This is a defence of white elephants, not the realm | Letters

Richard Norton-Taylor, Fawzi Ibrahim and Margaret Owen on the government’s security, defence and foreign policy review

Far from looking forward, as ministers maintain, the government is looking backwards in its defence and foreign policy review (Report, 15 March). The plan to raise the limit on the UK’s Trident nuclear stockpile by more than 40%, from 180 to 260 warheads, is a dangerous and expensive return to cold war thinking. Britain’s nuclear arsenal, dependent entirely on US technology, is even less of a deterrent and less relevant now than it was then.

Writing about Trident 11 years ago in his autobiography, A Journey, Tony Blair said: “The expense is huge and the utility … non-existent in terms of military use.” But he thought giving it up would be “too big a downgrading of our status as a nation”. It was nothing to do with credible defence, and it isn’t now.

Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship ever built for the navy and one the country can ill afford, is preparing to sail to the Pacific with two destroyers, two frigates and two supply ships, but with very few British aircraft and no realistic purpose other than to “fly the flag”. A former chief of defence staff described Britain’s two new carriers to me as “unaffordable vulnerable metal cans”.

As ministers were trumpeting ambitions for the future, the Commons public accounts committee brought them down to earth, warning that the Ministry of Defence’s 10-year military capabilities plan has a funding black hole of up to £17.4bn. And as ministers talk about protecting human rights, Britain continues to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia than any other country while increasing military assistance to neighbouring Gulf states, equally disdainful of human rights.
Richard Norton-Taylor

• The defence review fails to embody a “real strategic decision that resonates across the years” (Like Brexit, Boris Johnson’s vision for ‘global Britain’ is an idea not a policy, 17 March)( not because the EU “is not treated as important”, but because it was based on the premise that security stems from a nuclear warhead. It was not the lack of nuclear warheads or a shortage of frigates that compromised Britain’s security when Covid paid us a visit. It was the humble face mask. The review does nothing to address this. It calls for the free flow of capital, the very thing that brought about the deindustrialisation of much of the country, making us dependent on others for some of our basic needs.

Self-reliance is the only guarantee of a national security that’s meaningful and lasting. Self-reliance is not self-isolation, let alone self-sufficiency. Neither is it protectionist; it provides protection, not protectionism. It means creating a nation with a strong industrial base that can forge non-exploitative links with other nations with a military capability, to deter others from encroaching on its sovereignty and to defend it if they do.
Fawzi Ibrahim

• Austerity cuts, Brexit, the reduction in our foreign aid, and our arms sales to authoritarian and misogynist regimes have irrevocable impacts on women and girls worldwide. But there is far too little reference in this review to women, peace and security concerns, despite brief mentions of girls’ education and the UK’s work with the African Union. The reality is that we support or engage in armed conflicts, and our refusal to condemn states that target women for rape, murder and bereavement is shameful, so there is also hypocrisy in the review. Who on earth do we think we are? No longer in Europe, we have lost our moral compass, and we used to lead the world on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Margaret Owen
President, Widows for Peace Through Democracy


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
It’s unfair to blame the Ministry of Defence for all of its problems | Letters
Letters: The Ministry of Defence has been hit by factors outside of its control, writes Clive Murgatroyd, while David Lowry says that the expense of Trident renewal is a huge part of defence spending that cannot be ignored


27, Dec, 2019 @5:10 PM

Article image
Nuclear weapons service makes waves | Letters
Letters: Readers share their views on Trident and Steve Bell’s ‘profound’ cartoon


06, May, 2019 @4:55 PM

Article image
Defence cuts threaten Trident nuclear safety, warns MoD
Staff shortages and cash squeeze revealed by Ministry of Defence watchdog pose unacceptable risk, says ex-safety chief

Rob Edwards

27, Jan, 2011 @8:32 PM

Article image
Defence review: Cameron to announce new UK reconnaissance planes
Aircraft will plug gap widely seen as existing in British military security after 2010 SDSR scrapped RAF Nimrods

Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor

20, Nov, 2015 @6:25 PM

Article image
Danny Alexander: Trident review will set out 'compelling' list of alternatives
Exclusive: Chief secretary to the Treasury hails 'significant moment' in nuclear deterrent debate and calls for every party to face up to financial challenges

Nick Hopkins, defence correspondent

22, Jan, 2013 @7:59 PM

Article image
UK's nuclear deterrent infrastructure 'not fit for purpose', say MPs
Trident faces budget and skills gaps at time of international uncertainty, plus supply threats due to Brexit

Rajeev Syal

20, Sep, 2018 @11:01 PM

Article image
MoD awards £3.2bn in contracts for UK’s naval bases and Royal Navy fleet
Deals said to secure 1,500 jobs at Faslane on the Clyde, up to 4,000 at Devonport and more than 2,000 at Portsmouth

Richard Norton-Taylor and agencies

01, Oct, 2014 @8:57 AM

Article image
In support of Nicola Sturgeon’s stance on Trident | Letters
Letters: Rev Canon Dr Alan Race on the central ethical dilemma of deterrence as one of bluff, and Katy Jennison of Oxfordshire on wishing she could vote for Sturgeon


26, Nov, 2019 @6:09 PM

Article image
Labour’s progressive manifesto let down by stance on Trident | Letters
Letters: Dr Ian Fairlie says Labour’s support for nuclear power and nuclear weapons will cost the party votes, while Richard Norton-Taylor notes that even Tony Blair questioned Trident


25, Nov, 2019 @5:25 PM

Article image
President Macron is right: it’s time Nato came to an end | Letters
Letters: Nato now provides the US with a captive market for its weaponry, writes Anthony Matthew, while Rae Street highlights its nuclear ambitions


04, Dec, 2019 @5:55 PM