Late in June, on the last day that Tony Blair was in office in Britain, his Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett made a notable speech at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington in which she called on both the US and Russia to make deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
Beckett recalled that at the heart of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970 there was a “grand bargain” between the recognized nuclear-weapons states and the non-nuclear states, under which the nuclear-weapons states undertook to engage in complete and general disarmament, in return for the non-nuclear states foreswearing the pursuit of nuclear arsenals. And she noted the key linkage this established between nuclear (non-)proliferation and nuclear disarmament:
- Our efforts on non-proliferation will be dangerously undermined if others believe – however unfairly – that the terms of the grand bargain [between nuclear and non-nuclear states] have changed, that the nuclear weapon states have abandoned any commitment to disarmament.
This is an excellent point to make– though I don’t currently see any need for that caveat about “however unfairly”. So here are my two main questions about the Beckett speech:
- 1. To what extent did the position she laid out actually reflect anything about the positions to be taken by the soon-to-take-over government of Gordon Brown?
2. Which people of similar political stature within the US are equally ready to speak out publicly about the need for nuclear disarmament?
Regarding the first of those questions, I detected a faint echo of the “Beckett position” in the speech that new Foreign Secretary David Miliband made for Chatham House and Avaaz.org earlier this week. (Video from Avaaz, here.) Miliband spoke quite a lot there about nuclear nonproliferation, and the need to achieve this in cooperation with other countries, etc.– all pretty boiler-plateish stuff, really, unless you come from a John Bolton-like position of rampant unilateralism.
But he did also say at one point:
- We need to find similar ways of leading thought on other areas, whether this is concrete and immediate challenges such as nuclear disarmament and proliferation or longer term challenges such as the future of global institutions…
So I guess what I’m seeing there is that he thinks nuclear disarmament is a concrete and immediate challenge (and one that may be linked to nuclear proliferation)– but it is still only something we need to find ways to start thinking about, not something we actually need to do anything about at this point?
And it was indeed quite appropriate that Miliband didn’t commit his government to doing anything about nuclear disarmament right now… Especially since, as Paul Rogers has laid out at depressing length here, the Brown government last Wednesday announced plans:
- 1. “to allow the US base at Menwith Hill in north Yorkshire to become a key component in the new national missile-defence system Washington is now developing” [maybe that should be a global missile-defence system? ~HC] and
2. “to build two huge new aircraft-carriers for the Royal Navy, much bigger than any other ship the country has ever deployed… The military purpose of the two new carriers is to give Britain a global expeditionary strike capability that it has lacked for decades… ”
Yes, certainly depressing.
Rogers notes, too, that the new carrier-building program is intimately linked to the program had Blair started, to upgrade and replace Britain’s arsenal of Trident, submarine-launched nuclear missiles. He analyzes Brown’s decisions in these fields at some length, noting that the timing of the two announcements, “was in the best tradition of British democracy: in a familiar pattern for decisions that governments seek to ‘bury’, they arrived at the end of the parliamentary session as MPs prepare to leave for the summer recess, thus ensuring an absence of debate and (in the main) media discussion…”
- What is really dismaying at this early stage of the Gordon Brown government is the missed opportunity to take a hard look at Britain’s defence policy and engage in a fundamental review of the country’s long-term security needs. Instead, it seems that in this key area of Whitehall – notwithstanding the rhetoric of change from the new prime minister – it is business as usual.
There is a remote possibility that wiser counsel will prevail, perhaps after the next election…
And talking of elections, here we are in the United States, and what do our presidential candidates here have to say about nuclear proliferation and nuclear disarmament?
On the Democratic side, both Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Gov. Bill Richardson have articulated what look to me like excellent positions.
Kucinich’s, as expressed here is as follows:
- It is practical to work for peace. I speak of peace and diplomacy not just for the sake of peace itself. But, for practical reasons, we must work for peace as a means of achieving permanent security. It is similarly practical to work for total nuclear disarmament, particularly when nuclear arms do not even come close to addressing the real security problems which confront our nation, witness the events of September 11, 2001.
And Richardson’s, as expressed on his own website here, is this:
- Getting all nations to agree to a stronger nonproliferation regime will require skillful diplomacy and new thinking. Which brings me to the second task: the nuclear states must stop making new weapons and must reduce the size of their existing arsenals.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty commits non-nuclear states to forego nuclear weapons, and it also commits the nuclear weapons states to the goal of nuclear disarmament. To get others to take the NPT seriously, we need to take it seriously ourselves. We should re-affirm our commitment to the long-term goal of global nuclear disarmament, and we should invite the Russians to join us in a moratorium on all new nuclear weapons. And we should negotiate further staged reductions in our arsenals, beyond what has already been agreed, over the next decade.
In a world in which nuclear terrorism rather than war with Russia is the main threat, reducing all nuclear arsenals, in a careful, orderly way, makes everyone safer.
Negotiations to reduce our arsenal also are our diplomatic ace-in-the-hole. We can leverage our own proposed reductions to get the other nuclear powers to do the same — and simultaneously get the non-nuclear powers to forego both weapons and nuclear fuel enrichment, and to agree to rigorous global safeguards and verification procedures.
The United States also should ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, not only because it is good policy, but also to send a signal to the world that America has turned a corner, and once again will be a global leader, not a unilateralist loner.
Richardson has considerable experience in the nuclear-weapons field. In the Clinton administration he occupied at different times the positions of both Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of Energy. The latter position involves a lot of oversight over the country’s nuclear arsenals. I am really delighted that he has adopted the clear and persuasive position that I read there.
But how about the two Democratic front-runners, and how about the main Republican candidates for president?
With a fairly rapid search, I have been unable to find any noteworthy statements any of those others have made on the topic of real nuclear disarmament (i.e., including by our side), as such.
If any of you readers out there can find good records of these other candidates’ positions on the topic, could you post a link to it here? Thanks!
Also, another point. When citizens or journos get a chance to ask questions of all these candidates in the weeks ahead, shouldn’t we all be asking them some very well-phrased questions about the need for “all-points” nuclear disarmament?