COMMENT by Joanna Bazley

Nuclear weapons are once again in the news. There is no possibility of decisions on the next generation of UK nuclear weapons being taken in total secrecy as was the norm in the past. There is public debate and there will be debate in Parliament and for that we can take our share of the credit.

Unfortunately although the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership has helped to arouse media interest it has also contributed to the resurrection of old ‘left’ versus ‘right’ party political squabbles with a decision of vast international and moral significance being reduced to crude and simplistic tokenism in factional power struggles. It is very frustrating to witness the extent of the misinformation that is being bandied about and to be constantly reminded that many (perhaps most) of the pro-nuclear advocates have very little understanding of the real nature and magnitude of modern nuclear weapons, and very little understanding or interest in the international context within which the UK debate is taking place.

We need to challenge this lack of knowledge and understanding at every opportunity, by writing to the papers, writing to MPs, raising the issues at church or union meetings — but above all by talking to people in our everyday lives. Remember that most people do not even know that there are only nine members of the ‘nuclear club’ and that the nuclear weapons states are in a tiny minority in the United Nations. Unfortunately the fact that all P-5 (Permanent Five) members of the UN Security Council are also nuclear weapons states has resulted in weapons of mass destruction becoming synonymous with international status, thus conferring most undesirable glamour upon them.

Dr Philip Webber of Scientists for Global Responsibility has written a useful paper summarising the main flaws in the arguments made in support of deterrence in theory and practice, to help us challenge our political representatives. (See article on following page.)

Because the government is able to rely on such information only reaching a minority of the electorate, articles such as this from the Daily Telegraph continue to be published: “Once the missile is gone from here it is fire and forget” (Daily Telegraph, 22nd January) in an interview with the commander of HMS Vigilant, “a young father of three who for his security can only be identified by his surname” — despite the publication of a full-face photo! “It is a combination of an honour and a burden,” he told the Daily Telegraph, “...but at the same time our political masters trust us to deliver the deterrent.”

In the Evening Standard of 28th January: “Corbyn at odds with voters over his policy of nuclear deterrent, new poll reveals”. The question asked by these pollsters was as follows: “Do you support or oppose getting rid of all nuclear weapons in Britain even if other countries keep theirs?” Perhaps a different answer would have been obtained if the question had been rephrased to read “Do you support or oppose spending £100 billion or more on a new generation of weapons of mass destruction or would you rather spend the money on the NHS?” Spurious results in both cases can be expected from blatantly leading questions.

Politicians and public are woefully short of factual information and it is our job to get it out there!

Sat 27th February: Stop Trident Rally

Assemble at noon at Marble Arch, march to rally at Trafalgar Square. Speakers include: Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Leanne Wood, Caroline Lucas, Christine Blower, Vanessa Redgrave, Giles Fraser, Kate Hudson, Lindsay German and a representative of Veterans for Peace. An impressive list. Be there!

Fundraising Dinner Jan 8th

Our fundraising dinner on January 8th more than lived up to expectations. It was a wonderful evening with Bruce Kent on top form as raconteur and auctioneer, the hall looked lovely and we were able to send CND a cheque for £1,500. Thanks first and foremost must go to Aden for his skill and generosity as chief cook, with more than one of the guests assuming he was a professional and enquiring about the location of his restaurant! Without him the evening would not have been possible.

All committee members worked tirelessly, not only on the evening itself but during the weeks of advance planning, but we could not have done it on our own. It was a huge team effort with Jill and Harriet working non-stop in the kitchen, and Dave, Bob and William moving tables and putting up decorations. The Carrier-Sippy and Dirmikis families transported the mass of extra equipment we needed — and helped pack it all up again at the end of the evening. The staff at the William Morris Halls went out of their way to be supportive so a big thank you to Christine and the management at 267 Broadway. And a big thank you to all of you who supported the venture.


Trident, Deterrence and UK Security: a new paper by Dr Philip Webber

Dr Webber challenges the three key arguments repeatedly put forward by supporters of UK nuclear weapons:

  • nuclear weapons are at a “minimum credible” level
  • the nuclear deterrence effect works every day
  • nuclear weapons have kept the UK at peace for the last sixty years
  • A minimum deterrent:

    Research based on the latest scientific modelling shows that the launch of missiles from a single Trident submarine would directly cause 10 million civilian casualties and lead to a decade of climatic cooling and drought severely affecting global food supplies i.e. both genocidal and suicidal. Is such a threat even credible?

    Put together, the nuclear weapons states have the ability to destroy civilisation many times over, so the fact that the UK possesses only 1% of the global stockpile is irrelevant, merely demonstrating that a dramatic reduction of global warhead numbers is a matter of urgency.

    A reliable deterrent effect:

    In a nice analogy, habitual smokers cannot claim that smoking is safe because they are still alive and well. The only observable fact is that we have not had a nuclear war despite nuclear weapons. False alarms, over-realistic military exercises, faulty equipment, human error and political brinkmanship have all brought the world perilously close to nuclear disaster.

    To the historical near-misses we now have to add the increasing risk of cyber-attack.

    Keeping the peace:

    Wars such as Vietnam and the Falklands are examples where nuclear deterrence clearly failed. The simplest explanation for the lack of attack by the Soviet Union in the Cold War is that there was no intention to do so. Large non-nuclear military forces were more credible as a deterrent as was the memory of massive Russian casualties during World War II.

    What threats are UK nuclear weapons intended to deter?

    Rogue states? North Korea is the most frequently cited example of a potentially nuclear rogue state against which we might need to defend ourselves. Deployment of US nuclear-armed aircraft has arguably led to more aggressive response than the reverse. UK nuclear weapons have been completely irrelevant.

    Threats from Russia or China? The vast US arsenal would dwarf UK nuclear weapons in Russian calculations. Political and economic action (and in extreme circumstances) non-nuclear military force are more than enough to deal with any such risk, but given that NATO currently outspends Russia on its military forces by a factor of ten it rather raises the question of who is threatening whom?

    Dr Webber concludes by pointing out that all arguments in favour of nuclear deterrence can be used by any country. Following their logic every state should be armed with nuclear weapons. Double standards have been the source of growing reaction at the UN and 135 non-nuclear states are now signed up to a new multilateral treaty for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

    UK nuclear weapons may be irrelevant in relation to the huge Russian and US arsenals but the UK’s rôle in disarmament could be very significant. Taking Trident submarines off patrol, placing warheads in storage, cancelling the replacement of Trident and actively supporting the current multilateral legal process for a global nuclear ban: all these steps would send powerful signals to the rest of the world.

    Read the full article on or in SGR Newsletter Nº 44.

    Fête of the Earth May 21st 2–5pm

    Please make sure that you have the date in your 2016 diary: later in May than usual and in the afternoon this time. Remember the Fête of the Earth if you are spring-cleaning in the next few months. It is not too soon to start clearing out potential donations of books and bric-à-brac and delivering goods to 43 Wilton Grove.

    London Region CND conference

    I attended the London Region Conference on January 9th and was able to describe our successful fundraising dinner of the previous evening when I gave the WDC/CND report: other London groups were obviously taking note.

    Carol Turner gave the keynote address (“The Corbyn Labour Party and Trident”) and stressed how important it was that Trident and nuclear disarmament are now national news, but Labour still has a pro-Trident policy and we need to put internal pressure on the Labour Party as well as campaigning for the vote in Parliament. CND members who are also Labour supporters should get involved with the discussion in their local wards and constituencies where the vote often remains “on a knife edge”. Jeremy Corbyn has been accused of being ‘unworldly’. We must counter this with the practical politics of a realistic and progressive foreign policy not based on militarism, releasing more resources to donate to domestic issues.

    I went to an interesting workshop on the Japanese Peace Constitution which is under threat from the current Abe government: new security bills passed in September 2015 are described by the opposition as “War Bills”. The Japanese constitution has remained unchanged since 1947 with Article 9 prohibiting military action overseas, renouncing war as a means of settling international disputes. Abe claims that this article can be “de-interpreted” (without altering the constitution) in reaction to a “changing world”, the latest in a long series of his initiatives to strengthen the Japanese military alliance with the USA.

    There has been widespread criticism about the absence of proper debate and scholars almost unanimously regard the new legislation as unconstitutional. Opinion polls show that a majority of the public oppose the legislation. Takako Barker described his single-handed protest: sitting in front of London’s Japanese Embassy with a placard reading “I am proud of being Japanese, who are all Pacifists by Law. Save Japan’s Peace Constitution”. He was taught that “war is wrong’ as a child by a mother who had to run for her life aged 9 during the bombings of World War II. He could only see that Japan was “going backwards” and was in danger of becoming a “subcontractor” for US policies in Asia and the Middle East.

    Green MEP Jean Lambert gave an EU perspective on nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The Euratom treaty of 1957, intended to foster progress in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, is a legacy of the 1950s, and although the latest treaty update mentions renewables it does not weaken the nuclear commitment, despite Green efforts. Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, Italy and Belgium are all moving in the direction of renewables but concern about energy dependency on Russia is encouraging a renewed impetus in the European nuclear industry: “Nuclear is what governments know”.

    Nuclear non-proliferation has slipped from the EU agenda in an “increasingly uncertain world” but the successful negotiations with Iran offer a gleam of light, the EU being seen by Iran as honest brokers (not siding with the US).

    Report by Joanna

    Will Trident still work in the future?

    Emerging developments in technology are the subject of a new briefing by BASIC†. Big missile submarines rely on their capacity to remain unseen and this could be under threat from the development of cheap, expendable drones, capable of being deployed in large numbers to cover vast expanses of sea. “Hovering above all this is arguably the biggest threat of all — cyber warfare: the great wild card that can turn the world’s most advanced technology against itself with a few well-placed lines of code.” (Guardian, Jan 16)

    According to former Defence Secretary Des Browne, Britain has not even begun to make a comprehensive assessment of Trident’s vulnerability: “Cyber attacks are already able to undermine the reliability of our nuclear command, control and communications,” he says. Particularly alarming is the revelation that an off-the-shelf Windows operating system has been chosen for Trident in the interests of economy — potentially vulnerable to every bug in circulation.

    The renewed Trident deterrent is not due to be in service until the early 2030s. By then the oceans are almost certain to be swarming with antisubmarine drones from many rival powers. “Trident is old technology,” says Paul Ingram, executive director of BASIC. “The submarines are big, they’re expensive with very long lead times. The technology chasing them will be 30 or 40 generations on by the time they hit the water.”

    [Short policy brief, BASIC 22 Jan 2016]

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