BRITAIN’S foreign and defence policy operates like a McDonald’s franchise. The brand and overall strategy is in the hands of the US principals while the operational costs and attendant risks are borne by the franchisee.
The Golden Arch of this policy is Trident — Britain’s “independent” nuclear deterrent — hugely expensive submarines, the construction of which has tied up our most skilled workers in unproductive labour for decades; and missiles, supplied and controlled from the US.
The communications and targeting infrastructure is owned and controlled by the US. Set aside the question of which credible enemy this system actually deters from attacking our island (and for what possible purpose)?
Today, the question raised by the US presidential election is whether or not a British government could deploy — or refuse to deploy — Trident without, say, for argument’s sake, Donald Trump’s say so?
A certain absence of intellectual precision marks the arguments put forward by Tory ministers and their co-thinkers in the Parliamentary Labour Party that this extraordinarily expensive system is central to our defence.
Thus far our MPs have been told that “our” Trident missiles are designed and manufactured in the United States by Lockheed Martin and that, apart from those actually on board the submarines, the remaining missiles are stored and maintained at King’s Bay, Georgia.
Refitting the submarines themselves takes place at Devonport, Plymouth, by DML, a subsidiary majority owned by Halliburton. Thus British taxpayers continue to supplement the $39.5 billion profit Dick Cheney’s firm has already made from the Iraq war.
We are not simply a cash cow for the US military-industrial complex. Throughout the capitalist West’s cold war confrontation with European socialism, Britain was regarded by Pentagon planners as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
Today a better analogy might be that we are an expendable drone. Not only do we lack control over Trident but the “first-strike” capacity of the US nuclear force, which depends on a communications infrastructure in Britain (and British sovereign bases in Cyprus) makes us a target.
When Britain’s dull-witted Foreign Secretary suggested that far from making it more secure, North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons actually made it a target, he unconsciously made a compelling case for our country’s unilateral nuclear disarmament.
There may be even more compelling technical reasons for ending this enormously wasteful vanity project.
As the far-from-dull-witted Emily Thornberry has pointed out, with drones in the air and drones underwater, the sea may not be a very secure hiding place any longer.
And when every teenager possesses a smartphone with more processing power than when Trident missiles were first conceived it may no longer be possible to future-proof such cumbersome weapons systems.
There are real risks of conflict as the US pivots east to confront an economically insurgent China but, with the US State Department ramping up tension in Ukraine and Nato advancing to the borders of Russia, Europe is an increasingly dangerous place.
Channel Four’s Deutschland 83 series casts a revealing light over the contradictions between the way many Europeans saw their interests and the US priorities set by the Pentagon and the State Department.
We can ignore the idiotic cold war stereotypes which suggest that East Germany’s intelligence operatives were sinister functionaries willing to sacrifice their family or that they needed to be drugged and blackmailed before they would consent to infiltrating the West.
The mise en scene is of a socialist bloc genuinely worried that the deployment of US missiles close to the borders of European socialism meant a first-strike attack was likely. And that in West Germany the growing realisation was that such a US initiative would result in Germany becoming a nuclear wasteland.
East Germany’s real-life Stasi spymasters were able to mobilise a large number of people — both GDR and West German citizens — motivated by political principle, an anti-fascist and anti-war ideological tradition and simple fear.
Arguably one such, Rainer Rupp, who worked on missile deployment in Nato headquarters, helped avert a nuclear war when he was able to transmit to the Stasi Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung the insight that the 1983 Able Archer Nato manoeuvres were not, despite appearances, preparations for a pre-emptive strike.
Real tensions continue to exist between what are seen as the common interests of Europeans and US policy.
The US drive to effect regime change in Ukraine through a putsch brought some of these tensions to the surface.
“Fuck the EU” was the comment caught in a recorded phone conversation between Barack Obama’s neocon Under-Secretary of State Victoria Nuland when EU functionaries showed hesitation over the US strategy. Even Angela Merkel said this was “totally unacceptable.”
Of course, it is not only to the US that sovereign control of our foreign and defence policy is in hock.
Britain’s membership of the EU carries with it obligations under the Lisbon Treaty to participate in the the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy.
Under the mutual defence clause created under the Lisbon Treaty, Britain could be obliged to come to the military aid of our Nato “partner,” Erdogan’s Turkey, if his patronage of his jihadi surrogates in Syria and Iraq resulted in a further escalation of armed clashes with the Russian air force.
The establishment of new military command centres in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania shows how far the integration of Nato and the EU’s war fighting capacity has gone.
The EU’s collective subordination to US strategic priorities is demonstrated by the fact that six Nato countries, including Britain, are now committed to the high-speed mobilisation of 25,000 troops on Russia’s borders within a week.
Disentangling our country from these structures would be an act of genuine popular sovereignty.