Nick Clegg writes: Yes to multilateral, global disarmament

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.

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This entry was posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds.


  • Geoffrey Payne 1st Nov '07 - 10:58am

    I would like to ask Nick Clegg who specifically are we negotiating with in order to “multilaterally” disarm?
    I do not see how replacing Trident, something he implicitly supports although says little about in his spin actually supports the Non-Poliferation Treaty. Surely it gives other countries a pretext to have their own nuclear weapons, the opposite of what the NPT intends?
    After all, the UK does not have an obvious enermy with which to point the weapons at. Countries like Iran have both Isreal and Pakistan as enermies that could use nuclear weapons against them. Logically they have a far better reason to have nuclear weapons than we do.
    Historically the Liberal party has been opposed to an independent nuclear deterrent, going back to Jo Grimond, because it is a form of unilateralism; having nuclear weapons independent of Nato.
    And why should the Liberal Democrats commit themselves to spending billions to counter a tiny theoretical possibility that a dangerous enermy may be deterred from UK nuclear weapons when there is a far greater threat to our security being posed by global warming?
    Today the Warsaw Pact is history and both Nato and the UK no longer need nuclear weapons. To unilaterally have nuclear weapons under the pretext that we will multilaterally get rid of them is a nonsense. In reality it will mean if we support this philosophy that we will always have nuclear weapons.
    Clegg’s position completely lacks imagination, and we saw how the SNP benfitted from the Lib Dem fudge in the Scottish elections recently.
    Huhne has similar questions to answer, from my point of view, but at least he is committed to spending less money.

  • I don't get it 1st Nov '07 - 11:56am

    Correct me if I’m wrong:

    1. Huhne says replace Trident with a smaller and cheaper nuclear system although doesn’t say how/what/when/where.

    2. Clegg says cut Trident in half and negotaite away the rest if possible, replacing Trident if appears necessary after negotiation.

    I’d say Clegg has most radical disarming position.

    Having said that no-one here to vote for if you want to ‘ban the bomb’ although Clegg comes nearest as Huhne is pledged to replace while Clegg isn’t

  • Geoffrey Payne 1st Nov '07 - 1:11pm

    You are wrong because despite the spin, similar to what we saw at the party conference, the policy Clegg supports is to replace Trident.
    No one has said who we are supposed to “multilaterally” negotiate with, so I think that term is a smokescreen. However I am more than happy for someone to write in and say specifically who we are supposed to negotiate with.

  • On the issue of multi-lateralism and the subject of negotiations, I think it would help if we pointed out our support for global governance systems, such as through the (cumbersome) structures of the UN.

    Neither candidate supports ‘going it alone’, but both know they want to get away from the aggressive bullying stance which asks for a fight, and which would be frighteningly destructive.

    Because you can’t make the world suddenly safe, it makes sense to get there gradually.

    I’m not going to go on about the candidates because this is an issue which shouldn’t be allowed to become divisive: they should agree.

    If we are serious about our prospects then issues which are this serious should be a matter of negotiation, not debate.

  • Mick Taylor 1st Nov '07 - 5:27pm

    Come off it all of you. It’s simple. No major power has ever given up nuclear weapons. Nuclear disarmament has to start somewhere. No-one has ever shown that the UK would be a less safe place without weapons of mass destruction. I’m with Chris Huhne on this. Trident is expensive, dangerous and should be scrapped. All this talk about broken cricket bats is hogwash. We could lead the disarmament process and take a moral stance.

    I will not vote for any candidate who even suggests there is a case for replacing Trident.

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Nov '07 - 5:41pm

    Well Chris does say that unless things change he wants a new type of nuclear weapon.

    Why is that different?

  • Denis Loretto 1st Nov '07 - 8:12pm

    As I see it Chris is (sensibly – in view of the long timescale) not committing himself as to what should replace Trident. He is quite clearly retaining the option of not replacing it with another so-called independent nuclear deterrent at all. What he is ruling out now is renewal of a Trident-type deterrent and giving very cogent reasons for this.

  • Being a unilateralist is determined by your DNA??? That’s rather racist!

  • I have to say. This is EXACTLY what I thought the Huhne campaign would do. Cheap policy announcements. It’s the only way he might sneak it and it shows just why it would be a mistake to vote for him. I know where my vote is going.

  • Geoffrey Payne 2nd Nov '07 - 11:12am

    For the record, the South African government under Nelson Mandella did give up nuclear weapons.
    It can be done.
    Now on the NPT, what I would like to know is what leverage Britain’s unilateral possession of nuclear weapons will have in persuading the USA, China, France, Isreal, Pakistan, India, China and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons?
    I think the answer is none at all.
    To to claim that if you support replacing Trident that makes you a multilateralist is pure spin. It really means you are committed to having nuclear weapons forever.
    And that of course is a tragic waste of resources when the real security threats come from global warming and international terrorism. It is hard to conceive that these weapons will have any deterrence effect at all. Compare and contrast with Iran with potential nuclear threats from Isreal, USA and Pakistan.
    How can we say we can have them, with no threat from anyone, and Iran cannot?
    We should stop being hyprocrites and get rid of Trident and not replace it.

  • Veronica Edwards 22nd Nov '07 - 5:14pm

    As Nick Clegg is not opposed to Trident I shall not be voting for him

  • Matthew Harris 23rd Nov '07 - 3:44pm

    I am (still) a floating voter in this contest. Since the 1980s, I have believed that this country should retain its nuclear weapons until they can be “negotiated away” multilaterally, rather than renouncing them unilaterally. That is my gut instinct. Nick Clegg’s stance appears to be closest to what I believe. My frustration with the Huhne camp is that their answer to the question: “If you scrapped Trident, would you (or would you not) replace it with another nuclear weapons system?”, appears to be: “We don’t know.” How can you not know whether or not you want this country to retain nuclear weapons?

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