§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
rose to call attention to the case against Trident; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, as some of your Lordships will be aware, I am a nuclear disarmer. However, you do not have to be a nuclear disarmer to be opposed to Trident. There are an increasing number of people, including distinguished military figures and other people equally distinguished in other walks of life, who, although they may not accept the nuclear disarmament argument, are nevertheless of the opinion that to proceed with Trident at this time is a complete nonsense. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who cannot be here this evening, asked, "What the hell is it for?"
Although there are now said to be anti-Trident voices in influential quarters, the Cabinet decision has been to argue that the break up of the USSR makes it certainly no less necessary. Indeed, I have even heard a voice in the other place suggest that it is even more necessary to proceed with, to maintain and to complete Trident. That view is not supported elsewhere and it is not easy to sustain if one examines exactly what Trident is and what it can do. Perhaps that is why, instead of dilating the power of Trident, government spokesmen tend to ignore and, indeed, to minimise it.
In a letter which the noble Earl, Lord Arran, was kind enough to write to me quite recently, he assured me that each Trident boat would carry no more than 128 warheads compared with Polaris which carries 48. As each Trident warhead can be independently targeted, that gives the four boats a potential of 512 targets. Why are we so vastly increasing the 599 destructive capability of our strategic nuclear deterrent at a time when the main ballistic missile holders are making drastic cuts under the START agreement. We are moving against the world tide in this matter and I have not yet heard a single argument which suggests to me that we are right to do so.
The Government are cagey about the destructive power of each Trident warhead but as the America D5, on which it is based, can have a maximum yield of 475 kilotons, we can assume that, even if we had only one boat, one missile and one warhead, the destructive capability would be equal to that of 36 Hiroshima bombs. That means that a single Trident submarine can carry a destructive power equal to 4,608 Hiroshima bombs. Let us think what that means.
Perhaps I should say that, since that calculation, I have noted that a source which I respect says the figure should not be greater than 3,000 times that of the Hiroshima bomb. That is because destructive power increases at a rather lower rate than the comparable kilotonnage. Be that as it may, the very existence of such a weapon is an obscene blot on the face of mankind and it could not be used without threatening civilisation itself.
The officer who presses the button might not only be committing his own suicide but also that of humanity. I say "might" because I am not among those, although they include some weighty scientific figures, who believe that nuclear war would spell the end of life on earth. Neither do I believe that the end would be sudden. However, I question whether human life would be worth living after a nuclear exchange and, indeed, some authoritative environmentalists fear that it is unlikely that our species would be among those able to adapt and survive the consequences of a nuclear exchange of a massive type.
Perhaps it is not entirely surprising that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, asked, "What the hell is Trident for?" The danger of possessing a weapon which cannot be used to the extent of its power, if it can be used at all, is that in extremis or by one of the inevitable misunderstandings of war, it might be used. Why are we preparing that enormous increase in our nuclear firepower, which Mr. King calls "minimal" presumably to prevent himself from thinking about what he is actually advocating? I am not surprised at that. It is terrible to contemplate the effect of a single D5 explosion in central Moscow. The fireball would be almost a mile wide. Steel and concrete buildings would be vaporised, as would hundreds of thousands of people, and many more thousands would be buried alive. Around 1½ million people would die from that single missile. No wonder government spokesmen shy away from talking about what they are really talking about.
Do we want Trident to kill Russians? They are our friends now. It just so happens that our strategic nukes are targeted on Moscow and other FSU cities. But let us put that question on one side for the moment. Perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will answer it when he winds up the debate, and perhaps he will not. We shall see.
Why do we want Trident? Is it because the Americans have dropped Polaris and spare parts for it 600 are no longer available? That is true. But why not drop Polaris ourselves? We have plenty of other nukes. Why replace Polaris with this terminable—I said "terminable", I meant to say terminal—monster? Is it because we want to keep our submarine strategic capabilities? Why? Is it because we want to retain the power to destroy the now non-existent Soviet Union single handedly from mobile seaborne bases? Why? We can be almost equally destructive with our airborne nuclear capability. Why should we want to do that? The Russians have already destroyed the Soviet Union themselves. It no longer exists.
Is the answer perhaps that we are so tied to the United States that when they move on to Trident D5 we shall have no option but to do the same if we want to stay in the crazy game? The Americans are showing strong signs of themselves wanting to pull out of the crazy game. Why is this the moment for us to be certain that we should get into it with a degree of strength that is beyond our financial and economic power to carry out without serious damage elsewhere, even to the Royal Navy?
Why? Echo answers, "Why". I read the debates in another place and did not find an answer. Neither has the noble and gallant Lord to whom I have already referred. Poor Tom King, whose performance in the debate last week was almost pathetic, hung on to the words, "nuclear deterrent"—it was not "nuclear deterrent", that is old hat; it was "nuclear defence" —as though by repeating those words he could bring into being what does not exist. There is no effective nuclear defence. Defence is not what Trident is about. It is about creating such a monstrous destructive power that any interceptor missiles which attempted to protect Moscow would be overwhelmed. That is the object of the exercise. I do not know why we have to participate in it. They are probably already useless.
In Trident we would have a weapon which, if a single missile exploded in Red Square, would have the terrible effects upon which I touched. We propose to have 512 of them. No wonder government spokesmen do not care to talk about what Trident really means. Why do we on this island need that power at this time? For a start, the Russians are almost certainly willing to de-target London. Therefore, why do we not offer to de-target Moscow in exchange, instead of upping the ante so colossally on our new friends? Is this the time to do that?
Mr. Yeltsin wants to join NATO. Are members of the club to target each other? Is not that nuclear madness? Surely now all efforts should be directed at reducing and not increasing a destructive power no man and no government are fit to handle. There is no halfway house in the world of nuclear power and nuclear weapons today. We either continue to produce more and more destructive weapons until one day we destroy ourselves, or we follow the pattern set by Argentina and Brazil and support what is essentially the aim of the START agreement; that is, to bring the numbers down at least to a manageable level even though not everyone will go along with me in saying that we can reach a level where all nuclear weapons can be phased out. 601 Of course, I agree entirely with those who say that we cannot destroy the knowledge of them. However, we must be constantly aware that the existence of these weapons in the present size and the present numbers is a constant threat to the entire civilisation, of which we are a not unimportant part.
The Government are attempting to make the matter an election issue. The attempt may well backfire. In any event, for good or ill, the election is likely to be decided by less important considerations.
As I said, to oppose Trident one does not need to be a nuclear disarmer. Trident is simply a gross step in nuclear proliferation. We are all supposed to be in favour of that. I am in favour of getting rid of the spread of nuclear arms at all levels. We are signatories to a treaty which opposes vertical proliferation as firmly as it does the horizontal spread of such weapons. We cannot halt horizontal proliferation while at the same time indulging in massive vertical proliferation. If we do not stop both sorts of proliferation we are done for. That is obvious. If we explain that to people they will understand it, accept it and support it.
The case against Trident can be stated in many other ways. It is fantastically expensive. The cost works out at around £2,000 a minute and the effect of that on the rest of the Royal Navy is well known in this House. Trident is unsafe. The American Drell Report was so alarming that the Government made their own inquiry. What is the result of that? Perhaps the noble Earl will tell us, or perhaps he will not.
At this moment we are in danger. Polaris is well beyond its use-by date and the House of Commons has expressed great anxiety and so on. There is enough for a speech lasting an hour or more. But perhaps the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, asked the unanswerable question, "What the hell is it for?" I believe that there are many people who have never supported nuclear disarmament and who would never join CND but who are ready nevertheless to say to any government that Trident is over the top; that now is the time to draw back from the abyss about which the late Lord Mountbatten warned us years ago. I hope that we shall hear this evening that there are such people in this House. I believe we shall. I beg to move for papers.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I yield to no one in my admiration for the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, regarding his views on this matter. He berates those of us who think differently for not having changed our position, as he sees it, given the change in the world situation. But the truth is that the noble Lord's position has remained totally unchanged almost from the day that nuclear weapons were invented. Indeed, not only has his view remained unchanged but also his speech, if he will forgive me for saying so. His arguments would perhaps begin to carry a little more weight if he could deploy some fresh ones.
The noble Lord referred to a number of distinguished military figures who think, perhaps 602 secretly, as he does. But he is mistaken in suggesting that there is more than one. I can think of only one noble and gallant Lord who remotely supports his view. That is of course the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who is unfortunately not in his place today. To the best of my knowledge there is not another senior military figure in the world who remotely shares the views of the noble and gallant Lord, distinguished though he may be.
The noble Lord also referred to what he sees as the excessive destructive power of the new Trident system. Ministers have repeatedly said that it is not necessary to use the total available destructive power of Trident. Of course decisions have not been taken as to how much of that power will be used and it certainly would not be announced when they are. But the fact is that Trident has the flexibility to enable less than the full destructive power to be deployed or used if that seems necessary at the time. Ministers have certainly undertaken that that will be the case.
Happily today we have in his place the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, who until recently was Chief of the Defence Staff and therefore the Government's principal military adviser on these matters. Therefore, I shall not dilate on the technical issues on which he is infinitely better qualified to speak than I. I doubt very much whether the noble and gallant Lord will agree with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, when the former comes to speak to us in a moment.
The first question that we need to address in any discussion on this matter is whether we want to be a nuclear power at all. I believe very strongly that we do and for two principal reasons. The first is that by being a nuclear power and retaining a nuclear deterrent of our own—I mean of course an independent nuclear power and thus we retain an independent nuclear deterrent—we secure for ourselves above all a most important place in the councils of the world. Above all it means that we are a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. There are only five such permanent members. They are clearly the five most important members of the United Nations. It is only by virtue of our possession of the nuclear deterrent that we find ourselves in that happy position. There are other nations which are bigger than us in commercial and maybe also in political terms who would no doubt claim our place if we did not keep it for ourselves.
Perhaps I may mention again the importance of our being an independent nuclear power. Although it is true to say that our weapons are primarily assigned to NATO for NATO purposes, we have always said that we will retain the right to use our nuclear deterrent for national purposes when—I hope I have the words right—our supreme national interest so requires. Of course so far no such circumstances have ever arisen and I hope that they never do. Neither, for that matter, have we used our nuclear deterrent for NATO purposes. But we need to retain the right in extremis to use it for our supreme national purposes. I am very glad that we do.
That is an important point because throughout his speech the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, kept referring to 603 the D5 system. On this occasion we have chosen to purchase the Trident missile system, but we have not purchased the warheads. We manufacture them for ourselves and therefore the performance of those warheads is quite a separate matter from the performance of any other warheads that may exist elsewhere in the world.
The second reason why we need to be an independent nuclear power is that the effectiveness of a double-headed nuclear deterrent, if I can describe it as such—that is to say, the United States' deterrent on the one hand and ours on the other—is infinitely greater than the effectiveness of a single deterrent on its own. The reason for that is that it puts into the mind of a potential aggressor a much greater degree of complication than would otherwise exist when he is assessing the likelihood of a response should he visit his aggression on us.
For example, it might have been the case that the old Soviet Union had decided that it could attack the United Kingdom with impunity. Under the NATO arrangements an attack on the United Kingdom would have been the same as an attack on any other member of the alliance. It would have certainly resulted in a response from the United States whether or not the Soviet Union had used its weapons on us. By retaining its own separate independent deterrent the United Kingdom has added to the complications and the calculations which a potential aggressor must make. By so doing I believe that we have greatly reduced the likelihood that we should invoke or suffer an aggression launched on us.
If we have decided to be a nuclear power, as we have, and I believe rightly so, the next question is what system we should adopt. There are powerful arguments, which I dare say the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, will deploy, which point inexorably to a submarine-based deterrent, and a submarine-based strategic deterrent at that. That is what we have had for a number of years since the introduction of the Polaris system in the late 1960s.
It is particularly advantageous that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, will be speaking to us because at an earlier point of his career I believe that he was a distinguished pilot of the V-force. At that time our nuclear deterrent was carried by those aircraft. Now we have a submarine-based deterrent which is a good deal more invulnerable than was the air-based deterrent of all those years ago. What is more, we are now moving to the Trident system which your Lordships will appreciate has distinct advantages over the Polaris system, most particularly because of the range of the missile which confers important advantages on the invulnerability of the submarine platform.
Those are the principal points that I wish to make. I hope that the House will support the Government's policy in this matter. I hope that if ever we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, again, it will be with some new arguments rather than a rehash of the old ones.
§ 5.28 pm.
§ Lord Craig of Radley
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, who brings out many important arguments in his speech. Although we are well aware of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, on nuclear issues, I must admit that I was still somewhat taken aback by his remarks today about Trident. He seems to cast Trident in the role of some big Satan which, regardless of all consequences, must be dispensed with and annihilated. Surely it is the people who own and operate nuclear weapons, not just the weapons themselves, whom we should be considering.
I have had about 30 years' experience with nuclear issues in the Armed Forces. In the 1960s, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, mentioned, I captained V-bombers which could have been launched within minutes on a retaliatory mission if ordered to do so. In the 1970s and 1980s I commanded formations of nuclear-equipped aircraft and became closely involved in Whitehall up to Cabinet Committee level, with the many policy issues concerning nuclear forces and with the requirements for new weapons systems, including Trident, and the replacement for the free-fall weapon, WE177.
Throughout those 30 years I saw the highly professional and responsible way all those connected with our nuclear forces have behaved. I have no doubt that we can continue to rely on such sound stewardship.
For me, all of that experience was against a clear-cut and accepted possible threat from the Warsaw Pact forces to the East. But the scene is rapidly changing. What do these changes mean for the philosophy and provision of nuclear forces? Whatever they may mean, there is no question that, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, has himself acknowledged, nuclear weapons can somehow be dis-invented or become an extinct species like the Dodo or dinosaurs. They exist, and all the indications are that more rather than fewer nation states are going to have the potential, if not the actuality, of nuclear forces at their disposal.
Apart from the two atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II, no nuclear weapons have been used. All major nuclear powers to date seem to have come to recognise the principle, the key rationale, for the possession of a nuclear capability. It is to deter any attack, not just a nuclear attack, on their vital interests. All have taken great pains to ensure that control of the movement and operational use of nuclear weapons was held at the highest political level.
As we look to the future, can we be as confident about this aspect of ownership? It seems to me right that it should be given very great importance in all discussion about these weapons and not only with the republics of the former Soviet Union.
So far, nuclear owning powers have deemed it essential to underwrite the deterrent value of their nuclear weapons by requiring the Armed Forces concerned to exercise and practise all the procedures of command and control and operation. Indeed, paradoxically we have felt that the credibility of the 605 deterrent could be suspect without such activity in peacetime. There now seems to be creeping in the concept that third world possessors of these weapons could pose a threat to us or others without being seen to exercise their command and control or operational tactics in peacetime. In other words, we see them as being possible instigators of nuclear warfare rather than possessing nuclear weapons for deterrent purposes, as we do. And armed with long-range missiles the threat of nuclear attack, or blackmail, could be posed against us from afar.
That is, of course, only a very short sketch of a new world order of more prolific ownership of nuclear weapons. But taken with all the many valuable points being made in recent debates, and I expect by other noble Lords here today, it is enough to underline that, far from seeking to surrender our nuclear capability at this time, we should be concentrating on ensuring that it will remain a viable and credible deterrent well into the next century. Moreover, I do not think that it would be wise, as some have argued here and in another place, to seek to protect our vital interests by relying on the nuclear umbrella of another state, even the United States.
For them, as for any other nuclear power, the decision to use their nuclear weapons in the event that their deterrent value has faltered, particularly against another nuclear state, must in the final analysis be driven by a perception of what is the vital national interest at stake. I do not believe that we can expect any long-standing NATO arrangement to safeguard us from every third world type threat. So I believe, in spite of the many changes now happening and no doubt many others yet to surprise us, we would do well to retain—and to replace as necessary—our nuclear weapons to ensure operational viability.
Some argue that in the new scenario the exposure of the submarine's position by firing a single missile while on patrol could be accepted to meet the requirement for a sub-strategic response. But this idea might lead us to another conclusion. If one does not wish to safeguard the position of the operational boat short of firing a full salvo, one does not need to have the assurance that a fourth boat would provide. Three boats would do. In extremis, missiles could be fired from territorial waters, or even alongside.
However, I do not advocate a three boat force. Our continuous deterrent capability could be lost at a stroke if a serious defect were to strike at the submerged or sea-going safety of the few boats available at any one time to the operational cycle. Four boats is the minimum number needed to sustain the required capability for a 25 year or 30 year lifespan.
While it provides the big deterrent stick only if we have a separate nuclear tipped sub-strategic capability as well, does Trident retain its full credibility as our strategic deterrent force? Certain key characteristics for a sub-strategic system have been identified which complement Trident: for example, an alternative carriage and delivery vehicle; different basing and flight profiles; recall and re-targeting after takeoff; and swift response against targets which can be at long 606 range and/or widely separated. All such characteristics add strength and confidence to a deterrent policy. One cannot have half of a deterrent policy and expect it to be credible. That choice would be a ludicrous use of taxpayers' money.
Thus I believe that we need a sub-strategic option. We must retain the flexibility and choice of response which an aerial delivered selectable yield weapon will give. Such a mix gives this country a truly credible potential in an uncertain world.
I hope that any government will continue to sustain a four boat Trident force and an aerial delivered sub-strategic capability. Nuclear deterrence has served the security of these islands well for half a century. Now is not the time to discard it.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, the problem with the Trident programme is that while it had a certain terrible logic when it was initiated to act as a massive deterrent to the Soviet Union, that original purpose has virtually disappeared. There is, of course, a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons in Russia, in the Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan, but no one seriously suggests that any of those republics is remotely interested in an offensive war against the West. There is more danger that they will be in conflict with each other—a Yugoslavia with nuclear weapons, as former President Gorbachev put it last year. In the present world situation instead of increasing global security Trident will in fact destabilise it. It will make it more rather than less likely that nations other than the former USSR will further develop their nuclear capability.
It was made clear during last week's very well informed debate on nuclear proliferation, introduced by my noble friend Lord Kennet, that the acquisition of nuclear weapons or the means to make them, particularly by Middle-Eastern states, was a real possibility as a result of the breakup of the USSR. That was because Russian nuclear scientists could be employed at higher salaries in hard currency and perhaps because Russian fissile materials or complete weapons could be sold openly or clandestinely. For instance, it would be very difficult to detect, even by satellite, the delivery of such weapons by night across the Caspian Sea to Iran. I understand that there are already rumours of tactical weapons being sold to Iran. It is very tempting for a nation, such as one of the former Soviet republics which is extremely short of hard currency, to do that.
The importance of strengthening the nonproliferation treaty was agreed by every speaker in last week's debate. Practical means of doing so, such as giving more teeth to the International Atomic Energy Agency, were suggested. I risk repeating what I have said on previous occasions by reminding noble Lords yet again of Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. It requires signatories to,pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament".To increase our strategic potential ten fold, which carried to its conclusion is what Trident will do, hardly seems compatible with that undertaking solemnly 607 agreed by the Government. The parallel of the drunken pastor preaching abstinence, which was quoted by my noble friend last week, seems apposite.
The United States and the former USSR have agreed to begin the process of nuclear weapons reduction through the INF and START treaties. President Yeltsin has undertaken to honour the agreement entered into by the Soviet Union. Britain and France, however, have not so far agreed to reduce their strategic weapons by one iota. On the contrary, we shall be increasing ours by a colossal margin if Trident goes ahead. Why should Iran, Israel or any other country pay much attention to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when we are so flagrantly violating one of its basic articles? I suggest that the Trident programme has gathered such momentum that despite all logic it seems unstoppable—almost as if it were a missile itself. It is not too late to take a long hard look at how it might be brought harmlessly to earth, and in such a way that the investment already made is not entirely lost.
At this point I should like to ask the noble Earl who is to reply several questions about the cost of Trident. The whole programme was recently estimated to cost £21.2 billion. Is that the latest estimate? Does that include running costs and, if so, what are those thought to be? How much has already been spent? What will be the cost from now on of fitting out the three vessels already under construction until they are ready to travel to the United States to be equipped with missiles? What total sum have we agreed to pay the United States for the missiles? How many will be purchased? What is the additional estimated cost, first, of building the proposed fourth submarine and, secondly, of equipping it with missiles? I have given the noble Earl notice of those questions, although I apologise for the fact that it was rather short notice.
Even if we agree that strategic nuclear weapons are needed, we have to ask whether we need an independent strategic capability. I cannot accept the scenario that was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. After all, we are dependent on the United States for the supply of the missiles themselves. Without close relations with the United States Trident is a non-starter, so why do we not rely on the United States as an ally and a full member of NATO to operate the strategic option on our behalf until strategic weapons are phased out altogether, as was the declared intention of President Bush and President Gorbachev? Boris Yeltsin has agreed to that aim.
To wind down the Trident programme gently would be perfectly possible if we were to complete the three vessels already under construction but in effect put them into cold storage or mothballs without fuelling their nuclear generators and without installing their missiles. In the extremely unlikely event of a major nuclear threat occurring, they would still be there. I am sure that we would have plenty of warning. In case that did not emerge—I hope it never will—perhaps there are peaceful purposes for large, nuclear-powered underwater vessels, though I cannot think of any at the moment. The shipyards of Barrow would be kept busy for the next year or two completing the vessels already begun while active 608 planning for redeploying the yards was undertaken. The workers of Barrow would join the other workers in the defence industries of the United Kingdom who need alternative work. My suggestion would allow some time for the diversification process to be planned. It would cost far less than continuing Trident as planned at the moment. The defence diversification agency that will be established by the next government, who I am sure will be a Labour Government, will insist on exactly that kind of programme. But that is another story and another debate.
In conclusion, I suggest that to persist with the full Trident programme will result in a grotesque overkill capacity. It will be throwing good money after bad and far from adding to our security will encourage non-nuclear nations to acquire their own weapons.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Birdwood
My Lords, I hope that our public arguments have evolved beyond the stage of unilateral disarmament. It is an unfulfilled hope, because the views of unilateralism are still being aired. But those voices which go on denying that super power stability ever had anything to do with nuclear deterrent policy are sounding a bit shrill, a bit less righteous. So, this afternoon, the argument is not, and should not be, about the principle of deterrence, but whether Trident is appropriate.
Of course we understand that the noble Lord whose Motion it is is unequivocal in his position towards the UK nuclear capability. I do him the honour of respecting his consistency. He has never wavered. Perhaps if we had foregone the deterrent, if we had asked to be excused from NATO obligations, if we had willingly given up our seat at the Security Council, we would have been happier people. I conjecture otherwise. But I am falling into the trap, as the noble Lord sees it, of linking nuclear independence with the high ground of moral authority.
However, the argument of nationhood, history and power is not our concern today. I am convinced that the need for, and the success of, NATO's nuclear deterrent policy since the 1950s is not in doubt. The threat posed by the USSR was well understood and the potential response very effective. The threat to national security is now very unclear and likely to remain so. Under those circumstances it would be most unwise to compromise our existing and planned defence capability.
Apart from the residual nuclear weapons capability of Russia and the other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States on whose territory strategic nuclear delivery systems are deployed, there is a strong possibility of further nuclear proliferation in the near future. India, Israel and South Africa are believed to have an advanced nuclear weapons potential. Iraq's activities in pursuit of a nuclear capability are now well catalogued; Iran is believed to be engaged in a clandestine enrichment programme; and Algeria has received nuclear technology from China. I might speak also of North 609 Korea. The first quarter of the 21st century could well see the emergence of 10 or more nuclear powers to join the present five.
In order to ensure our security in a world of many nuclear powers, we must retain a credible full-time, not part-time, strategic nuclear deterrent. The basis of deployment of the UK's submarine-borne deterrent ensures that there is always at least one boat "on station" at all times capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to any target within its range. In order to achieve that objective on a continuous basis, four boats are required—one on station, one returning to base, one in transit to station, and one undergoing refit. In comparison with the four British submarines it is believed that the US Navy currently plans to have 18; the French six; and the USSR, or whatever succeeds it, about 60 at the time of implementing START. That means that around 20 Russian submarines are at this moment on station, on deep patrol. Each one is a huge, autonomous war capable machine. I should like to ask: where do they now think of as home? We have recently been worrying about recruiting Russian nuclear scientists. I suggest a far more evil and immediate possibility—the clandestine acquisition of even one of these machines by a nuclear-aspiring government.
The command structures in the Soviet armed forces are looking more fragile every day: the very reasons which make the submarines so hard to find mean that they—above all, weapons systems—are boxed in only by the disciplines of ideology and national loyalty; that is, the disciplines on board. The first is in tatters and the second in pieces. In that picture, what a prize one of these will be, and what stakes to play for. We have the credible chance of some of these boats becoming mercenaries of a so-called new world order beyond imagining. When the cold war ended, we thought that we had buried the dragon. What we did was to sow the dragon's teeth.
It has been suggested that the fire power of the Trident fleet of four submarines, each carrying 16 missiles, each missile carrying up to 14 warheads—a maximum of 896 warheads—is disproportionately large for a British nuclear force in the post-cold war environment. The first point to be made here is that those who make the suggestion have no way of assessing the variables involved in the calculation of a minimum deterrent—the reliability, accuracy and penetrative power of the missiles and their warheads, as well as the effectiveness of the anti-ballistic missile defences of a potential enemy.
However, even if the argument is accepted, the Trident system is almost infinitely flexible. The number of missiles can be reduced; it would be possible, although more complicated, to reduce the number of warheads on each missile, and the Trident submarine can be used as a platform for sub-strategic instead of intercontinental missiles. In any case, it is important always to remember that there will normally be one submarine, not four, on station.
A critical element of the British deployment is the refit cycle. These vessels are designed to operate without a major refit for at least 10 years, at which 610 time their complex systems require a total overhaul, taking 12 to 15 months to complete. The submarines, the vessels themselves, represent an estimated 20 per cent. of the whole Trident system, the logistics of which depend on a fleet of four boats to ensure effective operation.
It has been suggested that cancellation of the fourth vessel in 1992 would save the full cost of construction of one vessel, estimated to be £500 million. That is simply not the case. Under the system of long-lead funding, significant construction work has already been completed. Fabrication of the pressure hull, manufacture of the missile tubes and tactical weapons equipment, and the propulsion plant including the reactor and main machinery is well advanced. Cancellation of the fourth boat would also have a direct impact on the cost of the three already on order. In addition, substantial costs would be incurred by VSEL and their sub-contractors, who would be obliged to lay off thousands of their workforce already committed to the Trident project, the scale of which was confirmed in the MoD review, Options for Change.
VSEL which, in the era of British Shipbuilders, was obliged by the current Government to make a commitment to a four-boat programme to the exclusion of other work, is especially vulnerable. The importance of this company's survival to the well-being of the community of Furness in Cumbria is well known and cannot be ignored. In those circumstances, the total cancellation costs may well add up to half the purchase price of the completed vessel.
Our present system was designed to counter, and is extremely effective against, a limited ground-based defence as specified within the ABM Treaty. Trident D5 was selected to replace Chevaline in the mid-1990s when the Polaris boats, the missiles and the front ends, would be reaching the end of their operational lives.
The US Congress passed the Missile Defense Act 1991 in November, authorising the DoD to develop an ABM-compliant site by 1996 and also to negotiate amendments to the ABM treaty to permit three topics: first, additional missile defence sites; secondly, the increased use of space-based sensors for battle management; and, thirdly, greater flexibility for technology development of advanced ballistic missile defences. Success in any of those negotiations would free the successor to the Soviet Union to nullify the effectiveness of Chevaline.
Trident—it follows—becomes essential if deterrence is to remain an arm of policy. Particularly significant is the fact that penetration aids—that is, decoys designed to counter radars—are likely to be completely ineffective against space-based sensors using long wave infra-red. Chevaline is only effective now because of decoys: it would have little value against infra-red space-based sensors.
All we can do is skim over the arguments which, for me, forge the unbreakable logic of Trident. The arguments are technical, geopolitical, financial and, above all, a recognition of the real world. They derive from assumptions which many previous sceptics now 611 share. If anything that I have said takes the process of conviction just an inch further, my contribution will not have been wasted.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, it is a little depressing to hear the arguments from the supporters of Trident still rooted in the concrete of the cold war. However, there are a number of arguments which have been raised this afternoon that I should like briefly to answer. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, whose speech I may say we have heard before, referred to there being five nuclear powers today. But that is not so; there are now eight known states with nuclear weapons. That number is certain to increase in the near future. The logic of the noble Lord's argument is that it should increase. He is telling the rest of the world that the only way to secure influence in the world is to have nuclear weapons. If that is a lesson for us, it is also a lesson for the other 150 nations in the world.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, both talked of the necessity for four Trident submarines for minimum safety. But is it not the case that by the end of this year only two Polaris submarines will be operational? Is it not also the case that today the "Renown" is in the dockyard at Rosyth attempting a refit which is endangered by leakage and that by the end of the year the "Revenge" will also be there and it is doubtful whether it can be refitted? That will leave just two of them. Are noble Lords saying that for the next three years before Trident comes on stream this country will be vulnerable? It does not seem to me that that argument stands up for the fourth Trident.
It is depressing to note that there does not seem to have been a recognition of the new world in which we are living. We are still talking about nuclear weapons being a deterrent. But did they deter the Argentinians? Did they deter Saddam Hussein? Did they deter in the Vietnam war or in Afghanistan? Moreover, are they deterring what is taking place in Yugoslavia, and did they deter the illegal invasion of East Timor by Indonesia? In all those cases nuclear weapons were owned by those states—that is, both those supporting the resolutions of the United Nations and those taking their own line—and in no case was any deterrence apparent; of course it could not be.
Let us take, for example, the case of Iraq. Only two years ago it was being armed by this country. The gentleman who is now Secretary of State for Social Security was in Baghdad negotiating for Britain to help in the arming of Saddam Hussein.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, that is not correct. At the time there was a joint supply of weapons to Iraq and Iran under the guidelines that had been issued earlier by my right honourable friend the then Foreign Secretary.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I invite the noble Lord to intervene once again to say what was happening about the supergun. We are still waiting to 612 hear to what extent members of the Government knew about it. That knowledge is already being gravely questioned.
I want to point out that there is a powerful military and industrial complex throughout Western countries which is actively and purposely arming states which may become nuclear states or which may, as they are doing today, obtain increased fire power from conventional weapons. That does not go—after all, Britain is the second largest arms exporter in the world —with any conception of developing peace and harmony in our troubled world. There does not seem to have been any consideration of the new world situation that we face.
We hear that the United States has now switched its targeting from Moscow and the Eastern European states to the third world. How does that help peace? Surely the £20 billion that has been spent on Trident could be much more wisely invested to deal with poverty in the third world and persuading third world countries that it is not nuclear arms that will give them influence; it is co-operation, with our help, to build up their standard of living. I welcome the appearance of my noble friend Lord Judd on the Front Bench. I feel confident that he will support what I have just said about the investment in peace to destroy poverty.
The world faces new dangers. Surely we can look to our country and government to take a lead in controlling and eventually disposing of nuclear weapons which we all agree pose great danger to the peace of the world. We have let down President Gorbachev and thus have split up the controlling command of Soviet nuclear weapons; but if, instead of modernising our nuclear weapons and increasing them to 512 warheads, we had endeavoured to help the former Soviet nuclear scientists to transfer their skills to civilian production, we should have been working for a much safer world than we have done by giving a lead, as my noble friend Lord Rea pointed out, in weakening the non-proliferation treaty and appearing to be cynical in our adherence to it. As he pointed out, it is our responsibility to reduce our nuclear weapons if we are to persuade other people to join that non-proliferation treaty.
I want to mention one particular issue of which I have given notice. In addition to the Trident programme, on 16th November Britain conducted its 44th nuclear weapons test in Nevada. That flies in the face of current moves towards disarmament and can only increase the anxiety felt around the world that the nuclear weapon states, including Britain, are failing to take responsibility for curbing nuclear proliferation. Twelve months ago, 74 of the 118 signatories to the 1963 partial test ban treaty voted in favour of moving towards a comprehensive test ban. Only the United Kingdom and the USA voted against. Why? If Britain and the United States had offered to conclude a comprehensive test ban with the Soviet Union while it was a single command, there was a good chance that we could have entered into a new age of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. The threadbare argument advanced for Britain's continued nuclear testing—that it is necessary to improve safety and that a comprehensive test ban is not verifiable—is no 613 longer credible. Nuclear testing is for developing new and more refined nuclear weapons. That goes right against the whole ethos of the non-proliferation treaty.
I believe that the Government have found that out in the past few days while Mr. Hurd has been in India and was told that India would not join the nuclear non-proliferation treaty because it did not feel that we were abiding by it. India considered that we were being hypocritical. That hypocrisy is a danger to the future peace of the world.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Ironside
My Lords, if there is a case to be made against any weapon, surely it is to be made against the Soviet-designed SS20 Sturgeon with its 10 independently targeted warheads and range of 4,500 nautical miles, fitted to Typhoon-class submarines, together with all the variants fitted to other Delta, Golf and Yankee class boats about which we have heard so much in recent years. They total some 74 and are assigned to the Northern, Black Sea and Pacific fleets. If there is a case to be made, it is a case for Trident as fitted to the Vanguard class boats.
As I have done before, I declare my interest in the Trident system, which covers the broad range of missile handling, platform engineering and support. The recent ominous proposal made by President Yeltsin—that the strategic portion of the Black Sea fleet should be under central control—is an admission of the nuclear ballistic missile capability of that fleet, despite statements from other sources—perhaps Ukrainian—that the Black Sea fleet is non-nuclear. Whatever the truth, there is a strong reason why we should not look at the missile alone.
What I have to say will be in support of the system, and Trident is part of a whole-ship system. The Vanguard platform is dedicated to the Trident missile, and what is vital to them both is our submarine building capability, our design and manufacturing capacity, our naval base and refit capacity and, last but not least, the manning capacity of the boat.
We are fortunate that we have the resources to compete on quality rather than quantity terms and that we are in the quality race and not the arms race now and, consequently, have the ability to field the minimum strategic and flexible deterrent capability which will meet our foreseeable defence needs, at least until the known nuclear threat has been eliminated. That is in no way happening yet and is not likely to happen until the former Soviet nuclear strategic and tactical arsenals have been denied to the successor breakaway states, together with launch sites and other facilities, and have come under a central control with powers of negotiation.
As the Secretary of State has said, we must address the problems of the substantial strategic nuclear arsenal that will be around for 20 years or more. Good political intentions may exist, but capability remains, and it is about that we must worry.
The one development which has made Trident into a credible deterrent, quite apart from the warhead advantage, is the standoff capability, coupled with the 614 high speed submarine platform. When in 1980 the Soviets introduced their SS20 missile with 10 multiple warheads, the years of Polaris's credibility became numbered, and those who followed the case for collaboration rather than independence, as the French have done, will see that we have made the right, cost-effective choice by opting for the Trident II D5 missile.
I come back to the point that we must match equipment to resources available and quality needed. I believe that there is nothing obscene or reprehensible in having powerful and flexible systems and equipment for nuclear deterrence, as we have to watch the threat which remains in the nuclear field. The case for the D5 missile was clearly laid out in the 1987 open document to preserve credibility against the new defences in the ex-Soviet Union, which are still there, with control supposedly in the hands of President Yeltsin and General—or is he now Marshal?— Shaposhnikov.
The cruise missile alternative which would have been based on the US Tomahawk was rejected because it was restricted to firing within the confines of the Norwegian sea, whereas Trident has all the North Atlantic for concealment. The cruise missile was also rejected on grounds of technology, the necessity for a larger submarine force and poor in-flight survivability. The only other possible contender, which was the French M5 missile with all its uncertainties and cost penalties, was rejected.
I believe that the Trident-Vanguard system should be seen in the context of strengthening the underwater warfare capability of the Royal Navy and in the context of ensuring that we maintain the submarine building capacity we have and that we complete the new Clyde naval base facilities and those at Rosyth to meet our long-term requirements. Also, we should maintain nuclear design and manufacturing facilities as long as the nuclear threat remains.
Elimination of the threat will only be achieved through negotiation from a point of strength. Therefore I believe that the Government's choice of maintaining the Trident missile and Vanguard system is right and that it is also right to have four boats so that one can be on patrol all the time.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, this afternoon we have heard quite a lot about the case against Trident, and that is the reason for our debate. I do not wish to spend a great deal of time elaborating further because it has been touched on in some areas far better than I could do. Perhaps I may quickly canter through the main arguments that I can see against Trident.
First, Trident as a nuclear weapons system is a threat to human life: whether it goes off on purpose or accidentally, the net effect will be to kill millions of people. I do not believe that anyone in your Lordships' House could wish that on our planet. Secondly, its possession by this country is effectively a signal to every other country in the world that it is a good thing to have. That is therefore an incentive to its proliferation. 615 Thirdly, it is expensive and many people would argue that it is a waste of money. Fourthly—and this is one of the areas on which not many speakers have touched strongly—it distorts defence thinking. It distracts us from looking at the real threat to the security of our nation and prevents us looking at the most effective ways of dealing with threats to our security.
Another reason that has not been touched on so far by any other speakers, so far as I am aware, is that the philosophy of the possession of nuclear weapons distorts our whole energy policy. I hope that most people, unless they are deranged, would agree with Reagan and Gorbachev that the ideal is to get rid of all nuclear weapons right around the world. I am continually frustrated by people who will not address that question and say, "Well, it is impossible, we can't do it; therefore we must have nuclear weapons and we must make sure that ours are bigger and better than anyone else's". I hope that the people using that argument will start addressing the real problem: how do we, as human beings, work with other human beings around the world to rid our planet of nuclear weapons? I am sure that if we all addressed that question we should soon find a satisfactory answer.
I suggest that, although we might soon find an answer, we should not take precipitate action. That would send the wrong signal to our friends and potential enemies. In the past 10 years we have seen two examples where our intentions and those of our allies were misread by effectively military dictators. The net result was that our servicemen died in the Falklands and Kuwait. We must all address that scenario and re-dedicate ourselves to considering how we can prevent that kind of thing happening again.
We are in an election year and we know that this debate is set within the context of electioneering. I remind your Lordships that since the war we have had Labour and Conservative Governments but it is only during the past eight years since 1983, under a Conservative Government, that we have seen our servicemen losing their lives because of aggressive action that was taken against our interests. I hope that the British people will think about that when it comes to polling.
One of the things that annoys me a little is the way in which some speakers mentioned the workers at Barrow in their argument for a fourth Trident boat. That comes rather badly from Government Benches that have seen two slumps and two major rises in unemployment in this country but have sat back and done nothing about it. They offer to the workers at Barrow at best a few years' work for the sake of building a fourth Trident submarine, which in real terms is not strictly necessary.
I shall not argue about whether we should have a three or four boat fleet. We need to address the future of the workers of Barrow more effectively than just offering them another boat. At best that would make their jobs secure for a few years. Rather, we need to think in terms of developing a long-term future for the workforce at Barrow. When I say "long-term" I mean in terms of 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, not the three, four or five years of which the Government speak.
616 I have touched upon the need to protect and defend, and to prevent death among our servicemen. However, at the end of the day we have a much wider responsibility. We have a responsibility to many millions of men and women around the world to prevent their deaths by even the accidental, far less the purposeful, use of nuclear weapons. I hope that we can use this debate as a process of education and a process of trying to find some way forward which enables us to get rid of nuclear weapons all around the world by the year 2000. That was agreed as a laudable and achievable objective by President Reagan and President Gorbachev.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, this is for me a repeat performance of a debate in which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, and I crossed swords 11 years ago. That debate occurred on 20th July 1981. Both of us had made our maiden speeches and we were making our second speeches in this Chamber. We had therefore both drawn the two shortest straws and were speaking respectively second last and last in the debate. In that debate I made two errors of forecasting. First, I forecast that there could not be a continuous Conservative government in this country from 1981 to 1992. Secondly, I forecast that the Soviet Union would be as great a threat in 1992 as it had been in 1981. That, of course, is not the case and we cannot speak now of a similar Russian threat. However, what we must surely speak of is a similar Russian capability. Today, whoever is in charge in Moscow, we have in our oceans the following Russian ballistic missile submarines.
We have 12 Yankee class, 48 Delta class and six colossal Typhoon class boats, each of which is twice the size of Trident. Each comprises 26½ thousand tonnes of naked power with 20 missile tubes per boat. There are seven MIRVED warheads per tube, each of 120 kilotonnes. Typhoons can in addition fire through their torpedo tubes 200 kilotonne weapons. In all, I have calculated that Russia has 66 nuclear ballistic missile boats. I believe my noble friend Lord Birdwood made the total about 60, while my noble friend Lord Ironside made it more like 74. However, both of them omitted the additional capability of the cruise nuclear missile boats, of which there are 61. I therefore calculate that the total is 127. That represents an awesome military capability. It is the more awesome because it is at the moment uncontrolled.
In the nuclear debate in another place last week my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence described how he had received from the Russians the shortest lived assurance of all time. It came from a General Lobov. When he was asked who was in charge of nuclear weapons, the general replied that he was. However, two days later he was sacked. Our old adversary is beset by revolution. Revolutions throw up new leaders then quickly overthrow them. In France at the end of the 18th century Lafayette, Saint-Just, Danton and Robespierre came to prominence before Napoleon. Who is to say there will be no Napoleon in Russia in a few years? A mighty 617 general and emperor could control that huge nuclear arsenal. He might try to placate his people with the great opiate of foreign conquest. Even if the Russians returned to stability and disarmed in a well organised way, they would still have, 10 years from now, 20 times more warheads than we have now.
Trident is our long-term shield. It will protect us against all nuclear aggression over the next 30 years. No one can forecast what type of Russian government there will be in 30 years' time. It is hard enough to forecast the position in 30 days. If we add to the Russian threat the likelihood that Russian nuclear hardware and know-how might be sold to such countries as Libya and Iraq, the situation becomes about as secure as that of Damocles under the sword. It then follows that we must have one Trident submarine on station at all times. That means a four-boat fleet. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, has said that, as have my noble friends Lord Birdwood and Lord Ironside. It is a little more surprising, however, that the Guardian has said much the same thing. The Guardian stated in an article last Thursday:Some expert opinion holds that a three-boat fleet could achieve the same result. But the margin for accidents becomes very low. If one boat met with an accident or experienced serious technical problems in refit there would only be one boat on station for half the time. A four boat force provides insurance against an unforeseen emergency".The same article also stated:Cancelling the 4th Trident would save only £500 million of the £19.4 billion being spent on Trident Procurement".I should like some information from my noble friend on the Front Bench as regards that figure of £19.4 billion. The noble Lord, Lord Rea, puts that figure at £21 billion. I remember that in 1981 the then Secretary of State for Defence, John Nott, told us that the Trident programme would cost £8 billion at 1980 prices. Allowing for inflation I believe that figure is about £13 billion at today's prices. It is certainly not £19 billion. It is even more certain that it is not £21 billion. Therefore there seems to have been an overspend. Could that be connected with what is referred to as the stretching out of the building programme?
Is it not the case that the original programme anticipated ordering one boat per year from 1986? Indeed the Vanguard was ordered in 1986 and the Victorious in 1987. However, the Vigilant was not ordered until 1990 and the fourth boat is still not ordered. I must ask my noble friend why we seem to have dragged our heels. Had we kept to schedule the debate on the fourth boat would be irrelevant as it would already have been three years abuilding in that mighty covered yard at Barrow. In general I foresaw the need for four Trident boats back in 1981. In 1992 I am convinced that that need is even greater.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, a number of Starred Questions have been tabled this Session about Trident. Whenever its utility is questioned, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, replies that it is our nuclear deterrent that has preserved peace during the past 40 years and we must have an up-to-date deterrent in the 618 foreseeable future. When he says that, there is always a growl of approval from the Benches opposite. However, that is quite untrue. What preserved the peace during the past 40 years were NATO and the overwhelming power of the American nuclear deterrent. I am glad to say that some parts of that deterrent were deployed in the United Kingdom. This is where I part company from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney. The noble Lord is a noble, high-minded idealist whereas I am a low, cynical realist.
I believe in the power of NATO and I believe passionately in the nuclear deterrent in America. I also believe that when the archives are opened we may well find that it was President Reagan's initiative—thought in some quarters to be insane—of instigating Star Wars that was the last straw that broke the morale of the Soviet defence ministry.
On those grounds I have a different standpoint on the question of Trident. However, it seems to me laughable to say that our own nuclear deterrent is the thing that has preserved Britain in the past 40 years. Is it really the case that Germany, Holland and the rest of the EC countries, with the exception of France, were markedly less secure and more at risk than the United Kingdom? Is it really argued that the USSR would have attacked Britain alone and risked nuclear retaliation from the United States?
The noble Earl always goes on to say that although the USSR has now split into independent republics, we live in such an uncertain world that Trident is necessary and that we must have four submarines so that one will always be afloat, prowling and ready to turn its nuclear weapons against the aggressor, watching, as Keats put it,…with eternal lids apart,Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite".
Which way will this nuclear weapon be turned? The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, had the temerity to ask the other day whether it will still be targeted on Moscow. That is a perfectly reasonable question. If not on Moscow where will it be targeted? When I once asked in my ignorance why we had not sent nuclear submarines to the Gulf, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, with his characteristic courtesy and consideration, wrote to correct me. He said that we would not deploy nuclear submarines in the Gulf because under treaty we had undertaken never to use them against any non-nuclear power. That does indeed restrict our options.
I am a historian. I predict that some 50 years from now historians studying Britain in the second half of the twentieth century will judge that this country ruined itself economically trying to keep up with the Joneses in the United States. We need conventional arms, not only for our armed forces but to help our export trade by selling those arms abroad. We cannot sell nuclear arms abroad. Unlike our competitors in Europe we need a navy because we are an island. Other countries in the European Community do not need a navy. That is why our defence costs will always be higher. But keeping the three services going and a nuclear deterrent, and being ready at the drop of a hat 619 to send our forces to fight in wars from Korea to the Gulf, has beggared us. We must learn to beat some of our arms into ploughshares.
Which arms? I do not want to prognosticate about what field marshals or chiefs of the defence staff think on this issue. But when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, being so categoric I told myself that I must re-read what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, said should be our defence policy. His speech in the debate on defence last Session gave me a rather different impression. I am quite certain what the reply would be if I put the question to the most distinguished scientific adviser to the Government in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, who has often said that he can see no possibility of a nuclear strike on enemy capitals ever being carried out. Does one first warn the diplomats in those capitals so that they can evacuate their embassies before we strike?
Of course, there will be all sorts of disturbances in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and probably in the Far East and Africa during the years following the collapse of the USSR as a major hostile power. But can anyone pretend that the threat to our security is as great as in the days of Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev?
When Sir Nicholas Henderson retired in 1979 from his post as ambassador to France he wrote a despatch in which he said how difficult it was to represent our country when its economy was in such a poor state and when it was rent by so many strikes and disturbances of one kind or another. He emphasised that it is economic power on which ultimately military and political power depend. That is why I say that if future governments turn their attention to making British industry efficient and to investing in industry rather than in unutilisable long-range nuclear weapons, this debate will not have been in vain.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him to clarify one point. The thesis he has offered seems to be that the cost of our strategic deterrent has been the difference between poverty and prosperity. Is he aware that the cost of our nuclear deterrent is between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. of our total defence expenditure? Is he really suggesting that that is the difference that he has outlined?
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I merely say that savings have to be made somewhere. Some people would judge that the savings should not be made so much in conventional forces as in nuclear forces.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Wedgwood
My Lords, following my maiden speech in this House last October the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, asked whether it was not better to have the Royal Scots than the alternative. Also, in the noble Lord's kind and generous comments he mentioned that he did not entirely agree with my every word. Today, with respect to the noble Lord, I am not able to agree entirely with him.
As noble Lords have heard repeatedly in this House and in another place, we are faced with a period of 620 danger and uncertainty. We must be certain that our nuclear forces are credible, comprehensive and cohesive.
Former United States President Richard Nixon wrote in his book Seize the Moment, which went to press only last September, that:While we should celebrate the current turn of events, we should not give in to euphoria. In a world of competing states, clashing interests and national conflicts are inevitable".I found it interesting that the former president went on to say:Revolutionary upheavals may change how the world looks, but seldom change the way the world works".
Last week my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence outlined the current nuclear situation in the states which formerly constituted the Soviet Union. He estimated that it would take 10 years safely to halve the current nuclear power in those states. Even then there would be 20 times more warheads than in the United Kingdom. In addition, we would potentially face four aggressors as opposed to one, the former Soviet Union. I am sure that your Lordships all welcome the efforts of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in his current efforts to centralise the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
Considerable anxiety over the break-up of the Soviet Union was underlined by a recent article in the authoritative defence magazine Jane's Defence Weekly. It explains that there were 1.7 million skilled weapons technologists in the former Soviet Union, of whom 30,000 were specialists in developing nuclear weapons. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, mentioned in his excellent speech, those specialists are a natural target for recruitment by third world countries which are and may be eager to develop a nuclear capability. Although there is no hard evidence to prove that scientists have taken their expertise elsewhere, we can be assured that with the economic chaos in the Soviet Union only time and money will show the brain drain.
That potential proliferation of nuclear capability adds to the considerable uncertainty about a number of emerging nations such as Pakistan, India and North Korea. The example of Iraq, as we have already heard, is only one instance of why the Trident programme is vital to form our own independent nuclear deterrent.
Again, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and others have mentioned, it has been argued that we do not need to replace the four Polaris boats with four Trident boats and that three will suffice. As noble Lords have heard today, in order for our nuclear deterrent to be credible it must be comprehensive, cohesive and flexible. We can all expect and hope for future arms control agreements. If we are required to make further cuts from the minimal operational capability we shall quickly become less credible to potential aggressors. It is certainly not clear what our future commitments to the European Community will be and whether our independent forces will be reduced as a result.
Noble Lords have also heard today that the potential of nuclear proliferation could conceivably result in elements of our deterrent force being 621 deployed to several theatres of operation. Those are a few of the reasons why it is essential to have at least four Trident boats.
From a cost point of view, the Trident has been bought from the American shelf at a considerable saving to this country. Once in service the Trident system will consume less than 2 per cent. of the defence budget. The price of the fourth boat is very small compared with the overall cost.
Those of us still on this planet in 30 years' time can look forward to a country protected from the fear of nuclear attack on an independent basis during what is bound to be a period of considerable change. It is to be hoped that future generations can enjoy the fruits of a viable nuclear deterrent which has encouraged further arms control agreements and, most importantly, the implementation of strong command and control measures wherever there is a nuclear force. We cannot conceivably expect to achieve these goals without a nuclear deterrent and without Trident.
Yes, my Lords, I finish where I started. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, on these Benches we agree of course that while other countries have nuclear weapons Britain must have a minimum deterrent. We agree that the Trident programme should go ahead and that there should be four boats instead of three. But rather than tread well-trodden paths again I should like to concentrate on two major points on which my noble friends and I disagree with the Government's deterrent policy.
The first objection we have is that the Government are following the persuasive advice of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and are preparing a new tactical air-to-surface nuclear missile system when that role can be performed satisfactorily without significant cost by Trident, as the noble Lord, Lord Birdwood, has said. Whether the sub-strategic role is necessary at all is highly doubtful. The Government have put forward two justifications, which were set out by the noble Earl, Lord Arran, on 21st November as follows:As the NATO defence Ministers have recently affirmed, sub-strategic forces are required to provide the necessary political and military link between conventional and strategic nuclear forces".—[Official Report, 21/11/91; col. 1016.]But even if that were true, which on these Benches we deny, does NATO really need a British sub-strategic system? The Americans and the French have that system. All three Western powers have strategic deterrents as well. But that is not good enough for the Government. They say, "But there might be an aggressor who is not deterred by the three strategic deterrents, who is not deterred by the French and American sub-strategic deterrents, but who might be deterred if in addition Britain had a sub-strategic system". That is ludicrous. It makes no sense at all. The scenario is not credible, and I am glad to say there are signs that Ministers are now dropping this part of their argument for TASM.
The second argument for TASM is also flawed. This is that in a world where nuclear weapons are 622 proliferating the threat of a nuclear attack by a minor power might require a counter-threat from Britain, acting alone; and that Trident is too powerful to make that counter-threat credible. I think that is a fair summary of the Government's second argument. They say that therefore we need another, smaller, sub-strategic system. But that argument ignores the extraordinary flexibility of the Trident system. A single submarine can fly a colossal salvo of 120 warheads, or, if required, it can land a single warhead —at 5,000 miles range if necessary—400 feet from the centre of the target. Meanwhile it can keep its remaining missiles available for the strategic role. Why then are the Government insisting on procuring this air launch system?
I was fascinated to hear the noble and gallant Lord arguing that the submarine might be vulnerable. Let us compare the vulnerability of the submarine which has fired a missile. The noble and gallant Lord said that the missile might be tracked by the minor adversary power; it might be monitored, and the minor power might then send a retaliatory missile in the opposite direction with extreme accuracy and sink the boat before it had time to get away. That is scarcely possible; but let us bear it in mind and let us think of the vulnerability of the alternative suggested by the noble and gallant Lord—the vulnerability of aircraft or airfields the location of which is precisely known by any adversary. Let us consider also the difficulty of basing TASM in a foreign country. Who is going to take it? The Germans are not. Where will it be? Above all, TASM will cost £2 billion or more, whereas if Trident is used, as it can be in this alternative role, it will cost nothing at all.
Of course one's heart bleeds for the RAF, and bled in the 1960s, when it lost its nuclear role with the Vulcans to the Navy with the Polaris submarines. Their hearts were wrung and we sympathise with them, but that is no reason now for supporting the air-launched TASM as against the far superior alternative of the Trident in the sub-strategic role.
I turn now to the second main objection that we on these Benches have to the Government's Trident policy. The Government say that Britain needs a minimum deterrent. So do we: but what is a minimum deterrent? We say it means the capability to inflict unacceptable damage and casualties on any possible adversary. At the present time a single Polaris submarine has this capability. The same will be true of a Trident submarine with the same fire power. It too will be able to inflict unacceptable damage and casualties on any possible adversary. But that is not enough for the Government. For reasons which they refuse to explain or even discuss, they insist that Trident's fire power must be substantially greater than that of Polaris so that we could if necessary, acting independently, penetrate the Soviet ABM defences.
On 14th October in the other place the Secretary of State was asked why more warheads were needed for Trident than for Polaris, and he replied:The number of missiles and warheads needed to overcome anti-missile defences, is the determinant".— [Official Report. Commons, 14/10/91; co. 58.]The Minister of State for Defence for Procurement, Mr. Hamilton, said at a later date that the programme 623 of improvements to the Soviet ABM system reinforced the need for Polaris to be replaced by Trident in the mid-1990s. Now what are the Soviet ABM systems to which Ministers refer? Everybody knows what they are. The Russians have known it for years. There is only one Soviet anti-ballistic missile system. There is only one allowed to it under the ABM treaties. That is the system which defends Moscow. That is what Ministers are talking about.
Even if, absurdly, the Russians abrogated the treaty and began the immensely costly business of constructing new ABMs, the Government would still not need to increase the fire power of Trident (although they could do so very quickly if they wanted) because the Trident submarine would still be capable of inflicting unacceptable damage and casualties.
The Government insist on pitting our nuclear deterrent against the only city in the world that has ABM defences, leaving aside Russia's undefended centres of power. Moscow is no longer the capital of the Soviet Union or the nerve centre of a unified empire. Yet the Government are proposing to spend huge sums on extra warheads with the exclusive aim of being able to destroy one particular city. This is called the Moscow criterion, and it is lunacy. It is no wonder, as we heard at Question Time on Thursday last, the Government are trying to suppress discussion of this subject. It is no wonder that the noble Earl, Lord Arran—I am sorry to see that he is not in his place—tried to prevent me from raising the subject. However, it is a subject that should be raised. It should and will be discussed. As with TASM so with the Moscow criterion; the Government are misdirecting the Trident programme. They are wasting public money; and the electors are entitled to know about it.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, there is much in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, which deserves careful consideration, not least what he said about the flexibility of Trident and the dangers of costly duplication. I join with those who pay tribute to the consistent remarks of my noble friend Lord Jenkins and indeed to his integrity and humanitarian concern. I believe that this House, and indeed Britain, are the better for his contribution. I also believe that in this debate we have been fortunate to have the insight and experience of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. I believe that we have to consider seriously his professional advice.
There has always been an honest, intellectual and moral case for pacifism. However, if pacifism is rejected, we are in an altogether different discipline. One of the greatest responsibilities of government is to define the threats to our society and to guard against them. To fail to meet those threats could effectively mean that all our military expenditure was wasted. But threats will change and vary. Minds set are therefore dangerous. Flexibility is essential. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, no single weapon or category of weapons of itself provides effective defence. Effective defence demands the resources for a complex mix of strategic and tactical 624 military capabilities within the context of a priority commitment to collective security, arms control and disarmament. However, all that must be integrated with effective economic, industrial and social policies and with food security. Healthy social and economic fibre and good national morale are highly relevant to defence.
I am not altogether convinced that there is a clear-cut distinction between nuclear and modern non-nuclear warfare. Let us consider World War Two. Let us remember the fire storms in Tokyo. Think of Dresden, my Lords. In the past year think of the millions at risk of slow starvation, disease and stunted physical and mental development as a result of conflict in the third world.
There have been 150 conflicts mainly in the third world since World War Two. In World War Two the civilian casualty proportion of total casualties was 52 per cent. The UN has recently calculated that in modern so-called conventional wars throughout the third world, the civilian casualty proportion of total casualties is 90 per cent.
We must also remember that nuclear weapons were first produced in the context of a prolonged conventional war. We cannot unlearn what has been learnt, even after we have achieved far-reaching arms control and disarmament. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Monkswell tellingly pointed out that it is war itself which has to be prevented. Hence the importance of collective security and deterrence—principles which I argue will continue to apply in a greatly demilitarised world.
But what of the threats today and the means required to meet them? They are unpredictability, and nuclear, chemical and biological proliferation. My noble friend Lord Hatch pointed out that there are already at least eight nuclear states. Regional local conflicts are out of control, and terrorism, potentially, before long will be on a nuclear, chemical and biological scale. There are 27,000 nuclear warheads in the midst of all the turmoil of the former Soviet Union, 13,000 of them in Russia and the remainder in other republics. There are tactical nuclear weapons at up to 100 sites in 13 different republics. As my noble friend Lord Rea and the noble Lord, Lord Wedgwood, pointed out, there are 3,000 to 5,000 insecure and underpaid scientists and countless laboratory technicians in the former Soviet Union with experience of plutonium production and uranium enrichment and more than 2,000 scientists with experience of weapon design. All that is uncomfortably adjacent to the volatile and explosive Middle East.
Clearly, this dangerous, if not alarming, situation demands a renewed and relentless commitment to strengthen existing non-proliferation measures by, if need be, the introduction of sanctions and by denying those who refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty the right to buy any nuclear materials even for peaceful purposes. The time is surely ripe for more intrusive inspections to enforce the treaty. All that must surely now be underscored by a long overdue comprehensive test ban treaty and by the urgent collection and destruction of tactical nuclear weapons 625 within the former Soviet Union, where necessary with expertise and funds supplied by countries in the Group of Seven.
Equally, pending effective arms control and disarmament, while this dangerous and unpredictable situation is not the time to undermine our deterrent capability, of which three Trident submarines to replace Polaris are a vital part, it is also not the time to tie up scarce resources inflexibly in a fourth expensive submarine for which the case has yet to be convincingly established, or indeed to increase the number of warheads from 192 to 512 as effectively proposed by the Government.
That is why the Labour Government will not proceed with the construction of a fourth vessel unless they find themselves confronted with cancellation charges which mean that there could be no real savings. However, we are determined—there has been reference to this important issue in the debate—to do everything possible to help to secure a viable, long-term economic future for the people and community of Barrow. Meanwhile, funds are desperately needed for a new Marshall Plan to assist the promotion of economic and political stability in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A Labour Government will certainly help to provide that.
Before I conclude, because of the immense importance of the issues raised, there are several points on which clarification by the Government is desperately needed. Has, or has not, a definite and final order been placed for a completed fourth Trident submarine? If so, how much would the cancellation penalty charges amount to? What is the case for the fourth vessel? Why is it a priority when well into the next century a vessel could always be on patrol with a fleet of three? If, with its two or three warheads per missile, Polaris is at present able to penetrate the recently improved ABM system around Moscow, why is it proposed to increase the number of warheads to eight on Trident? Is some significant change in ABM treaty limitations anticipated? Has the United States' initiative on global protection against limited nuclear strikes affected the situation? In this context, does the ability to be able to destroy Moscow remain a priority? Why, my Lords? How does that compare with the industrial and military significance of other cities and military installations without ABM defences in the former Soviet Union and indeed beyond?
The Minsk Agreement between members of the Commonwealth of Independent States allocated central command over the former Soviet Union's strategic nuclear forces to the Russian Republic, committed members to observe all the former Soviet Union's arms control obligations and undertook to negotiate further arms reductions with NATO. What progress has been achieved on all that? Similarly, what progress has been made in collecting and destroying the tactical nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union?
The development of Trident constitutes a major strengthening of the United Kingdom's nuclear deterrent. It is able to carry between eight and 14 626 warheads as compared with two or three on Polaris. Its multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles have the capacity to destroy between eight and 14 widely separated targets. As things stand, by the year 2005 British and French nuclear weapons will be equivalent to one fifth of the United States' nuclear forces compared with one twentieth in 1985. Surely, that enhanced deterrent capability provides the United Kingdom with the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to take a lead in the arms reduction process, a role that it has been sadly reluctant to play in recent years.
Will the noble Earl tonight commit the Government to that course? This month the Prime Minister goes to the United Nations. It would be an ideal opportunity for him to launch a new drive for arms control and disarmament.
§ 7 p.m.
My Lords, for nearly a quarter of a century the United Kingdom's strategic nuclear force has formed the cornerstone of this country's defence capability. Polaris, which first came into service in 1968 to replace the old V-bomber forces, has maintained continuous deterrent patrols since 1969, undetectable in the depths of the ocean.
Polaris is now approaching the end of its service life. From the mid-1990s the Government intend to replace it with a force of four Vanguard Trident missile submarines, which will extend this country's ultimate guarantee of security well into the next century.
In confirming that intention, the Government's position is four-square with that of its NATO allies. At the Rome Summit on 7th and 8th November, NATO leaders agreed on a new strategic concept for the Alliance, which will enable NATO's defence policy to keep pace with changes in the overall security environment in Europe. The most important conclusion of this new strategic concept was:The Alliance will maintain for the foreseeable future an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces based in Europe and kept up to date where necessary, although at a significantly reduced level. Both elements are essential to Alliance security and cannot substitute one for the other".The new strategic concept later clarifies the nuclear forces that the allies agree are required:The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies".
Those who argue against Trident are thus opposing themselves not only to the position adopted by all three main political parties in the UK (admittedly, with varying degrees of conviction), but also to the unanimous views of the 16 NATO heads of state and government. At the best of times, that would seem eccentric. And these are not the best of times. They are times of profound international change, uncertainty and risk, nowhere more so than in the nuclear field. Over a matter of weeks, we have seen the break-up of the world's biggest nuclear power. No one in your Lordships' House will feel a vestige of regret for the collapse of Soviet power. But none should delude 627 himself about the dangers that flow from it, dangers rather left to one side in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins.
What is happening in the East is a profound transformation, with who knows how far to run before a new stability is achieved. The challenges which the new leaderships face are formidable. Democracy remains novel and insecure. The economies of the various republics are all in a more or less parlous condition. Who knows what forces of extremism or nationalism could crowd in if the new order is seen to falter? The old union has fallen apart into its constituent republics; but further fault lines are evident within those republics too. Confusion continues over how the relationship between these new sovereign and independent states should work, and what the new commonwealth should in practice amount to. The republics remain massively over-armed, with Russia much the biggest military power in Europe. The transition to realistic and affordable levels of military capability will require huge organisational and leadership skills.
The situation is without precedent. No one outside the former Soviet Union knows for sure how many nuclear warheads are present there; the best estimates are in the order of 27,000. Perhaps 13,000 of those are strategic: missile warheads and weapons for strategic bombers that could strike the United Kingdom. Those strategic weapons (excluding those at sea in missile submarines) are located in the four new states of Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia and Kazakhstan.
Under START, and President Gorbachev's undertakings on reductions in tactical nuclear weapons, as much as half or more of the total arsenal should be destined for destruction. But this is a major logistical challenge that will take years to resolve—perhaps a decade or more—even without the revolutionary upheavals now in train.
The rest of the former Soviet arsenal—sub-strategic weapons ranging from nuclear torpedos through air defence missiles to artillery shells—was in earlier days dispersed in some 100 storage sites, across 13 republics of the former union.
Recently, there has been evidence that nuclear weapons in outlying republics were being withdrawn. Such consolidation of nuclear holdings is a step in the right direction. But the fact remains that if the new authorities in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia obtained independent control of the strategic missiles on their territories, all four would instantly become bigger nuclear powers than China, and all but Byelorussia would surpass the United Kingdom. It is, therefore, overwhelmingly important for the West that unified control of these weapons should be maintained.
Recent weeks have seen some encouraging developments in that regard. Russia is now accepted as having inherited the international rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union, symbolised by its assumption of the UN Security Council seat. That continuity of responsibility has been reflected by formal transfer of the presidential nuclear briefcase from Gorbachev to Yeltsin on 25th December—an unusual Christmas present. The four nuclear former 628 republics agreed at Alma Ata to submit START to their national legislatures for ratification. At the same time Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Byelorussia agreed to consolidate all their sub-strategic weapons at central facilities in Russia by July 1992, for dismantling under joint supervision. Ukraine and Byelorussia have reaffirmed their wish to rid themselves by early, specified dates of all nuclear weapons and to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear weapon states.
So much is satisfactory. But other aspects of the situation give rise to profound concern. There has been ambiguity surrounding Kazakhstan's plans and intentions. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has just had some welcome assurances from President Nazarbaev. But we look for a clear commitment to join the non-proliferation treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state. Some 1,800 nuclear warheads are at issue here. Uncertainty prevails over who actually owns the weapons. Doubt persists over how long current arrangements can endure; Marshal Shaposhnikov's appointment has been only temporarily extended.
The hard fact is that expressions of intent, formal agreements, even treaties will be useless unless practical nuclear command and control hang together. We know that the system is strong and resilient, with disciplined forces trained to respond only to properly authenticated messages reaching them in the right format through the right command channels. We know, too, that physical security arrangements "on the ground" are thorough and elaborate. But such arrangements will count for nothing if the society within which they operate, and the armed forces which administer them, fall apart.
The arguments between Moscow and Kiev over the future of the Black Sea Fleet illustrate the dangers all too clearly. Such fundamental differences, as well as the enormous and interlocking economic problems that the new states face, bring out how hard it will be for their leaders to find and maintain common ground in their new relationship as commonwealth leaders.
Within the armed forces, too, processes of disintegration are at work. The system of conscription has virtually collapsed. Soaring inflation has overwhelmed military pay. Hundreds of thousands of troops are without proper housing. Ill discipline and outright criminality are rife. In some instances food supplies have broken down and units are having to barter fuel supplies for food.
Against that background the potential for nuclear proliferation hardly needs pointing out. The prospect of leakage of nuclear materials and components, if not actual weapons, out of the crumbling former union is not some theoretical risk but a real and immediate danger. A migration of nuclear expertise is, if anything, even more worrying. There are literally thousands of nuclear scientists who could make a significant contribution to other countries seeking to develop their own weapons. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my noble friend Lord Wedgwood reminded us, the risk of proliferation has never been greater.
My noble friend Lord Birdwood mentioned Iraq. Iraq provides a sobering example of how easily a 629 wealthy, determined and unscrupulous regime can progress covertly towards acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. It is a NPT signatory and subject to the IAEA inspections and safeguards that that involves. But the arrangements permitted by the NPT depend on the Iraqi Government's declaration of all its nuclear materials for inspection purposes; and the scale of the clandestine programme dwarfed the legitimate and acknowledged civil programme.
Only following military defeat were IAEA inspectors able to uncover the extent of past deception. Noble Lords will know that incontrovertible evidence has been found that Iraq had developed a crude warhead design which could have become a viable weapon as early as next year.
Leaving aside Iraq and the states of the former Soviet Union, there are a further nine countries which we assess as either possibly possessing nuclear weapons now or having the scientific and technical capability to produce them within five years—and which have at some stage (even if not necessarily in the recent past) shown an interest in doing so.
The Government are active in addressing those manifold risks. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has today been in Moscow, following visits to Alma Ata and Kiev, to press our anxieties at first hand with the new leaderships. President Yeltsin will be in London on 30th January on his way to the meeting of the Security Council in New York which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will chair and which will provide an opportunity for world leaders to address the issues.
We stand ready to assist the former Soviet states in disabling and dismantling nuclear weapons. US officials are in touch with leaders of new states about this and other issues; we are also in very close touch with the US Administration to co-ordinate our efforts with theirs.
We are pressing for a tightening of the IAEA safeguards regime, including the greater use of special inspections whereby light could be thrown on undeclared but suspect nuclear facilities. But the limits of our ability to influence events must be recognised. We can tackle the potential risks but have no absolute control over whether or not they become actual. We must insure against the worst. Insurance in this context is adequate nuclear deterrence. The Government believe, in common with NATO, that now is not the time to drop our guard. We therefore remain committed to maintaining the effectiveness of our strategic nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future but at the minimum level necessary to preserve peace.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, referred to nuclear testing. The UK test last November was the 21st since 1963, the year of the partial test ban treaty. In the same period since that date the United States has carried out over 600 tests, the former Soviet Union has carried out about 460 and France has carried out over 130. The tests are needed to ensure that the weapons are safe and effective. For as long as our security depends on nuclear weapons we must continue to test.
630 The noble Lord also made a point about the United States' targeting of missiles. The United States has not switched its targeting to the third world. Perhaps the noble Lord has in mind an independent study, but that study does not represent US government policy.
It may be helpful if I explain in more detail what the Government mean by a minimum deterrent. We plan to replace the four-boat Polaris force with four Trident submarines. The fourth boat provides assurance that over the life of the force there will always be one boat on station at all times. That is the advice consistently given to governments over a period of 30 years.
For the deterrent to be effective, the system needs above all to be able to overcome modern anti-missile defences and still present the prospect of damage which no potential aggressor could consider as acceptable. That is the criterion which provides the minimum requirement for a deterrent to remain credible, not a comparison with the number of warheads or missiles possessed by other countries. That is the point which I would make to the noble Lords, Lord Jenkins and Lord Rea, when they question the increased capacity of Trident over Polaris when it first entered service.
Trident will need to be able to overcome defences that did not exist when Polaris entered service and which could be further improved, even within the current constraints of the ABM Treaty. The improvement known as Chevaline has increased the capability of Polaris, but it should not be forgotten that Trident will need to remain credible well into the next century in the face of all manner of possible future developments. The Government have repeatedly made it clear, contrary to what was implied by my noble friend Lord Birdwood, that we will not use the full capacity of the Trident D5 missile. We will, however, ensure that it carries the number of warheads that is necessary for it to remain an effective and credible deterrent. Anything else would be irresponsible.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, and others talked about the cost of Trident. I cannot accept the figure of £21.2 billion which the noble Lord mentioned, nor, indeed, the £19.4 billion mentioned by my noble friend Lord Mersey. The current cost estimate of Trident is £9,863 million at 1990–91 prices, of which £5,100 million has already been spent. That current cost estimate represents a total real reduction in Trident costs since 1982 of over £1.8 billion. We expect the running costs of Trident to be broadly similar to those of Polaris. They should be well below 2 per cent. of the defence budget.
The cost of missiles is about £944 million. However, I hope that noble Lords will understand that it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the numbers which we intend to purchase. Furthermore, it would not be appropriate for me to give an estimate of the cost of the fourth boat while negotiations with the contractor are still under way. The cost of fitting out the three vessels under construction is not readily available.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, also raised the matter of Article 6 of the non-proliferation treaty. For as long as 631 our security depends on nuclear weapons we shall maintain a minimum deterrent. That is entirely consistent with our commitments under the NPT.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred to weapon safety following the conclusions of the Drell Report. I can give him the assurance that Trident 2 missiles and nuclear warheads will not come into service with the Royal Navy until they have undergone a comprehensive series of trials, assessments and formal safety approval procedures. As previously announced, a review of UK nuclear weapon safety is under way. The review team, led by the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser, will present its findings shortly. The report will inevitably be classified but a statement of the conclusions of the working group will be made public at the appropriate time.
I have spoken about our strategic capability but the same considerations apply also to our sub-strategic capability. NATO's position is clear. These forces provide an essential link between the alliance's conventional and strategic forces. As the alliance Defence Ministers in the Nuclear Planning Group declared last October, NATO will:continue to base effective and up-to-date sub-strategic nuclear forces in Europe".In the words of the US President:We will, of course, ensure that we preserve an effective air-delivered nuclear capability in Europe. That's essential to NATO's security".That is the background to our commitment to ensure that once our current WE177 nuclear bombs reach the end of their life another up-to-date sub-strategic capability is available to take their place. In that regard and others I find myself entirely in agreement with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig.
In talking of our sub-strategic capability perhaps I may turn to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew. He asked why we should not rely on a US sub-strategic capability. Our independent deterrent provides what NATO recognises to be an invaluable second centre of decision-making within the alliance. To do that our deterrent must be credible. To be credible it must include an effective sub-strategic capability.
Trident is certainly a flexible system, capable of a limited as well as an all-out strike. But if we use Trident in that way there are several risks. There is the risk that such use may be misinterpreted as a strategic strike. Also, the firing of even a small number of missiles risks giving away the submarine's position and exposing it to the other side's anti-submarine warfare forces. Thus, even a limited use of Trident for sub-strategic purposes could imperil our strategic capability. A separate system will provide the Prime Minister with a greater range of options in time of war. Moreover, the separate system provides a hedge against the unexpected. As I said to the noble Lord in a Question he asked last Friday, it is unwise to have all our nuclear eggs in one basket.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, perhaps I could intervene to ask whether the Minister is suggesting that a Trident submarine on patrol is more vulnerable than the aircraft and airfields needed by TASM.
My Lords, as the noble Lord knows full well, we regard the submarine as being less vulnerable than almost any other system. But that does not negate what I said regarding the value of keeping our sub-strategic capability separate from the submarine systems.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, mentioned TASM and asked whether it would be extremely expensive. Clearly cost will be one of the factors to be taken into account when we choose between the available options for the WE177 replacement. No decisions are required immediately. The WE177 will approach the end of its service life around the turn of the century.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, described the dreadful consequences of a nuclear attack. Those consequences could just as easily be inflicted on London, but on a much greater scale. Our relations with the fledgling commonwealth of independent states are good. Trident will ensure that even if the worst happens and we return to the bad old days of the cold war, such an attack on this country can be deterred. The question of whether Russian missiles are at present targeted on London is irrelevant. While the missiles exist they can be targeted on us quickly.
The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, also remarked that there can be no halfway house in the world of nuclear weapons. I agree with him. The Government will ensure that adequate and credible strategic and sub-strategic forces are maintained, though only at the minimum level necessary. The position of the noble Lord's Front Bench is somewhat different. It would keep the pretence of a nuclear deterrent but not the substance, putting our defences in peril.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, advocated a part-time deterrent. One wonders what kind of deterrent he is thinking of. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked about disarmament. The new alliance strategic concept published at NATO's Rome summit reaffirmed the need for the alliance to maintain nuclear weapons to protect peace and prevent war. At the same time the strategic concept recognises scope for reductions in which the UK is playing a full part. NATO is scrapping its nuclear artillery and Lance missiles and cutting its nuclear bombs, amounting to an 80 per cent. stockpile reduction overall. The UK is cutting its RAF nuclear strike squadrons from 11 to eight; it is giving up nuclear artillery and the Lance missiles; it is reducing substantially the stockpile of WE177 nuclear bombs and it is removing tactical nuclear weapons from Royal Navy ships in normal circumstances. Moreover, we have said that if in time the United States and Soviet arsenals were substantially further reduced and if there had been no significant improvements in defence capabilities, we would consider how best we could contribute to the arms control process.
I have tried to answer most of the questions put by noble Lords. If I have missed any that are important I shall be happy to write to noble Lords later.
Commitment to nuclear deterrence means a readiness to take the necessary decisions. Only by taking the requisite decisions many years in advance can we maintain in the service weapon systems which are effective and therefore credible as deterrents. One 633 must reckon with an interval of perhaps 10 or 15 years between the decision to proceed and the actual in-service date of a new nuclear system. With such an interval before the consequences become apparent, it is all too easy to hope that the future will contrive to take care of itself. That is the primrose path of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, but it is not one that this Government are prepared to tread. With a geo-strategic revolution still in progress in the east and the menace of nuclear proliferation to the south, we are determined that this country should face the security challenges of the next century with nuclear forces adequate for all eventualities. If at that point we do not have the weapons we need it will be too late. They cannot be pulled out of a hat, or out of mothballs, at time of need. We cannot play with nuclear deterrence, treating it as some kind of marginal activity to be pursued or set aside as the whim dictates. We cannot turn it on and off like a tap. Either we believe in it and do it properly or we are engaged in a charade of self-delusion toying with the very future of mankind.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, I am sorely tempted to use the few minutes left me by the noble Earl to reply to the debate. I shall not do so. I believe it is not customary. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has been kind enough to say that I am an idealist in terms of policy. However, in terms of custom and procedure I am a conformist. For that reason—that it is not the custom to reply to a two-and-a-half-hour debate—I shall not do so.
However, I shall see whether I can find some other way of replying. There are a number of things I should dearly like to say. I shall write and ask, or something of that sort. I thank all noble Lords for participating in the proceedings. It is customary at the end of this kind of debate to say what a high level and interesting discussion it has been. There have been occasions when I felt that that comment was undeserved. Tonight such a tribute is well deserved and I thank all those who have taken part, whether they spoke for or against. I must say that I was rather more impressed with those who spoke for.
In the sure conviction that we shall return to this subject and that the tenor of the debate will move to my side, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.