It has recently become clearer than ever that the real and sole purpose of Britain's nuclear weapon is to deter the leaders of other nations from elbowing their way past us for a seat at the top table.
The military have long opposed spending on what Harold Wilson once described as 'our so-called independent, nuclear, so-called deterrent'. Former head of the armed forces, Lord Bramall, bluntly says Trident renewal is 'a waste of money', and that Britain's nuclear submarines are 'completely useless' against any conceivable military threat in today's world. In a joint letter to the Times (15th January), a group of top military brass wrote that 'nuclear weapons have shown themselves to be completely useless as a deterrent to the threats and scale of violence we face or are likely to face, particularly international terrorism'. Retired army general Lord Ramsbotham forthrightly declared on Newsnight that Trident was 'an inappropriate weapons system'. He saw the government's attempt to renew Trident as being 'driven more by political considerations than by the true requirements of national defence'.
This obvious theme has been taken up by journalists who were former armchair warriors during the Cold War. Max Hastings (Guardian 19th Jan) echoes the inappropriate nature of our weapon of mass destruction, agrees with the generals that it is not even independent, and cannot imagine a scenario where it would ever be used. Though, somewhat illogically, he then quotes and seems to approve the view of Sir Michael Quinlan that we ought to retain a few nukes just in case. He sneers at the moral case for abolition, calling it a 'flatulent notion'. So saying, be contemptuously dismisses many wise men. No 'new way of thinking' for him. Yet even Hastings is only a whisker away from abolition, albeit on strictly practical grounds. The purely rational case is strong - in fact, much stronger than the arguments he uses in his article. The case for keeping Trident shrinks to the absurdity of the 'big willy' argument, that politicians need an artificial, dangerously explosive phallus.
But not all politicians require such a boost. Hopes for a more rational, peaceful world now rest largely with the new U S administration. President Barack Obama's views on nuclear weapons were printed recently in Heddwch, the Welsh campaigning journal.
'It's time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with no nuclear weapons. . . . I will not authorise the development of new nuclear weapons. And I will make the goal of elimination nuclear weapons worldwide a central element of US nuclear policy. I am committed to working with Russia and other nuclear-weapon states to make deep cuts in global stockpiles by the end of my first term.
Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment's notice is a dangerous relic of the Cold War.
I will work with the US Senate to secure ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at the earliest practical date, (and) prioritise diplomatic efforts with India and Pakistan to encourage them to move . . . the ratification of the Treaty. As president, I will set a new direction in nuclear weapons policy and show the world that America believes in its existing commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work to ultimately eliminate all nuclear weapons. A world without nuclear weapons is profoundly in America's interest. It is our responsibility to make the commitment, and to do the hard work to make this vision a reality.'
We will have to check that president Obama keeps going in this anti-nuclear direction.
The new president of the United States has declared himself in favour of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. As a first step, after a meeting with the Russian president Medvedev in London after the G20 summit, the two leaders announced agreement on fast track negotiations to cut their nuclear stockpiles by about a third by the end of this year. Admittedly this is not abolition, yet it is a necessary first step.
After arriving in Europe, Obama declared: 'In Prague I will lay out an agenda to seek the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.' He added, 'The spread of nuclear weapons or the theft of nuclear material could lead to the extermination of any city on the planet. We can't reduce the threat of a nuclear weapon going off unless those that possess the most nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia, take serious steps to reduce our stockpiles.'
This is, of course, what the peace movement has been advocating for many, many years. There has been reasoned argument, huge street demonstrations, campaigning both legal and illegal (the illegal campaigning, breaking the law by trespassing onto bomb-making facilities, onto Trident submarines, smashing of nuclear facilities etc, has resulted in long prison sentences), all with the objective that Obama now espouses. And in the face of all our massive protest, the nuclear problem has got steadily worse, as successive governments have increased spending, enlarged their already huge nuclear arsenals, and allocated our taxes to researching bigger, better, more 'usable' nuclear weapons. In Britain today government seems quite determined to push ahead without another vote in parliament with a replacement for our 'ageing' Trident.
Just as it took the decision of a single man, Harry S Truman, to start the whole disastrous nuclear arms race by dropping two atom bombs (at that time, the entire nuclear arsenal) on an already defeated Japan, so now it has taken the decision of one man, president Obama, to reverse the nuclear arms race, and attempt to start retrieving a terrible, insanely dangerous situation.
One has to ask the question: has all the vigorous protest of the peace movement for these many decades been utterly useless? In a world where a single, powerful man can decide the direction of the whole of humanity, we have had to wait for Obama to arrive. If another George Bush had been in his place, it seems there is nothing we could have done to prevent further deterioration. If this is an example of the working of modern democracy, then there is surely something wrong with it. A democracy was not meant to have a dictator at the top of it.
Has peace movement protest been useless? Maybe not entirely. When Soviet president Gorbachev began thawing the ice age of the Cold War, he claimed to have been inspired by peace movement arguments, in particular as presented by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). The massive and growing street protests in the US against a cruel and useless war are credited with forcing the government's decision to get out of Vietnam. It is officially admitted that the decision to pull Cruise missiles out of Britain was influenced by the women at Greenham Common. It seems that protest can produce results. But we need to fix our democracy, so that the voice of the people can be heard more clearly by those placed at the remote top of the pile.
The effect of global warring on global warming
We are familiar with the usual, wasteful, nasty, ugly, lethal things war does - all good reasons for opposing its use as international policy. There is another reason though, a big one, that has not been much discussed. Modern machine-enabled war waged at long distances (such as the ongoing United States invasion of Iraq) is hugely carbon dioxide-intensive. Its carbon footprint is huge - and no one seems to be asking exactly how large.
So writes Professor Bruce Johansen, of the university of Nebraska. It is indeed true that eerily little attention is paid to the heavy carbon footprint of war.
A government committee, chaired by Lord Turner, set up to investigate the danger of global warming, has recommended that the CO2 emissions by Britain should fall by 80% by 2050. At least 2 degrees temperature increase this century is now regarded as inevitable, and only a world-wide reduction of carbon dioxide of 50% by 2050 has a chance of limiting the rise further. The environmentalist George Monbiot, in a Guardian article (2/12/08), advises that cuts should start immediately, reducing our carbon footprint (the measurement of CO2 emissions) by a quarter by 2012. He makes a series of recommendations as to how this could be done, but he makes no mention of the military carbon footprint.
This omission is very common, even amongst environmentalists and academics, and even though carbon emissions from the military are undeniably huge. So let's look at the carbon footprint left by the heavy military tread.
In the case of the military, we are dealing with a triple problem: there is the carbon cost of military spending itself, the carbon cost of the emissions from the equipment once made, and thirdly the carbon cost of repairing the destruction that war has caused.
First, regarding the carbon cost of military spending. A reliable impression of the immediate carbon footprint of war can be gained by calculating the simple cost involved, because the cost is directly related to energy, and energy is related to carbon emissions, as most of our energy is produced by burning fossil fuel, coal and oil. The carbon cost of building a wind turbine may be repaid many times over, but the carbon cost of military spending is total - there can be no offsetting benefit. So what has been the cost of, for example, the Iraq war? Three thousand billion dollars, according to Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist. Translated into energy misdirected, this equals a heavy carbon footprint indeed.
Second, what is the carbon cost of the emissions from military equipment? 'It is indeed immense: according to a report in Energy Bulletin earlier this year, the Pentagon is the single largest consumer of oil in the world. If the Pentagon was a country, it would be 36th biggest consumer of oil. The U S military officially uses 320,000 barrels of oil a day, but this total only includes vehicle maintenance.' (Leo Hickman, The Guardian, 27th September.) Note that this is just United States' military oil use. Worldwide, this carbon cost of military 'defence' is probably doubled. (World defence spending (2004 estimate) $1100 billion, U S defence spending (2008 budget) $623 billion).
Third, in war there is much damage to infrastructure - indeed, this is a primary aim. The cost in carbon of rebuilding the destroyed power stations, the bridges, the buildings, further adds to the heavy carbon burden imposed by the military. The carbon cost of repairing the destruction will vary with the amount of infrastructure destroyed, but could conceivably double the military carbon footprint.
Bizarrely, you have to search peace movement literature to find any reference to a problem which, if not solved, will certainly render attempts to cut CO2 emissions quite useless. It is as if we are attempting to put out a fire while, unseen behind us, a saboteur is cutting holes in the hosepipe.
Why is this? Why, to change the metaphor, is there no reference to the elephant in the room? Reducing carbon emissions to a safe level clearly involves solution to the problem of war, which is itself a problem studiously avoided by the establishment. Ed Miliband featured recently in a front-page article in the Guardian, in which he pleads that each one of us must examine our lifestyle, and reduce our personal carbon footprint as much as possible. How many times would you have to rides a bicycle to work to offset the waste of war?
Illustrations by Michael Southgate
The arguments against nuclear weapons (and the arguments for)
Jim McCluskey has produced a booklet dedicated to explaining the threat posed by nuclear weapons. It makes scary reading for those already committed to campaigning for a nuclear-free world: for those uninformed about the clear and present danger of our weapon of mass destruction, it must be terrifying. As the title suggests, the nuclear threat is indeed intolerable, and ought never to have been imposed upon mankind in the first place.
In the first part McCluskey analyses the case for abolition, what the weapons are capable of, the impossibility of reliable control, the logical absurdities in the doctrine of deterrence, including the encouragement to proliferation, and so on. In the second part he examines the arguments usually put forward in favour of nuclear weapons, and rather elegantly demolishes them.
This is a timely book, an especially useful source for MPs who may be involved in a debate on whether Trident should be renewed. It comes out at a time when there seems real hope for abolition, backed by the present US president. It seems, dare we hope, that there is a real movement away from military posturing and towards the long-delayed proper negotiations to rid the world of this self-inflicted menace, and McCluskey's book, concentrated, well written, authoritative, has appeared at a critical time.
KPC members can obtain a copy (recommended price £1 plus postage) by applying to Jim McCluskey or a member of the KPC/CND committee (see contacts page).
The analysis below comes from a right-wing U S thinktank STRATFOR (email to: Stratfor@mail.vresp.com to receive occasional bulletins). It is deeply pessimistic, and offers no solution to the awful situation in the Middle East. It implies that there is no possible solution. This is surely wrong, and is perhaps a way of avoiding US responsibility and culpability in providing vast military assistance to Israel. Yet the piece is useful in drawing attention to games that can be played. Genuine progress will depend upon avoiding diplomatic games. Let's hope Obama will prove Stratfor wrong!
Obama also is now in the great game of global competition -- and in that game, presidents rarely get to set the agenda.
The major challenge he faces is not Gaza; the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is not one any U.S. president intervenes in unless he wants to experience pain. As we have explained, that is an intractable conflict to which there is no real solution. Certainly, Obama will fight being drawn into mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during his first hundred days in office. He undoubtedly will send the obligatory Middle East envoy, who will spend time with all the parties, make suitable speeches and extract meaningless concessions from all sides. This envoy will establish some sort of process to which everyone will cynically commit, knowing it will go nowhere. Such a mission is not involvement -- it is the alternative to involvement, and the reason presidents appoint Middle East envoys. Obama can avoid the Gaza crisis, and he will do so.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel went to St. Petersburg on 1st 0ctober '08 for meetings with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The central question on the table was Germany's position on NATO expansion, particularly with regard to Ukraine and Georgia. Merkel made it clear at a joint press conference that Germany would oppose NATO membership for both of these countries, and that it would even oppose placing the countries on the path to membership. Since NATO operates on the basis of consensus, any member nation can effectively block any candidate from NATO membership.
This analysis is also from STRATFOR.
Germany's stand effectively nullifies British/US attempts to extend NATO membership to Georgia.
When a change of leader occurs in a nation with nuclear weapons, as happened recently (June 2007, when Blair handed over to Brown), the new incumbent is faced with the reality of deterrent strategy. He or she must write a letter in their own hand, giving instructions to the commander in the Trident submarine. The letter is sealed, to be opened only in the event of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Britain, when, it is assumed, the prime minister would be killed along with the rest of us, and the commander would be carrying out posthumous orders. Incidentally, the existence of such a contingency plan proves that the commander of a nuclear submarine can launch his weapons on his own account - a terribly dangerous possibility that is a logical outcome of deterrence theory. In claustrophobic conditions, isolated for months on end in an unreal, intensely militarised environment, with orders that have implications for all of life on earth, the sanity of any commander is tested. Moreover, the commander would have to guess the identity of the culprit. What a crazy world we inhabit!
Suggested options are said to include: 'Put yourself under the command of the U S, if it is still there.' 'Go to Australia.' 'Retaliate.' 'Use your own judgement.'
The letter is destroyed unopened when the prime minister leaves office.
A tricky judgement to make. If, say, the administration in Russia had been responsible for the catastrophe, would the appropriate response be to kill millions of men, women and children in Russia?
According to legend, Blair went white on being told he must write his letter. Major took a weekend at home to reflect on what he would put down in his letter. James Callaghan is said to have favoured the 'retaliate' option, though this can hardly be more than a rumour.
The prime ministers/presidents of the world will surely be relieved when nuclear weapons are at last abolished.
Campaign Against the Arms Trade have identified a new government department, the Defence and Security Organisation (DSO), which operates within the UK Trade and Investment department (UKTI). DSO is staffed by around 170 civil servants, whose remit is to promote arms exports. They operate under the Orwellian banner of 'Arms for Peace', and have been present at a number of international arms fairs. CAAT comments that 'the Government is using UK taxpayers' money to maximise the profits of international arms companies'. CAAT also points out that 'although military exports make up just 1.5% of UK exports, UKTI employs as many civil servants to promote arms as it does for all of the other sectors combined!'.
CAAT are currently highlighting this issue with MPs and the Minister responsible for UKTI, and are engaged in a public awareness campaign, for which they are asking for funds. Donations can be sent to CAAT, 11 Goodwin Street, N4 3HQ.
Outside the library in Canberra runs the Patrick White terrace, with an accompanying plaque describing literary achievements of the only Australian to be awarded the Nobel prize for literature. The prayer with which White concluded his last major public speech is quoted.
'I pray that we may act honourably at home and abroad; that our Aborigines receive the justice owing to them; that black and white live together in harmony; that we may concentrate, without further shilly-shally, on vital projects of soil and water conservation; and that we may open the eyes of increasing numbers of our countrymen to the universal issues of nuclear disarmament and peace.'
Alert your M P to the Government's attempt to sneak through plans to replace Trident later this year, without the promised debate, while MPs are on holiday. Ask him/her to sign EDM 1802, relating to abolition of nuclear weapons..
Newsletter Editor for this issue was Harry Davis.
Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.