The advent of the public spending crisis has encouraged the Lib Dems and some left wing Labour MPs to return to the idea that the UK should not renew its nuclear deterrent. It is touching that even they now understand that the UK public sector is spending too much and needs to rein in its appetite to flash the plastic. They are right that this is the time to challenge old assumptions concerning spending.
Cancelling Trident is not where I would start, however. The defence budget is one of the smaller departmental budgets, and it is the only one which this government has kept under some control. That should not make it immune from cuts, but spending reductions should concentrate on doing more for less, not on doing less for less. I have never understood why we need more admirals than warships, nor accepted it should cost so much more to buy military equipement when the MOD draws up the specifications and tenders. The most popular defence cut today would be phased withdrawal from Afghanistan , and a decision not to fight a major war for a bit whilst we sort ourselves out.
The governemnt’s defence of the war in Afghanistan is that it is making our streets in Britain safe. How do they work that out? Our streets in the UK will be safe if all living in the UK today are united in opposing terrorism and if we have well controlled borders to sotp potential terrorists from visiting. There are no signs that fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is about to stop terrorist training or Taliban activities in Pakistan.
Over the next few years it looks as if more rogue states and potentially hostile countries will obtain or strengthen their nuclear arsenals That does not seem like a good time to announce that the UK is stoppping its nuclear defence, and is open to nuclear blackmail.
I do wish to see more progress with multilateral nuclear disarmament. That is one thing Mr Obama may be good at, and it is to be encouraged. That may offer us savings in due course on our nuclear programme. In the meantime, for all those of us who do seriously want to cut the deficit by spending less and spending better, the big budgets are welfare, local government, nationalised banks and quangoland. They offer considerable scope for reductions. Are the Lib dems and Labour up for that?