Friday, 5 April 2013

Is it time for the UK to give up its nukes?

It's quiz time.

Who said this? “We need our nuclear deterrent as much today as we did when a previous British Government embarked on it over six decades ago … The nuclear threat has not gone away."

And who said this? "While the world has changed greatly since the 1980s, the political reality has not: we will appear dangerously weak …if we are prepared to give up [Trident] while the world remains so unstable."

Not much difference, is there? The first was David Cameron, writing in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, and the second was the Labour frontbencher Angela Smith and a former aide to Gordon Brown, John Woodcock, writing jointly in last Monday's Guardian.

So our two major political parties still agree, as they have done for many years, that the UK needs to hang on to its bomb. (Funny, isn't it, that when we have it, it's an "independent nuclear deterrent", but when someone we don't approve of has it, or threatens to acquire it, it becomes a "weapon of mass destruction.")

Has nothing changed, then, since Nye Bevan argued passionately against unilateral nuclear disarmament at the Labour party conference in 1957, on the grounds that "it would send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference-chamber"?

In fact, of course, a great deal has changed. For one thing, Joe Stalin and the Soviet Union have long gone; for another, the main security threats we face have changed beyond recognition. Now, according to the government's Strategic Defence and Security Review published in October 2010, they are terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural disasters, like major flooding and pandemics.

And even though the Review also says that an effective nuclear weapons programme remains "the United Kingdom’s ultimate insurance policy in this age of uncertainty", it is far from clear, at least to me, what our nuclear warheads will be aimed at if we do suffer a cyber-attack or a major pandemic.

I raise these questions, of course, while Western and other governments watch nervously as North Korea goes through another of its periodic bouts of nuclear sabre-rattling. (I wrote about North Korea seven weeks ago, when I suggested "We're not paying enough attention to rising tensions in east Asia" -- so don't say I didn't warn you.)

The prime minister wrote yesterday: "Only the retention of our independent deterrent makes clear to any adversary that the devastating cost of an attack on the UK or its allies will always be far greater than anything it might hope to gain."

I wonder. Any adversary? It didn't deter Argentina when it invaded the Falklands in 1982, did it? Nor did it deter the 7/7 suicide bombers when they attacked London's public transport network in 2005. Nor did the fact that the US possesses the biggest nuclear arsenal on earth stop Osama bin Laden and his comrades from launching the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

So the deterrent argument is, shall we say, arguable. I don't discount it all together, however, because I accept the possibility that, for example, India and Pakistan may be slightly less likely to take up arms against each other, now that they both have nuclear weapons.

What surprises me is that there's been so little discussion about the UK nuclear arsenal in the context of the current public spending debate. We could save billions by scrapping the Trident nuclear missile programme -- or even by not going ahead with a like-for-like replacement -- but the Westminster consensus seems to be that any major party that openly calls for an end to Britain's nuclear bomb programme would lose support at the ballot box.

(In fact, an opinion poll carried out in 2010 for the foreign policy think-tank Chatham House suggested that 50 per cent of UK voters want Trident either scrapped entirely or replaced with something cheaper. So the "it'll-lose-us-sackloads-of-votes" argument may not be as powerful as most politicians seem to think.)

So far, only the Green Party is prepared to say openly what many senior military and defence analysts say privately. Green MP Caroline Lucas stuck her neck out last October: “With the total cost of replacement likely to come in at an eye-watering £100 billion over the next 30 years, can the UK afford such an extravagance? Is a Cold War deterrent really the right solution for our defence needs in the 21st century?"

The Lib Dem view, as set out yesterday by the MP Sir Malcolm Bruce, is more nuanced: "We do accept the case for a nuclear deterrent and we are not in favour of unilateral disarmament. We are saying we shouldn't replace Trident on a like-for-like basis but we are looking at alternative nuclear deterrents once Trident has passed its sell-by date."

An official government review into Trident replacement options is due to be published within the next couple of months. Perhaps that's when we can start to have a proper debate. Has the time come for the UK to give up its nukes as an irrelevant extravagance?

Mind you, if I were a North Korean policy-maker, I would look at what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi after they abandoned their nuclear weapons programmes, and I would conclude that I do not intend to make the same mistake they did. But no, I don't put the UK in the same category, because I really don't think we face the remotest threat of hostile military action from either the US or NATO if we renounce our "deterrent".

So how worried should we be about North Korea, as the US and others ramp up their defences in response to the blood-curdling rhetoric from Pyongyang? I'll take my cue from the South Koreans, who don't seem worried at all. And after all, they, of all people, would have the most reason to be worried if the current tensions really did threaten to spill over into war.


Gaye Berry said...

US Govt has committed acts of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen (& others). The US has authorized, armed, equipped, & supplied Israel to commit acts of aggression, crimes against humanity, and outright genocide against Lebanon & Palestine. US is threatening to attack Iran under the completely bogus pretext that they might have a nuclear weapon, which the International Atomic Energy has said is NOT true.

Nuclear weapons have been fully integrated into US armed forces - tactical training & programs.

Read the origins World War I or World War II: An attack on Iran would clearly set off World War III. Nuclear deterrence must come to grips with the fact that the nuclear age was conceived in the original sins of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, which by any other name were criminal acts against innocent civilians. These weapons have always been criminal! The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg Charter of August 8th 1945 = wanton destruction of cities, towns, and villages. These bombings, and also the firebombing of Tokyo, exterminating 100,000 civilians, were war crimes.

Nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence have never been legitimate instruments of state policy, but have always constituted instrumentalities of internationally lawless and criminal behavior. And those states that wield nuclear weapons, their government officials are criminals in accordance with the Nuremberg Charter, Judgment, and Principles, and the Tokyo Charter and Judgment that the Allies applied to the Nazi war criminals and the Japanese war criminals after World War II.

Use of nuclear weapons would also violate Resolutions of the U.N. General Assembly that repeatedly condemned their use as an international crime. We must understand that when dealing with nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence: They are not simply immoral, they are not simply illegal, but they are criminal!

Government officials in all the nuclear weapon states, not just the United States (US is just the worst of them!) — but also Russia, France, Britain, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea: They are all criminal! Nuclear deterrence = threatening massive extermination. In the Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice on nuclear weapons, the World Court ruled that the threat stands or falls on the same legal grounds as the actual use. If mass extermination of human beings is a crime, the threat to commit mass extermination is also a crime.

All government officials and military officers who launch or wage a nuclear war are personally responsible for the commission of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. And such individuals whether statesmen or high level military personnel are not entitled to any defenses of superior orders, act of state, self-defense, presidential authority, etc. All those defenses were made by lawyers for the Nazi defendants at Nuremberg and they were rejected.

So, what were you asking about the Trident?

quietoaktree said...

" "the United Kingdom’s ultimate insurance policy in this age of uncertainty", it is far from clear, at least to me, what our nuclear warheads will be aimed at .."

They are probably aimed at Berlin --If one can take the anti-EU rhetoric seriously. A majority of Brits consider Berlin, EU and Euro as a danger to everything British under the Sun (also the newspaper).

An attack against Britain is no doubt being planned. A massive data leak is having some interesting reaction (and non-reaction) similar to the behavior when the ´The Pentagon Papers´surfaced.

The ´British Virgin Islands Papers´

"Millions of internal records have leaked from Britain's offshore financial industry, exposing for the first time the identities of thousands of holders of anonymous wealth from around the world, "

Has quickly been buried in its archives --with no follow-ups by either itself or much mentioning in other UK media (including the BBC or any of its blogs).

However it has been insinuated that Berlin already has the UK in its sights -- and the EU attack on the nerve center of ´honest banking´--The City of London will begin.

´Germany's Schaeuble welcomes data on global tax evasion´

A very bad time indeed to give up the Nukes.

dceilar said...

You raise a valid point Robin when you mention "Funny, isn't it, that when we have [nuclear weapons], it's an "independent nuclear deterrent", but when someone we don't approve of has it, or threatens to acquire it, it becomes a "weapon of mass destruction."

It highlights the use of contradicting language in international politics. One word that has a contradicting use in international affairs from its original meaning is stablize. We, the West, invaded Iraq in order to stablize it, while what Iran is doing (even though it has no intention of invading anyone) is de-stablizing the region. The word stablize in this context means to bring a country into the West’s control.

I think it was Kissinger who said, when talking about the overthrow of the Chilean democratic government in 1973: ”First we had to unstablise Chile to stablize it”. Kissinger was not contradicting himself. He was using two different meanings of the same word; he uses the word unstablise as we all know it, and latterly, stablize as it is used in the West’s hegemonic lexicon.

The West’s hegemony also uses hypocrisy to levels that go well beyond satire and irony. While the West encircles Iran, any attempt by Iran to assert itself is condemned. If we turn the situation around and that it was Iran who invaded Mexico would the world condemn the United States for any attempt at self-defence?

This also applies to the other side of the middle east. Israel often cites that it will not talk to the Palestinians until (a) it respects Israel’s right to exist, (b) fulfil past agreements, and (c) denounce violence. While at the same time Israel refuses to accept Palestine’s right to exist, Israel refuses to follow previous agreements, and is always quick to use and justify violence!

It all seems to follow an ancient Greek dictum: the powerful can do what they do, while the weak must suffer as they must.