Our response to the government’s Modernising Defence Programme update

Last Thursday the government unveiled the headline conclusions of its Modernising Defence Programme, a review of Britain’s defence requirements that began in January 2018.

Warfare has changed

In an update to Parliament, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson stated ‘the character of warfare had changed since 2015’ and that ‘risks to national security have diversified and become more complex’.

He referred to the following security threats

  • State-based competition and confrontation
  • Violent extremism and terrorism
  • Instability and crises in Africa and Asia
  • Migration
  • Serious and organised crime
  • Climate change and environmental disasters
  • Pandemics
  • Demographic change
  • Increasing urbanisation
  • Resource and environmental pressures

He made a single, cryptic reference to a nuclear threat.

“We will also strengthen our equipment, training and facilities, like the investment we are making in a Chemical Weapons Defence Centre to counter Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear threats like we saw in Salisbury and Amesbury.”

Gavin Williamson, Modernising Defence Programme update to Parliament, 19th July 2018

In tying a nuclear threat to the incidents at Salisbury and Amesbury, his update envisages some sort of radiological attack, perhaps a terrorist organisation employing a dirty bomb.

This is precisely the sort of security threat where the ‘deterrence myth’ can’t begin to be applied. Nuclear weapons do not deter terror attacks, and they demonstrably don’t deter the type of incidents we’ve seen in Salisbury or Amesbury.

It’s telling that so much of the update is devoted to the ‘information age’, cyber threats, and emerging technologies. This is clearly what the government thinks are the growing threats and why nuclear threats aren’t examined.

So why is the government replacing Trident?

The explanation for replacing Trident comes at the end of Gavin Williamson’s speech.

“We will continue to meet our commitment to our partners and maintain a full spectrum of nuclear, conventional and cyber capabilities to match our global ambition.”

Trident isn’t a response to the security threats the people of Britain face. It’s a status symbol that projects the kind of 21st century Britain our government wants to see. ‘Global ambition’ harks back to the British empire. In this framework, Trident is like an expensive drug that gives rise to delusions of grandeur.

This has got to stop. It’s time for the government to base defence policy on real threats, not anachronistic thinking.

It’s time for the government to cancel Trident replacement now.