Monday, November 26, 2007

Nukes - Chris has it (nearly) magnificently right 

It is time we stopped posturing on issues such as nuclear weapons.

Everyone interested in these issues should (I suggest) look at the work of the Oxford Research Group, an independent think-tank that has for decades studied how nuclear weapons decisions are actually made, who makes them and how we need to start debates where people actually are not where we want them to be.

The challenge is to get through to the people in the actual decision making loops, many of whom have very serious doubts – practical, economic and yes MORAL, about what is happening. To liberate those people to make a contribution to the debates so we can all make more informed decisions.

Chris Huhne I think has taken up this challenge and he is magnificently right in his approach.

There are two ways to make sure we who oppose nuclear weaponry can ensure we continue to lose the argument. The first is to insist on a pure unilateralist rhetoric – and this has been efficiently neutralised well in advance so the decision making processes can ignore them The second is to talk glibly about ‘putting our systems on the table’ in any future multilateral negotiations, which has no credibility with other parties to negotiations precisely because the complex of ‘decision making systems’ are left untouched to justify further developments regardless.

We need a new approach to open up a wider and more relevant debate, to empower our negotiators so we can seize any real chances for disarmament.

Chris Huhne has taken up the challenge to produce a real and effective policy for shaking up this complex of decision systems and really debating ‘nuclear weapons policy’. If we follow his lead on this, Britain could be at the forefront of a genuine disarmament drive. Win or lose in this leadership contest I hope he continues to work on this approach and that the party takes his thinking on board.

A summary of the ORG analysis of the recent ‘Trident’ renewal situation is here, and a detailed paper (note in .pdf) on the process is here.

Example of one of the things such a debate will make clear: the Armed Forces insist that great chunks of the cost of nuclear weaponry is not part of the Defence Budget but are counted in elsewhere as ‘political assets’ for the UK. We must insist that all nuclear weapons costs are clearly added to the defence pot and ask the services chiefs – ‘what priority do you put on this in defence terms? What are you prepared to cut if necessary to maintain the current or any nuclear weaponry development and deployment’.

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No, you've lost me. Chris's leadership campaign has been all about posturing on nukes. It was never worth making an issue of.

So tell me about the realism and effectiveness of developing a new nuclear weapons system. Perhaps one with only a first strike capability, and no deterrent value?
Edis, I agree with you which is not surprising in view of the fact that Chris Huhne's stance on the nuclear deterrent is almost the same as that of the minority working group report which I signed (after reading and hearing a great deal of evidence). Joe, you are entitled to your view, as am I to mine. Mine is that you have no basis for your allegation of posturing and you appear to have a poor understanding of nuclear weapons, otherwise you would never have suggested that a nuclear weapons system might have "no deterrent value".
Jo, the point is that if a weapon is land-based, rather than sub-based, it can be taken out by an enemy first strike. It therefore has no (or perhaps minimal) deterrent value, and is only useful as a first strike weapon - i.e. by a government seeking to escalate a non-nuclear conflict into a nuclear one. So developing that kind of weapon is intrinsically a more aggressive posture.
Joe, this is the kind of issue we need to settle in a proper debate. The full ORG paper linked to my main post suggests how to bring about that debate. Can I gently sugegst reading it if you want to criticise my position?

Chris shows he understands what we need to do to bring that proper debate into the mainstream so it isn't sandbagged by immediate comments such as, well...

If we dont have a debate in this form we will simply have a shouting match and business as usual when the 2010 treaty negotiations take place.

One example: The USA may well abandon Trident missiles in favour of a new generation of sea-launched cruise type ordnances. that would leave the UK high and dry if it felt it needed nukes.
"If the UK were to opt for a replacement system that did not
involve the Trident missile it would have to pay for new support facilities, extensive testing programmes
to ensure the safety and reliability of any new system, and all the inherent financial, technological and
political risks associated with building a sophisticated weapon system that the US shouldered for the Trident programme."

Yep, the paper agrees with me.

To be honest, I am not worried about a scenario where the US (and France for that matter) were no longer willing to sell us nukes. Yes, maybe one day we will have to disarm or roll our own. But why go to the extra expense and risk of doing it today?

The paper makes some good points against ordering a new fleet of Vanguard replacements now. In this it agrees with party policy and the views of both candidates.

What else is there?
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