The Folly of Nuclear War

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Brighter than a thousand suns

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.

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.

Further Reading

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
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13 Responses to The Folly of Nuclear War

  1. Oi, you! I’m 8 miles south of Gretna, what did I do? 😉

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    God dammit! That’s the second time that’s happened – an essay published before its finished. Sheesh. But at least you’re my early warning system!

  3. Smallaxe says:

    GB, my poetic friend I live in Gretna, then again we have up until recently had what local people thought was a power station right on our doorstep, (Chapelcross) which was in actuality a Tritium Factory! Power being only a by-product.

    More power to your pen GB.

    PS: Am building a bomb shelterjust in case some nutter picks up on your idea!

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    I owe an apology to you and Max, but I had to pick a place readers abroad will recognise! Nuttin’ poysanol, boss.

  5. jeordee says:

    Unfortunately your arguments are flawed as even if we had no nuclear weapons we would still be a target for them. As long as we remain in NATO our strategic position and facilities will be important.

    For example I don’t think we need to destroy the whole of Russia to achieve deterrence, just be able to retaliate with enough force to make it far too painful to contemplate an attack on us.

    The world has gone a long way to reducing the nuclear weapons stockpile from the tens of thousands in the 80s, and still has a way to go, but there will sadly always be nuclear weapons as we cannot in invent the technology.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    I’ve no idea who you mean by ‘we’.

    Do you mean Britain, or only Scotland to neutralise Trident, or perhaps Northern Ireland who feel British through and through?

    Why would Russia invade Britain? What would it gain by obliterating us? Do you think Europe would sit idly by and say, ‘go ahead’? We don’t mind radiation for a few decades.

    Since the end of the Cold War NATO has had no role, only now the US has it as a puppet, using it illegally in all sorts of ways. You and me are paying for that in taxes, while our representatives tell us we can’t afford the NHS and new schools. And the only way they can impose those brutal neo-con policies is by ramping up Cold War rhetoric yet again.

    Your anxiety is unwarranted and ideologically based.

  7. jeordee says:

    By ‘we’ I am referring to Scotland.

    In your article you used Russia as a hypothetical enemy and I was continuing this theme in my reply so to now say why would Russia attack us as if I introduced the subject is both strange and misleading.

    Next, in your reply you go on to say Europe wouldn’t sit idly by while Russia attacks Britain. Without the threat of similar destruction how would you imagine they do this? They won’t be deterred by a strongly worded note in my opinion.

    NATO has certainly taken on an expanded role since the end of the cold war, Kosovo and Afghanistan come to mind immediately and we (Scotland) aspire to join NATO after independence.

    I find your article flawed because you equate so many different things to attempt to prove that having nuclear weapons doesn’t bring security or benefits. Therefore you linked 911 and Iraq to the nuclear debate. Trident is by its very nature a strategic weapon and is not in any way designed to fight terrorist organisations and linking it to 911 is about as useful as linking your local Councils Pot Hole strategy to the running of easy jet.

    Don’t get me wrong, I abhor the though of nuclear weapons ever being used but pragmatically cannot see why the UK not having them would make the world a safer place in the future when other nations have literally hundreds and thousands of them.

    http://www.icanw.org/the-facts/nuclear-arsenals/

    Ideology and anxiousness seem to be buzzwords in anti nuclear parlance but since WW2 there have been no wars of massive destruction between major powers. Nuclear weapons seem to be the main influence for this so it might just be that they have helped serve a purpose in humanities constant desire to expand their beliefs and cultures at the expense of their neighbours.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    The role NATO has taken on is almost entirely dictated by US instruction, and illegal in many instances.

    I deplore the SNP vote that seeks to join NATO when we are independent. It’s misguided, and certainly not shared by all members. But I know why Angus Robertson decided it might be a good move.

    All European countries with the exception of Greece have engage in wars since the end of the Second World War, never-ending wars, killing millions, and all wars of territorial possession. There have been instances where using nuclear missiles was discussed.

    Your logic has no end. It reads: the more we have the safer is the world.

    But it begs the question, how many is ‘safe’. Ten each? Three each? Perhaps only one.

    Far from being safer because we have them, the world grows more dangerous. It’s a human failing to assume if you carry a big weapon all will be well.

    There is an analogy in people who drive large SUV cars because they think them safer than conventional vehicles, In fact, they are more dangerous; their centre of gravity and weight is such that they have a tendency to overturn in the mildest of shunts. But because drivers sit above other drivers it imbues them with a false sense of superiority.

    And with Trump on the horizon we might as well start digging bomb shelters now.

    This essay might better illustrate: http://wp.me/p4fd9j-1bI

  9. jeordee says:

    That the SNP has decided to join NATO is something that needs to be in the front of any discussion regarding nuclear weapons. An independent Scotland would willingly join an organisation that advocated the first use of nuclear weapons and signing up to this organisation is a willing understanding that Scotland agrees with this policy.

    Again, my point about mass destructive wars was and is still valid, I fully understand that we have been involved in Europe in many wars since WW2 and even the Greeks had a civil war. The point I was making is that we have not had absolutely destructive national wars that defined the 20th century since the main protagonists in these wars developed a nuclear capability. There’s no empirical proof that nuclear weapons have stopped these types of conflicts, nevertheless these types of world wars have ceased to exist since 1945, you can draw your own conclusions from this.

    I don’t recall discussing the numbers we require and I certainly don’t advocate everyone should build more, indeed the trend has been to negotiate the numbers down since at least the 70s and the ideal number would be none.

    I don’t understand your SUV analogy as I’m not aware that any are at this moment nuclear powered or armed with nuclear weapons.

    Scotland is not going to prevent Trump being elected if that is the wish of the US electorate and we certainly aren’t going to benefit from any immediate surrendering of our nuclear capability before November this year or next January if he were to take office. You never know,perhaps Trump might be good for Scotland with his Scottish roots, though I’m not convinced.

    Thank you for the essay link, I will read it after work.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Your doctrine (if you don’t like ideology) is based on human perfection. It doesn’t exist. I’ve gone out of my way to provide evidence of how close we have come to accidental nuclear war.

    ” There’s no empirical proof that nuclear weapons have stopped these types of conflicts.”

    Thank you supporting my argument; if they have not stopped genocide they are useless as ‘protection.”

    Two final points from your last post: Scotland has not joined NATO, as you know. That ambition might alter when independence arrives and we argue the case comprehensively outside the SNP. And secondly, any notion Trump will be good for any country is truly delusional given his record to date. He is backed by very powerful, wealthy Republicans.

    The question to ask is, does Trump mean to do as he says?

    It seems he does.

  11. jeordee says:

    There’s also no evidence to to say that the existence of nuclear weapons has not stopped wars of mass destruction. The fact that there haven’t been any since the major powers attained them though is not insignificant. I would therefore advance the theory that in this particular sphere they are not useless as protection. No major power that has nuclear weapons has been attacked by the military of another nation since they acquired those weapons. Full scale mass casualty destructive wars have become a thing of the past.

    In no way am I pro nuclear weapons but I see absolutely no reason for us to relinquish ours when other countries have thousands of them. I view ours as a guarantee in one situation only and that would be aggression from another nuclear power.

    The fact that the SNP are the largest Independence Party will mean that their views on independence will be taken forward and in all reality, even if we were outside NATO any nuclear exchange would result in us suffering just the same.

    I firmly believe that the nuclear question is not a major driver in the independence aspirations of the majority of Scots.

    As for Trump, well I hardly think he will bring about the destruction of the planet if he becomes President. However, if he does there’s nothing you or I can do about it.

  12. Grouse Beater says:

    “No major power that has nuclear weapons has been attacked by the military of another nation since they acquired those weapons.”

    Completely untrue. Nations with nuclear weapons have engaged in aggressive acts on other nations with nuclear weapons, and still do.

    “I view ours as a guarantee in one situation only and that would be aggression from another nuclear power.”

    Completely untrue. They offer no guarantees whatsoever. I’ve given you lots of evidence against holding onto that false comfort.

    “I firmly believe that the nuclear question is not a major driver in the independence aspirations of the majority of Scots.”

    Completely untrue. Without at least a small majority against nuclear weapons on Scotland’s soil it will be difficult for any administration to demand their removal. Retaining Trident is an assault on sovereignty.

    “As for Trump, well I hardly think he will bring about the destruction of the planet.”

    Completely untrue. You have all the evidence that he wishes to ‘make America great again”, and you provide no evidence he is sane. That echoes Thatcher who discovered by sinking a battleship that was not attacking the UK or the Falklands she could appear to ‘make the UK great again’, meaning powerful in military might.

    The UK’s prime Minister, Theresa May, has stated she will push the button if necessary.

    Everybody is a tough guy.

    Your entire outlook is one based on indolence. I am afraid we don’t have that luxury. A third world war is a distinct possibility, one in which nuclear weapons are liable to be used.

    It’s a very real possibility, and in fact, an increasing one. That’s not just my judgment. It’s also the judgment of the experts who set the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; of former Defence Secretary William Perry, one of the most experienced and respected experts on these matters; and of numerous others who are by no means scaremongers.

    I reject your argument that you know better. [See companion essay on Doomsday Clock]

    The record of near accidents, which could have been terminal, is shocking, not to speak of very dangerous adventurism. It is almost miraculous that we have survived the nuclear weapons era, and playing with fire is irresponsible in the extreme.

    In fact, these weapons should be removed from the Earth, as even many of the most right-wing conservative analysts recognize – Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and others.

    You made your points, and repeat them. Our discussion is ended.

  13. Connor McEwen says:

    Arms Lobby is the biggest in Wheeshtminster, as Wee ginger dug put it.

    More jobs than people that actually live in Argyle and Bute. Of course you know that most of the jobs are in America and Berkshire, but SNP and SCOTS ARE BAD AND THICK AS A BRICK.[NOT] ARMS LOBBYIST.

    Where is that star spangled wee broon envelope m’lud? Puts on his ermine.

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