Daniel Korski

Nick Clegg and the 3 am phone call

Nick Clegg and the 3 am phone call
Text settings

Compared to many CoffeeHousers, I don’t find the Liberal Democrat’s foreign policy positions as problematic. Nick Clegg is smart, internationalist and has – unlike David Cameron and Gordon Brown (and Tony Blair) – plenty of foreign policy pre-leadership experience.

But looking through the Lib Dem manifesto, I came across its pledge on Iran, which is quite problematic for a party that is keen to shed its beardie-wierdie, peacenik image and whose leader may even end up running the Foreign Office.

The manifesto says that, on the one hand, the Lib Dems support “action by the international community to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” But the party also makes clear that they “oppose military action against Iran.”

To call for military action to stop Tehran’s nuclear programme at a time when the military is overstretched would be fool-hardy. Nobody wants to strike at Iran’s installations, least of all the US military. But to rule out anything besides talk and additional sanctions is an odd position too.

The Tories and Labour have been deliberately circumspect. The Tory note that they “support concerted international efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon”; and Labour call Iran’s programme “the gravest nuclear threat to global security since the foundation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the 1960s.” Neither party rules anything out. The Lib Dems do.

But if you take one option – however unattractive -- off the table, how can you hope to dissuade Iran’s leadership from building a nuclear weapon. How can you hope to be able to influence the Israeli government – for example to ease restrictions on Gaza – if Jerusalem thinks that you have made disarming Iran all the more difficult? What would the Lib Dems do if negotiations fail? Negotiate some more?

So what happens if the International Community agrees to military action? What would Nick Clegg do if diplomacy fails and Iran acquires a bomb, which it uses as a shield to protect Hezbollah, as the Shiite movement attacks Israel? I hope somebody asks Nick Clegg what he would do.