The voice of young liberal democrats

The Liberal’s nuclear mistake by georgeinwashington
April 21, 2007, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs

As the defence secretary Des Brown has willingly admitted, there is no current strategic threat that justifies Great Britain keeping a nuclear deterrent. There are no hostile nuclear weapons states, and it will be many many years before potentially hostile states develop delivery mechanisms possible of hitting Britain. A nuclear response to a terrorist attack would not be appropriate. This should have been an open opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to expose the hypocrisy of the Labour position. However, unfortunately, the liberals tacitly agreed with the government.

The line towed by all parties including the Lib Dems is that we are facing an uncertain world and that Trident is required as a kind of insurance policy for future generations. This has many more repercussions than we might at first believe. It means the abandonment of the non proliferation treety, the bedrock of the international effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

Although it is true that we are facing an uncertain world, it is also the case that we are always facing an uncertain world. I wonder which government over the last 100 years would have been able to predict the state of the world in 20 years time. Who would have predicted that the close relationship between the Allies during the second world war would have descended into the cold war. Indeed who would have predicted the second world war at the end of the first.

Therefore if we cannot see any need for nuclear weapons in the forseeable future than this should be the moment to disarm. And this is what our treaty obligations require us to do. The Non Prolifiration Treety obliges the sanctioned nuclear weapons states, including Britain, to work towards a world free from nuclear weapons.

This position of all parties, including the liberal democrats, seems to be giving up on that goal. If the justification for holding nuclear stockpiles has now moved from deterrence to uncertainty, than we will never abandon nuclear weapons.

At a recent talk I attended on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Paul Nitze, the veteran US diplomat who was instrumental in the rearmament of the US after the second world war, we were reminded that the debate on nuclear weapons was about much more than military strategy, it was about the very survival of the human race. Nitze himself, before his death called for the unilateral disarmament of the United States arguing that conventional weapons could now achieve all military goals and there was no moral justification for keeping nuclear weapons.

Now Britain is about to spend £15bn on a weapons system that we will never use and have no need for. Apart from the huge waste of money that this represents, there are grave consequences to the undermining of the international non-proliferation regieme.

The trident debate has also exposed the weakness of the Liberal Democrats. In only seeking to delay the decision the Liberals are tacitly accepting the governments argument that an uncertain world justifies the retention of nuclear weapons. We have gone for the weak compromise solution. On the other hand the Liberals could have made a much stronger argument by taking a principled stand on the matter. By providing the public with a clear alternative to the blue labour coalition.


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