Monday, 12 April 2010

Labour manifesto keeps Trident options open

The Labour Party manifesto can be downloaded in full at With vast amounts of media and online coverage, rather than attempt a full summary, we will try to flag up some specific issues which might get less attention elsewhere.

While the manifesto commits to the UK maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent, it makes no specific commitments on the scale, nature and timing of the renewal of the Trident programme, leaving this open pending a Strategic Defence Review.

Labour does now voice support for "a world free of nuclear weapons", though this direct echo of the Obama campaign and Presidency suggests the commitment owes more to Barack Obama than Michael Foot, in suggesting that international movement towards multilateral disarmament in the age of Obama perhaps trumps the domestic fear of being thought to echo Labour's unilateral disarmament commitments of 1983.

The Labour manifesto says:

A strategic defence review will look at all areas of defence but we will maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. We will fight for multilateral disarmament, working for a world free of nuclear weapons, in the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review conference and beyond - combining support for civilian nuclear energy with concerted action against proliferation.

For the record, it is worth noting that the 2005 manifesto did not mention Trident directly either, but it had much less emphasis on multilateral disarmament ambitions, which have moved sharply up the international agenda since then, saying:

We are also committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent and we will continue to work, both bilaterally and through the UN, to urge states not yet party to non-proliferation treaties, notably the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to join

Barack Obama is today hosting a two-day nuclear security summit, which David Miliband is attending in place of Gordon Brown, having recently agreed a multilateral disarmament deal with Russia, which experts believe could also influence Britain's Trident decisions.

Labour's language of a world free of nuclear weapons directly echoes that used by Barack Obama during his campaign and presidency.

But it also reflects the strong bipartisan support in the United States for a strong focus on multilateral disarmament, involving figues like George Schulz and Henry Kissinger. This has been echoed in the UK with those like David Owen whose careers were defined by a strong committed to nuclear deterrence arguing that the post-Cold War world has changed.

David Miliband has set out the British government's policy in a major IISS speech and FCO policy document last year.

With that shifting international context, it would be inaccurate to characterise this as a Blair/Brown difference.

Take this very interesting Commons exchange in May 2007 in which Prime Minister Tony Blair told John Denham, then a backbench MP before joining the Cabinet, that he took Denham's argument from "the reasonable end of the opposition to what we are doing" that the next Parliament could legitimately reopen the question between 2012 and 2014.

1 comment:

PolitePaulo said...

I think you're being over-optimistic about the prospects of Labour taking constructive steps towards nuclear disarmament.

Unfortunately party leaders have already explicitly excluded the possibility of considering nuclear weapons in the Strategic Defence Review. Defence ministers have quietly back-pedalled on Gordon Brown's pledge to reduce the number of replacement submarines for Trident from four to three.

All three of the main political parties are stuck in a dangerous Cold War time warp, unable to see that the world has changed and that modern security threats such as climate change and fundamentalism can't be tackled with nuclear weapons.

As a result we are set to spend £97 billion on new nuclear weapons at a time when public spending faces deep cuts. Opinion polls show that a significant majority of the public do not want to see Trident replaced, so cancelling plans for new nuclear weapons would be a vote-winner.

It's up to us in the rank and file to put this issue fairly and squarely on the election agenda, as the political elite are not interested in sacrificing the political privilege which they wrongly consider nuclear weapons to give them.