In the last decade, military propositions have taken precedence over political principle in foreign policy. Can the campaign for unilateral nuclear disarmament become, in the next few months, a campaign for a new foreign policy? And what would such a policy be?
the breakdown of the Summit has posed the question of nuclear weapons for us in a quite new way. Naturally, the H-bomb question will be faced in a new form, and with a particular urgency, at this year’s conference of the Labour Party. But the slogan of unilateralism is still full of ambiguity, and it is essential that a responsible Left should immediately initiate a debate about the wider perspective of a changed foreign policy which the issues of unilateralism and the Summit open up. Such a discussion is necessary, in the first place, simply for tactical reasons; for the leadership—its hand strengthened by the Summit collapse—has at its disposal a number of manoeuvres for maintaining the old policies in attenuated form. But much more than tactical considerations are involved in this discussion. Even if we did find the great Powers moving towards some sort of détente—and the post-Summit return to the cold war positions does not point that way—we should still be faced, as socialists, with a whole series of foreign policy dilemmas. If we could clarify our minds about some of these issues, the problems of what tactics to pursue in the Campaign and the Labour Party would more quickly solve themselves. Our demonstrations would no longer be isolated actions, but part of a conscious attempt to create a new international society.
The present crisis in defence and foreign policy was, of course, precipitated in the first instance by the failure of the Ministry of Defence to provide Britain with an adequate means of delivery for her nuclear weapons. The most which they can now promise us is some sort of missile in 1965. Till then we must make do with Thor and the bombers. But Britain has been forced to abandon her attempt to maintain herself as a poor man’s nuclear Power, not because Mr. Macmillan has suddenly undergone any moral or political conversion; it is not a humane reaction against the ultimate horror of nuclear warfare which animates him. Even less is Britain’s change of tactic the result of any new appreciation that international political differences cannot be solved by the use of military force. The Cold War which generates the nuclear strategy is still with us in no uncertain form. And the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party is still enmeshed within the same basic assumptions. To them, the problem is merely one of finding a way out of this mess—a compromise formula, within the framework of a Cold War world dominated by militarised politics.
Broadly speaking, the leadership divides into three schools on the way forward. Firstly, there are those who are still determined to stick to the idea of an independent deterrent for Britain at any cost. Secondly, there are those who are thinking in terms of a West European missile. And thirdly, there are those who urge that America alone should possess nuclear weapons and use these to guarantee the defence of their allies in NATO.
Now in face of the simple facts about Blue Streak, one would have thought that the first position would no longer be seriously entertained. Even the present Minister of Defence seemed to have moved away from it when he made a very modest reference to the necessity of our making “an independent contribution to the deterrent”. But many Labour Party members are still mesmerised by the danger of going “naked into the conference chamber”, and therefore see no way out. Their point of view has been strengthened, undoubtedly, by Mr. Krushchev’s attitude at the Summit. Those who take this position have developed some weird and wonderful ideas about the way in which our membership of NATO can give some function to our independent deterrent, despite its apparent military ineffectiveness. Thus they argue that, if we were attacked, we could independently make a nuclear “gesture”, which, because of our membership of NATO, the Russians would interpret as a nuclear attack by the whole of NATO, and proceed to launch the third world war. Then, whether they liked it or not, the Americans would be in on our side, their massive nuclear reply having been “triggered” by our “gesture”. Such views are being seriously canvassed among Labour leaders (see Denis Healey’s The Race Against the H-bomb, p. 7), and may command considerable support amongst the old guard, for the simple reason that they do not involve the admission that the acceptance of NATO and the Bomb are in any way mistaken. Fortunately, however, there are others on the Right whose reputations have never been staked in this way, and, for them, the other two alternatives are more attractive.
It is the second alternative, namely that of the European missile, which will probably receive most support during the agonising reappraisal which is going on at the time of writing. The main argument for it, no doubt, will be that only the united effort of Europe can command the necessary resources. But against this has to be set the colossal danger involved in giving a share in the control of nuclear weapons to irresponsible governments. Even the leadership can see that the intransigent, the power-mesmerised and the revanchists on our side of the Great Divide will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of being in a position either of
It is even possible that the attempt to put over the idea of the West European missile might be accompanied by a certain amount of demagogy about the need for “interdependence” and for European unity (compare, for example, Mr. Crosland’s pleas in this direction, in Encounter, March, 1960). No one should be deceived by this. There are important arguments for closer integration of Europe on all sorts of levels, and the Left has certainly been too tardy in recognising them (the common market and its implications, for example). But however strong these arguments may be, the sort of unity which begins with co-operation about nuclear weapons, within a framework of the two-bloc world, before there is any agreement about the aims of domestic and foreign policy, can only mean that the pace will be set in Europe by the most aggressive and irresponsible Powers.