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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)
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