The voice of young liberal democrats

Time to re-open the debate on Europe by londonliberal
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.


Why Ethics Alone Can’t Save The World by londonliberal
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.

Iran Halted Weapons Program “Years Ago” by georgeinwashington
December 4, 2007, 5:49 am
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, iran, nuclear weapons, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

A rare news item that tells us that today the world is really a better place. Have a great day everyone.

Now one really has to wonder why Brown approved a strike on Iran in June of this year if this is all true.

More Classic Stuff From Biden by georgeinwashington
November 2, 2007, 7:25 pm
Filed under: America, Uncategorized | Tags:

More absolutely classic stuff from Biden. I love the way he is eating a sandwich whilst doing this, it shouts disdain at crazy Rudy. I think this is clever stuff, all the Republicans are attacking Hilary and her response has been to ignore it, by hitting Rudy like this he is positioning himself as a fighter, someone who is giving it back to the Republicans.

RE: Obama’s Policy on Nuclear Disarmament by londonliberal
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.


RE: Obama’s Policy on Nuclear Disarmament by georgeinwashington
October 20, 2007, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, nuclear weapons, Uncategorized

London Liberal,

I always intended this blog to be a forum for debate and so I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to debate you by posting something that I completely disagree with 😉 Firstly I would direct you to my previous post on the Lib Dems Nuclear Policy and why I believe that it is wrong. Secondly I would start by saying that your proposition that there is clear blue water between the issues of proliferation and disarmament is not the case in fact nor in international law.

The nuclear non proliferation treaty of which the US and the UK are signatories places an obligation on the sanctioned nuclear weapons states to move towards disarmament. This is the deal that was struck, to stop non nuclear states from developing nuclear weapons the nuclear states would work towards the elimination of them. When we reject our part of the bargain then we obviously encourage others to do the same.

Furthermore there seems to be little utility for us to continue to hold nuclear weapons. As was said in 1999 by Paul Nitze, the man who wrote NSC-68 the document that started the post war rearming of the USA. The advancements in conventional weapons mean that the USA can now achieve all of its military goals with conventional forces, making the continuing stocks of nuclear weapons superfluous and morally indefensible. Obama’s policy is entirely logical. Nuclear weapons no longer serve the needs of the United States, encourage proliferation and international law requires the US to  move towards disarmament.

In terms of your argument that nuclear weapons can be a deterrent to further proliferation, keeping nukes would surely not achieve this goal. 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. 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. This was after all the rational for France acquiring the bomb because it knew that NATO forces would not be able to stop a conventional invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union.

Finally I will end by reminding you that the debate over nuclear weapons is not only about military tactics or strategy, but it is about the very survival of the human race. The nuclear weapons in existence today have the potential to destroy the planet. Given the gravity of the subject at hand I therefore find it insufficient to argue that nuclear weapons should be held simply because we can not foresee the future. It is precisely at this time, when there are no foreseeable threats, that we should be disarming. If not now then when? If not the US than who? and if not then what? The goal of a nuclear free world would be one of the greatest achievements in all history and it is something that is possible within our lifetimes, if we can rise to meet the challenge.