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MoD cuts: 'no need for nuclear deterrent'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 August 2010

As Defence Secretary Liam Fox pledges cuts for the Ministry of Defence, a former Royal Navy commander tells Channel 4 News that Britain does not need its Trident nuclear deterrent.

British army soldiers march past parliament

Michael Codner, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, said: "My personal view is that there is a future without the deterrent."

Mr Codner was responding to the Defence Secretary Liam Fox's speech today, in which he said that there would have to be cuts in the "backroom" at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in London so the government could afford to invest in troops on the frontline.

Mr Codner cast doubt on whether making these cuts would yield the savings Dr Fox was seeking. "You need to bear in mind the examples from history," he said.

"In the mid-1990s, we had the second phase of the post-cold war review. The emphasis was on the frontline - and it didn't deliver big economies."

On Trident, which the government has pledged to renew, he said: "This is about a nation's perception of itself, rather than security. If you decide the status arguments aren't strong, you don't need a deterrent, like Germany and Japan.

"The government, like the previous government, has made a commitment to the deterrent that it would be difficult not to honour, particularly as it was in the manifesto."

Mr Codner said defence cuts being planned by the government should target aircraft, Tornados and Harriers, and tanks in Germany. "I would say we should rationalise attack aircraft and consider our heavy armour capability. I think the navy has been cut as far as it can be cut."

Ground troops were also likely to be cut after 2015, when British forces returned from Afghanistan.

Dr Fox announced a reform unit chaired by Lord Levene would carry out a full review of how the MoD was run.

To defence watchers, Lord Levene's role was significant, said Mr Codner, because he had been responsible for a study of the MoD's procurement policies in the 1980s when Michael Heseltine was Defence Secretary.

This review resulted in a new policy of "open competition", where the MoD was told it had to look beyond the British defence industry for its equipment.

At the MoD today, "you need a strong Heseltine-type figure. Whether Liam Fox is that, and whether he has rhe backing of David Cameron, remains to be seen."

Mr Codner said it was possible to make "quite considerable reductions" at MoD headquarters, but only if there were infrastructure reforms.

On the government's strategic defence and security review, he said that when the Labour government came to power in 1997 and set up a similar review, talks went on for 18 months.

This time, however, it was being completed "in a very short timespan".

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