Toby Fenwick is the author of the CentreForum report 'Dropping the bomb: a post Trident future'.
2012 provides two contrasting anniversaries. It is 30 years since victory in the Falklands when against all the odds we saw the Union Flag once again flying over Stanley. And it is 20 years since the Red Army’s withdrawal from eastern Germany was in full swing following German reunification and the implosion of the Soviet Union.
The real paradox is that we are investing at least £25 billion in Trident when the rationale for it melted away two decades ago. As General Sir Mike Jackson recently pointed out, Britain’s conventional forces have been cut so far that we could not credibly retake the Falklands if Argentina staged a successful invasion. Given our assurances that we will not threaten non nuclear states, Trident is of course useless in defending the Falklands.
The £74bn of cuts over ten years that have to be borne by our conventional forces – £51 billion due to unfunded commitments from Labour, and £23 billion from deficit reductions – have hit the forces very hard. Losing 20% of their service manpower will leave the British Army smaller than at any point since the Napoleonic Wars and the RAF smaller than at any point since the inter war years. Worse is to come, with another £3bn to £5bn of cuts due to be announced by Philip Hammond before the Easter Parliamentary recess on 27 March.
In a report published today CentreForum examines whether we can justify Trident strategically or economically in the light of the effect of these cuts on our conventional forces, and so on Britain’s international standing and influence. The choice is stark: scrap Trident to invest in the conventional forces, or have Trident but such limited conventional forces we become "Switzerland with rockets".