Of the three words he'll use to describe the system, only one is unproblematic. I think we can all agree that we're talking about "nuclear" weapons.
But it is unclear who is supposed to be deterred by these weapons. As for the system's "independence", the claim is laughably inaccurate. It is independent in the same way that Blair's foreign policy is independent from that of President Bush.
In truth, "weapons of mass destruction" is a far more accurate and uncontroversial description of what we're talking about.
So, should we replace our ageing weapons of mass destruction?
I've already seen some or other Blairite drone essentially argue that replacement of Trident was a manifesto commitment and that the public had therefore endorsed it at the general election. This is just the sort of standard dishonest tactic this government seems to revel in. Despite the fact that very many people clearly voted Labour for the simple reason that they didn't want the Tories to win, a sentiment amplified and exploited by Blair's spin machine to the extent that it was the central theme of their campaign, it is now argued that all these people read, agreed with and wholeheartedly endorsed every single word of the manifesto. We can expect more of this fallacious nonsense over the next three months.
What the manifesto actually said was this:
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 Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, to join. (PDF, page 88)As as a commitment to replace Trident, this is a triumph of ambiguity.
I'm reminded of the manifesto commitment on ID Cards:
We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.On first reading, this appears to say that people can "volunteer" to have an ID card when they renew their passports. We now know that that was never the intention. And we also know that the government steamrollered the Lords into backing down on opposing ID Cards because of this "clear" manifesto commitment.
Be in no doubt that these commitments were deliberately written in this ambiguous fashion. I'm not well informed about the exact process used to write the manifesto but it obviously has very little to do with democracy. As far as I'm aware, ordinary Labour Party members have essentially no say as to what it contains.
The commitment on nuclear weapons is, however, unambiguously hypocritical. Article VI of the NNPT formally commits the nuclear armed states to "pursue negotiations in good faith... on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control". Making an express commitment to retain nuclear weapons with no mention of any desire to attempt to achieve disarmament is a clear, indeed material breech of the treaty. In the same sentence, the manifesto then goes on to emphasise the importance of the very treaty it so blatantly flouts. You can't even see the moral high ground from that position, never mind occupy it.
There are those who say that nuclear weapons are a Pandora's Box, that they will always be with us, and that this makes the disarmament provisions of Article VI undesirable and unworkable. This, in itself, is a perfectly credible position to adopt and one I respect.
If that is to be the basis of policy however, it is important to face its full implications. If we are to abandon our obligation to work towards "complete disarmament," then the NNPT is a dead duck. As we would have no intention of abiding by Article VI, we'd either have to withdraw from the NNPT or the treaty itself would have to be renegotiated or scrapped. Given the difficulties that such negotiations would provoke, it is far more likely that it would have to be scrapped.
More concretely, adopting this position would mean telling the 180 or so non-nuclear signatories to the NNPT that we do not believe that non-proliferation is achievable and that we will not disarm. The likely effect of this message doesn't need to be spelled out.
The government doesn't want to deal with any of this or even talk about it. They want to have their cake and eat it. This simply isn't a credible position. As I've said before, President Ahmadinejad is wrong about many things but when he calls our government hypocritical over their attitude to the NNPT, he is entirely correct.
The world today is very different from the Cold War era of Mutually Assured Destruction. The decision as to whether to replace Trident is a complex one and there are good arguments on both sides. A full public debate on this very important issue, including the full implications of deciding to replace, is surely essential in a democratic country.
But we're not going to get that. What we're going to get is a three months sales pitch for a pre-determined policy. Like the patter of a particularly unscrupulous used car salesman, it'll be dishonest, evasive, well practised rubbish. No real conversation will take place.
And what's the rush? Partly, it's because of pressure from BAE Systems.
Speaking to the parliamentary defence committee yesterday, Murray Easton, head of the submarine division at BAE Systems, warned that a delay could have a "catastrophic" impact on the industry.My hear bleeds. BAE Systems are not even going to make £1 billion profit this year. That's clearly only one small step from catastrophe. Give them a grant, quick sharp...
OK, I'm being facetious but only because I'm resisting a rant on the insidious relationships between government and "defence contractors". In fact, BAE Systems base their claim on the fact that delay would mean that crucial expertise was lost. Given the fact that replacement is predicated on the fact that nuclear technologies, once invented, can't be lost, it isn't a very good argument. Is someone going to shoot these experts if these contracts are not awarded? (Yes, facetious again.)
The other reason for the rush is, of course, Blair's desire to secure his legacy. And I suppose it's fitting in a way. On the one hand, he'll be remembered as the PM who supported a war which could accurately be described as catastrophic over weapons of mass destruction which didn't exist. On the other, he'll be remembered as the PM whose decision to replace our ageing weapons of mass destruction hammered the final radioactive nail into the NNPT's coffin. This seems to be an entirely suitable legacy for a man of Blair's talents.
It is, however, unfortunate that the rest of us with have to live in the world where that legacy exists.
Right, I'm off to see what he's got to say about all this.
Tags: News, Politics, WMD, Tony Blair