Saturday, 22 June 2013

Coalition disarmament disarray gives Labour opportunity for nuclear sanity

The ten Labour MPs, backed by many other Labour Party members, who wrote to the Guardian in a letter published on 21 June (, are absolutely right to call for a serious debate within Labour over Trident renewal.

One Labour politician who should support this is one of Labour’s shadow foreign affairs team, Kerry McCarthy, who responded to a Parliamentary backbench debate on the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and Trident on 20 June saying: “

“On Trident and the need for an independent nuclear deterrent, Labour’s continuing objective is to play an active and constructive role in an international effort to achieve a world free from nuclear weapons. Any future Labour policy will seek to take disarmament further by reducing the number of deployable and stockpiled warheads, but Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent has been the cornerstone of our peace and security for more than half a century. In today’s world, so long as there are other countries with such capabilities and the security landscape is characterised by instability and uncertainty—we have heard about the situation in Pakistan, North Korea’s missile tests and the unpredictable situation in Iran, despite the election this week of a new President—it is right that the UK retains an independent nuclear deterrent."

Ms McCarthy should learn some Labour history: it was on 27 June 1968 that the then Labour government presented to Parliament the final text of NPT (as Cmnd 3683), which Labour ministers had helped negotiate.

Papers available in the National Archives in Kew show that earlier that year, on 23 January 1968, Fred (later Lord) Mulley, as the Labour Government's disarmament minister, addressed the plenary meeting of the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament (ENDC) in Geneva, explaining why nations should sign up to the newly negotiated NPT, telling the ministerial delegations:

"As I have made clear in previous speeches, my government accepts the obligation to participate fully in the negotiations required by [NPT] Article VI and it is our desire that these negotiations should begin as soon as possible and should produce speedy and successful results. There is no excuse now for allowing a long delay to follow the signing of this treaty."

That was a good start by the Labour Government. But with Polaris in 1968, its upgrade Chevaline developed in secret in the 1970s by a Labour Government (without telling Parliament), and Trident started by the MrsThatcher's Tories in 1980, the UK has gone seriously backwards since. But I think now is an ideal time for the Labour Opposition to renew the push for negotiated nuclear disarmament, with the Coalition in disarmament disarray.

As recently as Monday this week the Coalition minister for nonproliferation, Alistair Burt, said in a written answer to Labour MP Paul Flynn that: “Iran was the only state to issue a statement directly critical of the UK's decision to renew the submarine delivery platform used for its nuclear deterrent (Trident) a[t the NPT review meeting in Geneva]” (17 June 2013 : Column 487W)

Actually, the nuclear weapons states’ intentions - including the UK- and existing programmes for modernisation of their nuclear arsenals faced repeated criticism in Geneva in April.

Critical statements were made by Algeria, Australia, Egypt, South Africa, Mexico, the Non-Aligned Movement, South Korea, Switzerland and Syria... as well as Iran. Indeed, South Africa explicitly warned:
“The development of new categories of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems provide a clear indication that some continue to harbour aspirations for the indefinite retention of these instruments of destruction, contrary to their legal obligations and political commitments.”

Were our diplomats , and indeed the minister, asleep, or simply in denial, in Geneva when these criticisms of Trident modernisation were aired? And was the Labour foreign affairs team similarly somnambulant?
All this week a group of countries who export nuclear technologies- called the Nuclear Suppliers Group - has been holding its annual meeting in Prague. Reports from Reuters ( idUKBRE95D0YR20130614?rpc=401&feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=401)suggest the UK has been lobbying hard to let India join this export club, even though India refuses to sign the NPT, because it wants to keep its nuclear weapons. The Labour Government started off this Indian nuclear export deal process in the summer of 2009.

For the UK- as a depositary state charged with responsibility to protect and promote the NPT- to undermine the treaty by trying to give India the dubious privileges of being part of this nuclear trade club, without requiring New Delhi firstly to sign up to the NPT, is quite simply stupid.

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