*The Debatewise Blog
Change we can’t afford?As part of our coverage of the election we have a group of volunteers writing debates on the issues coming up in the election, some of them are also writing articles that are going up here.
The first is by Mohsin Zeb
Change we can’t afford?
The impressive display by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg during last Thursday’s Prime ministerial debate has thrown the upcoming election wide open. For the first time in a political era, an election is not a foregone conclusion. We may well end up with a near three way split, which would both signal the return of the Liberals as a major political force after nearly a century in the political wilderness, and concurrently signal the end of the existing dominance of the two major parties.
That the first debate has had such an impact makes the upcoming debate that much more important. The issues it will address, namely Britain’s foreign relations, are unmatched in their importance. Our engagement in controversial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has defined the political landscape for the past decade and issues related to our foreign engagements and related defence issues are set to dominate the upcoming parliament alongside the ongoing economic crisis. For that reason, I feel it pertinent to give my thoughts on the issues of our involvement in conflicts and on our nuclear deterrent, hours before the ‘three wise men’ say what they think we want to hear.
Let me set my stall out immediately so that my position is clear. I am not a Hawk, a neo-Imperialist or a cold-blooded Realist. I have a firm believe in cooperative politics and the value of institutions as sustainers of peace, but whilst I reject the rabid militarism so fondly held to by the likes of Douglas Murray, I am by no means a peacenik. There is a time and a place for war. From my perspective, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan are necessary conflicts for Britain. Our young men and women need not lose life and limb in the dusty streets of Iraq or the rugged hills of Afghanistan; neither conflict is being fought to sustain British interests. Our involvement occurred to sustain our place as the most allied of allies to Washington. On this point, I welcome the Liberal agenda. To the credit of the Liberal Democrats, they have opposed the wars long before it became socially or politically fashionable to do so, and continuing to define British interests in narrow terms can only work in their favour.
However, those of who listened attentively last week, assuming for a moment the listener wasn’t on the lunatic fringe of the political left in the UK, would have been taken aback by the lack of commitment from Clegg and his party to the nuclear deterrence of the UK. I understand fully the arguments espoused by the party, nuclear weapons are expensive, both to build and to maintain and their functionality in this day and age may not be immediately apparent. It is true that security threats have shifted from state centric as they were during the Cold War, to today being largely manifest in the form of Non-State Actors. This lack of obvious target raises the question of where exactly, or against whom one would use the ultimate weapon. You can’t nuke the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and a shift to a more flexible deterrent may be appealing today. However, the Liberal policy has two massive flaws.
Firstly, it is incredibly myopic strategically. Yes today we face threats from non-traditional sources, but who can predict the events in 10 or 20 years, at the time our present system would be reaching the end of its shelf life? Surely, it is responsible to have the platform, in our case a successor to the Trident nuclear attack submarines, and never have to use it, then to scrap it and one day find you wish you had it in place. The primary responsibility for any government is to ensure the safety of the state and sustain its ability to defend itself. Stripping our nuclear deterrent would leave us potentially at the mercy of numerous powers.
Secondly, the Liberal policy goes against a clear trend of proliferation globally. When many of the world’s most unpredictable regimes are going nuclear, how irrational is it to forsake your own equalizer? Without our deterrent, there is nothing from stopping an aggressor from choosing total war, save perhaps the protective arm of Washington which may act as a deterrent for its time tested ally. Such reliance on another power leaves one at its mercy.
With North Korea going nuclear and Iran possibly going nuclear, plus the risk of other states opting to ensure their existence by acquiring weapons of mass destruction, entertaining the thought of abandoning our own nuclear deterrent is frankly objectionable and irresponsible. Whatever the cost, the defence of the realm is an obligation, and one the Liberal Democrats seem too willing to ignore.
For all his style, and the moral mileage in opposing the wars in the greater Middle East, the lack of commitment to our primary means of national security makes the Liberal Democrats change we simply may not be able to risk.
Being a Liberal Democrat supporter and having a particular interest in foreign affairs I am not going to let it stand unopposed, so will put up a debate at some point in opposition.