The Myth of the Liberal’s Defense Policy

Because the Liberal analysis deals purely in electoral and parliamentary politics, an understanding of power eludes it. To understand Britain’s military role in the world and to achieve real peace and justice you need to confront the British State. Whilst Nick Clegg’s views on Trident have caused panic amongst the other unionist parties and the right-wing media, it is, under closer examination, a policy chimera ‘in some ways, even worse than the Labour Party’s plan simply to replace Trident.’ With the economic crisis and the most liberal President in the White House, this is a historic opportunity being squandered by Labour and leaving the English left hopelessly confused by the false hope of Cleggmania after the Truman Show election campaign.

Ban the Bomb?  Not with the Lib-Dems you won’t. I didn’t see the first TV election debate between the three UK parties, but I did see the discussion afterwards. There, the Tory spokesperson Theresa May attacked Nick Clegg for “destroying the British deterrent”. What got me, was that instead of gutting her for using the weasel-word “deterrent” to describe Britain’s criminal and illegal nuclear WMD,  he responded by claiming that Trident was an out-of-date Cold War means of destroying St Petersburg and Moscow – which is fair enough, as far as it goes – but added that the Lib Dems would replace it with another, more acceptable nuclear weapon system – which is horrendous.

What this means is that the multi-billion pound hunter-killer Astute class submarines, which at present escort a Trident (Vanguard class) submarine when it goes on patrol, will be used to carry nuclear- “tipped” (!) cruise missiles in place of Trident. This means replacing Trident with a similar, but smaller, cheaper, more manageable, weapons system. This would lower the threshold between nuclear and so-called conventional weapons, and blur the distinction between them. In some ways, this is even worse than the Labour Party’s plan simply to replace Trident.

Nick Clegg wants a nuclear-free world, and he promotes this vision by advocating replacing Trident with a smaller – and therefore more usable system. The logic does not compute.

It is fatally flawed because he is trying to placate the deep-seated nuclearism of the British nationalist parties – that is, all the Unionist parties – while aspiring to don the mantle of progressive anti-nuclear campaigner at the same time. And it doesn’t work.

For a start, this position is devoid of any kind of acknowledgement of ethics. There is no expression of moral revulsion at nuclear mass-murder, whether it by be by Trident,  or the cosy Lib-Dem alternative of nuclear cruise missiles. It makes no difference to the victims, whether they are incinerated by Trident, or a Cruise missile. You can’t be just a little bit pregnant, and you can’t be just a little bit pro-nuclear.

Gordon Brown’s advice to “get real”, should be turned against him. How “real” is it to claim that we in the UK are entitled to defend our national interests by deploying nuclear WMD, but other nation states may not also do so? If it is OK for us to have this means of defence, it must be open to all other sovereign states to do likewise. This is, always has been, and will remain forever, the unanswerable question for the apologist for Britain’s nuclear WMD, the so-called “independent British nuclear deterrent”.

Nick Clegg may be sincere in his desire to see a nuclear-free world. I think he is. What frustrates this vision, and destroys his credibility, is his attempt to marry this ideal with a continued support for British Unionism. This demands pandering to the nuclearism which is the ultimate expression of Britishness.

It follows that anyone who supports the aims of CND is deluding themselves if they imagine that they will achieve this through the Lib-Dems. I do not understand people who have been lifelong anti-nuclear activists giving their support to the Lib-Dems. A vote for any of the Unionist parties – be it Tory, Labour, or Lib Dems –  is a vote for Trident, because they are all committed to keeping Trident on patrol until such time as it reaches its “use by” date, and something better comes along. And remember, Trident will be in service till  2025.

Poor Nick Clegg suffers from that fatal  British disease, our nucleophilia. Our attachment to the Bomb is embedded deep in the national myth of the UK. It is the ultimate symbol of Britishness, our great national Totem. This keeps  the Great in Britain. It transcends reason and rationality. Indeed, the deeper you think about it, our nuclear addiction  is essentially an aberrant religious phenomenon, of a particularly debased and degenerate form. This is our voodoo idol, the magic juju that protects us from every evil. Our current pervasive national sin is, in fact,  idolatry. These are our gods of metal, and to these we will sacrifice the children of our enemies, and our own children too.

Of course, politicians don’t use language like this, and they would be embarrassed at this kind of talk. Be that as it may, many years of campaigning have taught me that this is the only way to try to understand the profoundly irrational concept of national defence through global suicide. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. Or perhaps that should be MAD.

Ukraine once had a huge nuclear arsenal, in the days of the Soviet Union. It got rid of these as part of the process of gaining independence. There are lessons to be learned here, and there are clear similarities to the Scottish situation. Today, we can see a joining of anti-nuclear aspirations and the desire for political independence.

People who talk of the “British road to Socialism” are, to me, as absurd and contradictory as someone talking about the “Zionist road to Socialism”. The goal is impossible because Britishness, like Zionism, is inherently and irredeemably an imperialist construct, and therefore irreconcilable with socialism. Similarly, with anti-nuclearism. The British state is fixated on its nuclear status, and will remain so as long as it remains in its present form

Thus we see that the struggle for independence is inextricably linked to the campaign against British nuclear weapons. Victory in one, is victory in the other. And in both cases the Lib-Dems have a negative position.

Comments (4)

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  1. Minerva's perch says:

    Brian Q. Excellent piece. Captures the shameless opportunism of the Liberal Democrats beautifully. I particularly liked your point that, “it [the logic of Clegg’s position on nuclear weapons] is fatally flawed because he is trying to placate the deep-seated nuclearism of the British nationalist parties – that is, all the unionist parties – while aspiring to don the mantle of progressive anti-nuclear campaigner at the same time”. Great stuff.

    Aren’t we all fed up listening to people saying things like, “They’re against Trident you know”. Well no, they’re not against Trident, they’re against the present government’s plans to renew Trident. Just when is someone going to pin down Nick Clegg and ask him: Are you in favour of the British having an ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent or not?

    It’s deeply depressing that for some time now, the differences between the main parties have been actuarial not ideological. The Liberal Democrats don’t want to ‘break the mould’ of British politics, anymore than the SDP did. What the Liberal Democrats want is to change their status from being a party that is marginalised by the two ‘main’ parties so that they can become one of the three ‘main’ parties that marginalises everyone else.

    As for your point that, “There is no British road to socialism” – hear hear! Never has been, never will be. What you say here applies not only to nuclear weapons but to British military adventurism generally. Count the number of wars – and estimate the ‘enemy’ and civilian casualties – that the British have been involved in since 1950 in a period that, all of us, with no trace of irony, still refer to as the ‘post-war’ period. Not for the people of Korea, Egypt, Kenya, Iraq and Afghanistan it hasn’t been, to name just some of the victims of the British in the last sixty years. As you say, “the struggle for independence is inextricably linked to the campaign against British nuclear weapons”. Well said Brian and we Scots must never forget it.

    Let’s not despair though about the likely general election result and the consequences for ridding Scotland of its association with these vile weapons. Whether it’s a small Tory majority or a Tory-Lib Dem coalition, lofty but impotent opposition will not, this time around, be a feasible option for ‘Scottish’ Labour. In my lighter moments in recent weeks, I’ve cheered myself up and a few of my friends with the following little election campaign ditty:

    Song title: Poor Old New Labour
    Lyrics by Minerva’s perch
    Sung to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’ (formerly traditional)

    Poor Old New Labour

    Maggie Broon will soon be toast
    It’s hard to say who hates him most
    His ‘comrades’ said “He’s got to go”
    But lacked the balls to make it so.

    Chorus: Then London Labour’s Scottish branch
    Was hung out to dry on the Calman plans
    When Middle England said “Enough’s enough!
    We’re voting for the Tory toff”.

    The economy was once Broon’s strength
    He spun himself as Prudence’s friend
    He promised no more boom and bust
    But that soundbite soon turned to dust

    Chorus: Then London Labour’s Scottish branch etc

    Then the Tory toff became PM
    Scots’ votes were worthless (once again)
    How could ‘DC’ make history?
    Just follow Labour’s Tory policies!

    (Final chorus): Then London Labour’s Scottish branch
    Was hung out to dry on the Calman plans
    When Middle England said “Enough’s enough!
    We’re voting for the Tory toff”
    (andante fortissimo) “WE’RE-VOTING-FOR-THE-TORY-TOFF”

  2. Seumas says:

    A true story.
    The place was Haddington Farmer’s Market, the place was knee deep in politicians.

    I had decided to ask every politician I met a very simple question. “In what circumstances would you use Trident?”

    There was no problem with the SNP candidate. He and his party were clear that they wouldn’t have it and wouldn’t use it. That is just one of the reasons for voting SNP. Unfortunately the Lib Dem I got was a personal friend – and she seemed to be the only one about. She knows my views, doesn’t like the party line but goes along with it. She, Liberal like, tries to get more wriggle room, but remember folks they believe to go nuclear.

    I was then approached by a callow youth who pressed some piece of Labour literature on me.
    “I wonder if I could ask you a question.” I said. “In what circumstances would you use Trident?”
    A mix of surprise, hate, and confusion flitted over his face.
    “That would be a matter for the Government,” he told me.
    “Sorry, this is a policy of the party you claim to support. Under what circumstances would you want to see the force of all the bombs used in the Second World War being released?”
    “But that is something for the Government to decide”
    “So you have no moral part to play?”
    He must have been well enough trained to realise that I was unlikely to vote for him and he turned away.
    “Ah so you are just another stupid Labour supporter who hasn’t thought anything out,” was my final sally.

    My rank of politicians was completed by a young Conservative., a young man with a blue rosette almost as big as he was. He offered me a leaflet.
    I said, “I wonder if I could ask you a question.” I said. “In what circumstances would you use Trident?” He looked at me as if I had asked him about the secret of the Universe. An obvious Tory Lady, perhaps the young gentleman’s mother came over. I repeated my question “In what circumstances would you use Trident?”
    She flashed a genuine smile at me, and then if I were rather slow told me, “It’s a deterrent”
    “Yes, I know it’s a deterrent, when do you use it?”
    “But the while point of a deterrent is that you don’t have to use it”
    “And if the deterrent fails, then when has it failed enough for us to use it. Who would you use it on?”
    Her face lit up. “Well we are being threatened by the Koreans and the Iranians.”
    I said, “That’s interesting, the Iranians say that they are not developing the Bomb, and the Koreans couldn’t deliver it to us, so who would you bomb.
    “Oh I’m not an expert in these things”
    “But you support a political party which wants to keep Trident and renew it. In what circumstances would you use it.”
    One of the Tory supporters butted in. “Are you a Lib Dem”
    “What’s that got to do with it they believe in Trident”
    “No they don’t they want to get rid of it.”
    “No actually if you knew anything about the Lib Dems you would know that they want to keep it, its just that they don’t want to replace it.”
    “Well, it’s a deterrent the woman insisted.”
    I left them to their delusion.

    What I am convinced about is that we are approaching the whole nuclear issue at the moment in the wrong way. We shouldn’t try and argue about whether the bomb should have been used against Japan, we can’t go back 65 years. The arguments of the Cold War are over. Did the “Bomb” keep the peace? Probably not, the question today is a simple one. In what circumstances would you use Trident? If we use that every time we are talking to people who are pro Trident we are confronting them about their choice.

  3. Minerva's perch says:


    Well said. They can’t answer your question of course because there is no answer. I am sorry that one of your best friends is a Liberal Democrat. Most of the ones that have been unfortunate enough to canvass at my door are left in no doubt that I would rather cut off one of my own limbs than vote for the Liberal Democrats. How should we characterise them? Politics for the apolitical? The unacceptable face of unprincipled opportunism? Still, look on the bright side, at least you’ve got a good ice-breaker in your repertoire: ‘I don’t hate the apolitical, some of my best friends are Liberal Democrats’!

    I’ll tell you another true story. I was at the anti-war demo in London before the invasion of Iraq. In the afternoon, in Hyde Park there was a procession of speakers, Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and many others I would have liked to have listened to at length. All of them, with one exception, began by apologising for the brevity of their speeches (3-4 minutes) explaining that they had to be brief as there were so many other people who wanted to speak. Up popped Charles Kennedy. Needless to say, he wasn’t about to defer to anyone. He proceeded to drone on for about 7-8 minutes (though it seemed a lot longer), plugging the Liberal Democrats’ ‘opposition’ to the war. It was one of the most shameful speeches I’ve ever heard. I booed him off the stage and, in front of me, a young woman turned round and said to me, “You’re at the wrong demonstration”. “No”, I said to her, “he’s at the wrong demo”.

    A few months ago at Westminster, the Labour MP, Paul Flynn made a speech in a debate on the war in Afghanistan. He recalled how, in a previous debate on the war in Iraq, he had decided to dedicate his speech to naming the (at the time) 184 British soldiers who’d died in that conflict and it had taken him the entire 10 minutes of his speech to name them. I wish that there had been someone in that rotten, corrupt parliament to ask Flynn the question: And how long would it take you to name the Iraqi and Afghan casualties? By my reckoning, it would have taken him the best part of a full parliamentary term.

    Maybe Baudrillard was right about the Gulf war and maybe the Iraq war and the Afghan war are also “hyperreal”, at least for most of the citizens of the US and Britain – the obvious exceptions being the grieving relatives and friends of those American and British soldiers who have perished in those conflicts. But there are still many people in Britain who (with good reason) recall the horrors of the Second World War, to the extent that some of them still bear at least a latent animosity towards Germany and Japan. And that was a war that finished 65 years ago and in which the British were on the winning side.

    How raw will the memories of Iraqi and Afghan orphans, the brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers etc of their loved ones who have perished in these wars, be throughout the next two, three, four decades? If this is what ‘conventional’ war does to us we don’t need to regress back to 1945 to imagine the horrors of the use of nuclear weapons, we just need to open our eyes to see what is being done in our name now.

  4. Seumas says:

    I didn’t say that the Lib Dem was a best friend, just that they were a personal friend. The result was that I was unable to surprise them with my question. They have heard me on the topic of the stupidity of Trident before.
    Of the Unionist parties they are probably the least obnoxious, but a, they are Unionists and b, at the least ambivalent on Nuclear issues. As I said, they want wriggle room.

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