Saturday, 5 July 2014

A Basic Error on Trident

I was at the surreal press conference on 1 July launching the Trident Commission report (, with an eminences grises of a panel including ex Tory defence  & foreign secretary Sir Malcom Rifkind in the chair,  Labour's last defence secretary Lord Browne of Ladyton, Lib Dem former leader and member of the Intelligence & security committee, Sir Ming Campbell, Professor Alyson Bailes and ex UK  Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock. It was the Establishment in aspic.

I pointed out despite the Commissioners saying they were in favour of multilateral nuclear disarmament, the only nuclear disarmament they could cite were unilateral withdrawal of ancient nuclear weapons systems (atomic artillery, free-fall bombs) and some warheads deemed no longer  necessary by the MOD, so really they were praising CND's unilateralist approach, so long decried by those who defend nuclear weapons to death. I said they were muddled in stating - correctly - the UK had a responsibility under the NPT to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament, but then  claiming  UK retention of nuclear WMDs was crucial  as an insurance just-in-case of changed strategic security situation.

More over in a contorted piece of logic, they insist: “Though possession is not legally

required for nuclear weapon status under the NPT (defined in historical terms), it is doubtful that the UK would retain continuing influence on the thinking or process of nuclear negotiations if it ceased all its nuclear weapon activities.”


 ie we have to keep nuclear weapons to get rid of them. It reminded me of the perverse logic of the US military in Vietnam: :We  burned the village to th e ground to save it from the Vietcong”

Sir Malcolm denied my point that no UK nuclear weapons at all since the NPT came into force in 1970 had been negotiated away by multilateral disarmament talks, citing Cruise and Pershing 11. He must have forgotten these were US weapons, negotiated away by the US and USSR, in intermediate range bilateral talks. To his credit, Lord Browne did concede the UK removal of nuclear (WMD)  capacity these were unilateral steps. 

In one bizarre intervention, the Sir Ming  tried to put down an eminently sensible point made by a York University academic about compliance with NPT obligations, by saying that (we important) politicians have a different agenda from (you mere) academics, suggesting by example : 'Who would want to be the PM in 2040 who had withdrawn all our nuclear weapons to find himself open to blackmail  by an  emergent nuclear state. He could have asked who, as PM, would want to stand up in a House of Commons (assuming one survived a retaliatory strike)  to explain why he had immolated a million  innocent citizens in a foreign country by authorizing the launch of a Trident missile WMD:  but Ming  forgot to do that.

The most stunning  quote from the press conference was by Professor Alyson Bailes ( a former head of the Foreign Office security policy department, no less) who told me in response to my point that the UK had never put any of its nuclear warheads into multilateral nuclear disarmament, which is why none have been removed in such a process ( as our current disarmament ambassador in Geneva, Dr Matthew Rowland, told me a few weeks ago at a  FCO round table) by saying:  "We are using words in a different way." Indeed they are!

As Humpty Dumpty  told Alice and the Mad Hatter in scornful tone in Alice through the looking glass

"When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less."

Excluding the informed critics from the Trident Commission was clearly a mistake.

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