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Philip Hammond’s Iranian justification for keeping Trident

11 November 2012

4:10 PM

11 November 2012

4:10 PM

The Sunday shows have been dominated today by the aftermath of George Entwistle’s resignation. But Phillip Hammond gave a significant and combative interview on the Sunday Politics.

Pressed by Andrew Neil on Michael Portillo’s criticisms of renewing Trident, Hammond dismissed them with the line that the former Defence Secretary ‘doesn’t have access to the information that would allow him to make that judgement on a sound basis.’ He then went on to argue that Trident is a necessary insurance policy in a world that will see an ‘an arms race in the Middle East’ if Iran does get the bomb.


Iran, and the dangers it poses, was also Hammond’s justification for selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Though as Andrew Neil pointed out, it is hard to see what use rifles and the like would be against an Iranian bomb.

In a sign of how much the situation in Syria is worrying the government, Hammond would not rule out military assistance to the anti-government forces in Syria if a legal basis could be found for it. But a UN resolution authroising this remains a distant prospect.

In the last few days, Hammond has confirmed his desire to increase the size of the reserves in an attempt to make up for the regular army shrinking in size by 20,000. When pushed on how he would persuade firms to allow more of their staff to sign up he opened the door to the government paying the employer’s national insurance for reservists who work for small firms. He also didn’t rule out legislation to bar companies from discriminating against reservists when hiring.

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Show comments
  • paulthorgan

    I think that some perspective is required on Iran’s behaviour.

    The Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988 because the Iranian army had been
    reduced to the same state as the Imperial German Army in 1918. It was
    on the verge of refusing to fight any more.

    Starved of weapons, the army’s strategy appeared to be to send human
    waves of under-trained conscripts against enemy lines until the Iraqi
    machine-gunners tired of the slaughter. Before the Army collapsed,
    Khomeni started peace feelers that saw the end of the conflict to status
    quo ante bellum.

    Three years later, the Iranians must have watched with horror as the
    coalition air campaign destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure in a under a
    month and wiped out the Iraqi Army, in 100 hours. The USA had managed
    to do to Iraq in less than 2 months what Iran had failed to to in 10

    The only reason why US tanks did not advance on to Baghdad to topple
    Saddam was simply because there was no mandate to do so. The Coalition
    forces managed to do this with less than 300 fatalities, a good
    proportion of these self-inflicted.

    So back in 1991, Iran was a country that was unable to defend itself. It could only rely on diplomacy to protect it.

    Fast-forward 12 years and again Iran saw that the USA and UK were
    able to occupy Iraq with minimal resistance. Iran has been rapidly
    trying to get back to a position it enjoyed under the Shah where it had
    an alliance with a major superpower plus also a modern army capable of
    defending itself. Any nuclear weapons development is in the first place
    a desire to ‘punch above its weight’ in global politics.

    There is only one scenario where nuclear weapons use would be
    legitimate and this would be to detonate them on Iranian soil to defend
    against an invasion.

    For Iran to use an atomic bomb against another country would be to
    immediately place itself and people as global pariahs, like the Germans
    in 1945. Its leadership would be seen as mass-murderers comparable to
    the worst of the 20th century and its philosophies would be discredited.

    Iran is still not in a position to have a direct military
    confrontation with any country as the net of mutual assistance and
    diplomatic agreements would result in its defeat. However, like the
    Soviet Union, it is confronting the West indirectly using similar

  • PierrePendre

    The Iranian argument is a perfectly rational one. Iran will certainly become a nuclear state and wlll have the capacity to deliver warheads over long distances. I don’t subscribe to the Mad Mullahs theory but I think they are perfectly capable of playing geopolitical hardball in pursuit of what they want.
    We are going to see a surge in nuclear proliferation in the coming years, including to countries it will be hard to trust will possess them for deterrent purposes.
    How far can Iran be trusted? Imagine if Britain gave up its nuclear insurance and in some future global standoff Iran threated to drop a bomb on London unless it got its way. Of course, the British government would surrender rather than take the risk of standing firm.
    Britain wouldn’t even have to be central to whatever the standoff was; its weakness would be enough to make it a collateral hostage.
    Renewing Trident will be expensive; not renewing it might be more so.

  • Ian Walker

    “…it is hard to see what use rifles and the like would be against an Iranian bomb.”

    Not hard at all. Iran’s first bomb will be aimed at Israel. And it’s not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that the Saudis will then decide that a nuclear Iran is not such a great idea.

  • John Sawyer

    Apparently a former Defence Secretary “doesn’t have access to the information that would alloe him to make that judgement on a sound basis”. What a deeply arrogant sttement. So we are supposed to take Mr Hammond’s word for it? Is that the basis for our democratic politics?

  • highlandlaird

    Tory politicians are just stupid. Their grasp of logic is tenuous to say the least. They have no conception of nuclear weapon capabilities, which is not perhaps surprising as none have any scientific background, but their desire to keep nuclear weapons is because they perceive they give them credibility internationally. They do not. They are merely unbelievably expensive, unusable penis extensions.

  • dalai guevara

    As a percentage of GDP, British Defence spending has gone from 19% in 1960, to 13% in 1990, reducing further to about 9% in 2012. This reduction is justfied and is quickly reversable in some areas, as warfare has undergone total change even within my lifetime. We need to have a good hard look at what the antiquated views of what we believe is a deterrent is currently worth.

  • Swiss Bob

    Not a comment on the policy as such as I’d like to see a vast increase in defense spending but to suggest reservists, well trained ones, can’t fulfill their role does not ring true with me.

    My grandfather was on exercise in Somerset in the Summer of ’14, he didn’t get home to Manchester until ’19. He must have known what he was doing as he came back alive, with among other things a Luger surrendered to him by a German officer.

    He was in the RAMC and could take a leg off in around five seconds if his stories have any truth and my searches for his military records indicate he was indeed at Gallipoli, in N Africa and on the Somme,

    Some reservist.

    • HooksLaw

      Large numbers of Americans serving in the middle east were and are reservists. Even now we have lots of reservists out there.
      We already spend huge sums on defence. I do not see what the experiences of 1914 bear on 2014. The major theatre Europe is at peace and linked with alliances and are all democracies. The soviet union has melted away. we keep trident to protect our homeland from nuclear attack.
      Just where do you want to send our army?

      Most of the israeli army is reservist.

      • telemachus

        Yes Hooks the Israelis train their whole population as reservists as an indoctrination tool just in case they come out of school with a vestige of sympathy for the Palestinians

        • HooksLaw

          You obviously received your indoctrination early.

          • telemachus

            More could do with the same

  • vix

    Renew Trident? Pay the US
    Use Trident? Pay the US
    The specious relationship.

    • HooksLaw

      Do the US build our submarines or build our warheads? Your ignorance transcends your anti american bigotry.

      • vix

        Guardian et al May 2010

        Despite running costs of around £2bn a year, Trident was cheaper for being a US franchise: Britain leases its nuclear missiles from the US and its submarines creep across the Atlantic to pick them up from a base in Georgia. Britain also relies on US software and US satellites for missile-targeting information. The nuclear warheads for these missiles may be built at Aldermaston, Berkshire, but American companies own a substantial part of that factory. This is all a key part of the “special relationship” and Britain’s subordinate place within it.

  • anyfool

    The Reserves need building up for the invasion of Leicester, Bradford and Tower Hamlets? Keep Trident for the Birmingham lot and Jasper Carrot.

  • MichtyMe

    If Iran is to be nuked won’t there be a queue to do this, with the Israelis and Americans first in it. Will there be anything left for us?

  • MichtyMe

    To nuke Tehran you don’t need submarines and missiles that can deliver multiple, individually guided, warheads. If the Israelis ever do it, it won’t be with something as sophisticated and expensive as Trident.

    • starfish

      Trident is not simply designed against Tehran, it has to deal with the full range of potential threats. Cut corners and you have a threat you cannot deal with – but Trident can deal with the lesser ones

      • MichtyMe

        Trident was designed to annihilate the Warsaw Pact not a rogue state. The only possible target requiring all that capability is the USA. And who knows, if they elect in the future, a millennialist religious nutter, last week we almost had a member of a really weird cult.

      • HooksLaw

        Yes thats fair enough, but Michtyme makes a good point also.
        I am still of the opinion we can extend trident even further and create alternative deterrents to bolster it.
        But I am a bloke on a couch at the end of it all.

        I think we could build cheaper submarines with fewer missiles, maybe fewer submarines which do not have to be constantly at sea to meet the threat we now face. Mixed in with other things like aircraft and cruise missiles.
        But maybe a straight replacement is indeed the most economic and efficient. I just think we perhaps have a longer period to decide.
        But we should keep the deterrent.

  • HooksLaw

    I thought there was already legislation to protect reservists.
    We should definitely make more use of reserves.

    The rogue state argument is a sound one for preserving the nuclear deterrent. Less so for like for like Trident replacement. I guess some sort of submarine replacement makes sense, but there are alternatives to Trident.

    • starfish

      None as successful or with the ability to meet the full range of potential threats

  • barbie

    I can see his point of view, but decreasing our armed forces is worrying. When WW2 broke out we were found wanting, and that had been by a Tory government; we had poor health amongst our citizens, who were found not fit to fight. We all know now, it’s a different scenorio now, times have moved on, but the principle is the same, we will be found wanting again?
    Has for his interest in Syria, I’m very unhappy with his statement. We should keep our noses out of it, it’s not our problem, and there are plenty of Arab countries which could offer assistance and money. They can afford it, we can’t. We are ‘war tired ‘ here, and fed up with different govenments getting us into wars which we have no interest. It is not a threat to the UK, so we should keep out of it. We are becoming the world’s policemen and women, while Obama in his election speech said ‘no more wars’ so we all know where he stands. These wars, seek only to give politicians the avenue to pontificate on the world stage, at our expense. Where will the money come from if we are so starved of cash? NO enough it enough, and army generals and defence ministers can start to rethink what they do, UKplc have had enough, and its our grandchilden who will have to pick up the bills.

    • HooksLaw

      Our national security is shared by membership of NATO. Who is going to invade us? Where from?

      Our defence rests on relatively mall elite special forces, on drones on the collection of intelligence on the application of intelligence. It rests on building alliances on other countries realising that they are better allied to us than to someone else.

      Our defence rests on our army becoming more special forces like, not in vast numbers of tanks and artillery, though we should retain the skills needed to operate them. Sadly we do not really need these vast aircraft carriers, but thats too late.

      • barbie

        You say we share our defence via Nato, the problem is some within this orgainsation don’t meet the requirements when needed. They shy off or refuse to accept it, take Libya recently, not many of our so called partners in Europe were prepared to stand by us, only France, Italy, and that’s about it. We can’t just depend upon Nato, we must have some protection ourselves. Look to history, we were not prepared for WW2, but it was the state of the citizens themselves that were poorly in health, we are heading for poor health again within our citzens with the economic cutbacks. It was Tories then and Tories now, it’s happening all over again. We will probably not have ‘invaders’ but an enemy within, and a home trained army is essential.

        • HooksLaw

          We do spend a lot to defend ourselves. Our basic national defence is covered by NATO and trident.
          We have a large enough army for other issues.
          The selection of carriers has put a strain on other aspects of our armed forces.
          Your home trained army remark is bizarre.

        • Dimoto

          And there were ominous rumblings from the French, Brits and Americans, that the Germans would pay dearly for their opportunistic and ostentatious neutrality over Libya.
          Don’t remember them paying, do you ?

          • HooksLaw

            America was reluctant to get involved, they were needed for the initial strokes, otherwise it was mainly anglo french. The italians had a particular interest.

      • starfish

        sorry, history tells us we need a balanced range of forces with the ability to employ them at a time and place of our choosing without having to rely on allies, basing and overflight permission etc. hence we need carriers

        special forces have their place but so do more conventional forces

        we also need capabilities based on how things really are and what threats may emerge in the next 30 years or so

        israel is a red herring-her needs are entirely different

        • MichtyMe

          Without a protective cordon carriers are vulnerable. Modern ship to ship missiles can be carried on small merchant vessels and concealed in deck cargo containers. Are they being built for yesterdays war?

          • starfish

            ‘Without a protective cordon carriers are vulnerable’ nonsense

            ‘Modern ship to ship missiles can be carried on small merchant vessels!’ true but they need to be targeted – and merchant vessels cannot do that

            ‘Are they being built for yesterdays war?’

            No – for the next one

            • HooksLaw

              Of course carriers are vulnerable, vulnerable to missiles and torpedoes and air attack. Thats why they have escorts and a defensive air wing.
              Labour have committed us to huge ships, expensive ships and the only planes that can fly off them are not even is service anywhere yet an may be cancelled if we are unlucky.

      • eeore

        Given the nature of the projection of power by NATO the carriers are perhaps the most useful asset the country has.

        The special forces and technological arguments are sound, but one should not overlook the speed with which can do and collapse. Therefore it is unwise to build a policy that does not consider tradition warfare with boots o the ground and armour.

        You should also not ignore the economic warfare currently going on. The Soviet Union was brought down by driving down the oil price (with supporting scientific theories relating to a new ice age), and a similar process is under way against China, by driving up the oil price (with a supporting scientific theory relating to global warning). In the case of China, if you follow the oil, and China’s soft power efforts to get it, you find yourself following a history of the various proxy wars around the middle east. In addition you see aspects of the financial collapse, as money was pulled into the commodity markets that really had no business being there.

        • HooksLaw

          Where does our armour go how does it get there how is it supplied. We have no empire we have peace in Europe protected by NATO and its American counterpart. We do not need 500 tanks and 20 regiments in Europe.
          The carriers are too big and they and the planes are too expensive for what we need.

          If we send our troops anywhere it will be by choice and we will send what we can afford. But where? Gadaffi is gone Saddam is gone, the taliban can fight in their own back yard but as long as it stops short of bases for terrorists it does not matter. Pakistan needs political and diplomatic action.
          Syria is neutered.

          • eeore

            Gabon, Nigeria, Angola, there’s plenty of oil in Africa just crying out for military action to keep them in line with the strategic plan. What do you think Africom is there for?

            As for the tanks, the argument you put forward is partly an historical issue relating to the intra service tensions between infantry and cavalry doctrines. 500 tanks and 20 regiments is less than the Germans and French have in their friendship corps. The problem with your line of reasoning is that it is based on the assumption that there will not be another European war. There is also the issue of the need to retain a cadre in the event that a wider conventional war to aid the expansion of forces.

            • HooksLaw

              We have sufficient forces to assist if need be. What legally do you expect us to do?
              500 tanks and 20 regiments was a pointer to what we needed at the height of the cold war. Our need now is totally different. We are keeping an armoured brigade which will indeed ‘keep our hand in’

              A European war? We are past that. Indeed there is no way we can arrange our armed forces on the assumption of a European war. We would have tanks in garages and troops in barracks doing absolutely nothing.

    • Dimoto

      If we keep meddling and playing with fire, it is only a question of time before we get another “Suez moment”.