive power of its nuclear arsenal by 75 per cent since the cold war.
The news was welcomed by peace campaigners, who urged the complete scrapping of the whole Trident replacement weapons system.
Kate Hudson, who chairs the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “We welcome this move by the Government. A reduction in the planned system is a serious and positive first step towards the scrapping of both the current Trident nuclear weapons system and its replacement.
“This will support the current global initiatives towards the elimination of all nuclear weapons, led by President Obama and backed by leaders and nations around the world.
“But the cuts cannot stop here. Opinion polls are consistently showing a majority of the public oppose Trident replacement. People rightly question spending in excess of £76 billion on a system that retired generals describe as militarily useless and which does nothing to protect against current threats to our security. Why cut public services when you can cut useless weapons of mass destruction?
“But cost is not the only issue: the reality is that if the nuclear weapons states maintain and rearm their nuclear weapons, this will encourage other states. By failing to disarm, we encourage proliferation and put ourselves — and the whole world — at greater risk. The Government has understood this, and has taken a step in the right direction. But the disarmament process cannot stop here — the Government must press ahead courageously and scrap Trident.”
Some Labour MPs, including Cabinet Ministers, have been disappointed that Brown is not willing to abandon the British deterrent altogether, and will press for some movement on reducing warheads.
In a speech to the UN general assembly Brown said it is time for “statesmanship, not brinkmanship” on nuclear disarmament if the ambition to create a nuclear-free world is genuine.
The move is understood not to be conditional on major new disarmament offers by other nuclear states.
Final decisions on the Trident contract probably do not need to be made until 2012, with the fleet becoming operational in 2025. This means that a future Tory government could reverse Brown’s decision.
British officials travelling with the Prime Minister said the decision was not necessarily the last disarmament offer to be made by Brown ahead of the general election, but this comes just before Labour’s annual conference.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said: “I really do welcome that finally the dam has burst on this. I have been saying for months it is just unrealistic for us to believe that we can foot the £100 billion like-for-like replacement cost for Trident over the next 25 years. I think the strategic context in which that decision is taking place is very different.”
Greenpeace said in a detailed study published last week that cutting Trident altogether would save a lot more that expected.
A report drawn up by the pressure group says replacing Trident would cost about £34 billion, at least twice what the Government estimates.
Greenpeace says the Government’s figures exclude additional costs, such as VAT, exchange rate fluctuations or the price of renewing some new missiles.
It also prices the lifetime running costs of Trident at around £63 billion, which it says is money that could be saved over the next 30 years.
Greenpeace’s executive director John Sauven described the expense as “quite simply astronomical”.
He added: “These new figures have been revealed at a time when many defence experts are raising serious questions over the system’s strategic value, while the need to cut Government spending is obvious to everyone.
“Any government which renews Trident would be wasting £100 billion and a rare and precious opportunity to make the world a safer place, just as the Obama administration is making real progress on multilateral disarmament. It doesn’t make sense on any level.”