Upwardly Mobile.


The 60th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki approaches, so it seems timely to review progress towards a nuclear-free world.  The review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York in May underlined an unsatisfactory status quo – it seems that contrary to NPT articles, the nuclear weapons states have every intention of keeping their existing arsenals, and are even working actively to diversify and improve their nuclear ‘capability’. At the 2000 Review Conference the UK, along with the other declared nuclear weapon states, gave an “unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Nothing has come of this promise.


In Britain there will be a discussion in the next parliamentary session as to whether we should get rid of Trident, or start work on a successor, Trident being regarded as approaching its sell-by date (an extraordinary idea in itself! – will the successor flatten cities even flatter?).   Unfortunately there are strong grounds for thinking that the debate will be a sham, and that a decision has already been taken to go ahead with a new-improved version.  The £2 billion of taxpayers’ money allocated for new facilities at Aldermaston cannot be required for any other purpose than vertical proliferation.  In addition, an expensive refit of Trident submarines is currently proposed.  In the words of CND chair Kate Hudson: 


“This refit programme is a threat to the environment and a threat to the health and safety of the people of Plymouth. Trident is an illegal and immoral nuclear weapon of mass destruction and must be scrapped. Our government is committed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to getting rid of its nuclear weapons. Instead, it is refitting the Trident nuclear weapons submarines and planning to replace the system when its service life comes to an end. 

This year is the 60th anniversary of the nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We must abolish these immoral and illegal weapons now. The refit must be brought to an end; scrap Trident, don’t replace it.”


Meanwhile, in the USA, the problem of vertical proliferation is even worse than in Britain.  At least here the pusillanimous argument is trotted out by the MoD that ‘we’ nice Brits want to get rid of our nuclear weapons, of course, but we have to wait till the others get rid of theirs. This at least implies an admission that nuclear weapons are a danger to mankind.  In the US this idea is rejected outright by policymakers.  There, Star War technology, new types of nuclear weapons, and the weaponisation of space are being actively pursued with no backward glace at the dangers.  


The Nuclear Posture Review, a classified document delivered to Congress on 8th January 2002, was summarized by William Arkin in The Los Angeles Times on March 10th 2002.  In it the term ‘New Triad’ was coined to describe the three sectors of ‘nuclear capability’ needed for the post-September 11 world.  The first is the ‘offensive strike leg’ (the nuclear and conventional forces), the second is the ‘active and passive defences’ (includes anti-missile missiles and Star Wars), and the third is described as ‘our responsive defence infrastructure’ (the ability to develop and produce nuclear weapons and resume nuclear testing).  The review calls for new weapons systems, and for the incorporation of ‘nuclear capability’ into many conventional systems.  Cruise missiles should be ‘modified to carry nuclear warheads if necessary’, and the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter should be modified to carry nuclear weapons ‘at an affordable price’.


It must have been hard for US negotiators at the Non Proliferation Treaty, at which they were supposed to work ‘in good faith’ towards eliminating their nuclear weapons, to keep a straight face!