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Labour should say no to Boris’ nuclear arms race – Sam Browse

” Labour can’t win the argument if it accepts the Government’s framework & attempts to criticise the Government from the right .”

Sam Browse

By Sam Browse, Streatham CLP & Arise Volunteer

Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced as part of the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy that he would raise the cap from 180 to 260 nuclear weapons in the UK’s arsenal.

The Government plans should be completely opposed. They tear up Britain’s legal obligations under the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty, waste billions on out-dated weapons that are an existential threat to the human race, and make the world a more insecure, more uncertain and more dangerous place.

Worryingly, the proposals were accompanied by a statement in which the Prime Minister said the UK would have to ‘relearn the art of competing against states with opposing values’. The allusion to the Cold War is both apt and chilling in the context of an increase in our nuclear stockpiles.   

The entire left should oppose any approach to foreign policy and defence which takes as its template the great power, bipolar politics of the 20th Century – and we should oppose utterly any attempt to apply that template to relations between the West and China.

Rather than replicate the polarising and dangerous geopolitics that incubated the Cuban missile crisis and gave rise to a generation for whom nuclear annihilation was an ever-present threat, we should embrace the newly emerging multipolar world and find ways to constructively engage with it. The only interests a new Cold War on China serves are those of  a US-based ruling elite who hope only to stall their relative decline.

The Labour Party cannot win the argument if it accepts this framework and attempts to criticise the Government from the right ­– as it sought to do in the debate yesterday – by accusing Ministers of not spending enough on the military.  Not only is it wrong in principle, but in reality no concession Labour gives to Tory militarism will ever be enough, and we’ll be dragged onto terrain on which it’s even harder to make the case for peace and disarmament.      

Instead, we should make the argument for a new perspective. Rather than a foreign policy that serves only an elite “few”, we need one that defends the interest of the global “many”, addressing the real international challenges we face – the climate emergency, the global pandemic (and those of the future), and the refugee crisis caused by war and environmental catastrophe.

Wasting billons on an outdated “defence” system does nothing to address these issues, and as international tensions increase, there is no sense in adding the third existential threat of nuclear destruction to the climate and international public health emergencies. The UK must join the 100s of countries who support the global nuclear ban treaty, and scrap Trident – not increase our nuclear weapons stockpile.

Rather than bringing to life the nostalgia of latter-day cold warriors, and hitching ourselves to the interests of a ruling elite in relative decline, our foreign and defence policies should be forward looking and engage with the new multipolar geopolitical realities.  That means aspiring to peace and disarmament, and respecting our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The alternative is a world made more dangerous and more insecure by the threat of nuclear war. 

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