Whether you agree with the nuclear deterrent or not, there’s little doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s made a rod for his own back with week by insisting he would not, under any circumstances, deploy the nuclear deterrent.
Nobody – not the public, the Labour Party membership, or the Shadow Cabinet – should be surprised by Mr Cobyn’s assertion. He’s spent a professional lifetime advocating nuclear disarmament. And in many ways he should be respected for truthfully answering a question put to him. Because ultimately, if that fateful time ever comes, the decision to deploy Trident would be on his shoulders. Collective responsibility be damned.
But the point, as made by General Lord Dannatt earlier this week, is that the existence of Trident is a deterrent. It’s not supposed to be used. It’s there to prevent others attacking the UK – in the same way the principle of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) helped ensure the Cold War didn’t become hot for nearly 50 years.
Should this be the status quo? Absolutely not. But it is, and Mr Corbyn’s insistence he would never use the deterrent – however admirable a principle – has removed any suggestion he would be willing to employ the ultimate threat of force in the gravest of circumstances.
But the unwillingness to use Trident isn’t what causes Mr Corbyn a problem. Even the dissention with his views amongst his own Shadow Cabinet, while immensely troublesome, isn’t the biggest issue.
The difficulty Mr Corbyn now faces is how to explain where he would draw the line. If he’s not prepared to use Trident, fair enough. But what about conventional forces and munitions capable of causing immense damage of their own? And it’s this question that Conservative political strategists will doubtless attempt to put to the Labour leader time and time again.
Mr Corbyn answered a direct question truthfully and frankly. For that he should be commended. But he’s placed a millstone round his neck and underlined how the Conservatives can use defence as an issue to attack him.