The voice of young liberal democrats

Time to re-open the debate on Europe
December 13, 2008, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Europe has historically been a bit of a red-herring for UK voters. Despite being an oddly heated issue with plenty of impassioned arguments made on both sides, it never actually mattered to most people before 9/11 and the Credit Crunch, probably the two defining moments of this the first decade of the 21st Century. Back then the pound was strong, the economy booming, the biggest challenge facing our troops was keeping the peace in Northern Ireland and the biggest threat to the environment was the hole in the Ozone layer. However, as long as we could be a member of the Single Market and the single biggest trading bloc in the world, without having to give away any more of our sovereignty, Europe was only an issue for idealogues and academics.

Now things are different though. Our troops are struggling desperately in Afghanistan and Iraq; we have just entered potentially our worst recession in 30 years if not more; the pound, at its lowest point in years, is almost at parity with the Euro; and the developing world has become both a battleground for the Great Powers again as well as a breeding ground for terrorists. On top of all that, the threat of global warming has become an increasingly urgent concern that most political leaders are only just waking up to. Regardless of the wide-ranging political opinions on any one of these issues, all must admit that times have changed significantly and in turn so must our priorities as both voters and political activists.

However, whilst we have already a clear picture of where we stand on development, NATO expansion, the Special Relationship, taxation, the environment and economic policy, in light of these changing times, Europe has continued to take a back seat. Even when the press try to make it an issue again, bringing up the Lisbon Treaty and the prospects of joining the Euro, the government nips it in the bud, out of sheer terror of taking a position on which public opinion is ambiguous at best. Yet, the significance of our relationship with Europe is greater than ever before. Will joining the Euro save our economy or kill it? Is a more joined up European foreign policy the key to easing the pressure on our armed forces and better protecting our country or is that too high a price to pay for burden sharing? Is the European Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme the first step to a viable solution to global warming or is it a waste of time or simply not far-reaching enough?

I’d like to re-open the debate on Europe and see where it runs. I want to avoid repeating the mistakes of old though, with Europhiles and Euro-sceptics alike dogmatically drawing their lines in the sand, resulting in nothing more than an intellectualised name-calling contest. So, let’s start with a few key assumptions that hopefully we can all agree on and go from there:

1) Retaining our sovereignty is essential to securing the national interest, but there is only so much we can achieve alone which is why we were happy to pool some of our sovereignty to join the single market and NATO in the first place;

2) Co-operation with Europe is itself desirable. The only sticking point is the mechanism of co-operation i.e. should EU agreements be binding and how much of a role should supra-national bodies such as the European Commission and the European Parliament play in facilitating co-operation;

3) Britain’s relationship with Europe should not affect its ‘special relationship’ with the United States.


How the European Constitution Imperilled European Security
October 23, 2008, 2:51 pm
Filed under: defence, Foreign Affairs

I wrote this post for Eurodefense UK –

Few reforms are needed more urgently in Europe today than the forging of a coherent and, as far as possible, single EU foreign policy and yet few reforms are less likely to see the light of day in the current political climate. The blame for this must lie squarely at the feet of the European Council, ultimately responsible for trying to insert the proposals for an enhanced decision making process and an EU foreign minister, amongst others, into a confusing constitution that never had much chance of being approved by an angry electorate.

When the citizens of the EU were asked to rank the most serious problems facing the continent earlier this year by the German Marshall Fund, they naturally put terrorism and the credit crisis at the top of the agenda. However, a large majority also expressed grave concerns about the resurrection of the Russian bear and its use of its energy supplies as a weapon, not to mention its tanks and warships, whilst almost as many said they wanted closer relations with America and that NATO was still essential to their security.

It’s safe to say the ‘masses’ were on the money in their assessment of the most immediate threats to European security. Indeed, their concerns, along with illegal immigration, cyber-crime and climate change, have featured heavily in the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy’s drive to establish a new security strategy for Europe. Central to formulating a single European response to these challenges, therefore, has been the push to update the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

As they are, the policies have failed to unify the EU in its dealings with the rest of the world, rendering the Union inefficient on the occasions when member states do take a common approach, such as in the Balkans, and wide open to manipulation by foreign powers when they don’t, such as the United States during the Iraq war and Russia now. The reforms envisaged by the constitution went some way to addressing these problems: a single foreign minister to represent the EU abroad; a legal personality to allow the EU to conclude international agreements; EU-wide investment in research and development; an EU equivalent of NATO’s clause 5 committing all states to collective “aid and assistance by all the means in their power”; the agreement of all member states to make available troops assigned to other multi-national task-forces to European battle-groups too; as well as a refined decision making process with opt-outs for any member state opposed to any EU decision to deploy troops.

So why then, if European electorates agreed on the supra-national nature of the threats and challenges facing their countries and their governments agreed on a set of measures to tackle them, were the proposed reforms thrown out by the Irish this year when they voted in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, seen by many as simply a watered down version of the constitution? The answer is simple. The EU’s attempts to package these paramount changes within a vast and unreadable document that few wanted made it impossible to pass them. Indeed a poll taken of voters immediately after the Irish referendum revealed that the majority of those who voted ‘no’ did so because they did not understand what they were voting on.

However, Europe’s electorates lost faith in their elites long before then. The reasons behind the French and Dutch ‘no’ votes on the constitution proper in 2005 were far less kind than the Irish and revealed a deep-seated resentment of European elites and indeed their own. And for what? A flag and an anthem that we already have and that nobody cares about. Since then, any attempt to do the sensible thing and try and pass the reforms necessary to create a single coherent foreign policy has been viewed with suspicion and contempt. Indeed if the Lisbon Treaty hadn’t been voted down by the Irish it probably would have fallen at a later hurdle. Of course, the peddling of half-truths and even outright lies by the Europhobic press in countries most likely to need a referendum on such treaties like Ireland and the UK hardly helps.

What hope remains for a single European foreign policy then? Ironically, it would seem that the security of the continent now lies in the hands of national leaders regaining their people’s trust and convincing of the merit and the need for a unified approach. The election of a President in the United States with a respect for the transatlantic alliance and an understanding of the importance of a multi-lateral approach to the world’s most serious problems would go a long way too.

Why Ethics Alone Can’t Save The World
December 10, 2007, 10:14 am
Filed under: Economy, Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized

Green is the new black. Any government that wants to get re-elected and any political party that wants to usurp them is putting the environment at the core of their rhetoric and political campaigns lest they find themselves in a perpetual political wilderness. This is of course as far as it goes. The government commits itself to drastically reducing carbon emissions at Kyoto only to see them rise; David Cameron, leader of the Conservatives, rides his bike to work only to have his car follow him; whilst the Lib Dems, despite consistently saying the right things on the subject, are unlikely to find themselves challenged to put them into practice any time soon.

Why is this the case though? The electorate can spot hypocrisy when they see it and they don’t settle for rhetoric without action when it comes to issues like the economy and terrorism. Hence successive governments introduce whatever measures are necessary to address them whether this means taking on powerful trade unions or moving to jail people without charge for six weeks. Quite simply, the answer is that as high as the environment may poll on any survey of voter priorities, few people are prepared to make the sacrifices entailed by a committment to save the environment. Few people are willing to sort their rubbish into recyclables and non-recyclables or to forgo their plastic bags and bottled water. Even fewer are willing to sacrifice their cheap flights abroad. This of course is no revelation. It is taken as a given that the only way to force the government to put its money where its mouth is is to launch a grassroots movement and turn Britain Green from the bottom upwards.

So, activists, concerned citizens and even a few well meaning politicians set about winning people’s hearts and minds and exploiting the sensitive ethical dillemnas that are intrinsically, although by no means exclusively, linked to the problems of climate change. These include the perils of buying cheap goods highlighted not just for the damage their importation does to the environment but also for the manner in which they are manufactured. Thus, clothes from Primark are condemned for the carbon footprint they leave after being shipped from abroad whilst perpetuating child labour in the Far East. Plastic bags are reviled not just because they take centuries to decompose but also because of the pictures of small animals dying in their droves after ingesting them.

People who show little regard or knowledge of these problems are often held in such contempt -especially by many members of the party to which I belong, the Liberal Democrats- that their actions appear both incomprehensible and unjustifiable. They find it unfathomable that anyone could hold any higher priority than the safety of the planet; that anyone would even think twice about paying more for their clothes and their food if it meant minimising their carbon footprint and putting the sponsors of child labour out of busniness at the same time.

I am always instinctively wary of such people who look down on others and say things like: “I can’t understand why they would do this”. In a single sentence, they dismiss the circumstances of such an individual and emphasise how they would never do the same, subtly concluding that the only variable factor must be that they are just a better person. Add to this that many of those leading these ‘grassroots’ movements come from privileged backgrounds where the costs of food and clothing don’t need to be carefully considered, and indeed weighed up against each other, and the picture becomes clearer. Consider further the fact that those who currently benefit the most from cheap clothing, food and air travel would suffer the most from restrictions on these things whilst their richer counterparts would barely even feel a tickle let alone a pinch and the challenge of forging a coherent plan of action becomes greater still.

Celebrities are frequently the worst offenders when it comes to this, not to say that a political opinion should be disregarded just because it comes from Hollywood. That said, I can’t help but raise an eyebrow at pop stars who fly thousands of miles to hold concerts aimed at raising awareness of Global Warming. Others lecture the masses on the perils of climate change, stopping only to sip from their plastic bottles of water shipped directly to them from the far reaches of the earth. Similarly, even for those whose actions are consistent with their actions, no good deed goes unpunished. In the mid 1990s, according to UNICEF, a boycott of Nepalese carpets hand made by child labourers led their employers to go bust and fire all their workers. Consequently, over 5,000 Nepalese girls went from being child labourers to being child prostitutes.

Another obstacle to concerted action to tackle Climate Change in the UK is the overwhelming sense of futility felt across our small country, that without the co-operation of the biggest pollutors, namely the U.S and China, anything we do is rather inconsequential. This fatalism is not wholly unreasonable either. The biggest pollutors in the world are the most reluctant to do anything about it with the Bush administration only just beginning to concede that global warming may just be a problem after all. In addition, all things being equal even if the UK was to go carbon neutral overnight, any benefits to the environment would be quickly offset by China and India.

In sum, only a far-reaching, legally binding multi-lateral effort would prevent the efforts of the most dedicated activists from going to waste, protect the most vulnerable from the fallout and justify the most hefty sacrifices. So, I urge my fellow Lib Dems to forgive me when I say: don’t blame individuals, especially those who struggle enough with the everyday circumstances of life, for the failures of government. As for the government, although they have the power and indeed the duty to tackle climate change, they are not omnipotent and have re-election and international power politics to contend with. Furthermore, as pressing as climate change is, it is not as immediate a threat as an asteroid or a tsunami even if it is of far greater proportions. Rather, to paraphrase that great source of modern political wisdom, ‘The West Wing’, only two things can force a government’s hand: politics and money.

History shows that economics is indeed the key to energy efficiency, particularly in the United States. Currently one of the most woeful polluters in the world in spite of the growing acceptance that climate change is a man-made phenomenon which requires urgent solutions, in the eight years between 1973 and 1981, when Climate Change was not the serious consideration it has now become, energy consuption per unit of GNP actually declined by 18%. This was achieved thanks mainly to President Jimmy Carter’s reforms such as creating the first cabinet level Department of Energy which oversaw a centrally co-ordinated shift from oil to alternative energy; amendments to the Clean Air Act which forced auto-makers to improve the energy efficiency of cars across the country; extra layers of insulation built into new houses to cut gas bills and tax breaks for people using solar power to meet their energy needs. What prompted such sweeping reforms? A severe oil crisis and the prospect of an immediate economic catastrophe as a result.

Now, it is familiar tensions prompting another push towards energy efficiency in the United States whilst carbon emissions trading, an initiative pioneered by the European Union, is offering a cash incentive for companies to take action. These markets, like any markets however, require greater regulation to ensure their aims are actually achieved – a critical article in the Economist some time ago highlighted how lapses in regulation of markets such as the Chicago Climate Exchange have led to the undermining of its environmental credentials as loggers plundering the Amazon rainforest get rich off the scheme by using ethanol powered trucks. Nonetheless, the benefits are there to be reaped.

So, whilst well meaning people may say that ethics are the key to recycling, at the end of the day it’s money that makes the world go round. In time, money can make the world go green too.

RE: Nuclear Policy
October 28, 2007, 11:50 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs


First of all, a couple of clarifications in light of the much welcome comment on my last post. Whilst I concede that I was mistaken in asserting that the US was installing boost phase missile defence in Czech Republic and Poland, and am thankful for the correction, I still maintain that potentially the Czech Republic and especially Poland would make ideal locations for boost phase defence sites. The aim of such installations though would not be to deter Iran, but to deter Russia. Middle Eastern missiles could be deterred through erecting similar sites in friendly countries such as Azerbaijan.

Additionally, my point about sovereignty is still being mis-interpreted. I have not at any point challenged the statement made several times now about Trident and how it is more under American control than British. My point is simply that Britain should not dispose of this mightiest of arsenal which still exists to defend the United Kingdom even it not at its own behest for the reasons outlined in my previous post.

Now to return to my rebuttal of your last post. I always get nervous when people justify groundbreaking decisions such as nuclear disarmament on the grounds that they can’t imagine anyone actually using them. This is clearly not the point. Faced with an adversary who has nuclear weapons when you have none makes you distinctly less inclined to play Russian roulette with your nation’s security and more inclined to accede to their demands.

Indeed if the history of international relations is anything to go by then predicting a state’s actions on the basis of its perceived intentions, as opposed to merely its power to achieve its own objectives at the expense of yours, is a one way ticket to oblivion. Hence the political power of the nuclear weapon.

Whilst it is true that accidents do happen, again this is more an argument for halting proliferation, with which I wholeheartedly agree, than disarming completely. In any case, the risk is justified by the unpredictability of such an accident as this means that one is neither imminent, nor necessarily beyond our scope to control. The same cannot be said of disarmament equipped merely with the hope that others will follow suit. We can draw up all the international law we want, but -whilst I am a committed multi-lateralist- like domestic law which benefits from the existence of sovereignty within specific geographical boundaries, distinctly absent from the international system, international law has to be enforced for it to work. Bottom line, if we drop our gun whilst everyone else’s remain pointed at our head, then all the diplomacy in the world will not get them to follow suit without extreme concessions on our part.

Finally, to address the ‘moral’ aspect of your argument. There are no morals in the international system as there is no stable and enforcable body of law to reflect such moral norms as no one country has sovereignty over the world. It may sound blunt and cliche, but ultimately only the national interest should decide what action a state takes within the international community. Entangle those interests through binding agreements such as the European Steel and Coal Community example from my last post and then you have a chance of persuing efective multi-lateralism. This ultimately has to be the core pre-condition of any viable disarmament agreement.

Re: Nuclear Policy
October 25, 2007, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs


Thank you for your response. It is a pleasure having this debate with you and I shall now submit my reply.

First, my rebuttal.

1) In your last post you said: “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?”

Surely just one state ignoring the NPT is enough to undermine the entire agreement and start a chain of proliferation? Indeed you yourself mention that Iran would be less likely to pursue the development of nuclear power if Israel didn’t already have nuclear weapons. How has Iran responded to pressure to cease this development? By threatening to renege on the NPT fully aware that, unless the US is prepared to go to war over it, any attempt to impose hard-hitting sanctions through the UN would be vetoed by the Russians and the Chinese.

2) You said: “However you can not hide nuclear weapons, they require technology, resources, and above all testing that is impossible to hide”

Bearing in mind that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons was only revealed by an Israeli whistleblower and that Pakistan and India, not to mention North Korea were only revealed to be developing nuclear weapons when they started testing them, I would assert that the prisoner’s dilemna remains with its fundamental assumptions intact. This is because a country that has disarmed totally is still at a significant disadvantage compared to another still in the process of testing and refining their technology and who are thus likely to have access to nuclear weapons much sooner than any of their rivals.

3) Finally, you said: “They (nuclear weapons) 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?

Here I think you may have mis-interpreted my point about sovereignty, which I will come back to in a moment, as it is firmly my belief that shared sovereignty between like-minded liberal democracies over the very instruments of war is a far better way of safeguarding us from total destruction than leaving us open to those whose nuclear disarmament we can barely oversee, let alone enforce.

Furthermore, my point about the UN Security Council was that even though the Security Council in 1945 represented the balance of power in the immediate post-war world, the main reason the UK have not lost their seat or been usurped by a single EU seat -not that I would necessarily be opposed to that- is that they are a nuclear power. As for the likes of those applying for UNSC status such as India, the reason they have been declined is simply because none of the P5 members can agree on a settlement that doesn’t clash with their own individual interests. At the same time, however, in this age of unilateralism, I accept that the dynamics of the United Nations Security Council is harldy an accurate barometre of the global balance of power today.

As for my main points: I would like to clarify my reference to sovereignty, re-emphasize why a nuclear free world would be both unworkable and undesirable and lay out my own vision of how best to achieve a lasting peace. Furthermore, as appropriate as I think it is to make this debate as much about British nuclear policy, as we are after all young Liberal Democrats, I would stress that my aim in referring to British nuclear policy is simply a means of practically applying and qualifying my arguments about the benevolence of a nuclear world as opposed to the other way round. I mention this to avoid restricting the boundaries of this debate purely to Britain.

My point about sovereignty was not that nukes were necessary to protect a nation’s sovereignty but simply that they are necessary to protect it from the absence of sovereignty in the international system. International law is not binding and any decisions and actions that are depend on the major powers, who often have divergent interests, co-operating with each other. As a result the capacity of one state to advance its interests is not based on principles of fairness or justice but on power and as power is relative unless states keep updating their arsenal to make sure they can inflict as much damage on their enemies as they would inflict upon them, their power wanes.

This used to result in periodic arms races and recurring wars when only conventional weapons were available as quantity was everything and meant that state leaders could calculate ‘acceptable’ losses to justify conflict.

The advent of nuclear weapons has greatly reduced this although, as mentioned before, the targeting systems available along with the total number of nukes can affect a state’s rationale to strike first or second with significant ramifications for the MAD doctrine. This is why the major powers should strive to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons amongst smaller countries at all costs, whilst retaining their own.

This said, I share just as much as you the aversion to nuclear weapons and the destruction they can cause. However, I can’t imagine a nuclear free world resulting in anything other than a return for the constant wars of yesteryear where the cost to human progress, not to mention human life, would probably be greater -albeit incrementally- than any nuclear war. Therefore, the answer surely lies in finding a way to make nuclear weapons redundant whilst still retaining the option to use them even if just for political rather than military ends.

This is where Nuclear Missile Defence comes in. However, I do not mean the nuclear defence shield comprised of ballistic missiles to intercept nukes in space, as originally envisaged by sequences of US administrations. Even if they did one day manage to actually hit something (West Wing fans take note), they would probably do little to stop the attack from succeeding as every missile carries a multiple of decoy or duds warheads. The only visible difference between the two is weight, but considering that missiles only break up releasing loaded and decoy warheads at the same time in space…well you can see where this falls down. Therefore, you need to take them out before they leave the atmosphere and the only way to do this in time is to launch interceptor missiles from close range of the nuclear missile silo. This is called boost-phase missile defence and is the reason why the Americans are setting up launch sites in Central and Eastern Europe from where an Iranian -or a Russian- missile could be tracked and interecepted much to the Kremlin’s dismay.

Incidentally, this affords those states effective protection from nuclear attack without necessitating them to develop nuclear weapons of their own due to the leverage they will have over the United States. Of course they will also be able to use this leverage for political ends, whilst the Americans will be keen to remain close politically to such nations to ensure that their interests do not diverge in order to protect such agreements. This in turn creates a more sustainable series of political networks from which evolve common moral norms and values. Thus, the security community, as first envisaged by Deutsch, is born with a ready made example of how successful such an arrangement can be in the European Union. The EU of course began merely as a small community of states whose first big decision was to fuel the industries of war -coal and steel- as the first step of many to peace and unity in Europe. 

Although this may sound awfully idealistic, it is in my view the most pragmatic course of action. And as for where this leaves Britain: although we would be a natural site for the posting of interceptor missiles, this would have to become a reality before we could even consider disposing of our own nuclear weapons. Until then, it would be unfathomable to rid ourselves of Trident, but it is also crucial that we take the necessary steps to maximise our diplomatic influence such as passing the EU Reform Treaty and empowering an effective European foreign minister to represent the EU as a whole to international community.

RE: Obama’s Policy on Nuclear Disarmament
October 21, 2007, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, Uncategorized


I am intrigued by your response and certainly eager to continue our debate in which I am thankful for your participation. I am writing this post having read, not just your last post, but also your post on the Liberal Democrats Trident policy too, so I shall attempt to address the arguments made in both. My points, however, will be the following: The nature of the Non-Proliferation Treaty makes any lasting ‘deal’ impossible; possessing nuclear weapons still holds immense strategic value, albeit more politically than militarily;not only does the uncertain balance of power necessitate the retention and upgrading of nuclear weapons, but also the development of nuclear missile defence; and finally, the sheer threat of total nuclear destruction is the one thing that stands to save the human race considering that conventional weapons are so advanced and powerful that a full blown ‘conventional’ war could potentially be as damaging, albeit over a much more protacted period of time, as a nuclear one.

1) The NPT is a farce. As I mentioned earlier, the way India, Pakistan and Israel got round the restrictions of the treaty was to not sign it in the first place. This is the ultimate flaw of pursuing disarmament through voluntary agreements which rely primarily on other states’s honesty. Any state that pursues disarmament with nothing more than their adversary’s word to go on is heading for a fall. You only need look back at the League of Nations to see how bad that fall can be.

Furthermore, the failing of the Lib Dems during the Trident debate was not their reluctance to take a ‘principled’ stance but to actually assert that the United Kingdom would lose the authority to pressure Iran and North Korea into disarming if it renewed Trident and expect the nation to take them seriously. This was a joke because authority, like legitimacy, is a product of sovereignty. In the conglomeration of nation states, regional blocs and military alliances that comprise the international system, only power matters. As a result, we hold absolutely no sway over the likes of Iran and North Korea because nothing we do or say really affects them or their interests. If, however, the Iranians thought we held enough influence to persuade Israel to disarm or the US to withdraw from Iraq, they would be much more willing to discuss nuclear disarmament regardless of what state Trident was in. 

2) Although I still hold that nuclear weapons are an important deterrent, they also hold immense strategic value on a political level. They enable a small country to punch above their weight and extract more concessions out of their rivals than they otherwise would and a powerful country to retain far greater influence over the rest of the world than they otherwise would. For example, it is unlikely that the coalition forces would be engaging as much as they are with Iran if they had no nuclear weapons programme which is why the US have constantly tried to discuss the nuclear issue seperately from the vast range of issues affecting Iran’s relationship with the West. In the same light, it is unlikely that the United Kingdom would still have a seat on the UN Security Council if they had no nuclear weapons to bolster their status amongst the world’s powers. 

As for the use of nuclear weapons to powerful states, Israel has only been able to control, and to an extent maintain, an uneasy peace in the Middle East due to their possession of nuclear weapons -not to mention a kickass army and airforce. Similarly, the United States, far from being hypocritical for combating proliferation whilst maintaining their own stockpile, would not be able to restrict the development of nuclear weapons at all unless they were themselves a nuclear superpower, the closest any state has come to exercising any kind of sovereignty over the international community -otherwise known as empire. 

3) Owing to the prisoners’ dilemna situation of one state breaking its word and keeping its nukes in the hope to gain an unbeatable advantage over all other powers engaging in disarmament that inevitably results from purely voluntary agreements, it is vital that existing nuclear powers retain their nuclear weapons to avoid compromising their security and international influence. Taking this into consideration, there are two particular points from your last post that I’d like to pay special attention to.

First: “Nuclear weapons of course are only a credible threat if the enemy believes they will be used and I find it inconceivable that any sane person would use a nuclear weapon to retaliate for another state obtaining them.” Although the election of George .W. Bush and the neo-cons is a clear example of how democratic elections are hardly a fool-proof means of providing sane leadership, it still stands that nuclear technology in the hands of ruthless dictators is a far more worrying prospect for anyone betting the bank on those states acting rationally. 

Second: “Despite the fact that these new nuclear states would not have the capacity to ‘win’ a nuclear confrontation with the US, nuclear weapons are more often acquired not as a means of attack but as a deterrent to a conventional invasion.” Perhaps. This indeed would seem to be the case with Iran. However, they are merely in the process of developing nuclear technology. A more apt example would be somewhere like China. Whilst they may not be a ‘new’ nuclear state, they don’t possess a much bigger, and significantly much more technologically advanced, arsenal than most ‘new’ nuclear states. They do, however, possess the most effective delivery systems for their nuclear missiles of all their ‘new’ counterparts.

What seperates China from, say, the US and Russia is that they have significantly fewer missiles, but also lack the technology to target individual missile silos so as to prevent or minimise retaliatory strikes, denying them the second strike capacity. In other words, if a nuclear war was to break out, the Chinese would probably have their entire stockpile wiped out. This, therefore, gives China, and any nuclear state in their position, an incentive to strike first, rather than second, converting nuclear weapons away from being a defensive weapon, as it was during the Cold War, into an offensive weapon now. Although, at the moment this is all purely hypothetical, as you pointed out in your post, at no period of time do we know what the future will hold in 20 years’ time.

This is why the US and NATO need to pursue nuclear missile defence with vigour. It should be pointed out though that only the proposed array of defensive missile sites throughout Europe that are currently placing an even greater strain on the West’s relations with Russia would work. Hopefully, most will now agree that an actual nuclear defence shield is totally unworkable. However, it is firmly my belief that making nuclear weapons useless today to those who would go to great pains to acquire them tomorrow is the best way to halt nuclear proliferation and achieve a lasting peace.

4) On this note, my final point is simply this. Had nuclear weapons not been around, I wonder how stable the bi-polar system of the ‘Cold War’ world would have been. Although the dictatorships sponsored by both blocs and the wars waged against their allies in remote parts of the world hardly make it an era to be proud of, it is not conceivable that a ‘conventionally’ superior Soviet Union would have attempted a mass invasion of the West at some point, especially leading up to its demise in the late 80s. However, I do not doubt that arming every country with nuclear weapons would lead to a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions, most likely by accident.


I’m confused by Barack Obama’s declaration on foreign policy
October 7, 2007, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs

It’s official. If Barack Obama becomes President he will seek the elimination of nuclear weapons as well as increasing foreign aid and deliver a state of the world address. There’s more of course, but that’s the general jist of it. His justification for these proposals is that the Soviet Union does not exist any more, so does not need to be defended against from the threat of nuclear war, and that instead the focus should be on keeping nukes out of the hands of terrorists – the new threat.

I have just one question: why?

By that, I don’t mean to question his intentions but his logic. Nuclear disarmament and nuclear proliferation are two different concepts, so why make a pledge that effectively bags the two together? Furthermore, not only is it possible to restrict proliferation without necessitating disarmament, but on the contrary it is vital. Indeed, to claim that the threat of nuclear war disappeared along with the Soviet Union is dangerously naive. This is not just because of the rekindling of traditional Cold War rivalry of late, but also because it is impossible to predict the future and to be sure that those openly hostile to us won’t develop nuclear weapons or that those who already possess them won’t one day become our rival or even our enemy.

That said, I completely share Mr Obama’s desire to halt proliferation to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists or hostile nation states. Although there are those who argue that the world would be safer place if every nation on the earth had nuclear weapons, installing the MAD mentality that kept the U.S.A and the Soviet Union at arm’s length for so may years, such proliferation would be catastrophic. For a start, accidents can happen, not all leaders (especially dictators) are rational actors and arms races are uneven meaning that some states would develop nukes before others, increasing the temptation to launch a pre-emptive strike. Furthermore though, unless every country had the same number of nuclear weapons and the same targeting systems that enable US and Russian missiles alone to take out not just their rivals’ biggest cities but the missile silos themselves in one strike, the MAD mentality would be replaced with an incentive to strike first, not second.

The problem with leading by example to achieve this end, however, is that it is impossible to monitor the progress of other countries especially when you consider that the way Pakistan, India and Israel managed to get round the supposedly comprehensive nuclear non-proliferation treaty was to not sign it the first place. Rather, providing security guarantees within the framework of sophisticated alliances between like-minded liberal democratic states such as NATO would be far more effective. Of course, it is essential that these alliances be reinforced by the political and economic support crucial to building and sustaining stable democracies offered by the European Union and their rapidly developing regional counterparts such as the African Union and the Association of South East Asian Nations.

So, I would cautiously embrace Mr Obama’s core foreign policy principles just as long as he remembers that making the world a safer place need not take priority over the security of his own country.