The voice of young liberal democrats

Nuclear Policy by georgeinwashington
October 23, 2007, 5:47 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, nuclear weapons, US/UK relations

London Liberal,

Firstly I would note that our debate seems to have moved to British nuclear policy, an issue far more worthy of debate in this forum.

Nuclear war, is the single greatest catastrophe that could happen to the human race short of the earth being hit by a meteorite that destroys all human life and reunites us with the dinosaurs. In 1960 CP Snow, the British scientist and politician was quoted on the front page of the New York times as saying that “unless the nuclear powers drastically disarmed, thermonuclear war within the decade was a mathematical certainty.” Although this did not happen, the point remains that even in peace time, the mere existence of nuclear weapons is a great danger. The best solution for world peace, is to pursue the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons.

This is I believe the main difference between our positions. You do not believe that a world without nuclear weapons is either possible or perhaps even desirable, otherwise how could you argue that one reason to keep them is to keep our seat on the UN Security Council? If you really believed that Britain should pursue a policy of a nuclear free world, we would have to give them up at some point and so the argument is mute. Even so, although it is frequently said that Britain has a seat on the Council only because it is a nuclear power, neglects the fact that the seat preceded the power. If this were really the case, why is not India, the worlds largest democracy with a billion people and also a nuclear power not on the Council also? When an expansion of the Council was proposed, the names put forward were both nuclear and non nuclear states. Indeed your whole argument on sovereignty and legitimacy would lead one to the conclusion that once gained, no nation would ever disarm at all. In fact one has, at the end of the apartheid regime President De Klerk announced that South Africa would dismantle its six nuclear warheads, at a time when South Africa was increasing its international legitimacy I might add. Furthermore, you seem to argue that some nuclear weapons give the international system stability. I would argue that the cold war example that you use, is unique and cannot be generalized.

All the same, I would like to argue that a nuclear free world is indeed possible and should be the center of the UK’s foreign policy. Firstly I would like to make the point that although international agreements are not working right now, this does not mean that their ideals and their pursuit should be rejected out of hand. Indeed even though India and Pakistan are not signatories of the NPT, does this not demonstrate even more that for 180 signatories, in fact the rest of the world, that the NPT does work?

Furthermore your assertion that international agreements prohibiting nuclear weapons cannot work out of hand through the prisoners dilemma is simply false. The fundamental assumption of the prisoners dilemma is that both parties do not know what the other is doing, there is no possibility for monitoring. However you can not hide nuclear weapons, they require technology, resources, and above all testing that is impossible to hide. The sheer technological feat that nuclear weapons require means that no country can develop them in secret, and although Israel does have a “secret” nuclear weapon, the fact that I am writing about it simply proves my point. All this means that a non proliferation regime is possible, with commitment from nations such as the United Kingdom.

There is strong case for moral pressure here also. Do you really believe that the US and UK’s hypocrisies, by abetting and aiding a nuclear Israel really do not count towards Middle Eastern public hostility on this issue. If you were an Iranian would you too not ask yourself why you were not allowed to develop nuclear technology when the world does nothing about a nuclear Israel?

Finally I would add that the pro-nuclear position in the UK, arguing that the retainment of nukes augments our position in the world by increasing our power and influence is absurd. It neglects the fundamental fact that the British nuclear deterrent is not independent, we are entirely dependent on the US for the production and maintenance of the weapons. They are even under a joint NATO command and so face restrictions in their use, except in the “extreme national interest”. If this is about sovereignty, why does Britain not develop a truly independent deterrent? It seems to me silly to argue the case for sovereignty with a missile that is inoperable without the US, under a joint NATO command and even divides the burden of patrolling our seas with the French as we do not have enough submarines.

The time has come for the UK to take a courageous stand. A nuclear free world is possible in our lifetimes if we take positive steps today. A great leap forward can be made simply by discarding a nuclear capability that is neither relevant or necessary. Working towards a nuclear free world should be at the center of our foreign policy.



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