Thursday, 22 April 2010

Why we need to drop the bomb

I haven't updated this blog for a week or so (thank you very much dissertation!!) so I guess straight after the second leaders debate is a good place to pick up. One of the issues of the night - which came up in the first debate and has been running ever since - is one which I feel particularly strongly on. You guessed it: Trident.

First off its great to see this become an issue again. If nothing else the Lib Dems (and Nick Clegg in particular) have been able to bring this, if only briefly, to the forefront of UK politics- where it should be. True, the SNP and Plaid Cymru have both been very vocal about the issue and the CND is still highly active (despite what Liam Fox might think) but for such a massive political matter the possession of 48 warheads each 8 times the size of those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has received comparatively little attention.

Why should we be debating it at all? Because the truth is- regardless of whether we did or didn't during the cold war - we no longer need nuclear weapons. In fact the cost of maintaining them (over £76 billion) means that they're actively doing more harm than good.

The arguments are as old as the hills, but at a time when the UK's WMD programme (for want of a better phrase) is creeping back into the spotlight, they're worth having another look at.....

1. They don't tackle the threats we currently face- Islamic terrorism from the Pakistan/Afghan border, Somalia, Yemen and our own back yard (think home-grown suicide bombers) is the number one threat and this cannot be countered by nuclear missiles.

Troops on the ground, greater aid to impoverished areas and work with local security forces might help tackle terrorist 'breeding-grounds' abroad. Greater cross-community work and better security apparatus might help tackle those at home. Enormous bombs that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians will deal with neither.

2. Some countries that face threats from nuclear weapons do not posses them - when defending the replacement of Trident in last week's debate David Cameron made a -much overlooked - comment along the lines of "we don't know what's going to happen with China in the next few years". That's true - but it's a poor argument in favour of developing UK nukes. Taiwan and Japan both have territorial disputes with China. Disputes that are far more likely to lead to war than any far off conflict between China and the UK. Yet none of them seek to defend themselves from China's nuclear weapons by creating their own. The same situation can be applied to Bahrain re. Iran and South Korea re. North Korea.

If these states - that face very real threats from nuclear powers - do not see the need to invest billions in nuclear weapons then why should we?

3. The USA is our ally - of course South Korea, Taiwan and Japan all enjoy protection from the USA - but then again so does the UK. Apart from the Falklands War there has not been a significant military conflict in the last 20 years that the UK has been involved in but the USA has not. In all likelihood, if the UK goes to war again it will do so alongside the state possessing the world's largest nuclear arsenal. Why does it need its own?

4. Deterrent doesn't work - it is argued that we need nuclear weapons to deter other states from using theirs on us. But - true as this argument may have been during the Cold War- does it really hold water today? Two of the most often cited 'nuclear threats' are Iran and North Korea; notably they are ruled by two of the most irrational and extreme regimes on the planet.

Deterrent only works if your opponent thinks rationally and values his own life. Holding a gun to the head of a robber can make him stop – it’s a workable deterrent. Holding a gun to the head of a suicide bomber won't do anything - because he's prepared to die.

Kim Jong-Il is happy to starve the North Korean people, let the economy fall into ruin and effectively destroy the entire state. If - and its a big if - on top of this he's insane enough to ever want to launch a nuclear attack on the UK, would mutually assured destruction really be deterrent?

5. The moral cost - this is the one that no one really wants to talk about. But nuclear weapons are the ultimate in barbarity. They are totally indiscriminate -they will kill every single living thing in a massive vicinity. They will cause cancer in people further afield. They will poison land and water for generations to come. Just remember that the fallout from the Chernobyl blast (a power-station accident not a weapon but the principle is the same) affected sheep as far away as Wales.

Is such indiscriminate brutality ever morally acceptable no matter what the perceived costs of not launching a nuclear weapon? Does the potential of 'enemy' states to use them justify developing this potential ourselves? In the build up to the 2003 Iraq war it was suggested that Saddam's scientists were developing germ-based weapons; should we have done the same in case he decided to use these against us?

It’s a big ethical debate but its one that needs to be had.

6. Nuclear weapons are already harming us- the argument in favour of nuclear weapons might be easier if they were cost free. But they're not. They are costing tens of billions of pounds which could be far better spent.

For example, this money could be used to fund a robust development initiative in Somalia which would win the support of Somali people and prevent the state from becoming a 'training ground' for terrorists who wish to harm the UK. Or it could be used to train the Pakistani police and military so that they can clamp down on the terrorist training camps that we know exist. These would be productive initiatives that deal with the threats we are facing now .....not potential deterrents against some possible future aggressor.

Or the money could be spent at home- on hospitals, pensions, schools and police. Everyone is talking about making cut-backs and these are going to have to come from somewhere.

By wasting such vast amounts of capital on such a fruitless pursuit is causing active harm to the country right now - by depriving these other initiatives and areas of much needed funds.

Overall some will agree passionately with this assessment and others will fervently argue against it. Either way it’s good to see that the debate it happening. I don't agree with everything that Nick Clegg stands for but he's done the country a service by putting Trident in the spotlight once again.

1 comment:

  1. hmm. drop the bombs, definitely. but that the money used could be spent on police and prisons doesnt sound like much of a deal to me. youre just trading one wasteful thing for another. england is already over-policed and money spent in prisons, many of which have been privatised already, is mostly wasteful. A prison is an academy for thieves. Nobody comes out a better person, only a better crook. And one with a grudge against society, so all the more dangerous. You'll find that the more people go through prison, the more dangerous a state becomes. One reason why the united states, which embarked down that path a long time ago, needs to keep jailing people even after having over 10% of its population behind bars - it accumulates more 'criminals' than it can find time to build prisons to accommodate them.