Comments today from the Ministry of Defence’s National Security Advisor, Mark Sedwill, indicate that the cost of renewing Britain’s nuclear defence system, Trident, is going to take either some fancy accounting, cuts to other vital defence services, or yet another raid on the Tory magic money tree.
Trident renewal is estimated to cost £41bn – £31bn for the programme and £10bn in reserves for ‘snagging’.
However, activists from The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), estimate the real cost of renewal, taking into account the cost of decommissioning the old fleet, to be around the £200bn mark.
With the Ministry Of Defence’s annual budget set at around £36bn, the cost of renewing Trident is going to eclipse its coffers, leaving no room for all the other aspects of its required expenditure, and will almost certainly lead to further cuts to vital public services to pay for it.
In a country bedridden by austerity, and suffering the fallout of cuts to services and a budget increasingly like a corset around its waist, it is likely that the DUP magic money tree will once again have to be harvested.
Mark Sedwill is currently carrying out a review of the UK’s security services and their joint £56bn budget, which is split across the intelligence agencies, the police and the military (with its £36bn apportionment).
He has suggested that the cost of renewing Trident could be shifted to the Treasury budget. In essence, to continue funding an outdated mode of defence, the Government is considering engaging in shifty bookkeeping.
CND chair Dave Webb said in a statement:
Where precisely will £205 billion or more, the full cost of Trident replacement, be found outside of the MoD budget?
The government has repeatedly said it hasn’t got billions laying about so, for lack of a magic money tree, this can mean only one thing: further cuts to schools, hospitals or other areas of social spending. There are growing numbers of MPs concerned about the impact of Trident spending on conventional weaponry and defense
Whether it is the Treasury’s or the MOD’s wallet that has to be opened to fund Trident has been a subject of contention between the departments for some time now.
Sedwill also alluded to a cross-party Parliamentary National Security Strategy Committee that the £56bn spent annually on security could be redistributed. This sounds suspiciously like a proposition of cuts to other areas of the UK’s defence apparatus.
If neither of these options are taken, then it seem that the magic money tree will have to be tapped. Indeed, it is ripe to be, since funding for Trident is necessary to stop a backbench Tory rebellion. Anything is worth doing if it holds together the strands of this ‘Government’.
Of all the threats that have faced this country in recent history, there are none in which the Trident nuclear deterrent could, by its very nature, save us.
Nevertheless, the behemoth metal whales of rivets and hydrogen continue to scour the craggy depths amongst the plankton and anglerfish.
It is there as our defence in the event that there is nothing to defend, so that once the brave men and women aboard have loosed their missiles upon a burning world and once more surface, they can look upon a barren, empty vista.
In an age before drones, car bombings, infrastructure networks that can be brought down with a line of code, international espionage, climate change and wars fought by soldiers who don’t wear uniforms, Britain ruled the waves.
Now, Britannia’s Trident should be a metaphor. Instead it’s an unsustainable vanity project.
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