This article was published in The Nation on Sunday, 11 March 2012
Delusions are particularly scary when they take over whole nations. Growing up in the 1950s, I often heard the phrase “living under the shadow of the bomb”. It was used to excuse all kinds of irresponsible individual behaviour, hedonism and mass hooliganism.
Much satirical fun was had with the British government’s ludicrous public information campaigns. In the satirical revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960, Dudley Moore, from the audience, asks a panel, “Following the nuclear holocaust, could you tell me when normal public services would be restored?” Another question casts doubt upon the value of the four-minute warning. Peter Cook responds: “Let me tell you that in this great country of ours, some people can run a mile in four minutes”. Cook advises, in the event of a nuclear attack, to crawl under the kitchen table and place a brown-paper bag over the head.
Alan Bennett fields another question thus: “Now I can see one or two of you are thinking, now look here, what if one of our American friends makes a boo-boo, presses the wrong button, and sends up one of their missiles by mistake? It could not happen. You see, before they press that button they’ve got to get on the telephone to number 10 Downing Street, and say, ‘Now look, Mr. Macmillan, Sir, can I press this button?’ And Mr. Macmillan will say ‘yes’ — or ‘no’ — as the mood takes him.”
Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent
In Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook announced: “That is not to say that we do not have our own Nuclear Striking Force — we do, we have the Blue Steel; a very effective missile, as it has a range of 150 miles, which means that we can just about get Paris — and, by God, we will.”
Today, 52 years later, British governments are still wasting taxpayers’ money on that kind of delusion. During the Cold War, we had MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Because Britain and the USA had the bomb, the USSR would not dare to use theirs. Who will be deterred today, now that the Soviet Union is no more?
A secret review into the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent is underway. Trident is British in the sense that it cost the taxpayer in 1994 £14.9 billion and costs another £2 billion a year to run. The submarines carrying the missiles were only designed to last 25 years and so will have to be replaced by 2020 at a probable cost of £25 billion. One critic of Trident has called it the UK’s “stick-on hairy chest”. What folly in these belt-tightening times!
The 58 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles are operated by the Royal Navy (from four Vanguard-class submarines) but the Americans make them, maintain them and provide the satellite intelligence to target them. According to a US diplomatic telegram released by WikiLeaks last year, President Obama handed over the unique serial numbers of the UK’s missiles to the Russians as part of an arms-reduction deal.
One wonders what kind of ally the US would be for Britain in a nuclear war. In April 1982, they even refused their poodle permission to use the US operated airfield on Ascension Island (a British Crown Colony) to refuel RAF aircraft. In 2012, the US does not recognise Britain’s claim to the Falkland Islands, which Hillary insolently refer to as ‘Las Malvinas’.
A vast collection of think-tanks, charitable foundations, academic courses and government departments are supposedly dedicated to the noble aim of non-proliferation. In reality, this means objecting to the likes of Iran and North Korea having nuclear weapons, but not the USA, the UK, France and Israel.
One of the reasons Obama got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 was “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. The committee highlighted his efforts to promote nuclear disarmament. When the New Start Treaty between Russia and the US was ratified in 2010, William Perry, a defence secretary under President Clinton and one of the chief advocates of non-proliferation, remarked that even though the treaty was “small, it was vital, because … we are serious about bringing our own nuclear stockpiles down.” Perry must have known that the Obama administration had recently announced that it was committing $85 billion to the modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal over the next ten years.
Perry was silent and, there was no protest from the non-proliferation mafia. Their main business is not actually working towards abolition, but managing junkets associated with the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Every five years, delegates from member states meet to discuss ‘progress’. The reality is that there is merely much fractious debate over minor rewordings to produce ‘final documents’, which everyone ignores.
The task of discouraging states like South Africa, Brazil and Argentina from going nuclear, felt worthy, but was irrelevant. In Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to al-Qaida, John Mueller argues that the non-proliferation regime was responsible for the disaster that is Iraq. The non-proliferation mafia kept quiet about the invasion of Iraq but continue to put together costly but unthreatening programmes to keep themselves in work – programmes like the Global Zero project, which consists of “300 political, military, business, faith and civic leaders, and 400,000 citizens worldwide working for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons”. The mafia has institutionalised a bogus solution, which allows leaders to avoid reality and has cultivated the false belief that nuclear peace can be accomplished without the need for political action, and without any sacrifice.
Sri Lankans have to make sacrifices because the US wants to prevent us buying Iranian oil until Iran stops its nuclear programme.