Michael Portillo says Cameron ‘absurd’ on N.Korean nukes


1:20 pm - April 5th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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I said yesterday that David Cameron’s claim we need nuclear weapons to defend ourselves from North Korea were absurd.

Today I have an unlikely ally on this point: former defence secretary Michael Portillo.

He told the Times (£) today (ht @dickydawkins)

It remains to me absurd to believe that the United Kingdom would use its nuclear weapons against North Korea.

To say we need nuclear weapons in this situation would imply that Germany and Italy are trembling in their boots because they don’t have a nuclear deterrent, which I think is clearly not the case.

As I said, Cameron’s claims actually undermined the case for Trident because it illustrated how flimsy the case was.

Portillo served as defence secretary in the mid-1990s under John Major. He added:

I am not opposed to nuclear deterrents. I believe in them. But I don’t believe in the modern world it is necessary for Britain to have one.

There’s another point that I should add here – Portillo’s dismissal is much more to the point and stronger than the tepid statement Labour sent out in response.

It is absolutely right and necessary that the UK retains an independent nuclear deterrent. World events demonstrate that in an unpredictable era our country needs the ultimate security guarantee. The precise nature of the deterrent must be judged on meeting military capability requirements and cost.

Many will question why David Cameron is making these statements before his own Government has concluded its own review. Royal Navy orders keep Scottish ship yards afloat and demonstrate the importance of the Union, which would be jeopardised by SNP plans for separation.

David Cameron champions his defence record but this Government has overseen cuts to capabilities that could undermine our ability to achieve our nation’s global ambitions.

It doesn’t address the main weakness of Cameron’s argument about North Korea. Missed opportunity.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. John Ruddy

It comes to something when I am closer in my position to Michael Portillo than the Labour front bench.

2. David Ellis

It’s up there with Blair’s war-mongering lies so not surprising that New Labour’s critique is incipid.

FWIW my guess is that the present Labour leadership is being cautious about appearing to favour unilateral nuclear disarmament for fear Conservatives would immediately up the rhetoric about David Miliband leaving Labour and about Red Ed taking the Party back to times when Blair, Straw and Robin Cook marched with CND.

The issues are whether the replacement of Trident is appropriate and affordable in current conditions and whether the extra military advantages of nuclear missiles aboard submarines are worth the steep additional costs. How are all those other countries – like the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Canada and Australia etc – managing to withstand the prospect of “nuclear blackmail” without possessing nuclear weapons?

It really is absurd for Britain to rank in Global League Tables as having the fourth largest military budget in the world after America, China and Russia, countries with much larger populations and territories.

But Cameron is no rush to evacuate the British Embassy in South korea, whilst Australia are right now planning to evacuate everyone they have there, Cameron is like a boy left alone in a sweet shop in all of his reactions, I’m just worried when he gets fed up with the situation he’ll become a bull in a china shop.

From the Australian press on Friday:

“JULIA Gillard will urge new Chinese President Xi Jinping to pressure rogue state North Korea to stop its ‘provocative and belligerent statements’ during their first official meeting tomorrow.”
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/gillard-to-urge-xi-to-pressure-kim/story-fn59niix-1226613614958

News reports from a few days back say China has moved troops up to its border with North Korea but it is not clear whether that reflects the long-standing mutual defence treaty between the two countries or is a signal to Kim Jong Un that China is placed to intervene militarily should the need arise.

According to Reuters, Russia has been more explicit:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday that North Korea’s disregard for UN restrictions was unacceptable and that its decision to pursue a nuclear program radically limited the chances of resuming stalled six-party nuclear talks.

I find it incomprehensible that the Labour front bench is still championing nuclear weapons, which pose the greatest threat to world security that we have ever known.I left the party in 2007 when the only party of any significance to vote against Trident replacement was the Liberal Democrat party and I have not regretted the move for one minute.Please read CentreForum’s booklet`Dropping the Bomb – a post-Trident Future’by Toby Fenwick if you want to find out how we can sensibly reduce and then eliminate nuclear weapons and Jim McCluskey’s well-informed `The Nuclear threat; Intolerable and Avoidable’so you can convince your friends and colleagues that it is possible, and more than necessary, to rid ourselves of these deadly,indiscriminate weapons….and then,please vote Lib Dem and join us in saying NO to Trident.

I don’t believe that nuclear weapons can be eliminated from the world scene.

The genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. Some hypothetical international agreement to reduce existing stockpiles to zero won’t be credible as there will always be fears that some have been stashed away in secret places – atom bombs can be made small enough to be put in an artillery shell. Israel doesn’t even admit to having nuclear weapons so how could it agree to give them up?

8. So Much for Subtlety

3. Bob B

about Red Ed taking the Party back to times when Blair, Straw and Robin Cook marched with CND.

As they all did. And probably do. Even though CND had become a Soviet-controlled Front

How are all those other countries – like the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Canada and Australia etc – managing to withstand the prospect of “nuclear blackmail” without possessing nuclear weapons?

They shelter behind America and Britain. As you have been told any number of times. They do not need bombs because America and Britain have them. Get rid of those nuclear weapons and then they will come under increasing pressure to acquire their own.

It really is absurd for Britain to rank in Global League Tables as having the fourth largest military budget in the world after America, China and Russia, countries with much larger populations and territories.

Why? Britain has the fifth largest economy in the world. Why shouldn’t it spend the fourth largest amount?

4. velma

But Cameron is no rush to evacuate the British Embassy in South korea, whilst Australia are right now planning to evacuate everyone they have there

Presumably you mean North Korea.

6. Janet King

I find it incomprehensible that the Labour front bench is still championing nuclear weapons, which pose the greatest threat to world security that we have ever known.

Meanwhile in the reality-based community we note that nuclear weapons are the greatest boon to world peace since someone invented the Stone Axe. Nuclear powers do not go to war with each other.

7. Bob B

I don’t believe that nuclear weapons can be eliminated from the world scene.

So you just object to Britain having them?

SMSF: “So you just object to Britain having them?”

At no time have I suggested that Britain should unilaterally give up nuclear weapons. What I have said is that we should look for a more affordable delievry system than Trident, which has outlived its original purpose of deterring a Soviet blitzkrieg attack across the north German plain.

10. So Much for Subtlety

9. Bob B

At no time have I suggested that Britain should unilaterally give up nuclear weapons. What I have said is that we should look for a more affordable delievry system than Trident, which has outlived its original purpose of deterring a Soviet blitzkrieg attack across the north German plain.

FedEx? How has it outlived its original purpose? Which was never to deter a Soviet blitzkrieg across Germany.

SMFS: “How has it outlived its original purpose? Which was never to deter a Soviet blitzkrieg across Germany.”

You are really ignorant. The main concern of NATO strategists in the Cold War was the possibility of a Soviet advance into Western Europe based on the continuing superiority in armour of Warsaw Pact countries over NATO, perhaps seizing on some manifestation of labour unrest in W Europe. After all, the Soviets had used tanks to quell unrest in East Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956 and Czecho-Slovakia in 1968.

There was a debate in W Europe the mid 1970s about sowing a line of nuclear landmines across West Germany to block a Soviet armoured attack but that was vetoed by West Germany.

The adopted NATO strategy became Mutual Assured Destruction as that was cheaper than W European countries matching Warsaw Pact armour capability. By the early 1980s, acute tensions developed between NATO and the Soviet Bloc as the Soviet hierarchy came to fear a pre-emptive strike by the Reagan administration, perhaps partly because of Reagan’s “little joke”:

On August 11, 1984, United States President Ronald Reagan, while running for re-election, was preparing to make his weekly Saturday address on National Public Radio. As a sound check prior to the address, Reagan made the following joke to the radio technicians:

My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_begin_bombing_in_five_minutes

One reason for NATO concerns about a Soviet advance was that until the ascendancy of Mitterrand in French politics in the late 1970s, the French Communist Party had regularly attracted around 20pc of the vote in French national elections and the Party was easily the most Stalinist minded in W Europe. When Georges Marchais, Secretary General of the Party in France (1972-94), was pressed for comment on the crumbling Soviet empire c.1990, he replied: “I tell you, they didn’t arrest enough. They didn’t imprison enough. If they had been tougher and more vigilant, they wouldn’t have got into the situation they are in now.” [Jonathan Fenby: France on the Brink (1999)]

Recall that on the German invasion of France in May/June 1940, the French Communist Party remained neutral – because it was a capitalists’ war – until the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The French Communist Party went on to become the backbone of the French resistance to German occupation in WW2.

12. So Much for Subtlety

11. Bob B

You are really ignorant.

Those the Gods are about to destroy, they first make write stupid comments on the internet.

There was a debate in W Europe the mid 1970s about sowing a line of nuclear landmines across West Germany to block a Soviet armoured attack but that was vetoed by West Germany.

As you have been told before Bob, not the 1970s. The 1950s. This is the famous British “Blue Peacock” chicken-powered nuclear landmine:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_peacock

But let’s assume that you’re right. Your asinine claim makes your even more asinine argument false. Because Britain acquire Polaris – a missile that performed exactly the same role as Trident – in 1957. So according to you, land mines were considered even though we had something like Trident. Thus Trident was not enough to deter a Soviet conventional attack. As it wasn’t.

Recall that on the German invasion of France in May/June 1940, the French Communist Party remained neutral – because it was a capitalists’ war – until the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The French Communist Party went on to become the backbone of the French resistance to German occupation in WW2.

Wrong on both counts. The French Communists were not neutral but active on behalf of the Germans. And second the main role of the FCP in the war was betraying their non-Communist rivals to the Nazis.

Trident is next-to-useless for responding to a Soviet tank led invasion unless Britain is willing to lose Birmingham in order to save Berlin. Salami tactics or just confining the war to the mainland would put Britain in a dilemma. Which is why the Americans also deployed tactical nuclear weapons which could be used to deter a localised attack. And why they encouraged the French nuclear weapons’ programme.

“Even though CND had become a Soviet-controlled Front”
Evidence please and name names. You could start with your correct name. Publish in the times, with your correct name.

“The French Communists were not neutral but active on behalf of the Germans. And second the main role of the FCP in the war was betraying their non-Communist rivals to the Nazis”
Evidence please


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