Dr Kieran Mullan works in national health policy and as a junior doctor in A&E. He contested Birmingham Hodge Hill in the 2015 general election.
Vladimir Putin must sometimes think we are actually setting out to make his life easier.
The intelligence services of the major powers are constantly seeking to understand the offensive and defensive capabilities of their enemies (and sometimes even our allies). Whilst this is true in the general sense, it is even more true when it comes to Russia and NATO, with both seeking to understand any potential weaknesses in each other’s nuclear deterrent capability.
This year, America will release from prison someone who leaked a treasure trove of highly sensitive military and diplomatic information. She served an amount of time inside that would encourage any foreign intelligence service to renew with vigour any programme of attempts to bribe others to do the same. Last year, we had the shocking spectacle of seeing the Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee found to be behaving in a way that clearly would’ve exposed him to blackmail by a foreign power. This committee oversees the work of the police and other sensitive areas. Despite failing to live up to his obligation to not make himself a blackmail risk, he is now back on another committee, his political career seemingly untarnished. And now, apparently, we should have been shouting from the rooftops about an incident involving our nuclear deterrent. Are we deliberately trying to make ourselves look as though we’ve gone soft?
Over the last few years, Russia has been buzzing our airspace, sending its submarines into the sovereign waters of NATO allies and launching a de facto invasion of one of its neighbours. The military testing ground that Russia made Syria into shows us clearly that Putin is testing out how effectively he can use force to achieve his geopolitical ambitions. Are we certain his threshold for using tactical nuclear missiles is as high as ours?
Why then do serious individuals (including some from our Party) not see that there is every reason to avoid giving Russia any intelligence of any kind about our military capabilities, and any weaknesses or potential problems in particular? I expect this from Corbyn and his ilk, who refuse to accept that other nation states are actively our enemies (for them, these only ever respond to our own aggressive behaviour, and if only the West behaved properly the world would exist in a state of eternal peace and harmony). But not from Conservatives experienced in defence and security matters.
Of course we need a system of scrutiny of the Government’s obligation to ensure military effectiveness. And I readily accept that secrecy can undermine this and allow problems to go unaddressed. But that is why the select committees themselves can be confidentially briefed to ensure it is not a totally closed shop. If they weren’t briefed on this, they should have been. There is no suggestion that there was some kind of systematic problem that the Government was seeking to hide. Even if there were, in the current climate I might support even that. These matters are always a balancing act. And the idea it was information crucial to the Commons vote on renewal is ridiculous. Our whole decision on renewal was invalid because MPs didn’t know about one misfire?
If US officials are leaking further details, the solution is for Theresa May to talk to Donald Trump about this on Friday. The Americans would be furious if they were in our place. This is not an argument against secrecy.
The only lesson we might want to learn is that the publicity surrounding successful test attempts might need to be reconsidered if the absence of such publicity might tip off foreign powers. I hope the tests and their publicity are conducted with enough of a random pattern to ensure this doesn’t happen, and if not they should be.
We live in a volatile climate at the moment. We need to restore common sense to the unabashed desire for transparency if we want to make sure that we don’t damage our reputation as a serious world player even further than all the cuts to our military capabilities have done.