Trident demo Protesters at the Stop Trident demo in February 2016. Photo: Jim Aindow

Lindsey German argues that supporting weapons of mass destruction would be a disaster for the left

There’s a big problem with Paul Mason’s video ‘The left-wing case for nuclear weapons’. That is, it is no different from the right-wing case for nuclear weapons. 

It argues, along with Paul’s accompanying blog, that Britain needs a nuclear ‘deterrent’, that Nato’s aggressive manoeuvres in Eastern Europe need to be supported and even increased, that implicitly 2% of total GDP going on defence is fine (as long as Trident is included in it), and that Britain should reposition away from its catastrophic wars and interventions in the Middle East to concentrate on defeating Russia in Europe.

A number of wrong arguments here seem to collide. The first is that Jeremy Corbyn has to accept Trident replacement in order to win an election. Not true. There is growing opposition to Trident, and a high level of opposition to nuclear weapons, and Jeremy can win an election by sticking to his long-held principles. His success in being elected Labour leader was in considerable part because of his record as an anti-war and peace campaigner. Let’s not forget that these are the issues which have mobilised huge numbers of working-class people in the last decade and a half.

The second is that nuclear weapons should not be any part of a left Labour manifesto. They are weapons of mass destruction, which if used will result in the most appalling consequences, on a scale which would dwarf Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Most countries of the world do not possess such weapons and there are international agreements to limit their development. Mason’s glib thought that an independent Scotland’s refusal to take Trident would mean the fleet being located to England won’t happen. The only possible site, Plymouth, has too big a population and the risk would be too high for these dangerous weapons to be sited there. 

The third is that the answer to Britain’s defence needs lies in supporting an increasingly strident and expansionist Nato. That organisation has been at the centre of the wars in the Middle East which Mason so correctly deplores. It is now effectively permanently stationing troops along the Russian border in Eastern Europe, in breach of an agreement from the 1990s which supposedly prevented such a thing. 

Only this week, speaking in Riga, Nato General Philip Breedlove said that Nato and the US are switching their defence doctrine from assurance to deterrence in Eastern Europe in response to ‘resurgent and aggressive Russia’. 

The truth is, Russia is nowhere near the military power it was during the Cold War. Even then, it was weaker than its main adversary, the US. True it is stronger militarily now than it was after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. But its military strength bears no comparison to that of the US, let alone the US and its allies in Nato. The countries lobbying for greater Nato involvement, including Poland and the Baltic states, are not doing so for reasons of peace. 

Paul Mason is dismissive of anti-war and peace campaigners – ‘people who think, on principle, there should be no military action at all; others who believe that commitment to national defence is a betrayal of proletarian internationalism; others who think the sun shines out of Vladimir Putin’s posterior.’

Actually, I don’t subscribe to any of those views. My objections to war are that it is the armed wing of an increasingly brutal and out of control capitalism and imperialism; that its consequences are devastating for the people directly concerned (as we see daily with the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya) but also for the people in whose name the wars are being fought; and that the recent wars have also helped spread the poison of Islamophobia.

The actions and words of anti-war and peace campaigners have done much to change opinion in Britain (although they get no credit from Paul Mason). They have also managed to successfully link into campaigns against austerity, making the connection between the 2% GDP going on defence and the attacks on the poorest in Britain. 

While I think him wrong on all these substantive issues, perhaps the greatest problem is his desire to separate war from economics. Concentrate on the domestic issues and forget those nasty, complicated foreign questions which are too difficult to explain to Labour voters. The problem is that it is a connected system: remember the quote about McDonalds and McDonnell Douglas? 

Perhaps the best example of this is one which Paul Mason quotes in his defence: the supposedly sensible approach of Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister and leader of Syriza. 

‘When faced with the possibility of forming the first left government in modern history, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras not only faced down the anti-militarists and pro-Putinites in his own party but persuaded them to formally end the party’s historic opposition to Nato.

‘The logic was clear: a true radical left government is such a huge departure from the neoliberal consensus that it must focus on one thing — the economic transformation of the country.’

Where did all that end up? Acceptance of the demands of the Troika, despite the wishes of the majority of Greeks. And now a prisoner of these same people as Greece supports the shameful EU policy of deportation of refugees back to Turkey (a Nato member), and fully signed up to an EU policy which is more militarised than it has ever been. 

Really not the way for Jeremy Corbyn to go.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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