Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Nuclear holocaust: once more for slow learners

I wake today to this headline:

Labour to join Tories in backing a £25bn deal to renew Trident fleet
and the story starts with this:
Labour will fight the next general election on a pledge to retain Britain's independent nuclear deterrent, senior party sources have said. 
So actually, it starts with a direct untruth: Britain doesn't have an 'independent' 'deterrent'. The nukes are largely built, maintained and in some cases rented from the United States. Americans build them. Americans maintain them. Americans provide the satellite targeting information required to fire them. Can we imagine launching one without American permission and technical help? I don't think so.

So not independent. What about 'deterrent'? Well, it's true that the UK hasn't got into any wars at all since it acquired nukes in the 1950s. Unless you count Northern Ireland. And Malaya. Kenya. Suez. Korea of course. A little covert involvement in Vietnam via the Commonwealth. Libya. The Falklands. Iraq (the first time). Iraq (the second time), Afghanistan, Mali, and of course Mr Cameron has now threatened us with 'generational conflict', which sounds like something from Orwell. Bombs have exploded on buses and on tubes.

So yes, it's true that Luxembourg, Andorra and the Vatican have refrained from raining death from above upon the UK, and that may be attributable to the 'nuclear deterrent' if you want to believe that. But the boffins in Tory and Labour think-tanks appear not to have noticed that the UK's enemies are not cackling dictators intent on wiping out their enemies. North Korea has a magnificent line in rhetorical invective, but its citizens eat grass and it survives on China's sufferance. China doesn't need to nuke anybody: it owns the US economy through its investment in American debt. Iran wants nukes because it feels threatened by Israel's nukes. India and Pakistan have nukes because they hate each other and fear China.

The UK faces no enemies who might be usefully dealt with through the judicious application of nuclear weapons. Its enemies tend to be suicide bombers from British streets. Nuclear annihiliation won't deter someone who welcomes death, and even the Tories' hatred of the North won't stretch to dropping 10 megatons on Bradford. The same applies to enemies from abroad. Are we going to nuke Somalia? Or the bits of Mali and Nigeria which harbour opponents? Can we guarantee that only the bad guys are atomised?

Would the UK drop nuclear weapons on non-nuclear enemies? The Americans did it to Japan and the world has been a sadder, more suspicious place ever since. Britain would be a pariah state for ever if it did so. What's the threshold for such an action? It's the act of a psychopath. Governments spend a lot of time condemning acts and groups as 'terrorism'. What is more purely, completely, terrorist than basing your political authority on the ability to kill absolutely everybody both now and in future generations in pursuit of a temporary disagreement?

The UK military knows this. It increasingly doesn't want £25bn spent on useless weaponry in a period of budget cuts, £25bn which would build a lot of ships and buy a lot of boots. There is no possible war using nuclear weapons that doesn't end in the wholesale destruction of entire countries and peoples. If it's true that the UK is in more danger now than ever (mostly, I submit, because it keeps invading places), it needs conventional weaponry: not Doomsday devices.

So that's the military case dismissed. On to the legal case. It is, and has been since international law was codified, illegal to target civilians. Yes, most countries have done so: Dresden, Coventry, most of Vietnam – but the rather thin defence is that they were 'collateral damage': not the intended target but unfortunate bystanders. It's Israel's standard defence for bombing Palestinian schools and hospitals.

You can't do this with nuclear weapons. A nuke atomises every man, woman, child, sparrow, gnat and flower over a huge area. It poisons the earth and air and water for generations. Any use of nuclear weapons is therefore illegal. The political defence of course is that possession of nukes makes the use of nukes less likely, through the deterrent effect – which is both madness and as I've explained above, ridiculous.

The only genuine defence for the possession of nuclear weapons is Labour Cold War hawk Aneurin Bevan's impassioned plea to the Party not to send him 'naked into the conference chamber'. It's instructive that he framed the possession of nuclear weapons in such terms: there is a distinctly sexual, phallic aspect to nuclear power. Bevin firmly believed that Britain had no credibility in world affairs unless it too possessed the power to kill millions of people and poison vast swathes of the planet. He may, sadly, have been right: under the soothing tones of our politicians, the only thing our political classes respect is savage violence.

This is the law of the playground, of the hostage taker, of the spree killer. Respect me, or I'll blow your head off.

I'm ashamed and disappointed that my party still clings to this doctrine. Underneath the bluster, it's cowardice: fear of the big boys pointing and laughing at the little boy who doesn't have a gun. It's time to grow up. Bevin's nukes were a prosthetic to wear in place of an Empire, part of the embarrassing and unseemly British obsession with remaining 'important'. It doesn't have to be like that. The world is full of decent, honest, principled and highly respected countries who don't, in the last resort, depend for their authority on possessing the ability to turn large areas of the globe into toxic cinders. Japan. Germany. Italy. Australia. New Zealand. Denmark. Sweden. Norway. Spain. Brazil. Chile. Canada. South Africa. Ireland. It's time to accept that possession of nuclear weapons is a tacit admission of political, diplomatic and moral failure: not of significance.

Labour has a chance to puncture the self-delusion of the bullies. It can divert that £25bn towards conventional weaponry if it must, or towards diplomacy. It can demonstrate that even for Security Council chair-holders, respect can be acquired without possessing the means to the Apocalypse. It can become a leading realist, showing the others that the nuclear obsession is a military and political dead end.

Sadly, Labour doesn't want any part of this. Not due to any principle, but simply because it is scared of the Daily Mail, which will echo cynical Tory accusations of being 'soft on defence'. It's not true, of course: Labour has shown an unseemly haste to get into any wars going, however illegal. But short-term tactics will always trump principle in this rotten excuse for a polity. I'm not surprised that the Conservative Party is and always will be keen on nukes: their politics are and always have been honestly and openly based on oppression, dominance and violence, because it believes that people are essentially animals. But Labour: Labour always professed to be more humane.

My politics are based on hope and aspiration towards a better future. Time and again, even my own party demonstrates that it prefers the certainty of small-c conservatism, war, cynicism, distrust and fear.

1 comment:

Shackleford Hurtmore said...

Didn't you mean: "the Conservative Party [...] believes that people *poorer than them* are essentially animals."