Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Nuclear Stupidity

According to Peter Allen on R5 Live Des Browne has just said that one reason for possessing nukes is that if we were subjected to a nuclear terrorist attack (by no means impossible), we could retaliate with a nuclear strike on the source of the attack. Apart from the obvious strategic, intelligence and moral problems of finding which country the terrorists came from, and making the inhabitants of (say) Riyadh pay for their actions, it would be an act of monumental idiocy: it would be a change in the balance of power so massive that it would simply invite further nuclear terrorist attacks, or more likely, a counter-strike from a non-western nuclear armed country. There is a reason we've never used nukes, and that is simply because retaliation is both unpredictable and certain. It could be: a) like for like; b)targeted heavier retaliation; or c) all out war. All three options are possible if one country uses a nuclear weapon in calculated anger. The other option, to do nothing, is unlikely - because of the sudden mutation of global policy and power it suggests. If the material is out there, and one weapon has been exploded, expect the terrorists to use our retaliation as an enormously powerful recruitment method for further strikes. There are also reasons why we had a hotline to the Kremlin and we don't have one to Al-Qaeda: namely that most of the time the rulers of the USA and the USSR didn't actually want to provoke massive, pointless slaughter. The leaders of Al-Qaeda (or whoever) don't play by these rules,as we've seen. Who can say that Al-Q wouldn't in fact be delighted if we destroyed the House of Sud in a nuclear attack? I'd say it was positively likely.

It is one thing for governments to talk in deliberately vague terms about the importance of a deterrent: it is another to make a threat, however hypothetical, about its use. MAD is, and always was, a grammar of survival, in which the certainty of reprisal and the near impossibility of guaranteeing victory plays an important part. To disregard these rules,for whatever reason, is ridiculous and foolhardy. It was with Reagan's talk of Star Wars in the 80s (whether or not it ended the cold war, it helped to bring it to another climax of paranoia); it would be now. Just because there doesn't seem to be an immediate superpower interest doesn't mean there isn't.

(Speaking of the grammar of MAD, the vocabulary of MAD is interesting too: "strategic weapons" involve very little actual strategy, being massive agents of destruction, while "tactical" weapons are only tactics in the sense that a blunderbuss is a targeted weapon. Europe was a "theatre" (I'm aware this has general military use too)."Fallout" and "ground zero" were used after 9/11 and the meaning of "megadeaths" is almost comically brutal (millions of deaths), "fire zone" surgically scientific, and "burst", as in "airburst" or "groundburst" reduces the concept to that of a balloon going pop. In fact this casual brutality is almost a sub-subject in itself (the US referred to their 25 MT weapons as "citybusters" - nice)).

I'd love Britain to disarm, unilaterally or multilaterally; and I'd love a world without nukes - but not because we've used them all. And it could still happen easily.

Remember:"If anyone dies while you are kept in your fallout room, move the body to another room in the house. Label the body with name and address and cover it tightly with polythene, paper, sheets or blankets..."


james higham said...

...It would be a change in the balance of power so massive that it would simply invite further nuclear terrorist attacks...

I think it would be more likely to be the end of life as we know it. Knowing that, this bs about nuclear deterrent is very cynical coming from him.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

The Israeli government knows precisely whose behind Hezbollah and Hamas.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, just like "put a few sandbags around and you'll be all right". I think many people STILL don't understand that there is no no survival after nuclear attack and I agree with what you say, that neither the US nor the former USSR were that keen on annihilating themselves. Thus the Cuban Missile Crisis, dangerous as it was, was largely a "game" - of not looking as if you had backed down. I leave you with Camus:
"Mais qu'est-ce que cent millions de morts? Quand on a fait la guerre, c'est à peine si on sait déjà ce que c'est un mort". ["But what are a hundred million dead? Once you've been to war, you hardly know what a dead man is after a while."]

CityUnslicker said...

Glad to read this post as I am infavour of nuclear disarmament for Britain too. Mainly for cynical reasons such as the US would alwasy protect us and that anyway I can't fantasise as to who would actually threaten us with Nukes.

Moreover the saved money is enough to invest in an anti-missile system (it really is too, it is star wars money over a decade). This is a much better option.