Magazine article The Spectator

Blair's Plans for a Euro-Bomb

Magazine article The Spectator

Blair's Plans for a Euro-Bomb

Article excerpt

PERHAPS one of our government's most touching qualities is its wish to find everyone, even the most hopeless in our society, a useful role to perform. From the royal family to the 'socially excluded', from New Deal teenagers to Mr Michael Heseltine, those unfortunate elements left behind by the march of modernisation and progress have been gathered into Tony Blair's big tent and put to work for Britain. So it came as no surprise to learn, as I did just before Christmas, that New Labour has similar designs on Trident.

Very little in our national armoury can be more of an anachronism, at least militarily, than Britain's 'independent nuclear deterrent'. As British forces find themselves involved - four times in the last decade - in Third World and peaceenforcement operations, Trident is among the remnants of the Cold War. It has become an asset almost impossible to use because it is simply too big a weapon for any of the enemies currently in stock. Even if a new superpower threat did arise, it is inconceivable to imagine our using it on our own initiative. Our enemies know all this. We know they know. Trident is therefore neither independent nor a credible deterrent.

In the government's recent defence review nothing was excluded from consideration, except Trident. As tanks came home from defending Germany and new, rapidly deployable reaction forces were created, Trident remained more or less as it always had been: the still centre of a turning world. The very word 'deterrent' shows it to be a relic from the days when the main job of the military was to sit (or sail) around and look threatening to the Russians. Now that the job of the military is once again to fight, Trident contributes to the drain on funds from front-line troops. We continue to spend between 000 and 900 million a year on maintaining the 15 billion nuclear deterrent, while the Paras advance into Kosovo with inadequate guns and broken radios.

Now New Labour has thought of something to do with this blunderbuss. According to senior naval sources, the government is preparing plans to share some of it with France. Trident, combined with Paris's own nuclear 'force de frappe' will, it is hoped, add a plutonium-charged frisson to the exciting new plans for bilateral and pan-European defence co-operation recently unveiled by President Chirac and Prime Minister Blair. Mr Blair may be in a muddle over the euro; indeed, there is deep impatience among our EU partners at his failure to campaign for the end of the pound, which is why he hopes to allay their wrath with a romantic, symbolic gesture: a step towards the Euro-bomb. For France, it is the culmination of years of trying to interest Britain in a bilateral nuclear relationship. In 1992 the then French prime minister, Pierre Beregovoy, called for co-ordination of nuclear-arms policies as a step towards creating a European deterrent, and a joint commission on nuclear policy and doctrine was established. Movement was slow, however, until the arrival of Mr Blair's government. Now there is likely to be much greater co-operation, with the two countries sharing above all research and development facilities. British submarines would be based regularly in French ports (and vice versa), and perhaps even embark on shared patrols, with only one nation's vessels at sea at a time. Patrolling is already co-ordinated to some degree, and the number of exchanges of personnel between the two nuclear programmes has been greatly increased.

Not everyone in the Royal Navy is happy about these developments. 'It is potentially very damaging to our key strategic relationship with the USA,' said one of my informants. 'We have as much to lose as to gain.' That, indeed, is the main objection to the government's increasing enthusiasm for Euro-defence. Britain proclaims, apparently sincerely, that any Euro-capability should always be subordinate to Nato, meaning that there should be no threat to America's role. But the French have rather different ideas. …

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