NEIL Kinnock, who led Britain's Labour Party back from the brink after its devastating defeat in the 1983 general elections, is looking more and more like a potential prime minister of the United Kingdom. A recent poll gave Labour the support of 40 percent of the electorate, six points ahead of the Conservatives, and showed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at her lowest political ebb in three years. Elections must be held no later than mid-1988 and may come next spring.
So the defense policy Labour is proposing deserves a good hard look. The party, having its annual conference in Blackpool, England, this week, is calling for unilateral nuclear disarmament of Britain. That means US cruise missiles and nuclear bases out -- plus dismantling Britain's own nuclear arsenal.
Under Mr. Kinnock, Labour is not seeking to pull Britain out of NATO. Indeed, Labour says that Britain would remain strongly committed to the alliance, beefing up its conventional forces.
But Washington is upset. US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger is worried enough to have told the BBC a few days ago that NATO would be ``severely weakened'' by such a policy, and the ``special relationship'' between the US and Britain even more so.
And the US ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Charles Price, has warned that without their nuclear umbrella to protect them in Britain, US troops stationed there would probably have to be recalled.
Socialist parties (most of them out of power) in a number of NATO-member countries are rethinking the questions of the alliance and of NATO nuclear weapons in particular. It was West Germany's Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, for instance, who got his country to accept US missiles a few years ago. But at their August party conference, the Social Democrats called for the removal of those missiles.
Some of these socialists seem to have forgotten that those nuclear weapons were put there in the first place to protect Western Europe from the threat of Warsaw Pact conventional forces.
Let's hope that voters in Britain -- and Europe -- decide that sticking with NATO is in their long-term interest. And let's hope Washington moves decisively toward the kind of arms control accord with the Soviets that will make Europeans rest more comfortably in NATO.