10 March 2007

Renewed diplomacy, not WMD, is needed

By Andrew Boswell

Expect an exhilarating MP debate on Trident next Wednesday as Tony Blair suffers a much bigger revolt than he did over Iraq. Blair, once again, is relying on the Tories, as leading Labour rebel Jon Trickett said confidently, there will be over 100 rebels, "realistically rising to 150", compared to 85 Labour rebels on Iraq.

Whilst it's good to see the strong conviction of many Labour MPs, can anyone believe that a vote for New Labour is not a vote for Tory foreign policy? MPs know the score - 17 motions on Trident replacement were ruled out of order at the Labour party conference 2006, and 3 executive motions are already ruled out for the 2007 party conference.

Many MPs learnt the hard way over Iraq when they failed to scrutinise Government arguments falling for, at best, spin. This week's report from the Defence Select Committee, challenging many of the Government's basic arguments for Trident, should warn them to be more vigilant this time.

Rushing the debate benefits just two groups - the defence business and the floundering 'Blair legacy' industry. Former Labour MP, Malcolm Savage, commented this week that the life time of the current Trident fleet had been reduced by ministers from 30 years to 25 years to force a decision during Tony Blair's last parliament. This echoes dodgy dossier scaremongering - particularly when the report notes that the US is planning to extend the life of its Trident submarines to 45 years.

The Government thrust is we need to maintain a "minimum deterrent" and calculates this conveniently as 50 more years of Trident. But the Defence Committee concludes that "what constitutes a 'minimum deterrent' is unclear" and that ministers must explain further – a calculus of missile numbers and threats that could keep defence analysts on high salaries for years.

MPs should 'cut the crap' and just ask themselves what, if any, deterrent is necessary. The concept does not transfer to 21st century issues: security risks such as climate change and terrorism. These risks are a far cry from balancing Cold War strategic interests. Was Tony Blair, the only Briton to miss the exciting TV footage of the Berlin Wall falling?

The Government says Trident is needed for "self defence", "in extreme circumstance", and to protect "vital interests". These unqualified, and unscrutinised, phrases can mean anything to anyone, and the Defence committee urges MPs to demand the Government defines them precisely and clearly for any rational debate. Such poor language certainly reflects the government's failure to address the changed international situation.

Can the potential catastrophes we face for the next fifty years be deterred by the UK launching a nuclear attack? An ICM poll last summer showed that 59% oppose the government replacing Trident – presumably because their answer is no.

Many actually fear the £76 billion investment is to continue bullying those who our Government call "rogue states", but whose 'threat' is largely that they have resources that we and the US would like.

Plans to replace Trident show the failure of this Government to keep to treaties and undermine the UK's future diplomacy. Since around 2000, the major powers have not been disarming as promised and the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is breaking down.

Trident replacement is tantamount to a strong UK signal that the NPT is dead. We can only expect those nations seeking nuclear weapons to interpret this one way – ever greater determination to join the club of fools – the nuclear club.

The most preposterous argument that I heard on this week's BBC Moral Maze program was that our grandchildren might be better able to disarm when the Trident replacement would end (2054). What abnegation of our responsibility! We are already leaving them with almost certain international chaos from climate change – leaving them with broken international treaties and security within that chaos is adding insult to injury.

UK diplomats have expressed deep concern about this government over Middle East policy. Last year, Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a retired Moscow ambassador, said "Mr Blair is constructing foreign policy out of self-righteous soundbites" indicating the urgent need for a renewal of British diplomacy and foreign policy that shows our commitment to the international community and law.

The rational argument is that Britain's nuclear deterrent is out of date. A 'No to Trident' decision would underwrite our much needed diplomatic renewal, and help ensure that global solutions to climate change and international terrorism based on common security are fully developed. Britain would be leading at its best by honouring the NPT and disarming – a truly positive signal to other nations and a true step to eliminating all nuclear weapons for future generations.