Nuclear Weapons – The Deadly Chocolate Teapot

Inside the campaign against nuclear weapons the chance to say “I told you so” amidst the ultimate rubble is anticipated with no relish at all. Nor is there much satisfaction these days in saying, in regard to the Ukraine crisis, “We did tell you that the nuclear nightmare had not gone away, that the risk that nukes will be used was as high as ever, that the effects of these weapons are horrific beyond imagining, and that they have no utility for responding to climate collapse, terrorism, global pandemics, and conflict itself.” The Ukraine example has indeed shown that possession of weapons of mass destruction can make war more likely, if the possessing regime is willing to gamble and bluff at an irrational level in order to hinder anyone from interfering with their aggression, including nuclear-armed states and alliances. The 980 or so Western ready-to-launch warheads failed to deter. On the other tack possession of ready-to-launch atomic weapon does not prevent hostile engagement. We have known this since the Korean War when the armies of the then non-nuclear China took part against a nuclear-armed state. There are many confirming examples since, including 9/11 and the successful and corrupting Russian rouble invasion of the UK. Tom Colina has put it well:

. . we must change our attitude toward nuclear weapons, understanding that the old ways of thinking are not only outdated but also dangerous. The U.S. nuclear arsenal does nothing for us in this conflict. It did not keep Mr. Putin out of Ukraine. Because Mr. Putin is willing to use the threat of nuclear war to deter intervention in Ukraine, the existence of nuclear weapons, if anything, helped enable him. Mr. Putin is the only one suggesting a willingness to use nukes as a cover to brutalize weaker states. We must continue to stigmatize and limit nuclear weapons to reduce the chances that Russia will do this again.” (New York Times, 18th March)

This is maybe clearer if we recognise that any nuclear-armed state is de facto a hostage taker on the grand scale, at its lowest compromising the civilian population of the enemy state, and at its highest, practically all of humanity. Unlike the ancient practice of elite hostages provided as an indication of good faith the nuclear age version is on a brutal scale. Possession of nukes can therefore never be a passive, defensive stance, since it means putting the target mark on the foreheads of your hostages. That thought should even give pause to those Labour Party bomb zealots. Your love for nuclear weapons means workers worldwide are your hostages. Holding whole populations hostage entails a permanent state of war, making conflict and hostility the norm. As a result nuclear weapons are not merely as much use as a chocolate teapot – the appalling risks they present and the climate of absolute hostility that they maintain give them unquestionable negative utility.

In the middle of all this UK politicians, elite commentators and your bog-standard media outlets all talk about our “deterrent”, a term that should always be used with quote marks or the addition of “so-called”.

Parroting the official language bolsters the propaganda line and its bland assumptions. Deterrence theory assumes rational players on both sides of the face-off. Even without a Trump or a Putin the assumption of unbroken rationality in leaders and the military suggests an extraordinary blind and pious faith, especially when the pressure is on and decisions have to be made in minutes. And the idea that deterrence theory has prevented wars is nonsense, especially in the light of the great number of proxy wars nuclear-armed states have been involved in on opposite sides of the conflict through moral and material support.

Tom Colina says we must limit nuclear weapons and to a degree he is right – but we have to go further, all the way to comprehensive prohibition and elimination. No doubt arms control measures in the 80s (now largely eroded) saved us from catastrophe but we will keep coming back to the crisis point until one day our luck runs out. In this situation it is vital (for us and for the global movement) that the Scottish resistance to nuclear terror does not stall, especially since the grim outlook itself offers us a unique window for public and political education and for building the movement. We are in the happy position of having a clear parliamentary majority against nuclear weapons and supporting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, now established as international law and regularly attracting the support of 130 plus countries at the General Assembly. There will be pressure these days on our anti-nuclear parliamentarians to slip away from their commitment. We must keep demanding re-statement and active support.

And then there is other vital segment of the big picture. Comment on the impact on climate rescue of Ukraine crisis is almost exclusively focussed on energy substitution, missing the point that sane global co-operation is vital and that our necessary pre-occupation on the conflict has put that on the back burner. For the climate crisis and the nuclear crisis both, the message is clear: we co-operate or we perish.

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