The irresponsible hypocrisy of our defence policy is now having repercussions in the Gulf States

On disarmament, it is the Arab states who have been the good international citizens


I flew in last night from Abu Dhabi, into a furore over Trident. The Tories’ Michael Fallon is playing personality politics at the expense of a rational debate over our national and global security. Having raised questions about Ed Miliband’s character by suggesting that he might wobble over a commitment to replace Trident, Mr Fallon was asked on the BBC Today programme why Britain needs continuous at-sea deterrence.

Fallon twice referred to how ridiculous a ‘part-time deterrent’ would be without explaining why, when the government itself acknowledges there is no active threat to Britain. It all points to sound-bite politics that miss the complexity of the global challenges we face. And the irresponsible hypocrisy at the heart of our defence policy is showing in the Arab Gulf states today.

In Abu Dhabi I was attending a conference with high-level officials and military responsible for Saudi and Gulf states’ defence. While the principal challenge is a battle over stability, legitimacy and governance, these leaders feel deeply threatened by the prospect of a confident Iran emboldened by possible future possession of nuclear weapons. In this globalised world the message from the UK is getting through loud and clear.

We have a cast iron alliance relationship with the United States, sharing similar interests, values and heritage, and are situated in a safe part of the world; yet we claim to need nuclear weapons for our own security, even when there are no credible scenarios explaining why. Any potential relevant threat is distant, vague and largely conceptual. Meanwhile, the Gulf states face a variety of urgent, tangible and existential threats, and are (rightly) refused a nuclear guarantee trust by the Americans. Voices are now heard from Arab officials suggesting a major change of direction.

This is all the more depressing because the Arab League has for decades played a critical leadership role in pressing the nuclear weapon states to take their disarmament commitments seriously, and have been pushing the idea of a WMD Free Zone across the Middle East. In this instance, whilst they have made our diplomatic lives difficult at times, the Arabs have been the good international citizens, faithful to the common interests outlined in the NPT, and abstaining from dual-capable nuclear programmes. They have been loyal to an internationalist agenda.

The narrative within Arab states today shows signs of deep resentment. It’s not pleasant to be taken for a ride, to be made to look stupid. There is no worse sin in the macho world of international relations than to be naïve, weak and disrespected. And we should care about this not just because resentment and injustice lies at the heart of some of the biggest threats we face today, but also because they will drive the nuclear proliferation and nuclear chaos that could present the gravest dangers we face in the future.

There is a bigger, more universal point to this latest Tory attack on Ed Miliband’s character that should worry us all. A political leadership that takes a progressive, internationalist viewpoint, attempting to understand the common interests that lie in mutual restraint and building international cooperative regimes that pull our adversaries in, inevitably takes a political risk and will be accused of naivety and dishonour. Presidents Obama and Rouhani, neither shrinking violets, need to resist domestic attempts to label them treacherous and follow through on this nuclear agreement they are negotiating that will deliver huge benefits for all of us.

Rather than trade commitments to an expensive nuclear weapons continuous posture that few politicians understand let alone can explain convincingly, to the detriment of other security capabilities and the credibility of the NATO alliance, the Labour leadership would do well to go on the offensive and highlight the manner in which the little-Englander attitude is driving nuclear proliferation elsewhere in more dangerous parts of the world.

This is a complex policy environment in which jingoism and shallow machismo eclipses a serious debate around how we can best contribute to the safer world upon which our national security depends.

Paul Ingram is the executive director of the British American Security Information Council, and was host of the BASIC Trident Commission

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7 Responses to “The irresponsible hypocrisy of our defence policy is now having repercussions in the Gulf States”

  1. damon

    I don’t really get this. Why have a go at Britain? The Gulf Arab countries are rich enough to defend themselves however they’d like to do. Or intervene in neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia is now doing in Yemen. All them countries are corrupt dictatorships anyway so I don’t know why we should care about them. The KSA won’t even let us visit there as tourists, but thousands of them swan around London like they own the place.
    BTW, do many of the Gulf countries use mercenary soldiers? Because I don’t think too many of their own citizens would want to serve as infantry soldiers.

  2. Tommo

    The first responsibility of any Government is internal and external security.

    Clearly the LibLabCon establishment seem to have forgotten that.

  3. Gary Scott

    During this campaign all we’ve heard is the art of politicking. The issues themselves wilfully ignored. Trident is something we can’t afford, even hawks in the US Military would rather we spent the money on conventional means of warfare. They think we are unable to give support, in full, to our commitments.

    Have they been effective? You could say yes, as we haven’t been subject to a nuclear or conventional attack. On the other hand, no, other countries without these weapons haven’t been bombed and, in fact, having them didn’t deter Argentina from invading The Falkland Islands in the 80s.

    So, will MPs vote honestly on this? Or will they do as the minority dictates?

    We should be talking about the weapons, not whether Ed Milliband is a backstabber.

  4. Guest

    And there we have it – because there’s foreigners here, can’t be allowed and we must be more like them, more like corrupt dictatorships.

  5. Guest

    “We must have further cuts”, you say. That in itself is playing into the austerity agenda, of course, and denying fiat currency. If we are to change our deterent, it’s not a fiscal issue except as an excuse.

    As you try and equate the Argentines with the Falklands with Russia and the mainland UK today. Hmm! And actually, the US would prefer we just buy into their shield. Which is a viable option.

  6. Andy

    “So, after some genuine consideration and reconsideration, I opted to renew it (Trident). But
    the contrary decision would not have been stupid.”

    Tony Blair reveals his serious doubts about Trident replacement, (page 635/6 of his memoirs).

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Right. Buying into the American nuclear shield is a viable option.

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