Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, interviewed on the Today programme this morning sounded a bit rattled by the repeated question ’Will Corbyn use the bomb?’ Her attempts at evasion gave the game away. Jeremy is, at heart a bit of a pacifist and no doubt the BBC research was correct in finding that he hadn’t supported a single British military intervention since being elected to parliament. Of course, it will only be a matter of time before it is pointed out that he ‘supported the IRA,’ which whether true or not kicks the ‘Jeremy is a pacifist’ argument into touch.
But on the bomb issue, if I had been in Thornberry’s shoes I would have thrown the question back—because the question is in what circumstances would you expect our PM to press the self-destruct button? For example, could it be done without US permission—Trident is their missile system after all? Is it at all conceivable that Britain would launch its nuclear warheads without the US already doing so? And would this be a pre-emptive or responsive attack? I know the theory of mutually assured destruction is meant to rely on the perception of our willingness to use nuclear weapons, and we’re still trapped for the time being in the shadow of that. But recent developments suggest the bar for nuclear war could be lowered, not least with Trump reneging on practically any deal that contains the word ‘nuclear.’
In this game, our ‘deterrence’ is irrelevant, and I regret and always have regretted that the Labour Party has stuck with it. Much of this I suspect is the fear of what right-wing tabloids have to say about unilateral disarmament, memories of 1987 general election Tory posters depicting Labour as unpatriotic, the dent to national pride if we rid ourselves of the bomb whilst France retains hers and of course the threat to our all-important permanent seat on the UN Security Council (which we’ll likely lose anyway post-Brexit).
We might ask why if there are so many good reasons for having the bomb Germany shouldn’t also possess this wonder tool? Why aren’t Germans demanding it as their human right, notwithstanding the Non-Proliferation Treaty? A savvy German Chancellor after Merkel could sidle up to Trump and tell him the NPT needs to go as well. We’re paying through the nose for this technology, so surely there’s an argument for a global trade in it, a fresh market for neo-liberalism perhaps? It’s not as if the NPT has stopped proliferation. It was the Americans who got the Israeli nuclear capacity on the go after all, albeit served under the counter. And a nuclear winter might put a stop to global warming, isn’t that so Dr Strangelove?