I've just read a piece by Ian Leslie at the New Statesman called 'Jeremy Corbyn and the nirvana fallacy', and it's been a long time since any article made me so angry. It basically argues that Corbyn and his ilk present us with a bogus binary choice between a perfect state of affairs, and the imperfect state of affairs we currently have - which was created by those who lack the vision to understand what is possible. Back in the real world, Leslie tells us, there are only a range of imperfect options, and the least worst one has to be chosen. Inevitably, Trident is cited as the primary example - Corbyn is too simple-minded to grasp that nobody would ever want to see nuclear weapons being used, and that the best way of preventing that from happening is the deterrent approach. The most jaw-dropping line is this -
"Even the most hawkish American neo-cons do not pretend that using nuclear weapons is a good idea – it’s more that they argue that holding them, and signalling your willingness to use them, is the best way to stop any being used."
It beggars belief that anyone seriously thinks the neocons wouldn't want to use nuclear weapons if they thought they could do so in a cost-free way - in other words if America was still the only nuclear armed state in the world, as it was when it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US didn't develop the bomb as a 'deterrent', but rather with the intention of using it on Germany or Japan as soon it was available. Considerable diplomatic efforts were needed to prevent Truman launching a nuclear attack during the Korean War, and it seems highly probable that a repeat of Hiroshima would have occurred sooner or later if it hadn't been for the inhibiting factor of the Soviet nuclear arsenal. Ironically, that's the 'deterrent' argument in a nutshell, but Leslie seems curiously reluctant to embrace it fully when it's the 'good guys' who need deterring.
In fact, it's Leslie himself who presents us with the bogus, fatuous binary choices. The true choice is not between maturity on the one hand and opposition to Trident on the other. You don't even have to be a unilateralist in principle to understand that Trident is useless in practice. The only nuclear arsenals that are really factored in to the balance of terror are very large ones (like America's and Russia's) or those held by 'lone wolf' states such as Israel and North Korea. Our weapons fall into neither category - they're relatively few in number, and if they didn't exist Britain would still be 'protected' by the American nuclear umbrella as a result of the NATO treaty. Tony Blair openly (some would say brazenly) admitted in his memoirs that Trident had no military value, and that he only wanted to renew it to prevent a downgrading of Britain's national 'status'. (So much for his eschewing of 'caveman nationalism'.) Denis Healey mused a few years ago that the only conceivable rational reason for retaining Trident was to prevent France being left as Europe's sole nuclear power, although he didn't explain why that would be so awful.
Leslie also asks us not to compare the last Labour government with the Labour government of our dreams, but instead with the alternative of John Major winning the 1997 election, and the Conservatives winning every subsequent election as well. But that isn't the alternative, is it? The Tories were so unpopular by 1997 that most Labour leaders would have beaten them. John Smith certainly would have. Pondering how far to the left Labour could have gone in 1997 and still won is a fascinating thought experiment. A soft left leader probably would have won. I'm not going to be brave enough to say Jeremy Corbyn would have beaten John Major, but neither am I going to say it's completely impossible.