Britain’s House of Commons has voted resoundingly in favour of renewing the country’s nuclear deterrent, the Trident submarine programme, to the bitter disappointment of the 177 MPs who voted against it and the delight of the 472 in favour.
But internal politics aside, the vote should hardly come as a surprise: no nuclear weapon-possessing country is preparing to give up its nuclear arsenal for the foreseeable future.
Despite this, it’s worth noting that the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has been declining steadily since the end of the Cold War.
This is largely thanks to efforts from Russia and the United States whose arsenals account for over 93 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
In this context, Britain’s nuclear force posture is fairly low-key.
Despite this, many are concerned about the escalating costs of the Trident ‘Successor’ programme which has been recently put at £31bn by the government’s 2015 Strategic Defence Review (SDR). This is up from the £18bn (in 2015/16 prices) set out in the 1998 SDR, and the £25bn outlined in the programme’s Initial Gate report from 2011.
The current running and maintenance cost of Trident are equivalent to roughly five to six per cent of the defence budget.
Perhaps because of this, the public are largely split on the issue.
Although 44 per cent support replacement – that’s double the number that wish to see it gone – other polls have shown that opinion shifts when the public costs and alternative options are highlighted.
But overall it’s fair to say that interest in nuclear weapons has waned, especially since the height of the Cold War n the 1980s, according to Ipsos Mori polling.
At the time of the 1983 general election nearly a third of the British public said that “nuclear weapons/nuclear war/disarmament” was the most important issue facing Britain, with another 15 per cent pointing to “defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism”.
Since then, Trident has largely slipped from voters’ attention.