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Friday, August 27, 2010

Comments to Telegraph, following support for Trident

Con Coughlin's article dangerously conflates the logic of the Cold War with the cold logic of today’s world. 

In the Cold War, there was a slight rationality for the maintenance of a nuclear deterrence, no matter how odious it was. The underlying rationality was founded on three principles; it was in both the US and USSR’s long term interest not to start a war and instead maintain a strategic stalemate, that the leaders of both countries were essentially rational and their motives could be predicted, and that there were only two players, the Warsaw Pack and NATO. Consequently a tense but, reasonably predictable peace could be maintained.

By comparison, the cold logic of today’s world is much more dangerous and Trident is wholly incompatible with this. 

Today’s world faces devastation from climate change and resource shortages, and a stalemate solution cannot be tolerated by a weaker side, as they will simply starve and die – it is therefore in the interests of a weaker side to pre-emptively attack to secure resources and to do so sooner rather than later, while they are still strong enough to wage war. This is already happening today. America and the UK had to attack Iraq to secure oil – in the calculus of Bush and Blair, they must have surely been aware that if they were to wait to some time in the future they would not have the economic strength to wage the size of war necessary as their economies face the prospect of peak oil.

As other critical resources to our survival become scarce and the problem is amplified by increasing populations, it is easy to envisage many more potential flash points. Given Russia’s collapse in grain production due to climate change, and the move round the world to “land grab” the last fertile parts of the planet to feed distant populations, it is not difficult to envisage the scenario of major wars starting between nuclear armed players over resources such as African land or North Atlantic fishing rights, with the advantage going to the player who makes the first strike. African land may sound a strange thing for major powers to go to war over, but securing African resources was the instigating source of tension between Britain and Germany in the lead up to the First World War.

Throw into the mix the rise of the “idiot political class” around the world that is afflicting all nations on every side of every divide. Examples are everywhere. Tony Abbot, Australia’s potential new prime minister thinks “climate change is crap;” currently every one of the six Republican candidates in New Hampshire is a climate change denier and tackling climate change is the least important thing for rank and file Conservative MPs in this country. So perhaps it is hardly surprising that we find the vast swathes in countries such as Pakistan hating us and supporting the Taliban, who are simply as stupid as our politicians, when their environment alternates from catastrophic drought to catastrophic flooding due to the climate change that we have inflicted upon them.

The third factor that differentiates our world from the Cold War world is we are now in a multiple player game, and where the players have a much bigger range of strategies. In the Cold war, if a nuclear attack happened on one of our cities, we could be virtually 100% certain it came from the Soviet Union, and we would be able to verify this by picking up their missile tracks on our radar, or seeing their bombers coming across our horizon. We would then fire our nuclear response knowing which cities to vaporise. 

By comparison, in today’s world we are much more likely to have a nuclear attack on a city as a result of a terrorist nuclear bomb, and recent reports of attempted sales in Eastern European states of bomb grade uranium show how precedent this is. Now if a terrorist nuclear bomb goes off in London, how do we decide which cities of our many enemies to vaporise? As our enemies know that we can not decide who to target and we are unlikely to unleash our strike on everyone just in case, they are free to pursue their dream of a terrorist nuclear strike if this is what they choose. Worse, the procession of Trident makes this more likely as it perpetuates the arms race into unstable countries where weapons grade material and weapons expertise are more likely to leak into the hands of terrorists, while simultaneously reducing our resources to tackle these sales.

So we now enter a world where it is strategically advantageous to make the first strike, where politicians on all sides are increasingly irrational, and where the concept of overwhelming force will not deter nuclear attacks. 

Into this morass we naively throw the Trident replacement, and with the logic of Con Coughlin we need it to justify our membership of the Security Council. There is a better way out of this that the members of the Security Council should consider. That is to demonstrate leadership to actively pursue a global demilitarisation programme. 

We should immediately ban the military shows, such as Air Tattoos, around the world as these legitimise the destructive arms build ups in the eyes of the tax payers that fund them; that should be followed by a ban on provocative military exercises and activities, that should be followed by a commitment of the security council to work towards a just solution to tackle climate change which even the American Military recognise is our biggest threat. 

There is precedent for this. At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union and USA were able to agree on the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks. We should learn from these brave moves and consider how the replacement of Trident makes it increasingly impossible to achieve the world wide agreements we desperately needed to tackle climate change.

By contrast, we remain wedded to the idea of glorifying the military industrial complex and using our exclusive possession of its most lethal products as justification for membership of the “Security Council” which has been consistent in extending its hegemony over the rest of the word.
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