A modest proposal
Britain, France and Germany are busy trying to persuade Iran to abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons, so far with little success. Cajolery and bribery having tried and failed, how about a bit of leadership by example? Two of the three parties in this effort have nuclear weapons of their own, even though they don’t face any conceivable threat of invasion. Perhaps if they agreed to disarm themselves, the Iranians would be impressed enough to follow suit.
OK, I’m joking about Chirac and France. There’s no way that France is ready to admit that it is no longer a Great Power, and certainly Chirac is not the man to start the process. But, why shouldn’t Blair do something like this? It’s a perfect example of the non-ideological willingness to embrace radical alternatives to established dogma that New Labour is supposed to symbolise.
Of course, nuclear disarmament was the subject of bitter dispute within Labour in the 1980s, and disarmaming now would seem to hand a retrospective win to the left. But, if you buy the standard rightwing line on this subject, the nuclear deterrent did its work the day the Soviet Union collapsed, unable to sustain the arms race. Why hang on to it now? The answer, as far as I can see, is the same as for France. With the bomb, Britain is still one of the Big Five. Without it, Britain stands in much the same position as Italy or (a more populous version of) Australia.
As long as France and Britain sustain, by example, the view that having nuclear weapons is critical to being a Great Power, governments everywhere will seek them, whether or not they actually provide any security.
fn1. Like everyone else, the British and French face the threat that some lunatic in Russia will start firing missiles, or that al Qaeda will get its hands on nuclear weapons. But the logic of deterrence doesn’t apply in these cases, so having nuclear weapons of your own is no safeguard against them.