The arrogance of power
Trident is back in the news because Westminster is determined to spend billions of taxpayer’s money on it to pretend England rules the waves, money it refused to share with Scotland for keeping people alive and well, and spend on the English National Health Service. No wonder we question the sanity of our elected leaders.
It does not matter how evidently preposterous and dangerous are nuclear bombs, bombs we won’t use, against an enemy that isn’t attacking us, we still want more.
We pretend we wish fervently for their abolition, but only after the other side abolish theirs first, which translated means, never. This is grown up’s version of the playground face-off, “Get yerr han’ aff ma collar.” “No, you get yoo-err han’ aff ma collar furst.”
Our nuclear enemies alter by the week, one week the nasty Russians, then Iranians, the next the balmy North Koreans. Perhaps it might be Pakistan that unleashes Armageddon, or even Israel that secretly developed its own bomb with some clandestine help from the USA, or only a Moslem with a small version in an Asda carrier bag. Yet the only country that has had accidents with WMD, loosing two off the coast of Spain, and dropped two deliberately on another nation, Japan, is our special ally, the United States of Amnesia.
The top table
To sit at a top table with the big boys, so goes the ludicrous myth, we must have weapons of mass carnage and death. By the example of enumerable other countries we know that isn’t true, yet politicians stand up to argue for that doctrine oblivious or ignorant of the consequences.
To quote one betrayer of Labour principles, Aneurin Bevan, our representatives “do not want to go naked into the conference chamber.” Many so-called ‘socialists’ would enter now wearing ermine and red robes.
They never talk of an accidental accident, of being unable to retaliate because they know we will all be dead or disorientated hit by a first strike. The winner is the last man standing. Nor do they mention Strontium-90, radiation lingering for centuries blistering our skin, thinning our bones, until our teeth fall out and we waste away.
No one talks of extinguishing our flora and fauna that did damn all to start a nuclear conflagration.
Like birds flouncing and flapping around at each other to get the best nesting area it’s all a lot of posturing, but in humans, it’s deadly.
A Russian Attack
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Though I use Russia as a convenient ‘enemy’ for the purposes of this essay, Russia has no WMDs on any western nation’s border, but we have moved hundreds of ours up close to their border. No wonder Russians are jumpy.
Think about that in reverse, and then try pontificating about controlling Russian ambitions. Nevertheless, this is what we like to call ‘the balance of terror.’
We don’t like Russians for protecting their borders by annexing the Crimea, (2014) although it’s okay for them to invest in our bankrupt football teams. Tomorrow they will be friends again because it will be politically expedient for us to welcome them.
We were reducing numbers when Gorbachev was in power, the same number on each side, step by step. But some western MPs are terminally addicted to cold war politics, and the profits they can make from it that now we want to reverse mutual arsenal reduction.
We will never use nuclear weapons, well … maybe
A modern thermonuclear war is full of chilling uncertainties. One of them is, any first strike carries with it disastrous failure issuing from partial success. The chance of a first strike going awry are so great decision makers shy from taking it.
The only reason to go to war is when it is less risky not to go to war. That leaves aggressive nations with the problem of safety valves. You have to maintain some sort of super-alert system. But when do you turn it off? Do you relax immediately you have a partial or a full and final settlement and the other side backs off? How about a year later? When?
Hanging around on high alert duty costs a lot of money. But to keep your population in fear so they remain compliant to your aggressive foreign policy you must whip up tension constantly; advocate we remain on guard continuously if we are to react quickly. Thus, we argue for costly submarines patrolling the oceans ready to fire nukes on command.
To be conciliatory in any dispute we must first threaten to go to war and then pull back, hence Theresa May’s remark that she would “push the button.” How to make friends and not influence nations. Tomorrow she’ll glad-hand Putin, or make a trade deal with China and not think a thing of the hypocrisy.
What do we aim at first?
Enemy missiles target specific threats. Trident on the Clyde is only one. There are hidden bases of administrative decision making – government bunkers, planes that carry WMDs, silos with intercontinental missiles, strategic airfields, communication systems, radar centres, centre of finance, plane making factories, and more.
So, how many buttons do you have to push at once to wipe out the lot in one go? Ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred?
The last official estimate is, we would need to fire at least seventy-five missiles (75) at Russia to make the slightest dent in their capability to retaliate.
Twice that number will be better. And the missiles have to be fired in closely coordinated fashion which will take at least one hour or more to complete, allowing time for our enemy to send the same amount of missiles back at us. Mutual destruction is the aim, but there is a flaw in that philosophy.
We are small, they are big
For our example let’s keep Russia as the big bogeyman. Russia is a vast continent. It has eleven time zones. We have one, two if you blame Scotland for wanting daylight in winter. Even without Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, unwilling to do what England wants to do, great Britain is a very small country in comparison. Russia’s missiles will soon obliterate these isles making it uninhabitable. (Fully detached, seeing Britain toxic, Northern Ireland will demand to be reunified with the Irish Republic.)
For Russian’s part, they will retreat to the Great Central Plain, Outer Mongolia, or Murmansk, and still have room to rebuild a few football stadiums. Keep in mind not so long ago Russian territory was hit by a very large meteor but hardly anybody noticed. And they had a nuclear reactor go into meltdown, Chernobyl, but still go about their business.
What food could be grown is another question, as is how long it will take for radiation contamination to reach the furthest terrain and enter the body.
It’s a sobering thought to contemplate that a single nuclear bomb dropped on Gretna Green together with its resultant radiation ring would separate Scotland from England permanently by miles of destruction and a wall of contamination.
In the conflict of self-governance some will argue that can only be a good thing.
Stresses and strains
The entire edifice of nuclear strikes depend on accurate data. No one can calculate an attack unless the data is a hundred per cent correct. Think of Blair and his assertion a strike from Saddam Hussein was only forty minutes away. Where did he get that information? In the event, Hussein and his generals were bluffing. The Iraqi’s strength lay in pretending to have hidden weapons.
That bluff kept Israel at bay and their mortal enemy Iran, now our enemy at intermittent times when it suits Westminster to say it’s not Syria. You could describe the invasion of Iraq as a planned accident. But what if we attack a small country that we think has nuclear weapons, about to use them, but has none? What if we relied on an unreliable informant?
On our side we rely on having no intelligence leaks that give the enemy the advantage. With the Internet age absolute secrecy is an impossibility. System can be and are hacked.
We can discuss hypothetical situations and we can discuss actual situations. There is on record at last half a dozen instances when a reckless decision has moved the firing process up the line to one step away from pushing the button. In one famous case it was a flock of geese on a radar screen.
Fail Safe that isn’t fail safe
The system called Fail Safe is supposed to ensure an accident cannot happen. It is a system implemented against human or mechanical error. As we know from movie plots, the system is, proceed toward your target for a fixed number of nautical miles and then turn back if at that moment you do not get coded orders to proceed to Doomsday.
This has happened many times triggered by a false alarm, an alert created by a line of meteors, interference from high frequency transmitters, or by the appearance of foreign objects. In one instance US aircraft turned home to their bases from halfway as soon as it became clear the alarm was false. Those who argue for nuclear bombs will suggest that that is proof the system works. Wrong. It is proof Fail Safe is fatally flawed.
These near accidents show mankind has been on the brink of a deadly war by the error of one technician, from carelessness, miscalculation, or faulty conclusion.
The money argument
The deterioration of international relations inevitably results in calls for more weapons. This is when the money threat is activated. The more our government makes public an increased budget on armaments, the more the enemy has to calculate if it is willing to do the same in counter programmes. Aggression comes down to outspending each other.
When the world’s banks admitted they were living off a fantasy economic system we thought there was a silver lining, governments too impoverished to spend billions on war. We were wrong. They will spend our taxes on war and weapons no matter what, even if the population are lining up at food banks.
Renewing Trident accelerates the arms race, not slow it down. We are striving for overwhelming qualitative and quantative superiority over nations we think want to attack and destroy us. Our paranoia increases tension. We are our own worst enemies.
A useless debate
When Westminster parliamentarians stood up to vote for Trident, with the laudable exception of the SNP, a few Labour MPs and one Tory MP, none knew what they were talking about. We listened to hours of swagger and arrogance, the kind that leads us to the killing fields we like to commemorate annually as if we have put an end to wars.
There is no alternative to arms control but ridding ourselves of weapons of mass death unilaterally. I don’t believe we have unlimited time to do it, and I don’t believe multi-lateral agreements are the answer. That way we wait until someone drops a bomb.
There was a time the west was going to intervene in China’s upsurge of Maoist communism. Now we trade with them. We did not need to have nuclear weapons to reach this stage of friendly cooperation.
The USA talks of avoiding a power vacuum, the reason it gives to remain the most powerful nation on the planet, ready to defend democracy, American style. It forgets it was attacked successfully by a few extremists armed with nail clippers who had learned to fly but not land an aeroplane. They had no guns, and no hand grenades.
No amount of stockpiled WMD deterred those men from destroying the Twin Towers, and the lives of innocent victims. The enormity of human catastrophe seems not to deter our own politicians who say they won’t recoil from ‘pushing the button’ – and they are supposed to be the sane ones.
We live in a dangerous age of horrific contradictions.
Not all these books are still available but Google or Amazon might have a copy. I find older ones by rummaging, Winston Smith-like, in second-hand book shops.
- Security in Disarmament Robert Barnet & Robert Falk
- The Uses of Military Power in a Nuclear Age Klaus Knorr
- The War Potential of Nations Klaus Knorr
- Deterrence and Defence Glenn H. Snyder
- Power – A Social Analysis Bertrand Russell
- Limited Nuclear War in the 21st Century Jeffrey A. Larsen
- Command and Control Eric Schlosser
- And one for the children:
- When the Wind Blows Raymond Briggs