Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Dannatt: Trident might not be needed in five years

Trident nuclear submarine
Existing Trident submarines will end their working lives in the 2020s.

The UK may not need an independent nuclear deterrent in five years' time, former head of the army General Sir Richard Dannatt has said.

Sir Richard, who advises the Tories on defence, said the government's decision to renew Trident was right but only "on a very narrow points decision".

Changes in global conditions could render it unnecessary, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Parliament voted in 2007 to renew Trident at a cost of £20bn.

The submarine-based nuclear missile system is due to expire in 2024. The Conservatives support the government in wanting to replace it.

'Can't predict'

Gen Dannatt said: "None of the major parties seems to have an appetite for not continuing with an independent nuclear deterrent at the present moment.

"On balance - on a very narrow points decision - that is probably right for now.

General Sir Richard Dannat
Do we want to stay as we are or become more ambitious or less ambitious?
General Sir Richard Dannatt

"It might not be right in five or 10 years' time. We have to evaluate every major issue like that in the circumstances of the time.

"We can't predict where we will be in five, 10 or 15 years' time - whether the world will become more proliferated or we will have a greater move towards non-proliferation.

"At the present time, I think the judgment is right that on balance we should continue with an independent nuclear deterrent."

Both Labour and the Conservatives say they will hold a strategic defence review soon after this year's general election if they win. The last one was in 1997.

However, Gen Dannatt said politics should be taken out of the process of planning Britain's future defence needs by making the reviews a regular event.

He said: "One of the things that must come out of this defence review is a realisation that only having defence reviews when the government of the day says we ought to have one is probably a mistake.

"The American system of a quadrennial - once every four years - defence review makes a lot of sense."

'Likely threats'

Gen Dannatt added: "It takes the politics out of defence, because the point about having regular reviews is, as the world circumstances and situation change, you can decide and decide again."

He said: "This debate has to focus on the character and nature of future conflict. What are the likely threats our country is going to face?

"Allied to that, what is our national ambition? Do we want to stay as we are or become more ambitious or less ambitious?

"That will lead us to what capabilities our defence should have, what our force structure should be and what our equipment programme should be and that will tell us where we should spend our limited resources."

There are three parts to Trident - submarines, missiles and warheads.

The government says work on a replacement cannot be delayed because the submarines alone could take up to 17 years to develop.

But opponents say an independent nuclear deterrent is not needed following the end of the Cold War and that the costs are prohibitive.

They also argue that renewing Trident could increase proliferation elsewhere.

The government argues that its nuclear weapons are designed as a deterrent and would only be used as a last resort in self-defence.



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