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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.

Kevin Lister

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