Friday, 20 January 1989


Paul Anderson, review of Working For Common Security by Nick Butler, Len Scott, David Ward and Jonathan Worthington (Fabian Society, £1.50), Tribune 20 January 1989

The authors of Working For Common Security have put together the most cogent case so far constructed for a move, away from Labour's current defence policy of abandoning Britain's nuclear arsenal and ridding Britain of American nuclear weapons. For this reason alone, their pamphlet is worthy of careful scrutiny by anyone interested in the issue — even if in the end, their arguments fail to convince.

Working For Common Security's central theme is that Labour's unilateralism has been rendered obsolete by international developments. Labour policy was formulated at the height of the Euromissile crisis, when super-power arms control negotiations were in deadlock.

Today, so the argument goes, the situation has been transformed. Mikhail Gorbachev's accession to power in the Kremlin has meant Soviet abandonment of obsessive competition in the arms race.

The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty has removed the most destablising nuclear weapons from Europe. Super-power arms control talks (on strategic nuclear forces, chemical weapons and conventional armaments) are on the move again. Detente is here again, in short, and the key question is how a Labour government could best contribute to a deepening of detente and a quickening of the pace of disarmament.

Butler, Scott, Ward and Worthington argue that the most important element of Labour policy that needs to he reassessed in this light is not the position on British nuclear forces (although they raise the possibility of putting Polaris and Trident into the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) but the party's commitment to rid Britain of American nuclear weapons, in particular the nuclear arms of the dual-capable F-111 bombers stationed in Britain.

They believe there is a danger that, if a Labour government simply told Washington that the F-111s' arms could not be kept in Britain, the F-111s would be redeployed elsewhere in Western Europe — which in turn would lead to big arguments wherever they were to be.redeployed and disruption to the whole arms control process that otherwise might secure the departure of the F-111s from Europe for good.

Therefore, instead of calling for removal of American nuclear weapons from Britain. Labour should be pressing for a change in NATO strategy away from "flexible response" and for a (multilaterally negotiated) elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe.

This position does have its strong points. The authors of the Fabian pamphlet are quite right to point out that American nuclear forces in Britain and NATO war-fighting strategy are more important questions than the British "independent deterrent".

There would indeed be little point in pursuing a policy of ridding Britain of American nuclear weapons if its only effects were to sabotage the chances of changing NATO strategy and securing international agreement to eliminate battlefield nuclear weapons from Europe.