Jim Murphy, the new leader of the Labour party in Scotland, was interviewed on the radio recently and the issue of unilateral nuclear disarmament was raised.
By way of background, there has always been a body of opinion in the UK in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament, indeed, during the recent referendum debate in Scotland, the Scottish National Party, in favour of Scottish independence, insisted that, in the event that Scotland voted “Yes” for independence, she would become a “nuclear-free zone” as soon as possible. The UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines are based in Faslane on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland, so this was a major issue in the months leading up to the September vote.
Anyhow, back to Jim Murphy’s interview; he was asked if the Labour party would unilaterally disarm and his answer was, “no”. The interviewer pressed him on his answer. Murphy responded rather as a negotiator might respond. He said (and I paraphrase), “Why would I go into a negotiation and make a major concession without getting anything in return?”
In a sense, it matters not what you think about the principle of nuclear disarmament. The fact is that we have nuclear weaponry and that we have spent/ will potentially continue to spend billions of pounds on it. The negotiator will think to themselves that if they were minded to concede on the issue, then they would ask for something significant in return. If the concession is made unilaterally, then it ceases to have a value.
Often in negotiations we find ourselves in possession of unwanted concessions from the other side; or we have an asset that we no longer want or need. What should we do? The temptation is to throw the unwanted concession back in the other side’s face, or make a unilateral concession. It doesn’t cost us anything and we were going to concede it anyway. Resist the temptation! Ask yourself what you could get in return and exploit your power.