Gordon Brown is making the headlines this morning with an offer to cut the Trident II deterrent from four to three submarines. While something of an improvement on New Labour’s previous stance of unthinking macho pro-nuclear posturing, it still goes nowhere near addressing the fundamental futility of Trident.
Who is it meant to deter? In all the analysis on the attempts of Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, I don’t recall any serious commentator from any political perspective even mentioning the British nuclear deterrent as a factor in the equation.
I am no fan of Putin, but neither can I now conceive a nuclear standoff with Russia or with China, as the ideological divide has effectively collapsed.
New Labour’s original proposal forTrident II was a huge increase in killing power over the current Trident. We need more detail on the number of not just submarines but also the number of independently targetable warheads and their size, but it remains probable that Brown’s proposed three nuclear submarines of Trident II will still represent an increase, not a decrease, in the already massive destructive power of the four nuclear submarines of Trident I.
But I fail to understand why we are discussing at all the huge expenditure on this extraordinary monument to human evil, when we are going to have to pay for it entirely from borrowing on top of already over-massive government debt.
The government have already announced they are planning to slash secondary school teachers. Incredibly they are planning to introduce yet more internal market “reform” into the National Health Service, as a means of saving money, in face of overwhelming evidence that this approach hugely increases spending on accounting and administration without delivering service improvements or savings.
Trident missiles; immoral, useless and ruinously unaffordable. But Gordon Brown isn’t going to increase their killing power by as much as he had originally planned to increase it. So that’s alright then.
Brown’s hand has been forced, of course, by Obama’s consistent and generally laudable initiatives. We await the meat of his proposed nuclear weapon reductions. But the cancellation of the Bush plans for a new interceptor missile system in Eastern Europe should be applauded – with caveats.
It was always a pathetic fiction that the system was intended to defend against non-existent intercontinental ballistic missiles from Iran carrying non-existent Iranian nuclear warheads. The Russians were quite right to suspect that the defences were primarily against Russian missiles. It is a fascinating thing that the most passionate advocates of Mutual Assured Destruction spend a great deal of their time, and billions of taxpayers’ money, on trying to take the mutual out of it.
Under Putin, Russia has moved in a highly unpleasant authoritarian and nationalist direction. Russian schools once again elide the Stalin-Hitler pact. The Great Patriotic War only started in 1941, while Stalin’s appalling crimes are minimised and his image burnished. The murder of independent journalists continues apace, almost unreported in the West. Opposition political parties cannot campaign, and the space for independent media has almost completely vanished.
But the Bush administration’s standoff with Putin was not connected to Russia’s internal authoritarianism. Dictatorship did not worry Bush in the least in the US/Uzbek alliance, for example. The US/Russia standoff was a retreat into the Cold War postures and hard sphere of influence politics. It was a return to they system that was so profitable for the arms industry and military complex throughout the Cold War. US attitudes, summed up by forcing the missile defence scheme onto Russia’s borders, helped create the Russian paranoia which boosted Putin’s nationalist support.
A warming of US/Russian relations will be no bad thing, and may open the way to more sensible ways of interacting with Iran. But there are other aspects to this which are more worrying.
The Obama administration has been at pains to emphasise that the missile defence scheme is being reconfigured, not being abandoned. The Russians had earlier made an offer to the Americans to share their radar system monitoring Iranian airspace from Baku. This would have involved stationing of US forces in Azerbaijan.
According to one of my FCO sources, the US have now indicated to the Russians that they wish to revisit this Russian proposal. There is more to this than joint cooperation over Iran. Russia had effectively rolled back US influence in the ex-Soviet space of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Gazprom had tied up the gas of the Central Asian states, and the US was evicted from its airbase in Uzbekistan and had received marching orders to withdraw from Kirghizstan. Its major remaining ally, Georgia, was militarily humiliated by Russia, driving home a hard lesson in the realities of power in the region.
The Obama administration has been carefully and slowly clawing back ground, in particular seeking to rebuild its supply access to Afghanistan through Central Asia. A transit agreement with President Karimov of Uzbekistan in March this year was a key step. A US military presence in Baku would be a major part of the jigsaw.
But the regime of President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, whose father was once Putin’s KGB boss, is almost as brutal as that of President Karimov. For the US to seek to back up its Afghan policy by forging alliances wth such regimes, will dismay many of Obama’s supporters.
This comes as any last vestige of moral justification for the occupation of Afghanistan disappears in the light of a massively fraudulent election and increasing public understanding of the huge corruption, warlordism and misogynism of the Karzai government, floated on a sea of heroin production.
The “return” of General Dostum, the vicious Uzbek warlord, drug baron and mass killer who heads the Northern Alliance, is a symbol of the moral bankruptcy of Obama on Afghanistan. Dostum had officially been exiled to Turkey by Karzai for murdering a number of political rivals. In fact he spent very little time in Turkey but was running his fiefdom from a home near Mazar e Sharif and supervising his heroin trade. But he was officially brought back from Turkey by Karzai for the election, with US approval, and duly delivered votes of over 100% for Karzai in many Uzbek areas of Afghanistan.
Now the Pentagon is proposing to initiate weapons supply on a massive scale to Dostum’s private army, to fight the Taliban. They believe this would have more chance of success than building the hopeless Afghan army (of which Dostum remains nominal Chief of Staff).
Dostum used to tie dissidents within his own ranks to tank tracks to be driven in front of his men as an example. He had hundreds of alleged Taliban supporters killed by crowding them into sealed containers in the desert sun. He is believed to have killed some 3,000 “Taliban” prisoners, and controls the drug trade through Uzbekistan to the Baltic and Europe.
Obama’s foreign policy is undoubtedly an improvement on his predecessor and in the area of missiles and nuclear weaponry deserves to be labelled progressive. But the moral poison of the Afghan War is fatal to his efforts.