Britain’s Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, confirmed on Wednesday that if elected prime minister he would not deploy the country’s nuclear arsenal under any circumstances.
“I am opposed to the use of nuclear weapons,” he told BBC radio. “I think we should be promoting an international nuclear weapons convention which would lead to a nuclear-free world.”
Asked specifically if he would ever press the proverbial nuclear button, Corbyn said no.
His comments caused a stir in Labour’s ranks and rightly so because Corbyn’s policy is one of capitulation.
The party’s defense spokeswoman, Maria Eagle, said the new leader’s comments were unhelpful. “I’m surprised he answered the question in the way that he did,” she said, adding it “undermined to some degree” Labour’s policy.
Hilary Benn, the party’s shadow foreign secretary, argued that nuclear weapons ought to be negotiated away rather than abandoned unilaterally. “I think a British prime minister has to have that option and the whole purpose of the deterrent of course is it is trying to deter a potential enemy because they’re not sure what you’re going to do,” he said.
Since Corbyn was elected leader earlier this month, Labour has had an internal debate about whether or not to support renewal of Britain’s nuclear submarine program, Trident. Corbyn claims a mandate to resist renewal but many of his lawmakers are in favor of keeping the deterrent — and fear that Corbyn’s pacifism will cost them votes.
It should. As Daniel Berman has argued at The Restless Realist, it’s not just that Corbyn opposes nuclear weapons now. The scary part is that he did even when Britain’s security depended on them.
Berman proposed a scenario in which Soviet forces overran Western Europe during the Cold War and nuked a British city, Birmingham, to force the island nation into submission. The United States, while nominally obligated to defend the United Kingdom, could have hesitated to retaliate if they were still uninvolved in a war.
Hence Britain’s own nuclear deterrent. Based on submarines that are invulnerable to an attack on the homeland, the weapons were designed to make a Soviet first strike not worth the cost.
Corbyn, by his own admission, would rather have surrendered than killed Soviet civilians or even threatened to do so if it was the price of British freedom.
Of course, the Cold War is over. Britain no longer faces a nuclear threat — now. It might not be altogether insensible to mothball Trident.
But the British people, who withstood months of Nazi bombing on their cities in World War II and have never surrendered in a fight for their homeland, are not going to trust Jeremy Corbyn to make that decision for them.
Nor should Labour’s parliamentarians. Corbyn’s policy of surrender is a political nonstarter.
Five years ago, Labour’s last prime minister, Gordon Brown, called the Liberal Democrats a threat to British security when they proposed to cancel Trident. If his party doesn’t stop Corbyn, it will become that threat — and certainly lose the next election.