Letter to the Times by Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach, 16 January 2009
Nuclear weapons must not be seen to be vital to the secure defence of self-respecting nations
Sir, Recent speeches made by the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and the previous Defence Secretary, and the letter from Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen and George Robertson in The Times on June 30, 2008, have placed the issue of a world free of nuclear weapons firmly on the public agenda. But it is difficult to see how the United Kingdom can exert any leadership and influence on this issue if we insist on a costly successor to Trident that would not only preserve our own nuclear-power status well into the second half of this century but might actively encourage others to believe that nuclear weapons were still, somehow, vital to the secure defence of self-respecting nations.
This is a fallacy which can best be illustrated by analysis of the British so-called independent deterrent. This force cannot be seen as independent of the United States in any meaningful sense. It relies on the United States for the provision and regular servicing of the D5 missiles. While this country has, in theory, freedom of action over giving the order to fire, it is unthinkable that, because of the catastrophic consequences for guilty and innocent alike, these weapons would ever be launched, or seriously threatened, without the backing and support of the United States.
Should this country ever become subject to some sort of nuclear blackmail — from a terrorist group for example — it must be asked in what way, and against whom, our nuclear weapons could be used, or even threatened, to deter or punish. Nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we currently, or are likely to, face — particularly international terrorism; and the more you analyse them the more unusable they appear.
The much cited “seat at the top table” no longer has the resonance it once did. Political clout derives much more from economic strength. Even major-player status in the international military scene is more likely to find expression through effective, strategically mobile conventional forces, capable of taking out pinpoint targets, than through the possession of unusable nuclear weapons. Our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics. Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall
Michael Evans, Defence Editor, Times Online, 16 January 2009
Three retired military commanders are urging the Government to scrap the plan to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent.
In a letter published in The Times today, they said that Britain’s independent deterrent has become “virtually irrelevant”, and they call on Gordon Brown to spend the money saved on cancelling the Trident replacement by providing more funds for the Armed Forces to meet their current operational commitments.
Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lord Ramsbotham, a former Adjutant-General, and General Sir Hugh Beach, former Master General of the Ordinance, said: “Should this country ever become subject to some sort of nuclear blackmail — from a terrorist group for example — it must be asked in what way, and against whom, our nuclear weapons could be used, or even threatened, to deter or punish.”
The Government has announced that it is prepared to spend up to £20 billion on replacing the current four submarines that carry the Trident ballistic missile deterrent. An upgraded Trident missile is also to be purchased from the Americans.
The three retired military chiefs said that in the current economic climate it may prove impossible to pay for both a new Trident force and the existing overseas operational commitments.
Michael Evans, Defence Editor, Times Online, 16 January 2009
The appeal by three retired military chiefs for the Government to scrap the £20 billion programme to replace the Trident nuclear deterrent has come at an awkward time for the Ministry of Defence.
Only last month the MoD announced a delay in the construction of the Royal Navy’s two £3.9 billion 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers and the Army’s £16 billion programme to provide a new generation of armoured vehicles called Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). Why were they delayed? Because there is simply not enough money in the budget to pay for them. Pushing the timetable to the right was the MoD’s only option other than scrapping the projects.
The total combined cost of the carriers and the FRES vehicles is equivalent to the price tag for building four nuclear-powered ballistic-missile-carrying submarines to replace the current four Vanguard class boats, and purchasing updated versions of Trident from the Americans.
So, are the three retired chiefs who wrote a letter to The Times, right when they say that Britain’s independent deterrent no longer has any value, or, as they put it, is “virtually irrelevant”, and that the money allocated for replacing Trident should be spent on funding the frontline commitments of the Armed Forces. Perhaps, as ex-Army chiefs, they have FRES in mind.
It is true that in this post-Cold War era, it is more difficult to argue categorically that Britain still needs an independent nuclear deterrent. Field Marshal Lord Bramall, a doughty warrior if there ever was one, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach, claim that there is no scenario in which this country would be in a position to punish or deter an enemy with nuclear weapons. If the nuclear threat is coming from a terrorist organisation where do you aim your Trident missile?
While the argument is both logical and reasonable, it would be a brave Government who decided that the world had changed so dramatically since the Cold War that nuclear weapons no longer had a role to play in the protection of this country.
Although the threat was so much more predictable and real during the period when the Soviet Union was seen to be the West’s most dangerous enemy, today the threats are multi-faceted and if a country such as Iran becomes a nuclear weapon state, and this leads to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a British Government without the insurance policy of having a minimum but credible deterrent might feel somewhat vulnerable.
This does not mean that the three retired chiefs are either wrong or misguided. They hold a perfectly legitimate view. But in the current security climate, it’s understandable that the Government, and probably the next Government, whoever wins the election, will be unwilling to take the risk of cancelling the Trident replacement programme.
The MoD argues by way of response to the three retired chiefs that the nuclear deterrent is not being funded at the expense of the conventional capabilities required by the Armed Forces. This is a statement that the MoD will have to justify over the next 13 years as the new submarines are designed and built for the proposed in-service date of 2022.
Trident, Heathrow, Obama, Iraq: if you think things will go wrong, don't wait until you are out the loop before you say so
Matthew Parris, The Times, 17 January 2009
Two cheers this week for two generals (retd) and one field marshal (retd), and their joint letter to The Times. Two cheers for every brave soul (retd) who, from the sidelines, reviews the game in which they were once players, and voices the doubts that have long troubled them. To Field Marshal Lord Bramall and Generals Lord Ramsbotham and Sir Hugh Beach, and their letter about replacing the Trident missile system in yesterday's Times, in a moment...
But before continuing I must be fair to Lords Bramall and Ramsbotham, and Sir Hugh. Yesterday's letter to The Times was certainly not the first time that these retired military men have set out their opposition to the Trident replacement programme. They have been brave.
But their letter, written from the cover of retirement, is the visible part of an iceberg. Submerged, and still serving within the Armed Forces, are scores of silent experts and silent military leaders among whom the doubts expressed in the Times letter are widely shared, and have been for years...
Sabre-rattling and a British nuclear deterrent
Weighing up the use of conventional warfare versus nuclear deterrence
Sir, Should we be surprised when a field marshal and two generals (letter, Jan 16) express their preference for conventional warfare rather than nuclear deterrence?
My father described to me the carnage of the First World War, and explained that its horrors had not prevented 20 million lives being lost by conventional means in Europe after 1939. Fortunately, the nuclear possibility later dissuaded the Soviets from overrunning Europe with tanks.
In 1939, if Germany, Russia, France and Britain had had nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, war would have been avoided and the millions of lives would have been saved. Today it is impossible to have a world free from nuclear weapons; the design of atomic bombs cannot be uninvented, and belligerents can never be trusted not to produce them. A sensible policy would be to devise new premeditated deterrence systems.
Everybody, including terrorists, has targets that they would not countenance being destroyed, and what is needed is a sophisticated choice of responses and targets. Specific automatic responses, bypassing the uncertainties of “failure of human nerve”, could be developed, preferably with full public knowledge and international agreement.
I have no love of sabres; nuclear weapons will minimise casualties.
Sir, The Government must not disregard the letter from such experienced and respected military figures. Their arguments are convincing. Not only has the Government been unable to specify a situation in which nuclear weapons might be used, but any argument that they are needed for ultimate security can be advanced with equal justification by any other nation, such as Iran and North Korea.
World opinion is becoming increasingly antipathetic to the possession of nuclear weapons and the use of force to settle international disputes. International respect can no longer be bought by a parade of nuclear weapons; economic strength and wise statesmanship are more likely to win a place at the top table. Only once, in all the Cabinet debates about nuclear weapons since the start of the Cold War, has the ethical question of their use been mentioned: in the post-Bush era it is likely to become more prominent.
The £20 billion allocated to Trident renewal may not be a large sum in terms of overall defence expenditure, but there has never been a time when financial considerations were more crucial, and reports on better civilian, as well as military, projects for which the money could be better spent appear regularly in the media. Moreover, in technical arguments presented to the Defence Select Committee at the time of the 2007 parliamentary debate on Trident renewal, acknowledged world experts convincingly demonstrated that the lifetime of the current system could — with further financial benefit — be extended. It was also acknowledged as a possibility by the Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence in recent evidence presented to the Public Accounts Committee. Were we to postpone a decision on renewal, we would not only save money, but also create a space in which to assess fundamentally how the UK can best respond to the threats of today’s world rather than of yesterday’s.
John Finney Chair, British Pugwash Group
The latent possibility of nuclear weapons is a vital contribution to global stability and European security
Letters to the Editor, 21 January 2009
Sir, There have always been some nuclear dissenters among senior military officers (letter, Jan 16), even during the Cold War, such as Field Marshal Lord Carver in the early 1980s. Let us hope fervently that we will never use a nuclear weapon, but that latent possibility is a vital contribution to global stability and European security. Trident is an independent deterrent: the UK Government alone holds the launch codes and would decide on its use and the US has no veto.
If we wish to retain US engagement in European security at a time when Washington’s attention is in danger of being diverted elsewhere, it helps if Washington remains confronted with the complication that we retain a nuclear deterrent. It is fantasy to suggest that the small percentage of defence expenditure that Trident represents over its lifetime could address the present mismatch of required capabilities and resources. The UK needs to commit significantly more than the present 2.4 per cent of GDP to defence if we are to retain our role as a front-rank power.
Bernard Jenkin, MP
Sir, As Commander in Chief Fleet, 1985-87, I was the operational commander of our Trident submarines. The case for our independent deterrent remains. We would never use these weapons first but Trident ensures that any country wishing to attack the UK with strategic nuclear weapons will know in advance, with absolute certainty, that in return it will be attacked with similar weapons causing unacceptable damage. This is the point of our nuclear deterrent. We would all prefer to live in a world that is free from strategic nuclear weapons but until such an agreement is reached we need the current protection. Who can forecast with any certainty that in the future we will not be threatened by other powers with strategic nuclear weapons? Trident is not there and never has been to act as a deterrent to threats of a lesser nature. Nor is it there to give us a seat at the top table.
The operation of the UK’s Trident force is independent of the US. For many weapons, including Trident, we rely on other countries for the supply of some parts, but once Trident missiles are deployed we have independent control. That has always been the case. Like all weapons Trident is expensive to renew but the proportion of the defence budget taken by the running costs is small.
Of course, we need to fund the Armed Forces for the commitments currently laid upon them. This is no reason for sacrificing the vital long-term security provided by an independent deterrent.
Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt
Sir, So far, on these pages at least, no mention has been made of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Article VI of which arguably imposes only a vague obligation on all NPT signatories to move in the general direction of nuclear and total disarmament. But many states believe that Article VI constitutes a formal and specific obligation on the NPT-recognised nuclear-weapon states to disarm.
Should not Britain approach France with the proposal that, together, we should gain credit worldwide by breaking the log-jam of Article VI?
Rear-Admiral Guy Liardet
Source: The Times, www.timesonline.co.uk.