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For the Labour right, multilateral disarmament means no disarmament

The last few days have seen a torrent of rearguard action from the Blairite faction Progress in defence of Trident replacement. A noticeable feature of these articles have been their lack of vision.

Luke Akehurst reports that Labour has had a “settled view in favour of multilateral disarmament”.  However he is also quick to proclaim in a later paragraph that he wants Britain to have nuclear weapons perpetually.

“I support Trident renewal because I want my children and hopefully their children to have a country in 50 years time which is still protected by a deterrent,” Luke writes. He adds: “I don’t want a British prime minister in the 2050s to be confronted by a threat and not be able to point to strategic deterrent and warn the state threatening us to back off.”

Backing up Luke Akehurst, Progress then posted an article by Rowan Ree who expressed regret that “unfortunately the case for a British nuclear deterrent is usually made from the right”. (He also asserted that Witney, 60 miles from London, was unlikely to be targeted by a nuclear strike unlike the inner cities, and therefore this issue mattered more to inner city Labour voters. I’m not sure if anyone has ever explained to him what a nuclear weapon actually is.)

Where is the vision of nuclear-free world, articulated by Obama in 2009, and the vision which won over some doubters to Kinnock’s policy shift in the run-up to the 1992 general election?  It is certainly true that Neil Kinnock only persuaded an anti-nuclear Labour Party to abandon its policy of immediate disarmament by suggesting the next Labour Government could achieve more by being part of a multilateral process at the end of the cold war.

However in 2012 we can reflect on the last Labour Government and what it did, or did not, achieve. During two review conferences of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty during the premiership of Tony Blair, no meaningful progress was made towards global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Why? It is not for lack of will amongst scores of nation states across the world pro-actively working for global abolition.  A Nuclear Weapons Convention, that would outlaw nuclear weapons, has the support of Ban Ki-Moon and the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Over a hundred countries supported a UN resolution at the General Assembly in 2006 for “immediate” negotiations to begin for a Nuclear Weapons Convention, but still in 2009 a Foreign Office Minister in the last Labour Government was calling early work towards a Convention as ‘premature’.

In the context of the Labour Party, “multilateral disarmament” is often a phrase used as merely a code for no disarmament at all, as Luke illustrates in his Progress piece.

The next manifesto should commit a Labour Government to be a leading supporter of early work towards a Nuclear Weapons Convention. It cannot do that wedded to language of retaining nuclear weapons for 50 years and the replacement of Trident which that entails.

The next review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will take place just after next election, in 2015. Will a newly elected Labour Government go to that conference and join the majority of countries in building the necessary momentum towards global abolition, or will it turn up and say ‘sorry we can’t help; we just got elected on a commitment to replacing our nuclear weapons systems’? That is a question that must be asked when the defence of Trident replacement is made.

Daniel Blaney is a Vice-Chair of CND and a member of Labour CND

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