Sunday, August 15, 2010

Who Will Pay for Britain's Nuclear Deterrent?

British Tories in accounting quarrel over nuclear subs

With the Cold War now over for more than twenty years, some would expect that the debate over nuclear submaries would be question whether such weapons are needed at all.

In Britain, however, under their Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government, this is not the question. Rather, the question regarding the Trident II submarine -- the model of nuclear sub being developed to replace Britain's fleet of Trident Submaries -- is how they will be budgeted.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has declared that they will be budgeted for out of the Ministry of Defence's existing budget. Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for Defence, wants a budget exemption for the Trident II, and wants the project to be funded from another part of the budget.

In a move that has created friction with Osborne, Fox has made discussion of the matter quite public.

"Ultimately, all our defence capabilities have to be paid for," Fox announced. "Which bits are paid, over what timescale, is part of the discussions we are having and I'm not going to entertain them in public. I have enough time entertaining them in private."

"The Trident costs, I have made it absolutely clear, are part of the defence budget," Osborne later responded. "All budgets have pressure. I don't think there's anything particularly unique about the Ministry of Defence."

The Ministry of Defence is alreay responding to their budgetary pressures in a manner that may leave some Britons feeling uncomfortable. The British armed services will sed up to 16,000 personell. The air force is expected to be particularly hard hit by reductions.

Britain's fleet of helicopters -- crucial at a time when Britain remains engaged in the war in Afghanistan -- may be cut by up to 20%.

Fox likely would not have to make as many hard decisions if he receives his sought-after budget exemption for the Trident II.

Despite the push to negotiate a nuclear arms reduction treaty between the United States and Russia, some may argue that the Trident II is not necessary at all. In a perfect world, they would not be mistaken.

But the world is not perfect, and they are mistaken. With Iran seemingly continuing its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and with North Korea threatening nuclear responses to joint US/South Korean naval exercises, the end of the Cold War has not yet resulted in an alleviation of nuclear tensions.

Then there is the matter of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal.

Right now, the global situation regarding nuclear weapons is as tense as it has been in 20 years. There seems to be little reason to expect that the situation will reverse itself anytime soon.

Accordingly, the British Conservatives need to stop fighting over how the Trident II will be paid for, and need to get on with securing Britain's nuclear deterrent for a coming time when it may be desperately needed once again.

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