back to article Retired army generals: Spend Trident money on the army

Three long-retired British army generals have written to the Times, expressing their opinion that the UK should not - as the government has said it will - renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme. The three ex-soldiers are Field-Marshal Lord Bramall (87, retired as head of the armed forces in 1985); General Lord Ramsbotham …


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  1. Tom


    ... Prime Minister.

    I am sure this was the story line on an episode of Yes Prime Minister, where Hacker tried to re-introduce National Service. He was planning to scrap Trident and use the money for the larger armed forces that would be a result of National Service.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    In actual fact, I suspect there's actually MORE need for an independent deterrent now - I'm far from convinced it ever made sense in cold war scenario, but for dealing with rogue states it starts to make sense.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Interesting piece

    ...and particularly the linked article, Lewis. While I don't agree that Trident should be renewed, your article just goes to show that a cogent, well-written article is more persuasive than liberal-bashing name-calling.

    Thing is, of course, that the Lib Dems don't stand just on the promise of decommissioning the nuclear deterrent - if they did, they would make rather more of a fuss about it, and not let the government keep it nice and quiet to avoid upsetting the proles. They stand for, er, Segways! And marriage to remarkably pert Romanians! And, er.... I'm not sure what else...

  4. Richard Porter

    We don't have a democracy.

    We can't decide on individual issues. Every four or five years we can decide between two centre-right parties which have more or less the same policies. We elect one lot until they fuck up the economy, then we chuck them out and elect the other lot. The only time we get a referendum is when the party in power doesn't want to take the blame for the outcome or when it is split down the middle.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not missing the point

    "The three generals mutter discontentedly that "our independent deterrent has become virtually irrelevant except in the context of domestic politics", rather missing the point that this is a democracy and domestic politics is where the issue has to be decided."

    I don't think this is missing the point; it is precisely the point. They are claiming that the issue is relevant solely to domestic politics, but the whole reason for a nuclear deterrent is to be relevant to international politics (i.e. to deter someone from doing something). If the British public were deeply concerned about U.K. trade agreements with the moon, it might result in money being allocated, but it still wouldn't make it a good idea. If the programme has no relevance internationally, then it's a waste of money whether it is popular or not.

    If you think Trident actually makes a difference to anyone outside the U.K. (other than foreign defense contractors who sell and service bits of it), then you can disagree with them, but don't just dismiss the statement as missing the point.

  6. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    I can remember the debates in the late 70's about the UK no longer needing large aircraft carriers saying they were no long needed by the UK's defences since we were so focused on defeating the USSR's subs in the north east Atlantic

    So we built 3 smaller carriers that could carry 20 harriers each

    Then came the Falklands

    Then gulf war 1

    then Bosnia

    Then Afganistan

    then Gulf war 2

    All where having a large carrier capable of lobbing 60+ planes in the air would be damned handy

    Flames... because we'll all end in them

  7. Pete Silver badge

    unlikely the military would keep any savings

    Putting aside the obvious question about who these puppies would ever be used against[1]. the biggest flaw in these guys arguments is the idea that the military could simply divert the money saved into buying more stuff to kill people. It's much more probable that the govt. would merely trouser the cash themselves - having said to the mil. "look what you made us do" - and spend it on something equally unpopular: like more CCTV, or ID cards.

    [1] Nukes are not a weapon per. se. they're merely a tool for diplomacy. however, they're a bloody expensive way to say to other countries "look, we should be taken seriously". Especially when everyone knows that they'd never be used. The popular argument that we don't know what the russians or chinese will develop into over the next 20 years forgets the counter-argument that we don't know what the americans will evolve into either. I tend to agree with the "Yes Minister" view, that the only reason we keep them is because the french have them.

  8. Stephen
    Thumb Up

    Cold War is over, time to move on.

    These guys are right on track if you ask me. Trident is a massive waste of money that is not needed in today's world.

    Yes I know some may argue that if your attacked then you should be able to respond, but lets face facts if the UK was attacked then as a NATO member the remaining members would have to come to assist in such an eventuality.

    Its amazing that we preach disarmament to others yet still retain these weapons ourselves (at great financial cost), I too would rather the armed forces got what they truly needed rather than my tax money being wasted on Nukes that everyone knows SHOULD NOT ever be used.

    As a deterrent their value is worthless because everyone knows that nobody wants to push the button and bring about nuclear annihilation.

  9. Whitter

    The security council

    It's a £20bn ticket to sit on the UN security council. No more, no less.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    The scenarios in your linked article are lacking context. Does our enemy suddenly decide to fire without our knowledge of their capability, without an existing conflict, without motive?

    One other thing:-

    "The prime minister has no button to press."

    Good, even if we have the response I wouldn't want them to use it, if the missiles are inbound then it's already failed.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Of course ......

    I was very, very drunk .........

  12. Anonymous Coward

    If the Americans want them, let them pay for them

    "Our" Trident missiles can not be fired without US-supplied codes which can be changed by the US without notice 24/7. Unless the current occupant of the White House agrees with the decision to fire them they're just a heap of iron. As such, they can only be fired at America's enemies when America wants them fired. So why are we paying for them and maning them?

    Trident is worthless as a weapon or as a diplomatic lever specifically because it is in no way independant. We can't even fire them in response to a direct attack.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Childhood memories come flooding back...

    Sir Humphrey: Don't you believe that Great Britain should have the best?

    Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.

    Sir Humphrey: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident - it's lovely, it's elegant, it's beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?

    Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don't need it.

    Sir Humphrey: [Begrudgingly and exasperated] Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.

    ...Well, wikiquote helped.

  14. Secretgeek

    @ Whitter

    If that's the case then the question really needs to be 'Is the seat on the council worth £20bn?'

    My own feeling, with admittedly nothing to back it up, is that it is. What else does the UK have that could replace the influence with countries that aren't on the council?

    How often is our vote bought at the council and how much is that worth to the UK? Two questions that certainly can't be answered by anyone here but I suspect the answers are 'As often as the Americans want to pay.' and 'Significantly more than £20bn.'

  15. Tim Croydon


    I agree that the scenarios presented in your referenced article do make you think "oh no, we must have a deterrent". However, I suspect once a nuclear war starts it's pretty much game over anyway.

    I do think the money might be better spent on better ISTAR equipment and a more flexible range of more precise technologies better suited to the most likely threats (terrorist attacks, support to deployed forces, etc.).

  16. Britt Johnston
    IT Angle

    El REG think/regeneration tank needed

    Can't you guys bring together a few experts from the old days when IT was a high value game? Then you could spout off on lot of things that are more worthy to be on a spending list.

  17. Adam Foxton
    Thumb Down

    @"The Cold War is Over" commenters

    Yes, the cold war is over. But it lasted for 50 years, and the current trend for antiterrorism has lasted all of 7 (before that we had the ability to combat terrorism without cowering in corners). So it's more likely that we'll need the WMDs.

    If we get rid of them then how do we get them back when they ARE useful? Phone up the 'States and say "Excuse me, good man, but we'd like to buy 100 nuclear weapons of varying descriptions. Could you build them have them over here by tommorrow? We're having a spot of bother with the Ruskies, you see"?

    Also, if we lose them then we lose the ability to wipe off the map any country allying it with terrorists. Which is a bad thing as it removes a further obstacle for terrorists- and provides no benefit for us beside a couple of tens of billions of pounds that'll just get wasted shoring up failing businesses or better funding the military.

    The Nuclear Deterrant is one of those things that takes a great deal of money and provides no visible benefit. But that's the point- if the benefit WAS visible the deterrant would have failed.

  18. Adam Foxton
    Dead Vulture

    From a humanitarian point of view

    surely the Trident programme is a good thing? Otherwise those 20bn will be spent on ships and equipment and men with the sole purpose of killing lots of people.

    The Trident replacement would be a £20Bn lifeline to millions of people- it's money that can't be spent putting our soldiers at risk. It's money that cant be spent killing little children. It's money that can't be wasted on ID cards or shoring up failing businesses.

    Not replacing Trident would cause the death of thousands- and that's discounting the deterrant effect that it's very proveably had.

    You see that gravestone icon? Buy shares in people who make these if we don't replace Trident.

    And @Pete: Yes, we don't know what the Americans will evolve into. But they're less likely to turn into things we don't like than China or Russia with whom there are already tensions.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Robert Long

    No US involvement is required to fire Trident.

    I agree that it's broadly useless though.

  20. Glyn

    missile count

    When this was in the news a while back they said that they were going to make 250 odd new nuclear missiles. We have 4 trident subs each of which has 4 nuclear missiles on board which by my maths = 16 missiles in total, if you have a spare one of each, that's 32, what are the other 220 odd for? Where will they be kept? What is the point in them generally?

    I fully accept that I may be missing something here, but my maths is probably right :P

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Death Ray

    Nukes are old technology. The trident budget should go into developing a Tesla style death ray capable of disintergrating tanks and vapourising troops from distances of up to 200 miles.

    Tesla could do it in 1908 with Victorian style tech we should be able to do it more better and as an added bonus, no radiation just lots of electricity traveling at the speed of light.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sodom and Gomorrah


    Christianity incompatible with nukes


    Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah


    Turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction


    Sounds pretty nuke-like to me; granted it's Old Testament...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The French

    There is one simple reason why the UK must its nuclear weapons: the French have got them.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Steady on!

    Yes it all sounds fine, no nukes and all that, but while the world may no longer require a nuclear deterrent what happens when aliens attack or a huge asteroid suddenly appears?

    You'd all feel pretty silly for junking the nukes then I think.

  25. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Opening up a NeuReal Assymetric Front

    "As even the most passionately committed anti-nuclear general would acknowledge, the armed forces must remain obedient to the civil power."

    Why, Lewis, whenever they are so corrupt and so easily corruptible. I would suggest the exact opposite as being a much more agreeable future prospect albeit with it mitigated by a Novel Transparency which would share the Burden and the Decisions Making in an Ambiguous House Propping up and Pimping Democracy rather than Championing Meritocracy..... although in the former is the latter to oft voted down with Ignorance triumphing over Beta Good Sense and Innovative New Proposals....... such as a Dept. of CyberIntelAIgent Research and dDevelopment for NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive Defence Works ...... for Command and Control of Critical Computers and Compromising Communications in CyberSpace.

    And that would attract Foreign Investment and not cost a Dime, which is probably also a concern to those with their snout in the pork trough, but that is their concern to have angst about.

  26. null


    "'Our' Trident missiles can not be fired without US-supplied codes which can be changed by the US without notice 24/7."

    Do you have a source for this?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    How about...

    spending the money on social welfare or industries that do not inflict pain, destruction and suffering on other sentient beings?

    The industrialists, military men, those who profit from the arms trade and their proxies in the media are in the business of inventing, create and talking up threats to justify their existence as a deterent.

    Missing the point exactly that the best way to stop war is not to start it.

  28. Watashi

    Our friends in America

    The Nu Lab government clearly sees the UK as a lesser partner in a great Anglo Saxon political, economic and military superpower, and signing up to the new nukes is part of this political axis. The key factor is that there is currently a world-wide ban on developing new nuclear weapons, but just like the war in Iraq its much easier for the US to go against the international community's wishes if the British are on their side. Quid pro quo - the US gets our political support, we get a new nuclear deterent that would not be affordable if we tried to go our own way.

    If we cancelled the Trident replacement, it would really, really annoy the Americans - in my book, this is reason enough to do it.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @"No US involvement is required"

    Sorry, but everything I've read says it is, at some level or other.

    Unless you can provide a definitive (ideally independent) reference that this really is an *independent* nuclear deterrent, I'm not convinced.

    Re "£20Bn that cant be spent killing little children": er, what exactly do you think Trident is for, or would happen if the button was independently pressed? A lot of little children (and others) would die.

    If we put a bit of the £20Bn to truly "thinking of the children", and put some of that through the UN, would that not be better? it might even get us a voice at the UN (if we thought we needed one).

  30. bazza Silver badge

    Safeguard your political legacy!!!

    No Prime Minister with any ability to think of the future will get rid of the UK's nuclear deterrent. It's simply a matter of stumping up £1billion-ish / year, or possibly going down in history as the Prime Minister who got rid of them only then to be faced with an unforeseen foreign nuclear ICBM threat. There'd be no recovering from that scale of cock-up. Remember Brown's £2billion splashout on fixing the political damage from scrapping the 10% tax band, just to try and win a labour safe seat in a by-election? £1billion / year is cheap when it comes to safeguarding a political legacy.

    It's interesting to note what's happened between India and Pakistan. It was only after both countries demonstrated a nuclear capability (through underground tests) that they sat down and started patching up their relationship over Kashmir (it's not perfect but it's better than it was). The nuclear threat in that case seemed to have a sobering effect on both countries.

  31. Edward Miles



    I like to think in the event of my death by a nuke being launched against the UK, that the government's reaction would not be to blow up the innocent civilians in another nation. The reason a nuclear deterrent is so useless is that the only people likely to fire on the UK are dictators, who are unlikely to get hit by any retaliation, instead the (realativly) innocent people of said country would. Thusly, no. I don't think we need a nuclear deterrent.

  32. Graham Jordan

    My two cense.

    Waste of money if you ask me. Actually that’s a lie, it’s a good idea to have a deterrent. The problem I have with nukes and indeed the armed forces is simply this;

    We are an aggressive state, we have been for centauries and for as long as our head is up the arse of the yanks we shall continue to be.

    With the exception of the Falklands we've not fought a defensive battle since world war 2 and even then the Falklands was a political move by Thatcher in order to raise public opinion of the Conservatives, it was a war that shouldn't have been fought and could have been fought in the court room.

    We're only the target of rogue states because we're complete assholes with utter disregard to said "rogue states" way of life.

    Pull all our forces out, keep our traps shut, throw no weight behind Americas continuing reign of terror and hey presto our enemies will disperse.

  33. N1AK

    Well said JonB

    "Good, even if we have the response I wouldn't want them to use it, if the missiles are inbound then it's already failed."

    You exactly summed up the issue with the linked article. The first scenario is the only one that makes any sense at all. We could easily base our missiles on land, and make it part of the deal that allows America to keep Nuclear weapons in the UK that we also are allowed to do the same in the US.

    I believe we should have a Nuclear arsenal and accept that any such arsenal will be in some way reliant on the US for full functionality (hell our warning system will be their NMD system). I don't however think we need to maintain a fleet of submarines for this, when we could use a cheaper land system and spend the money saved on say some aircraft carriers that will be of use in the non-nuclear wars we actually intend to fight.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    @Robert Long

    It seems you have been impressively misinformed. The "launch codes" that we see in movies all the time are actually related to arming the warheads - all of which are British. The missiles themselves are American, but we retain operational control of them. We can launch them independently, but would be unlikely to do anything without American support and in reality the missiles will never get used. They are a deterrent and if they are ever actually needed we have already lost.

  35. Joe

    Why don't we...

    Just use all the ICBMs and WMDs we found in Iraq?

  36. Mark Dowling
    Thumb Down


    Falklands, Kosovo, GWI, GWII, Afghan, Sierra Leone - what use was the Vanguard fleet for any of them? Add to that it has a Scottish base so if they get their independence and decide to close Rosyth what then?

    Spend the money on more Astutes and Tomahawk missiles if it has to be spent on subs - a far more credible stick to threaten anyone with than an ICBM.

  37. Tim

    @ Adam Foxton

    Very well said sir.


  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Actually, the US have several layers of veto on Trident, from the hardware, through the software and on upwards. For example, the system simply will not accept an independant attack plan (ie, one adopted by NATO, which means one adopted by the US) and even if such a plan could be forced into the system, the hardware can be locked by the Pentagon at any time. In practise, the system is probably always locked with a special clause to allow test firings, which it is capable of distinguishing. That's all I know about but since the source code for the software is not shared with the UK, there could be absolutely anything else in there too.

    That's just the way it is, sorry.

    America is not our ally and never was, WE are their ally, following them around like the school bully's sidekick hoping that being sycophantic will spare us their wrath. They would never and have never hesitated to shaft us when it suits them. To say that they are any different from Russia or China is foolhardy and ignorant. All three are superpowers pursuing their goals which are chiefly the control of energy supplies to their economies by a combination of manipulating international treaties, assassination-based regime change, and propaganda-based regime change. Democracy and all the rest of the crap spouted by their politicians is just vote fodder for the people back home.

  39. Pete Silver badge

    @Adam Foxton

    > And @Pete: Yes, we don't know what the Americans will evolve into. But they're less likely to turn into things we don't like than China or Russia with whom there are already tensions.

    I'd suggest that in the future we'll spend a lot more time and money kissing up to the Russians (who could / do turn off a lot of our energy supply at will) and the Chinese (who could turn off all our manufactured goods, equally at will) than the Ameriicans, as the worst they could do is stop selling us crappy TV programmes. As it is, I doubt that we'd rank particularly highly in the considerations of any of these countries either with or without nukes.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @"No US involvement is required"

    >Unless you can provide a definitive (ideally independent) reference that this really

    >is an *independent* nuclear deterrent, I'm not convinced.

    Right, such a source would have to have detailed technical access to Britain's entire nuclear weapons arsenal and sub fleet without being connected to either government or military.

    Conspiracy theorists aside, we can only work with the information available.

  41. Mike Richards Silver badge

    @ Glyn

    The discrepancy is that Trident is a MIRV missile - that is one mind-bendingly expensive missile can do the work of half a dozen older ones, by deploying multiple warheads which each steer their way to a city of *YOUR* choosing.

    Honestly, what's not love?

    Each Trident missile can carry up to eight warheads which means you could use one to blow up most of London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh and still have one left over for Milton Keynes (just because).

    How cool is that???

  42. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    What's wrong with a bomber force?

    Sorta surprised that no one mentions the option of buying a few B2's; it can be used for the conventional stuff when there's no immediate threat, and graduate to standing air patrols when needed. Having some land based cruise missiles as a bad up would be fairly cheap too


  43. Charles Tsang

    An Armed Society is a Polite Society

    Heh, the deterrent inherrent in most arguements for keeping Nukes should be applied to handguns too!

    Muggings should stop overnight as would knife crime!

    No-one is going to rob a post office, if they don't know who's "carrying heat" in the queue will they?

    After all, the Granny second in the queue might be a little deaf, but she can see when that hoodie pushes in, she could pull her 9mm glock from her trolley and teach him a lesson in manners there and then!

    But far from being an impolite society, I don't think America has benefited from the inception of the optimistically named Colt "Peacemaker" to these modern times.

    And not having nuclear weapons would give the UK a disarming arguement. Just think about the Dalai Lama or the Pope or Mother Teresa or Ghandi. Do you think their messages of peace would have carried as much weight if you knew they preferred high capacity 9mm automatic pistols as opposed to old fashioned but powerful and reliable revolvers?

  44. Rick Silver badge


    Your maths is right, but you're missing two very important things. Firstly, each sub has 16 missiles, not 4. Secondly, each missile can have up to 12 separate warheads. By my count that's a maximum of 768 nukes required. Of course, "up to" doesn't mean that every missile actually does have 12 nuclear warheads, so obviously that number will be rather lower, but 250 new warheads doesn't sound at all out of order.

  45. Anonymous Coward

    how about...

    ...we keep the nukes, get rid of everything else, stop interfering in other parts of the world. Since everyone will have nukes in due course maybe this is inevitable.

    The big woolly one please... to keep warm. Russia can sit on it's gas if it likes, so to speak.

  46. ian


    "What missile would Christ use?"

    Surely there is a religious war in the offing, with pro- and anti-nuke Christians calling down hell-fire from heaven on one another.

    Mine's the one with the bloody cross on the back.

    Thumb Down


    "But the aggressor nation still has missiles left, and it is clear that in the event of any retaliatory strike, Washington or Paris will share the fate of London. France declines to act. In America the debate is longer and harder fought, but in the end the result is the same."

    Lewis, what planet were you on when you wrote that? Can you really envisage the American public letting its government leave alone a country that has demonstrated a willingness to use nuclear weapons against the West instead of unleashing over-whelming devastation to neutralise the threat and deter anyone else from trying something similar?

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Seriously, JB, what planet did you grow up on? The US has absolutely no intention of allowing us to nuke who we want when we want. For that matter, why would they?

    Just for a laugh, why do YOU think they hide the source code to the Trident system we pay them billions for? It's not to stop leaks - US personnel are as (un)likely to leak as Brits.

  49. 4irw4y

    Problems with money? Dig Hole, Hit Poles And Have It All Just For $999,000,000,000,000!

    Oh, talk about nukes? Does anyone really know why nukes are called a suicide weapon?

    "call from those who front each other but they the one shall be heard in waters seven whales shall pour their fountains at head and feet of goddess she will find pleasure relief will release the shield will cry her tears away meeting kiss of one was her beloved enemy will open herself for new life"

    New Life? New Pharaons, maybe?

    - just words, nothing special for them to moder them...

  50. 4irw4y
    Thumb Up

    By Anonymous Coward Posted Friday 16th January 2009 18:07 GMT

    Anonymous Coward, Fri 16 Jan 18:07

    Man, you all will have great discounts in Russian hotels if there are not more than ten of you.


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