NMD, a new threat to nuclear disarmament

Print edition : November 25, 2000

Jeremy Corbyn has been a member of the House of Commons since 1983. His strongly articulated left-wing commitments present a constant challenge to the New Labour strategy favoured by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. For long a member of the Camp aign for Nuclear Disarmament, he spoke to Sukumar Muralidharan in New Delhi during the anti-nuclear convention.

We have seen that in the years that it was out of power, Labour stood for a unilateralist position whereas now it is much more cautious. Is it politically expensive in the British context to maintain a unilateralist position?

SANDEEP SAXENA

I joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1966 when I was 16 and my views on the subject have not changed. When I was first elected a member of Parliament in 1983, CND was a very powerful organisation and the Labour Party conference had vote d for a non-nuclear defence policy and reiterated its support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. After we lost the 1983 election and Neil Kinnock became the leader, we had a massive rally in October with about 300,000 people present. Kinnock's speech th en was very strident in opposing the Trident and Cruise missiles. But very tellingly, his exact words were that we should put our missile programme on the negotiating table, where it belongs, suggesting that in reality he was in favour of multilateral di sarmament through negotiation rather than Britain unilaterally giving up the weapons. What one observes after that is a general manoeuvring by the party to get away from the unilateralist position, and by the 1987 election they almost got there. Colleagu es who had been elected with me in 1983 rapidly gave up CND membership and adopted what they called a more responsible approach. The policy now is to support global disarmament but it is rather unclear how that would be achieved until some move is made i nitially. Now there is a fresh danger of proliferation of nuclear weapons because of the obvious manoeuvring by the U.S. to have a national missile defence (NMD) system.

The British position on NMD today is in fact rather vague, whereas the European Union has taken a fairly critical attitude.

The E.U. position generally is hostile to the NMD and supportive of a common European security approach through the E.U. The British approach has been much closer to that of the U.S. Whilst they have not endorsed the NMD, they have refused to answer spec ific questions to deny the U.S. facilities.

The U.K. of course has been generally supportive of a new global profile for the U.S. What about the other European states?

Yes, there is opposition in France, Germany and Italy, particularly in France and Italy. In Italy there is considerable opposition, partly because there is a much more powerful Left wing in Italy through the two communist parties. But there is also a muc h more unstable electoral position there.

Could the anti-nuclear sections of the Labour Party seek to spread its influence by coordinating with the European opposition to U.S. ambitions?

Not in the short term. But the support for the non-nuclear defence position and for significant cuts in arms expenditure in Britain is still there. Within the Labour Party it is still there. At the moment I would not say it is particularly strong. But I think the issue of NMD will actually concentrate the minds of our party. And I would imagine that if Bush gets the U.S. presidency, then he would go for NMD rather quickly. Gore may be slightly more cautious about it but not very, mainly because of the h uge defence contracts involved. I think he would go for NMD but without the knobs on.

Is there likely to be a reaction in Britain?

Yes, there are concerns about the location of the listening posts and launch sites. There are concerns about the costs as well.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor