Lib Dem Voice has asked both leadership candidates to set out their views on what should be the party’s approach to Britain’s policy on nuclear weapons. First up is Nick Clegg…
My ambition is simple: nuclear disarmament around the world. Under my leadership, Britain would use every last ounce of her leverage to secure multilateral, global disarmament.
I am dismayed by suggestions we should pre-empt the 2010 talks on the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty by planning to build a new, “smaller” nuclear weapons system. Building a new warhead would almost certainly be illegal under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty; a treaty I would never permit Britain to breach.
How can we take the moral high ground with countries like Iran if we are willing ourselves to flout the international rule of law?
Proposals for a “smaller, minimal” deterrent would be, I assume, based on inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The detailed analysis done by the party’s expert working group made it clear that an ICBM system would carry huge risks. ICBMs would be more expensive and, crucially, less stable. Land-based missiles work as a first-strike weapon only, because an enemy could take them out with an initial attack. They are the weapon of an aggressor, not a deterrent.
I would never permit Britain to destabilise the international order by adopting more aggressive nuclear weapons.
Current party policy, decided by conference, is not a fudge. I’ve been involved in many complex international negotiations before I went into politics, including leading European trade talks with China and Russia. And the one thing you need for a successful negotiation is leverage.
The 2010 renewal talks on the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty are the biggest hope for disarmament that my generation will have. I want to make the most of them. There’s little point attending the talks if we’ve already thrown all our cards away. As Geoffrey Howe once said, it’s like sending your batsmen into the crease with broken cricket bats.
Of course we should emphasise at every turn that we are serious about disarmament. That is why the party’s decision to decommission a substantial portion of our nuclear warheads in the run up to the 2010 talks is so important. But the rest must be used to help disarm the world.
I am an internationalist. It’s in my DNA. If the Liberal Democrats do not stand for multilateralism, for using British influence to bring about change in the world, for the rule of international law, then I do not know what we are for.
The unilateralist proposals being put forward would throw away a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make the world safer from nuclear weapons, breach international law and lumber Britain with a new, more aggressive, nuclear weapons system. I cannot understand why a Liberal Democrat would want to do any of those things, let alone all three.
* Nick Clegg is Lib Dem MP for Sheffield Hallam and a candidate to succeed Ming Campbell as the party’s leader.