So, are you still a unilateralist?

by Ray_North on March 15, 2016

UnknownI pose this question because, for the first time in a few decades the issue of nuclear weapons has started to gain major traction in the public debate. My prediction is that, due to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn is a self-confessed and committed unilateralist, it is going to become an increasingly significant issue, and by the next election, the Tories will be reminding everyone who will listen that, that our nation’s security will not be safe with Labour.

Sadly, already Labour look hopelessly confused by the issue with various statements being put out about Trident, none of them being particularly coherent.

So, where do you stand?

It used to be a very straightforward issue – back in the 80s it seemed that for an idealistic teenager, the issue was whether you supported the Reagan, Thatcher view that nuclear weapons were essential for the defence of Europe, or whether you accepted the CND view that mutually assured destruction was a morally indefensible position. For what it’s worth, back then, I slipped my CND badge onto my blazer – having nuclear weapons seemed absurd to me – after all, wasn’t it beyond the wit of man to live in peace, or at least strive to live in peace.

But, is the debate now more or less complicated?

Let’s have a look at some of the arguments…..

First: do we accept that it is possible that the seventy years of peace in Europe (Balkans aside) and the fact that the Superpowers have never actually crossed swords, may have been due, in some way to the presence of weapons of mass destruction?

Clearly, there is no definitive answer to this, but, it is a powerful argument; it can’t be ruled out that at times in the 1960s and 70s, the Soviets and the Americans didn’t destroy each other because they made a rational assessment that it was in no one’s interests to wage a nuclear war.

Second: but, the Cold War is surely a thing of the past. Yes, that’s true – but, one can’t help but cast a nervous glance at North Korea or potentially China or Iran or a resurgent and internationally aggressive Russia.

I don’t see any merit in the argument that we need a nuclear deterrent to counter the threat of terrorism, but, again, to suggest that we no longer have any potential enemies is probably a little naive.

Third: yes, but, if one of those powers you mentioned decided to wage a nuclear attack, then our Trident missiles wouldn’t have a great deal of impact anyway.

I agree with this, to me it’s the strongest argument against the UK having a nuclear weapon – if the US and anyone else wage a nuclear war, we’re all fucked regardless of our arsenal. But, this may be countered by the argument that, if the UK are to play a role in international affairs, perhaps helping to shape the world and prevent an international conflagration in the first place, then our role may be diminished if we disarmed. It’s an argument used by some in the Labour Party (famously Nye Bevan) and, again, it does make sense.

Fourth: what about the cost? How can we justify the many billions of pounds that we spend on Trident?

There’s not much to be said about this – if you are by instinct a unilateralist, then the argument that we can spend the money we use on Trident on schools and hospitals is a very powerful one; of course, if you take the adverse view, then any spending on Trident can be justified if you try hard enough.

Where do I stand?

Well, I remain by instinct someone who would rather work towards a world without weapons of mass destruction through the process of unilateral disarmament than someone who wants to see our nation armed with weapons that we will probably never use, and even if we do use them, will not lead to peace, but to destruction.

However, the arguments are not easy and Labour needs to find a better way of answering them, than by Jeremy Corbyn, suggesting that we might keep Trident, but fail to arm the missiles with nuclear warheads, which makes no sense on any level. If Labour, at the next election, cannot convince the electorate our nation’s security is safe with them, they haven’t got a hope.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Witchfinder General March 20, 2016 at 9:08 pm

The unoins won’t allow Corbyn to get rid of Trident.

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