The rumour I discussed recently has now become fact: the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet, has confirmed that the cost of renewing the Trident Missile System will have to come out of the MoD budget – the Treasury will not be picking up the tab.
This is a direct rebuke to Liam Fox, minister with special responsibility for keeping foot out of mouth, who has been pitching the line that Trident’s capital costs should be met by the Treasury, given the national security implications. But from stories appearing across the news media today, there is a suggestion that the MoD spin machine is going in to bat for its minister.
Indeed, the line as given to the Beeb is that the capital cost of Trident replacement – at 20 billion notes, three billion more than when I last looked – is “half the annual defence budget”. As the cost would be spread over ten years, the comparison is spurious. The news as given by the Guardian and Maily Telegraph refrains from reprinting that one, although the reports there tell of the defence budget coming under “severe pressure”, and that Osborne’s decision is a “huge blow”.
For those who prefer a choice of broadcast voices, I did check the website of Rupe’s troops at Sky News (“first for breaking wind”), but they didn’t – as at 1135 hours today – even have the story at all. What to make, though, of those media outlets that have bothered to cover the story? The impression is given that Osborne’s decision is somehow unfair, and, as that impression does not vary even in the pages of the Maily Telegraph, this suggests the hand of the MoD at work.
Will they succeed in their spinning? Very doubtful. Push is slowly but inexorably coming to shove in the arena of defence spending. A 24/7 ability to deliver nuclear weapons is of little use against enemies whose arsenal consists of rifles, RPGs, IEDs, surface to air missiles, and an assortment of knives. Moreover, such enemies tend not to belong to any one country, and you need a country sized target when delivering nukes.
If we do decide to retain nuclear capability, there are less expensive options, as I’ve discussed previously. Trident cannot be sacrosanct: if the decision goes against its replacement, then the Royal Navy will just have to get over it.