The facts on Trident 'cuts': What the Lib Dems want is disarmament
New Trident is cheaper than cruise
Nobody - not even the Libs - is willing to say 'unilateral disarmament' to British voters. But it's what they're offering
So cruise, bombers or anything else other than new Trident can be forgotten about - they will cost a lot more than replacing Trident, and won't be nearly as good.
There is also very little point talking about a nuclear deterrent provided for us wholly or partly by other nations, perhaps allies like the USA or France. Both these nations are our friends, but it would not be reasonable to expect either to risk total destruction to avenge a nuclear-shattered Britain. If an aggressor nation still had missiles left after striking us, as it very probably would, that is precisely what they would be facing.
A great piece of kit - but not for carrying nukes with
There was a reason, after all, that NATO maintained a large "forward defence" tank army and associated air forces in Germany in the old days, facing the vast Soviet tank armies poised on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Had the NATO troops not been there, the Soviets might very well have been tempted to snatch everything up to the French border in a sudden armoured blitzkrieg - reasonably enough suspecting that Britain, France and the USA would not trigger nuclear Armageddon merely to save Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the rest.
In other words, it was openly acknowledged that the nuclear weapons of the UK, USA and France did not provide a defence for their NATO allies. When it comes to nukes, there are no allies; you need your own button for it to be any use.
So what are the Lib Dems going to propose at the next election?
In essence all they can propose, other than replacing Trident or simply disarming, is getting three or even two new ballistic subs rather than four. The savings under this plan will be utterly paltry, something less than £50m a year over the life of the new subs. For perspective this is about one thousandth of the MoD budget, or between one and two ten-thousandths of the welfare budget.
The fact is, that for a major economy like the UK (still either the sixth or seventh largest in the world, no matter how we may be feeling) the cost of a minimalist but highly effective nuclear force like Trident just isn't significant. To us, it's pennies.
So the Lib Dem plan offers no savings worth having, and it is basically disarmament anyway. It will mean lengthy (and inevitably publicly known) spells of not being able to launch a nuclear strike. An enemy wishing to hit us has only to wait for his moment - we might as well not be armed at all.
Given that there are no perceptible savings to be had, only somebody who basically wants to see unilateral disarmament by the UK - out of an overriding hatred of nuclear weapons, greater than his or her desire for British security and prestige - would vote for that plan.
Such people have always turned out to be in a very small minority among UK voters in the past - the Labour party found disarmament to be electoral suicide long ago, and abandoned it as an overt policy despite the fact that many of its activists and MPs make no secret of their continued desire for it.
Even the Lib Dems, the party of the single issue fanatics, don't dare to say straight out what they actually want. But the facts speak for themselves. There's no money to be saved here by fiddling with the deterrent - you can vote for disarmament (Lib Dem) or not (one of the other parties). Simple.
As BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale tells us today:
"There will be clear blue water between the two parties [Lib Dem and Tory] before the next election".
It's quite true - though probably not in the way that the leaders of the Lib Dems might wish. It's become even clearer than it already was that a vote for them is a vote for unilateral disarmament by the UK.
In a world which has gained two new nuclear-armed nations (India and Pakistan) since the end of the Cold War, with North Korea on the verge of joining the club too and Iran working hard towards it, that's unlikely to be a big vote-winner in 2015. ®
*You will also hear the unilateral disarmament lobby say that Trident - while admittedly under British operational control - is dependent on US satellites to work. What they mean is that a Trident warhead on its own is only accurate to within a mile or so, and that as a result it can wipe out a city but not something difficult like a hardened missile silo or deep bunker. With access to a satellite navigation system like the US GPS, it can strike much closer to the aim point and so eliminate targets of this sort.
That might matter to the US or Russia in an exchange of thousands of warheads targeted mainly in "counter force" style against enemy missiles. Britain by contrast needs only the ability to gut a country, and smashing a couple of dozen cities - which a Trident boat can do without any satellite help - should be fine for this.
In any case we will soon have access to the special encrypted military service of the upcoming European Galileo sat-nav constellation (the French are much more excited about this, as one may imagine).
We here at the Register have occasionally found a lot of new and unusually web-2.0ey readers turning up en masse as a result of articles like this one, keen to express their views on how great the Lib Dems are and how in fact their policies are in no way as niche as they may seem. Sometimes these readers say that they are long-time Reg readers who have always loved the site but now no longer do. Sometimes this appears to be actually true, but by no means always.
Anyway, we extend a warm welcome to such engagement no matter its source - in our vibrant forum pages.