Comparing policies 2015: Where do the parties stand on nuclear weapons?

Part of a series which compares how the main Westminster parties approach particular issues ahead of May’s election.

The UK currently has four nuclear submarines capable of firing thermonuclear missiles. First built in the 80’s to deter any Soviet aggression, the Trident programme costs around £2.4 billion of taxpayer’s money each year in basic maintenance, but nuclear arsenals like are not self-sustaining weapons and require an occasional update. Current estimates project that over the next ten to thirty years, around £100 billion will need to be spent upgrading and maintaining the Trident programme in order for it to remain effective.

Anti-nuclear activists claim that scrapping Trident would make the world a safer place, and could provide money for vital public services like schools and hospitals, but supporters of the programme consider it an essential part of the UK’s defense system in a dangerous world.

The Conservative PartyThe Tories consider nuclear weapons to be the UK’s “last line of defense” in “an uncertain world”, and Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to a full replacement of the Trident system at the estimated cost of £100 billion. [Source] [Source]

From the manifesto:

  • “We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our safety and build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines” (pg. 77)

Progressive-o-meter rating: 0.

The Labour PartyLabour MPs recently shunned a Parliamentary debate about replacing Trident, and the party has rebuffed claims that it’s reached a deal with the SNP over abolishing Trident as part of a coalition agreement. [Source] [Source]

Labour leader Ed Miliband has stated that he wants the “least-cost nuclear deterrent” possible, but has ruled out total disarmament of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme. [Source]

From the manifesto:

  • “Labour remains committed to a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent. We will actively work to increase momentum on global multilateral disarmament efforts and negotiations, and look at further reductions in global stockpiles and the number of weapons” (pg. 78)

Progressive-o-meter rating: 4.

The Liberal DemocratsThe Lib Dems refer to Trident as an “out-dated and expensive” deterrent, and do not want to spend the estimated £100 billion to update them. Instead, the Lib Dems wish to replace the on-patrol submarines with a dormant system that is only activated if a threat is detected. This involves decreasing the number of nuclear submarines. [Source] [Source]

From the manifesto:

  • “[We will] remain fully engaged in international nuclear disarmament efforts. [We will] step down the nuclear ladder by procuring fewer Vanguard successor submarines and moving from continuous at sea deterrence to a contingency posture of regular patrols, enabling a surge to armed patrols when the international security context makes this appropriate. This would help us to fulfil our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments and reduce the UK nuclear warhead stockpile” (pg. 146)

Progressive-o-meter rating: 4.

The UK Independence Party: In 2013, UKIP called for the complete dismantlement of the Trident programme, replacing it with ground-based, sea-based, and underground nuclear missiles for an estimated cost of £5 billion. The party has since performed a U-turn and now fully supports spending the £100 billion to update Trident. [Source] [Source]

From the manifesto:

  • “UKIP does not believe now is the time to be talking about or proposing nuclear disarmament and we support Trident renewal” (pg. 65)

Progressive-o-meter rating: 0.

The Green PartyThe Greens are vehemently opposed to the use of nuclear weapons, and would decommission the Trident programme altogether. The Greens would also demand an end to American military bases on British soil which store nuclear weapons. [Source (PD406/07)]

The Greens would also halt all further research into nuclear technology, and ban any ship carrying nuclear weapons from entering a UK port. The party would then declare the UK a non-nuclear state and open up the country to international inspection agencies. [Source (PD410)]

From the manifesto:

  • “[We will] save a massive £100 billion over the next thirty years by cancelling Trident replacement and decommissioning existing nuclear forces and facilities” (pg. 70)
  • “[We will join] negotiations on a universally applicable nuclear abolition treaty to prohibit the use, deployment, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons” (pg. 70)

Progressive-o-meter rating: 9.


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