Saturday, August 30, 2014

Putin threatening nuclear war in Ukraine?? Letter to the Russian Ambassador


Dear Ambassador,

I would like your help if that is possible, because unfortunately I don't speak Russian and have to rely on the translations of news organisations such as the BBC and others.

Can you confirm that the reports of President Putin addressing young people in Russia today are correct?  In particular, when he told his audience in the discussion on the Ukraine crisis that Russia was a strong military and anyone opposing it should not forget that it is nuclear armed.

Further, can you confirm if this implies Russia's intent to use a first strike nuclear option against either Ukraine or the rest of the world.

As an ex-professor of law would you be able to give your professional opinion of the legality of a threat of this nature which involves the indiscriminate use of mass destruction against all the norms of the Geneva Convention.

By threatening nuclear war in this manner in violation of the NPT, does this give the green light for Ukraine to start building its own nuclear weapons using the vast amount of nuclear material its power stations?

As you are aware, a general election is due in the UK in 2015. Trident should hopefully be on the agenda for discussion. However, with a rising right wing presence from UKIP and the Conservative party that is resolutely behind the replacement of Trident, then can you accept that these kinds of first use threats play into the hands of the pro-nuclear weapons lobby at this critical juncture.

Hopefully you are also be aware that we face runaway climate change. The science is so serious that within 10 years we will be at CO2 levels beyond which the worst scenarios will be impossible to stop. Our civilisation will collapse into the worst nightmare scenarios. We have already asked our government for the carbon foot print of our Trident submarines system and they have been unable to provide figures. Perhaps Russia might have auditable figures for their nuclear triad that you could supply which fully cover the carbon associated with building, operating, defending and decommissioning along with the carbon budget for the economic activity needed to raise the taxes. 

Perhaps then we could have a joint discussion about what we need to do to survive together on this planet.

Thanks in advance for your co-operation

Kevin Lister

Monday, August 18, 2014

Gloucestershire Airport again - it gives no pleasure to be proven correct

Email sent to all councilors in Gloucester and Cheltenham after the announcement of the Airports losses:


Dear Councillors, 

I read the recent article in the Gloucester Echo "Leaked report shows Gloucestershire Airport is in need of substantial reform" with a certain sadness. 

It caused me to reflect on the actions that were taken by myself and hundreds of local residents to stop this appalling waste of public money and the arguments that we presented in vain to penetrate the fabrications that were being used by the supporters of this initiative:

 The primary objective of the development was to increase the length of the runway and install instrument landing. The estimated cost of this was £2million. The business plan that backed this up was based on expanding private jet use, as well as some scheduled service. This was its first lie, it was presented to the public as a runway safety project. It was no such thing. The result of the project was that fully laden private jets would be taking off over residential areas, which is the most dangerous aviation operations possible. We asked for a quantified safety case but rather unsurprisingly they did not have one, did not intend to do one, and probably had no idea how to do one anyway.

As well as safety, I protested against it on the basis of the increased CO2 emissions especially when it was going to be so much from so few and at a time when everyone else was about to be burdened with increased energy costs to keep CO2 down.  It quickly became apparent that the budget was massively under estimated nor could the airport make enough money to cover the cost of the loan.  

The money was to come from the public works board. This was quite possibly illegal. The public works funds are specifically for public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and roads. The council argued that the because the airport was owned by them they could use this without violating either the regulations around these or EU regulations on state support. They were on extremely tenuous grounds. 

The result was that the airport got the loan at a very preferential rate and the risk of default would be borne by the tax payer. If they were to go to a commercial bank, interest rates at the time were initially too high, and then in light of the banking crisis of 2008 when interest rates fell, the business case was so weak that no bank would ever have lent on its basis. From the accounts I had calculated that the payback period on a best case scenario would be 25 years, with the most likely taking 45 years. 

We also held a protest camp at the end of the airport one weekend. Over one hundred local residents came through the course of the weekend to register their concerns and learn about climate change, aviation expansion amongst other issues at workshops. David Drew MP of Stroud came to support it. Only one councilor from Gloucester and Cheltenham came. 

We had also made the point at many council meetings about the weakness of the accounts and the already near bankruptcy of the airport. So the airport and council got in York Aviation to review the business case, who said that the business case was good and everything was in order. Strange now that York criticizes the strategic management, but it just goes to show that give a management consultant some money and they will say what ever you need. 

To counter the thrust of my climate change arguments that I was pushing, the airport's management demonstrated their total lack of strategic planning that they are now being criticised for by  producing a report saying that climate change was a fabrication that scientists were making to gain research funds. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!!

Fortunately for the airport, virtually everybody on both councils were either inept or mired in vested interests. At a Cheltenham council meeting one of the Conservative Councillors who had not even bothered to read the airports accounts displayed her ignorance of almost everything when she said that the profits from the airport would allow council taxes to go down. She was totally unable to understand that if the airport could not pay the loan then the council taxes would have to go up at the worst possible time. 

Eventually after much protesting the airport conceded that climate change was a reality and they produced a green management plan which set a "ceiling on carbon emissions" and this was to be part of the planning consent to Tewksbury. At the same time they produced their business plan, which outlined all the new services that they were expecting. Simple arithmetic showed that the flights planned in the business plan would exceed by far the carbon ceiling in the green management plan and to comply all existing operations would need to cease. So either the green plan or the business case was deliberately flawed.

I prepared a report regarding this and sent it to the Gloucestershire Echo, the editor said that he would not publish it because he did not want to rock the boat. My report concluded that either the airport would exceed by far the number of flights needed or the tax payer would have to bail the project out.  Instead a the Echo reported Mark Ryan, the Managing Director of the Airport, saying that not one penny of tax payer's money would go to the airport. The reporter that did the article resigned and I complained to the press complaints commission, who did nothing.

When it finally came to the council for approval, I asked what happens if the carbon ceiling is exceeded and if the airport could confirm it would ground planes in accordance with the ceiling.  I was told that "it was not that kind of ceiling and good management would ensure that the ceiling was not breached." What kind of idiot do they take us for? I was then shouted down by the rest of the councilors and the police who were on standby to evict me from the council chambers started doing all their police things. It had become heated by this stage!


To sooth the passage of the business case, the airport management told that the council they had taken climate change seriously and had installed solar panels to keep their carbon footprint down. These were the garden lighting systems that you can buy from hardware stores to light your paths and the airport was using these to illuminate the welcome sign! We took them, held them to ransom, making it clear they could have them back when they confirmed that planes would be grounded if the ceiling was breached. (see here). For this,  my house was raided by the police at 4:oo am and I was arrested on theft and conspiracy to steal. It was probably something to do with the chair of the Gloucester Police Authority being a rabid supporter of the airport, (see here)

So I responded, and pressed charges against the airport and council for fraud, which the police refused to uphold.


I could go on, and on, and on about this saga. But you probably get the idea. In summary, the  business case was a joke, the press did not hold the councilors to account, the airport should never be in council ownership where the council tax payer is bled to keep afloat a business that only serves the richest people in this area and while the council tax payers are being bled they have low flying jets going over them degrading their environment and placing them at increased risk of accident. 

So the upshot now is that the council must decide whenever to continue bailing out the airport knowing that this is probably going to be even less likely to yield a return on investment than the first one given that climate change is now moving faster than almost everyone's worst nightmares, or they must accept the loss of the first investment. The only other alternative to these losses is to open up a criminal prosecution against those that deliberately mislead the council with the fraudulent business case to see if anything can be recovered that way.

It gives no pleasure to be proven correct and to have it once again demonstrated that the lunatics are running the asylum. 

Kevin

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gaza and an extract from my book, The Vortex of Violence and Why we are losing the war on climate change


Watching the attack on the power station in Gaza today and the seeing the city in total darkness is a statement of such profound and unsettling violence it is hard to cope with its emotional trauma. It a manifestation of new forms of warfare sweeping the world. This makes it worse. 

The following is a brief extract from my forthcoming book talking about the ability of the military industrial complex to fire "precision" strikes into cities and the implications:-


Nuclear weapons were such a paradigm shift in warfare that they made the industrial wars such as the First and Second World Wars impossible. However, wars that are fought today using conventional munitions are able to deliver total destruction in a matter of hours, rather than the months of bombing required in the past, as demonstrated in the Iraq wars amongst others. Although these did not have the massed bomber squadrons that blackened the skies in the Second World War, the destructive capability of B52s combined with waves of precision missile attacks is in many way as destructive as the massed bomber raids on Dresden and Tokyo. This has been demonstrated on repeated occasions were the essential services that any modern city depends on such as water, electricity and telecoms have been surgically removed leaving it as disabled as any of the hollowed out shells of cities in the Second World War. In conjunction with improved targeting ability, the cities of today are larger, more complex and more interconnected than those of the Second World War era amplifying the damage done and causing the recovery to take far longer, despite the initial appearance of the damage not being so great. The intensity of the destruction is further enhanced by the trend towards increased urbanisation that all nations around the world have been swept up in since the beginning of the industrial revolution, thus targeting the cities of modern nations targets much bigger proportions of a nation's total population and increases the intensity of the trauma when compared to past events.

Our strategy in attacking cities today has also become analogous to the training that we give to our infantry men. They are taught that on the battlefield it is best not to kill the opponent but to critically wound him. His screams of pain and distress traumatise his colleagues who are also diverted from fighting to supporting him. To not kill a city, but to keep it critically injured and traumatised stops a whole country from fighting back.

What is left behind is the ideal breeding ground for wars amongst the people as the effects of climate change and resource shortages within shattered infrastructures force everyone to take sides and engage in localised wars with no end. These, rather than wars against the people have already become the dominant form of conflict, undermining the integrity of the nation state as the premier structure of governance.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Super exponential growth of atmospheric CO2

Graphs taken from forthcoming book -  The Vortex of Violence, and why we are loosing the battle against climate change.

Take atmospheric CO2 data from Manua Loa, and plot a straight line through it and you can see more clearly that the rate of increase increases with time:


As all the things driving the graph are exponential such as economic growth, fossil fuel consumption, population growth, etc then it stands to reason that an exponential function should be able to model it which will be of the general form CO2=Aekt, however:



The blue line, shows the actual data that has been smoothed and the red line is the best fit exponential data.  The red line looks straight-ish, because of the values used in the best fit exponential function, but these values represent the best approximation that an exponential function can give to the data over this range and it is clearly unable to provide a decent fit, with an increasing underestimate with recent data.  So it leads to the proposition that k in the equation above is an increasing function of time.

So we plot k against time. To calculate k for any date, we need just two data points on the curve. One of these we fix as of today and the other starts at 1959 and slides towards today's data point. From these two points we can easily calculate k for each specific date. If the data was a perfect exponential curve, then the value of k would not be affected by our choice of points, and that is largely what we see until 2009. However, after 2009 then k starts growing explosively. This lays out the nightmare of super exponential growth; exponential growth on exponential growth. 





Finally given the changing value of k, we can plot how the date at which we expect atmospheric CO2 to go through 450 ppm for any date and we see this coming forwards. So based on the data back in 1960 we would have expected to go through 450 ppm around about 2042, which was bad enough. But recalculating this using data over the last couple of years suggests that we could be going through 450 ppm in about 2022.



After 450 ppm, the worst nightmares of runaway climate change are impossible to avoid. Given these graphs, any talk about getting to 350ppm is pie in the sky.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To Paul Schulte - following his defence of Trident at the WMD awareness debate




Dear Paul,

It was fascinating listening to your talk at the WMDAwareness debate on Wednesday. There is much that I can agree on. You are right to say that China and North Korea are embarking on nuclear blackmail. You are right to question the emphasis on getting young people to solve a problem that will kill us all and which the old people have caused. You are equally right to advise that we should  relieve ourselves of the dangerously folly of thinking if we should do good, then those around who are incentivised to do harm will also do good.

However, as I reflect on the experience that you brought to the debate, especially your first hand experience of arms control negotiations and working with the MOD, I cannot help but think that the intensity of thought that you have had to pursue down these avenues has blinded you from exploring other options and even recognising the  inherent dilemmas and contradictions that exist with the current government policy of pursuing a Trident replacement.

The most serious of these is the dilemma of climate change. I pointed out to you that we are on track to exceed 450 ppm sometime between 2020 and 2030. Atmospheric CO2 has continuously increased since accurate measurements were first started in 1957 and the recent investments in renewables have had no impact on this. When we get to 450ppm it is game over. At this level the worst nightmares of runaway climate change become impossible to avoid. Even today, if no further CO2 emissions are made, the situation is critical with key tipping points such as the Arctic Ice cap collapse and the subsequent methane releases upon us. When I  pointed this out, you responded with a shrug of your shoulders as if it was someone else's problem.

It is extraordinary that you can take this position. At a minimum, the resulting sea levels rises mean that Faslane will be under water along with the US submarine bases in Georgia and Washington. More seriously, many of the cities of the US, the UK and rest of world will be similarly submerged. Climate change also means that the global economy will collapse within the operating lifetimes of the next generation of submarines that you are supporting. When this was pointed out, you again shrugged your shoulders.

To have any chance of avoiding the worse case apocalyptical nightmares of climate change we have to transform our political systems, find ways to safely de-industrialise and eliminate as best as we can those pieces of today's infrastructure such as nuclear weapons that will become an eternal liability for the survivors. This needs policies such as carbon taxation or carbon rationing that are the antithesis of the growth based policies of today. To do this, we must co-operate with our economic and military  competitors. It will be impossible to do this when we are locked in nuclear weapon standoffs. The flip side of this, like it or not, is that Trident is dependent on the taxation that can only be delivered from a growing economy dependent on fossil fuel. Our decision to pursue Trident forces our competitors to replicate our growth based policies. The result is that all sides must force growth against strict ecological limits and in so doing create a race to the bottom. 

You suggested in your talk that a transformative event such as a limited nuclear war or accidental detonation would perhaps bring nations to the negotiating table prepared for a different discourse. Historical evidence would suggest this is optimistic nonsense. The nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not drive the world in fear to negotiated positions on nuclear weapons; instead within a year the US forced the Marshal Islanders from their topical paradise at Bikini Atoll and then destroyed it with atomic bomb tests and Russia upped their efforts to get the bomb. Since then, the world has become littered with the detritus of nuclear weapons.  Mayak blew up in 1957; Chernobyl, whose safety was compromised by having to produce plutonium,  irradiated the Ukraine and Belarus; depleted uranium has left an eternal legacy in Iraq and nuclear weapons tests have left millions of victims suffering from cancer and birth defects. Not one of these events caused any reflection by the world's leaders on the rationality of holding nuclear weapons and threatening nuclear war. Likewise destructive climate change events such as Hurricane Sandy have not resolved the world's leaders to create a zero carbon economy.

Instead of the rational response to these issues, the irrational response takes hold which is to increase competitive strength in the face of adversity, irrespective of the impossibility of all sides being able to do this. It forces a situation where the sides that will weaken first, must strike prematurely before they become too weak.

This is exactly what we did in the 2nd Gulf War where we had to strike Iraq before our economy had become too weakened by rising oil prices. The same dynamic drove Germany's entrance into the First World War with their pre-emptive attack on France and execution of the Schlifen plan because its economy was being weakened in relation to Russia by the race it found itself in with Britain to build the Dreadnaughts.  If we follow your prescription of  maintaining the status quo of increasing our military competitive advantage in a time of weakening economic circumstances, then either we or our competitors will be forced into a set of circumstances conducive to a first nuclear strike.

The nuclear trap that we are in makes the legally binding agreement the UK made to an 80% cut in CO2 emissions pious nonsense. To be clear, nuclear submarines do not just materialise at the end of  slip ways. They are the apex of a country's military industrial complex that encompasses everything from the manufacture of steel to satellites. Once we decide to build Trident we must keep this infrastructure in place and create an environment that keeps it growing. The subsequent carbon footprint is so big that DECC did not even know where to start when we asked that they quantify it in accordance the low carbon transition plan agreed in the last parliament. We also asked that they extend this analysis to cover the economic activity necessary to raise the taxes. Your response to the morality of the carbon foot print of Trident when I raised it, was again to shrug your shoulders and dismiss it.

The brutal reality is that once we sign the purchase order for Trident, we will be forced to violate international agreements on climate change and become another pariah state in the eyes of the world. The history of climate change has already demonstrated this. The US would not sign the first Kyoto agreement because the carbon cut backs would have constrained its military too much. The same conclusion was evident to the other nuclear weapon states who were as proactive as the US in their own ways to mendaciously undermine this agreement.  The same dynamic pertains today.

The alternative that we are left with is to link climate change agreements with nuclear non proliferation agreements.  The argument now becomes that nations must collectively create the security environment necessary to cut back greenhouse gases or else face destruction through climate change. As the weakest member of the P-5 with all our nuclear eggs in a single Trident basket while being simultaneously exposed to the greenhouse emissions of other larger economic blocks, it is in our advantage to advocate this position. In fact, the circumstances dictate, that it is the only rational position that we can take.

If we do not do this, we will continue the pursuit of nuclear weapons against all logic and reason. This requires a level of dictatorial arrogance and cognitive dissonance that can only come about through the possession of great power. This is were we are today. The electorate of this country have never had any say in the decision to pursue nuclear weapons as all the  main political parties have supported its replacement in the past and continue to do so today. Instead of a clear choice being given to the people and subjected to a thorough public debate, the nuclear decisions is made by a small group of appointed experts such as yourself who must myopically distort the reality around them to justify the need to maintain the ability to destroy the planet through nuclear weapons even though the industrial races that we are trapped in means we will destroy it first through climate change.

Yours,
Kevin Lister



Monday, July 07, 2014

Response to BASIC (British American Security Information Council)



Dear Sirs,

The concluding report on Trident has already met with much justified criticism (here and here) so the intent of this email is not to duplicate that which has already been made, but to extend the argument against Trident along an important direction which is avoided by politicians of all political parties in all nuclear weapon states. This relates to the nexus of nuclear weapons and climate change and there is a global silence on this.

To put this in the context of the commissioners report, climate change is only mentioned twice. Their discussion is limited to the statement,  "the effects of climate change and major damage to fragile ecosystems upon which we depend could all exacerbate pressures towards conflict and insecurity." As such the uncertainties of climate change are then used as justification for a Trident replacement. However, this highly superficial consideration of it avoids recognition of the timescales and the impacts that we face as a society, both nationally and globally.

The following three indisputable facts are absent from your consideration, yet they must form the framework for any decision on nuclear weapon deployments.
  1. There is compelling evidence that atmospheric CO2 started increasing super exponentially from 2009. Given this increased rate, we will exceed 450 ppm some time between 2020 and 2030. At this level the worst nightmares of runaway climate change will be impossible to avoid. 
  2. The resulting global heating will be so severe that a total economic collapse will occur long before 2050.
  3. New evidence on the instability of the Antarctic and Greenland Ice sheets suggests that sea level rises well in excess of 20 feet will be experienced before the end of this century. This will wipe out the global economic base that has not already collapsed from severe global heating.  It is a statement of the obvious to say that along with this will go the submarines bases at Faslane and elsewhere in the world.
It is against this background of certain ecological and economic collapse by 2050, that the commissioners report attempts to justify the decision to procure Trident so we can maintain the ability to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons long after we have destroyed it through climate change.

In this context there are three fundamental questions that any democracy should be forced to collectively consider before proceeding with nuclear weapons deployment of any kind, these are:

  1. Will climate change make nuclear disarmament more difficult?
  2. As economies collapse from climate change will nuclear weapon states be able to afford to maintain their weapons systems safe from attack and accident?
  3. On the assumption that nuclear weapons are not used, will they become an eternal liability for the survivors struggling to make ends meet in the new hostile and dystopian environment that climate change will bring?
To some extent your commissioners have answered the first question with their conclusion that the insecurity inherent with climate change makes the case for Trident. However, what they have not acknowledged is that climate change will continue to get much worse as time progress and will do so with increasing rapidity.  By their logic, it means that if  we do not have the courage to seize the slender opportunity in front of us today to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons it will not return in the future.  Time will expose their strategy of  a "glide path towards disarmament" to be little more than a set of complex words designed to sound plausible.

In respect to the second question, all the main economic blocks are already struggling with maintaining energy supplies. This is driving recognition of the fundamental impossibility of maintaining exponential growth in a constrained world. The banking crisis of 2008 warned the global economy was inherently fragile.  

Another similar collapse is inevitable within the lifetime of the next generation of nuclear submarines and there is far less prospect that an economic recovery will be engineered through  increased taxation and quantitative easing. In its aftermath, the things that we take for granted will disappear such as the conventional defence forces necessary to protect the only submarine we will have on patrol and a political system free of extreme right wing tendencies. The confluence of these could lead to an unpredictable set of events that may lead to a premature launch.

To answer the third question above, we need to consider the strategy that the world's nuclear weapons states are collectively, but silently, working towards. This is that the possession of nuclear weapons prevents war, but the planet is destroyed through the collective failure to make climate change agreements.  This "best case" of avoiding nuclear war is the Easter Island scenario where the few survivors of today's civilisation are left to wonder at the scale of the nuclear weapons systems left behind, especially the ballistic submarines, and the inherent madness of the building these in the face of the overwhelming evidence of economic and ecological collapse. The ballistic submarines thus replicate the history of Easter Island, where huge statues were built as statements of hubris and vanity in the face of collapse.  Those that are struggling to survive in a future roasting environment with little food, water or energy will also have to decommission nuclear submarines; a feat that today all the nuclear weapon states are struggling with in much kinder circumstances.

In a circular argument, where climate change forces difficult questions that make it impossible to pursue nuclear weapons, then nuclear weapons also make it impossible to achieve the climate change agreements that we need to avoid the worst nightmares of the future.

The fundamental dilemma all nuclear weapons states face is that to maintain a credible nuclear force, be it a force of one or one thousand nuclear warheads on deployment, a massive military industrial complex must be maintained. As well as building the actual nuclear weapon systems, it must also provide the conventional defence screen consisting of fighter jets, patrols planes, anti-submarine warfare technology etc. In an ultimate irony, the purpose of these becomes to defend the nuclear forces to ensure a second strike can be launched rather than to defend people, because there is no defence against a determined nuclear attack. The military industrial complex that delivers this equipment must be continually feed with new streams of contracts at increasing values otherwise the industrial complex collapses. Thus a key objective in the initial gate document which justified to parliament  the early procurement of material for Trident was that, "We must retain the capability to design, build and support nuclear submarines and meet the commitment for a successor to the Vanguard Class submarines." In other words, we build Tridents to continue building Tridents.

The enormous cost of this needs to be covered by taxes, and for this some £500 billion of additional excess economic activity is needed which requires energy from fossil fuels and is the antithesis of making the urgent cut backs we need to tackle the soaring greenhouse gas overburden.  Thus once the decision is made to proceed with Trident, it becomes impossible to make the climate change agreements to save the planet. In this context Trident is more dangerous than we ever first thought and it is the ultimate Faustian bargain.

Your commissioners have also failed to acknowledge in their report that the public spending that will be needed on Trident must be made at the same times as scarce public funds must be diverted to building a low carbon economy and mitigating the effects of climate change such as flooding and storm damage. This conflict will arise as tax receipts simultaneously drop through energy price rises.

The impossibility of meeting these conflicting challenges is the reason that much of the negotiations at climate change conferences takes place around the positions of the nuclear weapons states and their need to maintain large military industrial complexes and competitive and expanding economies to fund these.

The commissioners report has also failed to recognise the democratic deficit associated with the nuclear weapons. Virtually every opinion poll in the country shows an overwhelming majority is against the decision to replace Trident, yet all the main political parties support replacement, giving the people of this country about as much say in the decision as those in North Korea.  In these circumstances, it is not acceptable that small bands of experts cast judgement on the decision to proceed or not.

On a fundamental issue such as this, where the electorate is denied a say at the ballot box, then in the interests of democracy, it should be made by a referendum subject to public debate where the three main questions above can are debated in the open.

Ultimately our best defence against nuclear attack and nuclear blackmail is to demonstrate the total irrationality of pursuing these weapon systems in the face of economic and ecological collapse and to ensure that the subsequent debate is heard throughout the world. Instead, we have done the opposite and kept quiet on this painful issue, thus giving the green light for other nations to develop their nuclear arsenals in response.
As part of this new dialogue, we should be prepared to call the bluff of potential enemies. The government of Russia are as aware as us that the use nuclear weapons on any significant scale would be suicidal through either radioactive fall out, nuclear winter or economic collapse.

The alternative is to what we are doing. It is to build at huge expense a nuclear force whilst the nation is effectively bankrupt that will never provide secure protection from nuclear attack and merely encourage our competitors to reciprocate. It drives a race to the bottom where rational decisions on climate change can never taken.

This is of such importance, that a full public debate must be held, instead of the silence that is largely surrounding this issue today. I would challenge any member of BASIC's commission who has concluded we must pursue the Trident replacement to a public debate, and I am sure many people better than me would also be willing.

Yours sincerely,
Kevin Lister BSc, MBA, MSc

(Contributing author to "The World in Chains"  ISBN number:978-1-910021-03-3, Luath Press)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Extract from book - austerity driven nuclear war

The insanity of pursuing nuclear weapons in the face of economic collapse
(Extract from coming book The Vortex of Violence and why we are losing the battle against climate change)



Against the background of economic collapse within the operational life time of the next generation of nuclear submarines, the UK is about to place itself in the worst possible position of all nuclear weapons states. Its Trident programme distills down to concentrating all the nuclear eggs in a single basket as the plan of purchasing four submarines guarantees only one submarine on patrol at any one time as determined by the timetabling of refit, repair and crew rotations. In effect it means a £100bn of investment is locked into a single submarine on patrol. As austerity cuts deepen, maintaining the level of protection it needs will be increasingly difficult and the UK's single nuclear deterrent submarine will set sail into the unknown with little idea if a silent  Russian Akula attack submarine is sitting on its tail or not. If a conflict does occur, the UK's entire operational nuclear deterrence and the decades of investment attached to it can easily be wiped out in a single torpedo strike. This is a totally flawed and dangerous strategy. No other nuclear weapons nation has its deterrence dependent on a single weapon system as the UK does. It is beyond credulity that such a system is being developed today in a world made unstable by climate change, energy shortages and technology races. It also makes the UK's pretensions of being a credible nuclear armed nation nonsense, and a nonsense that will cost £100 billion to maintain.

The result of this combination of a dangerous military strategy and economic hardship is the entirely plausible scenario that in a world moving towards the edge of ecological collapse a Trident submarine could easily be forced into a premature launch decision. We can easily envisage this - a Trident submarine commander in doubt about the effectiveness of the weakened antisubmarine warfare capabilities that he needs to guarantee his security may believe correctly or incorrectly that an enemy submarine is on his tail. If his submarine is the only one on patrol, he knows that he is the custodian of the entire UK nuclear deterrence as all other submarines can be destroyed within seconds while in port, putting him under increasing pressure to act on any order. Having only one patrolling submarine could become an increasingly likely mode of operation as funding cuts eventually make in-roads on the finances of submarine operations. The commander would also be aware that his failure to fire if the order comes through when the country is under threat or under attack would render the concept of deterrence a failure and he and his crew have been drilled to fire without question for this very reason. But the order may not come through if his communication with headquarters has broken down. This could come from any one of a long list of possible causes that may emerge in the event of an economic melt down such as a wide spread power or equipment failure or if in the early stages of conflict a high altitude nuclear burst is fired to disable electronic systems with its electromagnetic pulse as part of what is intended to be a limited exchange. In the terrifying silence that he is plunged into, he would have to decide with his executive officer if he should fire. His dilemma is to fire and kill one hundred million people and precipitate a war that will end the world or don't fire and risk having the country's entire nuclear deterrent which is the apex of over one hundred years of development by the military industrial complex destroyed in seconds by a submarine that may or may not be on his tail. He will know that if he fires one missile, he must fire them all because one missile being fired will betray the location of his submarine. Fortunately for him, but less fortunate for the rest of humanity, his submarine is designed to allow continuous rapid fire of all missiles with only twenty seconds between each one. He may or may not know that if he fires his missiles, the fire storms he will start will be adequate to plunge the north hemisphere into a nuclear winter which will destroy any life that does not get killed in the initial nuclear exchange. He does not have the option to predetermine not to fire in a situation of ambiguity because that would render the concept of deterrence a failure. He will look at the sealed letter of last resort that every submarine captain has from the prime minister to be opened in the event of his or her death being perceived by the Trident captain. Though nobody knows what is in these letters, other than the prime ministers that have written them, it is unlikely that this will offer any categorical guidance not to fire, because the concept of deterrence requires the willingness to fire once total destruction has been delivered to the country. In the midst of this silence and surrounded by doubt, the captain would not have to remain waiting indefinitely for an electronic authentication command from government to launch because Trident is designed as a second strike weapon system; this means that the captain along with his executive officer must have launch authority to be able to fire at an aggressor following their attack on the UK even if it has destroyed the entire country. The result is nuclear war driven by spending cuts. It is not just the UK that could find itself instigating a budget driven war, but every other nuclear weapons nation can end up in the same situation. They must all accept the folly of putting so much destructive power in the hands of so few people and at the end of such a fragile communication channel, which is of course the essence of all nuclear forces. Likewise, they should accept the folly of forcing other nations to do the same.

The US Navy’s Congressional Liaison Office admitted that with the cooperation of only three other officers a Trident skipper could launch an unauthorized attack - an attack equal to 6,500 Hiroshimas. Given the confined environment and the morbid atmosphere that can dangerously distort reality on a nuclear submarines at the best of times, this situation can be made very much worse when it is operating in a sub optimal environment driven by economic collapse.

The technology race that characterises the strategic environment that attack and ballistic nuclear submarines operate within will drive exponentially increasing defence budgets as it is relatively feasible for a new aspect of stealth or sensor technology to be deployed by one side that totally negates the entire investment of the other. A UK submariner has already claimed that on one occasion a Trident submarine was unable to be put to sea because the track of a Russian attack submarine was lost in the Atlantic; thus for the next generation of Tridents to be a truly effective deterrent a massive increase in anti submarine warfare capability will be needed at a time that such cost increases would become increasingly impossible. Step changes in technology are so unpredictable that establishing any long term budget with meaningful accuracy is impossible. Thus Greenpeace’s £100bn estimate for the Trident programme could be a significant understatement in the event of a technological step change by any potential aggressor.

This forces recognition of another of the unpleasant disconnects from reality associated with nuclear weapons; the purpose of the defence forces of countries with nuclear weapons are not to protect the populations against a nuclear attack from an opponent, but to provide protection for their own nuclear forces so they can attack the enemy. The impossibility of providing any worthwhile protection against a nuclear weapon attack makes this unpalatable truth unavoidable. If Russia was determined to launch a nuclear attack on the west, it can do so at any time. Its triad of nuclear forces is as effective as NATOs in achieving this terrifying objective. Even if by some miracle all its nuclear ballistic submarines were sunk within minutes of hostilities breaking out, its aircraft and mobile strategic ballistic missile launchers can still rain down enough nuclear weapons to destroy the Western economy. Scale alone, combined with the target rich environment of a complex industrial society, ensures the objective of providing total destruction can always be met; out of the thousands of warheads at their disposal it takes only a few these to reach their targets to cause sufficient mass destruction to bring any opponent to the point of surrender. Likewise, NATO and the west can bring the same degree of destruction to Russia. The trillions of dollars that the two economic blocks have poured into "defensive" technologies such as interceptor aircraft, anti-submarine technology and missile defences will be wasted if only a few warheads gets through. At best all these will do is ensure that some nuclear forces on either side are preserved for a final retaliatory attack to ensure the ultimate extinction of all life. At worst the perceived threat they cause to their opponent, who will be stuggling to maintain nuclear parity with the economic collapse that climate change will drive, makes the likelihood of a premature launch more likely.

Of all the nuclear weapons states, the UK is probably in the worst possible position. The disproportionate impact that its small nuclear force will cause to the military industrial complex as it builds the defence forces and the submarines themselves will bleed the finances of the country at a time when the economy will also collapse as its oil and gas fields of the North Sea start depleting. When this is combined with the scenario above of putting all the nuclear eggs in a single basket, the law of unintended consequences potentially comes to the fore. But other unpalatable scenarios are equally easy to envisage when the money runs out. A terrorist attack is not beyond the realms of reality. In April 2014, protesters amazed themselves by discovering how easy it was to get onboard a nuclear attack submarine at Faslane and start destroying equipment. It is one thing to have people getting on board who are committed to peacefully challenging the legality of nuclear submarines, but if they can do so using little more than a couple of wire cutters then a disciplined band of terrorists armed with Kalshnikovs would be able to do much more and at times when security is breaking down the opportunities for their attacks escalate. The other scenario is the simple one of mechanical or human failure that are nearly always the eventual result of cost cutting programmes, or as managers and politicians like to call them, efficiency programmes. But worse, is that because all three of the scenarios considered here have the same root cause, they happen together in various and unpredictable ways which make the consequence of any one of them more serious.

Against the background, it is inconceivable to imagine that the costs of safely maintaining a nuclear weapon system from either accident or attack can be met such that a credible deterrent can be maintained over the planned operational life. The collapse when it comes, will come quickly and be severe. It means that it is more likely than not that within a timescale of a few weeks the affordability of safely operating nuclear submarines is lost. All this will happen while the nation's decent into economic collapse is simultaneously accelerated by the cost of maintaining nuclear parity.

Within all societies, the debate should be raging about the illogicality of pursuing nuclear weapon systems that will outlast the society they are supposed to be protecting. Like many things associated with nuclear weapons, it is a debate that no one really wants to have. However, the evidence to support a collapse during the operational life time of these submarines is overwhelming, on the contrary the evidence to support the idea that the economy can continue over this time is virtually zero.