Statewatch article: RefNo# 18488
National security - Defence of the real
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National security - Defence of the real
artdoc March=1992

New Statesman & Society, 20 March 1992

Martin Shaw, feels that none of the parties' defence policies
make any sense

Nothing is more depressing about this election than contemplating
the gap where a serious defence and security debate ought to be.
The world around us has changed out of all recognition, but the
parties are divided by little more than the arcane matter of how
many warheads the Trident system should possess. That Trident
itself is redundant-even on the dubious cold war assumptions that
supported its purchase-is a thought which, however obvious, is
unlikely to pass the lips of any official spokesperson for the
opposition parties. The departed ghosts of Margaret Thatcher and
David Owen still hang over their defence policies: twice bitten,
thrice shy, Labour especially is not going to be caught out com-
mitted to anything that puts it one centimetre ahead of the
Atlantic consensus.
Elections are clearly not the time to look for new ideas
about defence even if, as Gerald Kaufman showed in last week's
NSS, Labour does offer some forward-looking thinking on foreign
policy. A radical defence review will be needed, none the less,
if Labour comes to power. The stale cold war nostrums that,
thanks to the Tories, will dominate the election debate, will not
last even a few weeks in the post-electoral real world.
Everyone, including the military, knows that Britain's
"independent deterrent" - long more symbol than reality- will
lack any solid strategic justification in the years to come, and
that Britain, like the US and Russia, could easily take
unilateral as well as multilateral steps to dismantle its nuclear
systems. But this is true of so much of Britain's arsenal that
it will take unusually visionary and determined leaders to reduce
it to anything called for by a rational policy, relevant to real
The bottom line is that there are no big wars left to fight.
The historically unprecedented armaments of the industrialised
states have been maintained to fight each other, but this
prospect no longer exists. However much "realists" may point out
that Germany and Japan are flexing their military as well as
political muscles, there is no foreseeable circumstance in which
their armed forces will collide again with those of the US and
U However much they may secretly hope for a military coup to
topple Yeltsin - as last year they looked for one to overthrow
Gorbachev- a revived Russia in the 2lst century is likely to
look, like Germany and Japan, for a role within, rather than
against, the western club.
Even the biggest wars, then, are likely to be policing
operations-as in the Gulf. -Me sad fact, for the generals and
politicians, is that even the Gulf triumph has gone sour, as the
unresolved crisis of Iraq's miserable people becomes clearer.
A military fix may have short-term payoffs (although in electoral
terms these are looking thin), but it resolves less and less in
today's world. In any case, the number of leaders presenting
themselves, like Saddam Hussein, as justifiable targets for this
kind of action, is likely to be small. His Iraq is unique as a
medium-sized power that started two major wars within a decade.
We are right to be worried about the spread of nuclear weapons;
but some of the new nuclear states, like the Koreas, South Africa
and maybe even Israel and its Arab rivals, are entering political
processes that make their use of these weapons less likely. It
seems probable that a multi-nuclear world will be one of serial
military stalemates (mini-cold wars), candidates for management
by a new breed of global political leaders and global
institutions rather than by military KOs.
The news, then, is that security is, more than ever, a
matter of politics rather than military power-of foreign before
defence policy. Kaufman's vision of the international r

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