In her first policy debate in the Commons as Prime Minister, Teresa May pushed through the gateway decision on the new Trident Nuclear system. The debate was launched at short notice to get it through before real public opinion could be expressed and the arguments examined. Yet, what she said should be re-examined, because it was actually empty rhetoric purporting to be argument. This article examines the empty box of “nuclear threat” and the fear mongering which she presented. She said, “I want to set out for the House why our nuclear deterrent remains as necessary and essential today as it was when we first established it. The nuclear threat has not gone away; if anything, it has increased.”
The Nuclear “Threat”?
First, what is “The Nuclear Threat?” Teresa May names this something as though it automatically exists, but all nuclear powers for the past eighty years have declared they will not be first use aggressors and there has been no threat of nuclear use, except perhaps by the United States against the USSR in the late 1940s . The major international confrontation that occurred was the Cuban crisis in 1962 between the United States and the USSR, when US missiles in Turkey provoked a tit for tat reprisal on Cuba, until both sides backed down. The most serious real threat was when a US H bomb dropped accidentially at Goldsboro, near Washington, in January 1961 and three of the four safety devices failed.
The reason for the absence of threat, as McNamara pointed out in the later 1960s, is that nuclear weapons are really unusable as weapons of war. Mutually Assured Destruction is MAD. Nuclear weapons can only murder millions of people, destroy trillions of property, make vast areas desolate of production and spread radiation and cancer round the planet. Nuclear weapons are useless and unusable. The nuclear powers, the US, China, Russia, Israel, France, India and Pakistan, have not threatened because there is no point to doing so. The United Kingdom has not faced and does not face any national nuclear threat, except, Theresa May cites, Russia and North Korea.
Further, the “nuclear threat” is never used against non-nuclear powers. So, non-nuclear powers do not face a nuclear threat, because they do not have nuclear weapons and cannot themselves be a nuclear threat. The “NT” does not keep Aussies awake at night. We could, of course, join them and be a non nuclear, non threat, non threatened nation. Again, no conventional war has escalated to nuclear, because it is an inappropriate response in a crowded interdependent world.
The “Increased” Nuclear “Threat”.
Yet, Teresa May states the nuclear threat has, if anything, “increased”. The number of nuclear warheads has decreased from over 60,000 in the mid eighties to under 16,000 today, but that does not mean much, given their destructive power. (It does highlight the past ability of the nuclear arms producers to push their production to absurd levels.) Yet, most people would feel that the end of the Cold War reduced the “nuclear threat”. More recently South Africa renounced its nuclear status and some of the “rogue” states have gone: – Gaddafi never really tried; we lied about Iraq; there is an agreement with Iran. Really, there is no increased nuclear “threat” beyond what did not really exist anyway. But, of course, there is North Korea and Russia.
The “Danger” of North Korea.
Only North Korea remains, and Theresa May cites it as one of the dangers we face. Aside the fact that it is 5,349 miles away, has a weak economy (half the size of Lancashire’s and possibly contracting under its military weight), one would expect South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, and the United Nations to have more responsibility in relation to North Korea than us. Indeed, unless we all began throwing darts at effigies of the Supreme Leader, one cannot think how North Korea would become our unilateral nuclear threat and danger. For our possession of nuclear weapons is unilateral; it is so that we can unilaterally use them despite wider world opinion and international law. It is absurd that we would take on the business of using them against North Korea. Are we an other side of the world busy-body? Does the Queen lose sleep over the threat from Korea? Would we obtain the permission of South Korea first? North Korea cannot be addressed by nuclear weapons.
The “Danger” of Russia.
Teresa May then cites her other example – Russia. She says, “First, there is the threat from existing nuclear states such as Russia.” Notice the language, “such as Russia”. There is no other “such as” state. China supplies many of our goods, waited for a hundred and fifty years for Hong Kong back, and is possibly funding our nuclear power stations. Then May adds, “We know that President Putin is upgrading his nuclear forces.” Hello, is that not what the UK has been doing for more than a decade with the Trident renewal programme? He may be responding to us. She adds, “In the past two years, there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises.” This needs some explanation. When Russia agreed to the reunification of Germany, a deep reversal of 1945 and recreating the historic threat to Russia, it was agreed that the reach of western weapons would not go beyond the East German border; this offered a stable non-threatening end to the Cold War. But since then the US and NATO have been pushing aggressively eastwards especially into Ukraine, close to Russia’s heartlands and much of what has been perceived as the Russia “threat” in Ukraine has been a NATO generated threat to Russia. NATO, without a role since 1990 and the end of the Cold War has fermented this confrontation to give itself a raison d’etre, and engages in frequent nuclear and military exercises and a torrent of confrontational language. The Russian military budget is some 14% of that of the US. We, in the West, as much as Russia, are responsible for increased tension in the area. Finally, Teresa May states, “As we have seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no doubt about President Putin’s willingness to undermine the rules-based international system in order to advance his own interests.” Actually, when 63% of the people in the Crimea view their nationality as Russian, there were repeated UN polls with majorities for Russian Union and the final vote, albeit with a boycott was 93% for union with Russia, it could hardly be seen as an undemocratic move. Teresa May neglected to add that the US and the UK had prosecuted a full blown war, based on a lie, against Iraq in denial of international law. So our treatment of Russia, and NATO’s determination to resurrect the Cold War, have been a big part of this estrangement and Trident does not help the situation but makes it worse.
The Fear Machine.
So “the nuclear threat” Teresa May talks about is not actual, but part of the fear machine of military politics. We even have “the question of future nuclear threats – (“extreme threats” later) – that we cannot even anticipate today” to ramp up our fear. Meanwhile, everyone accepts Trident submarines cannot address terrorism, the obvious present threat. The fear machine is wheeled out so that we are grateful to the politicians for defending us against what is not there. They can now fund more nuclear weapons which will increase the dangers world-wide. The Parliamentary decision contradicts the Non-Proliferation Treaty which we signed before the end of the Cold War, saying “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament.”
By repetition, not argument, we are cowed into accepting Trident. If we hear the words “nuclear threat” enough times, it must be there. The military-industrial complex and its hired hands work the mantra for this useless, destructive, obsolete, potentially planet destroying weapon to profit their business. We buy nuclear weapons to meet the fear created by possessing nuclear weapons. So the whole establishment is brought into line to support the militarization of the world, the biggest failed experiment of human history. We sleepwalk to the commandment, “Thou shalt threaten to kill”. Or, perhaps, we democratically close down this worship of weapons in the name of a peaceful God.