Moving Trident after a Scottish referendum could cost up to £50 billion
The Scottish Affairs Select Committee report on the removal of the UK's nuclear deterrent from Scottish territory has provided yet another reason to vote against an independent Scotland
The UK may be forced into a position of nuclear disarmament if Scotland is to become independent in 2014.
A report by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee focuses on one specific issue - the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland.
Trident is a joint venture between the UK and United States; the UK contributes £12 million a year to the U.S. as part of the running costs for the maintenance and storage of D5 missiles at King’s Bay, Georgia. The Trident D5 missile lifespan is expected to end around 2042.
By 2017, the whole Royal Navy submarine fleet (all nuclear powered) will be based at Faslane, along with eight Sandown-class mine counter measure vessels. Regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the Scottish Select Committee says this transfer will still go ahead and by the 2020, the workforce will have increased to over 7,500.
The British government is committed to the renewal of the nuclear deterrent and is expected to make a decision on the number of new submarines required to maintain continuous-at-sea-deterrence (CASD) in 2016.
The cost of replacing the UK’s nuclear deterrent is highly expensive. A ‘Trident Value for Money’ review by the present Government has suggested that the cost of replacing Vanguard to its Successor programme could cost between £11 and £14 billion.
Professor William Walker of St. Andrews University has described the policy to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland as the “heart and soul” of the Scottish National Party (SNP). In the SNP 2011 election manifesto, the party stated:
“Our opposition to the Trident nuclear missile system and its planned replacement remains firm –there is no place for these weapons in Scotland and we will continue to press the UK Government to scrap Trident and cancel its replacement”.
Scotland’s First Minister and leader of the SNP, Alex Salmond, more recently said that if Scotland voted to be a separate country (which it might in 2014) then he would want a written constitution drawn up that included an “explicit ban on nuclear weapons being based on Scottish territory”.
During the SNP 2012 conference, a resolution was agreed that a sovereign Scottish government would negotiate “the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet form Faslane”.
Liberal Democrat MP and former Minister for the Armed Forces, Nick Harvey told the Select Committee that the UK’s position is clear. The UK is not making any plans to move the nuclear deterrent from Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) service headquarters in Clyde, Scotland.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has proposed a timetable of eight different phases as a ‘Practical guide to de-activating and dismantling the Scottish-based Trident nuclear weapon system’ if the country is to be fully devolved.
- Phase 1 and 2 – it would take one week each to end the operational deployment of submarines and remove key and triggers.
- Phase 3 - eight days to disable missiles
- Phase 4 – eight weeks to remove warheads from submarines
- Phase 5 – 10 weeks to remove missiles from two submarines
- Phase 6 – it would take one year to disable all nuclear warheads and remove Limited Life components from Scotland
- Phase 7 - Up to two years to remove nuclear warheads from Scotland
- Phase 8 – to completely dismantle nuclear warheads if would take four years.
The de-activation and dismantling of Trident will require full co-operation between both the UK and Scotland. According to the report, “it is possible to deactivate Trident within a matter of days, and for the nuclear warheads, missiles and submarines to be removed from Scotland within twenty four months”.
If a newly-separated Scotland is to insist that Trident be removed from the Clyde within a short time frame, there is a chance the outcome for the UK’s nuclear deterrence could be disastrous.
Professor Malcolm Chambers, Research Director of UK Defence Policy at the Royal United States Institute (RUSI) explains plausible outcomes:
“The first thing it would do it to take the warheads of Aldermaston and basically CASD would end. In the particular circumstances of Trident bases in Scotland there is no way in which the UK Government could rapidly rebase these forces in England […] Arguably, it would be politically impossible for them to do so, so for Scotland in those circumstances to insist on them leaving would be to force the UK to make a decision effectively to de-nuclearise”.
If the CND timetable is implemented, Ainslie has said that the nuclear weapons program would be “forced into a position of disarming”.
The SNP and CND have taken rather sinister steps to deliberately leave the UK will little option but to disarm some, if not all of its nuclear weapons capability.
After the SNP’s October Conference, Salmond was quoted as saying, “far better it was curtains for Trident” if Scotland won independence, and that given the UK’s options, it could decide on “a much better policy, which would be to decommission the weapons system”.
If there were to be an independent Scotland and the Scottish government implemented the ‘speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from the Clyde within twenty four months’, the UK would need to consider the replacement of Faslane and Coulport.
Barrow, Milford Haven and Davenport have been suggested by defence analysts although the possible difficulties of these sites outweigh any benefits of relocation.
According to Francis Tusa, editor of monthly newsletter, Defence Analysis, he has seen reports which suggest the cost of relocation to be “£50 billion”. An indication of cost (in billions) is that it will cost a “gargantuan sum of money”, Harvey said. “A recent upgrade of facilities at Faslane had cost £3.5 billion and if we were to relocate it somewhere else, that figure would be dwarfed by whatever that would cost”.
The report suggests that it could take “up to twenty years or longer to develop a long-term replacement for Coulport and it is possible that the clock on relocating Trident would not start until the result of the referendum is known”.
It is understood that the UK and Scotland’s separation negotiations will include an agreement on associated costs if the Scotland insists on the removal of Trident and the UK has to foot the bill of being forced into developing a new base at great expense.
The warheads could be stored and loaded onto submarines at a base outside of the British Isles as a temporary measure. The two suggested options are the French facilities in Brittany or the US facilities in Georgia.
The SNP has said that if Scotland is to become independent they would like to co-operate with the UK on some military matters. It is clear that the UK is highly unlikely to co-operate if Scotland is unwilling to carry on hosting Trident.
The report states that if the Vanguard submarines were to come off patrol, the “UK would lose the ability to operate its nuclear deterrent and inevitably create the prospect of unilateral nuclear disarmament being imposed upon the Royal Navy and UK Government".
Read more on: minister for armed forces, coulport, faslane, atomic weapons establishment, HMNV Clyde, Scottish Affairs Select Committee, nuclear submarine, nuclear missiles, nuclear warheads, Trident, UK nuclear deterrent, nuclear weapons, Scottish independence, scottish national party, uk defence, Royal Navy, armed forces, Ministry of Defence, strategic defence and security review, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Alex Salmond SNP, and Nick Harvey and Trident
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