Prime Minister David Cameron warned against any move to abandon the U.K.’s submarine-based nuclear weapons, citing a growing threat from North Korea and Iran as his Liberal Democrat coalition partners consider scaling back the missile program.
“We have an independent nuclear deterrent in our country, the Trident submarines, and soon we are going to have to make the decision about whether to replace it on a proper, like-for-like basis and I strongly believe we should,” Cameron told defense-industry workers in Scotland today. “The world we live in is very uncertain, very dangerous. There are nuclear states and one cannot be sure about how they will develop. To me having that nuclear deterrent is quite simply the best insurance policy that you can have that you will never be subject to nuclear blackmail.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats are coming to the end of their examination of the alternatives to Trident in order to save money and regain supporters dismayed at the party’s alliance with the Tories. Possible conclusions to the review, which may be included in the party’s 2015 election manifesto, include sending nuclear-armed submarines out on patrol only 100 days a year instead of full-time.
The two parties have already clashed over the replacement of Trident. On Nov. 1, Conservative Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said an upgrade would be cheaper than alternatives being examined by the Liberal Democrats.
Cameron was in Scotland to emphasize the job benefits of the defense industry before a vote next fall on whether the nation should become independent from the rest of Britain. Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, is heading the campaign for independence.
“There are arguments of the heart and arguments of the head,” Cameron said. “I believe the case for the United Kingdom can win on both. The Scottish nationalists believe they have the advantage when it comes to the heart -- ‘Braveheart’ and all of that,” the premier said, referring to the 1995 Mel Gibson movie in which the Scots fight for independence from England.
Cameron said Scotland has much in common with the rest of the U.K., citing the defeat of fascism, the state-run health service, art, business and the British Broadcasting Corp.
“I think in arguments of the head when we look at issues like jobs, like finance, like stability, I think arguments of the head are even stronger in the direction of maintaining the United Kingdom,” he said.
Earlier the premier welcomed home a submarine crew from their 100th patrol and visited crew from HMS Victorious, one of the Royal Navy’s Vanguard-class submarines. He told workers the defense sector employs 12,600 people in Scotland, amounting to about 0.5 percent of the working population.
Other possible alternatives to Trident being looked at by the Liberal Democrats include using existing Astute-class submarines to carry missiles, rather than replacing the four Vanguard submarines, or an air-based nuclear deterrent.
“We do accept the case for a nuclear deterrent and we are not in favor of unilateral disarmament,” Liberal Democrat lawmaker Malcolm Bruce was cited as saying by the Independent newspaper today. “We are saying we shouldn’t replace Trident on a like-for-like basis but we are looking at alternative nuclear deterrents once Trident has passed its sell-by date.”
Bruce said that many people in the defense ministry and the armed forces would be concerned if other spending “was prejudiced by a very heavy commitment to a budget for replacement of a nuclear deterrent which by definition is not used, as opposed to weaponry which they need.”
Cameron insisted the defense ministry would have to find further savings from its budget, amid protests from Defense Secretary Philip Hammond that any further cuts would affect troop numbers.
“Defense can’t be exempt altogether from difficult decisions,” Cameron said. Government departments have been asked to find 10 percent further savings for the fiscal year 2015-16, though that figure is around 5 percent for the defense ministry as equipment spending, which will rise 1 percent, equates to just under half of its budget.