Oxford Research Group jointly hosted an expert debate entitled Trident: Arguments for, against and alternatives with the How To: Academy, at the Tabernacle in West London on 26 November. This fascinating and well-attended event brought together a diverse range of opinions on the proposed renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system both from experts and an interested public.
Among those speaking were ORG's Professor Paul Rogers, as well as former Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Scottish National Party spokesperson John Nicolson MP, and Dr Patricia Lewis, Research Director, International Security at Chatham House. The event was moderated by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA and former Chief Advisor on Political Strategy to Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The timing of the debate was particularly salient given the release of the government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) just three days earlier, which confirmed the government’s intention to renew Trident while barely engaging with arguments for or against it. The SDSR increased the estimated cost of constructing a submarine-based nuclear weapons system to replace Trident from £26 billion to between £31 and £41 billion.
Sir Malcolm laid out the arguments in favour of renewal, with particular reference to Putin and the new Cold War, leading John Nicolson to draw distinctions between the approach and reasoning behind historic Cold War nuclear weapons programmes and current and future requirements. Dr Lewis made a point of highlighting the thirteen instances of near use of nuclear weapons since 1962, brought about by breakdowns in communication and technical malfunctions, and the necessity in those instances of over-riding established procedures in order to avoid nuclear war.
The question of nuclear weapons as a deterrent was also discussed in the light of the attacks in Paris, two weeks earlier. A final show of hands revealed the audience more against the renewal of Trident than in favour.
ORG will continue to engage with the debate over the renewal of Trident in advance of the parliamentary ‘main gate’ decision on procurement, now confirmed for 2016, the Scottish elections due in May, and the concurrent Labour Party defence policy review.