Cost of Trident questioned as retired general casts doubt on arguments for UK nuclear weapons

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  By Sean Martin
 
A retired British Army general and defence policy researcher has told Westminster’s Defence Select Committee that he harbours deep reservations over the usefulness of renewing the Trident nuclear weapons programme.
 
Sir Hugh Beach, who served as Deputy Commander-in-Chief UK Land Forces and Master-General of the Ordnance, submitted written evidence to the committee earlier this week.  The 90-year-old said the main arguments for keeping nuclear weapons in the UK – to act as a deterrent and allow the country the ability to oppose acts of blackmail and aggression by nuclear-armed states – did not hold true.

Beach said the ‘most obvious point’ for the discontinuation of Trident was that 185 of the 190 states party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had committed to permanent non-nuclear weapon status.  He put forward that “the countries of NATO together with Japan and Korea undoubtedly shelter under the American nuclear umbrella” and concluded that if it was good enough for those countries, then it should also be good enough for the UK.

His comments come shortly after a report on Trident by the Nuclear Education Trust (NET) concluded that there was ‘no current or foreseeable threat and no military use’ for the weapons.  It also said there was now an ‘urgent need for a wider and more informed public and Parliamentary debate’ over the issue, specifically the mounting questions over whether or not the presence of Trident does actually contribute to the UK’s security.

Beach insisted that it was impossible to state any direct benefits Britain has gained from having possession of nuclear weapons, adding that without them the country would be able to rely on “adroit diplomacy coupled with a determination to call the bluff of any would-be blackmailer”.

“In no other area of military procurement is the justification of a general insurance against the unforeseen accepted,” Beach wrote to the committee.  “Nor is this policy cost free, financially or militarily, since the country is faced with having to decide by 2016 whether to spend billions of pounds on acquiring the next generation of Trident, at a time when the defence budget is under exceptional strain and cuts are being made all round.”

The SNP welcomed both the written submission from Beach and the recent NET study, with Westminster leader and defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, commenting that both support the view that Trident “is a totally redundant, useless weapon”.

“Westminster simply refuses to abandon Trident – that is clear, whoever is in power,” said Robertson.  “If Defence Secretary Philip Hammond gets his way the new generation of Trident will be dumped on the Clyde just an hour from our biggest population centre.”

He added: “A Yes vote might help to hasten its demise altogether, as well as removing it from Scotland.  The churches, trade unions, civic society and a majority of Scotland’s elected representatives want rid of it.  There is absolutely no justification for continuing with this nuclear madness – and General Sir Hugh Beach’s evidence adds more weight to the campaign against renewing it.”