Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Deterrent Against What?

The media over the weekend used the Remembrance Day commemorations to raise what they consider to be awkward questions for Jeremy Corbyn over the issue of the replacement of Trident, and use of nuclear weapons. However, all it has really highlighted in current circumstances is the question of what Trident is supposed to be a deterrent against.

Has the existence of Trident prevented the attacks of jihadists on Britain, for example? Similarly, did the possession of nuclear weapons by Russia, stop jihadists from blowing up one of its passenger airliners? Did it stop them attacking Russia in Chechnya, and so on? The answer is quite clearly no, and its impossible to see how the possession of nuclear weapons would prevent such terrorist attacks.

Of course, its possible to argue that at some point those terrorists might themselves obtain nuclear weapons. But, what would then change? Who would a nuclear state retaliate against, in the event of a terrorist group using such a weapon? Moreover, the existence of nuclear weapons, in general, makes it more likely that some such terrorist group will eventually get its hands on such a weapon, precisely because of the existence of the technology, the know-how, and the nuclear material required for constructing such weapons.

And, if this was framed in terms of some state falling into the hands of such terrorists and fanatics, its difficult to see how having nuclear weapons of your own, acts as a deterrence. If ISIS had nuclear weapons at the moment, does anyone seriously believe that Trident would act as a deterrent against them using those weapons? These are after all irrational, religious fanatics, who are deluded into a belief that if they die they will go to some mystical heaven, to be feted upon by dozens of virgins. With such nutters prepared to blow themselves up, how can nuclear weapons act as a deterrent?

What is more, a look at history since the existence of nuclear weapons, shows that they have not acted as a deterrent against wars. Since the end of WWII, there has been virtually no year when there has not been a war going on somewhere in the world. Many of those wars have involved in some way, states that have nuclear weapons. The US lost the war in Vietnam, despite its possession of a vast nuclear arsenal. That arsenal acted neither as a deterrent to the North Vietnamese, nor as an effective tactical or strategic resource within that war. The US did consider the use of nuclear weapons, but decided against it, because it realised that it would make them an even greater pariah than it already was, at that time, as well as probably provoking widespread social unrest within the US itself. The US, after all still bears the mark of Cain, for being the only state to have murdered tens of thousands of innocent civilians, as a result of its use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The same was true of the Korean War. Similarly, Britain's possession of nuclear weapons did not prevent a non-nuclear Argentina from invading the Falklands. In fact, the money spent on Trident, that could have been used for conventional armed forces, is one reason that today, Britain almost certainly could not have won the Falklands War. On a smaller scale, in the 1970's, Britain's nuclear 'deterrent' acted as no deterrent at all even against tiny Iceland, during the “Cod Wars”.

The fact is that nuclear weapons act as no deterrent for any such military actions. They are an expensive piece of state conspicuous consumption, much like were the pyramids of the Pharaohs. As far as Trident is concerned, no one is surely deluded enough to believe that it is in any sense an “Independent” deterrent, because there are no conditions in which it would be used without the prior approval, and probably even request, by the US and the rest of NATO. Similarly, there is no reason to believe that a UK inside, or out of NATO, could be attacked by nuclear weapons, without the United States and NATO responding, because if things were at that stage, a nuclear attack on Britain would represent just one part of a global conflict, in which the strategic interests across the globe of the United States were being seriously threatened.

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for saying that he would not use Trident, even if it existed. The basis of the criticism is that its deterrent effect comes from the fact that a foreign power does not know whether it would be used against them. However, as indicated above, in all of the actual current situations, where Britain not only could be, but is under attack, and has been under attack, the possession of nuclear weapons has provided no such deterrence, because the presumption, quite correctly of the combatants has been that those weapons would not be used, rather than that they would be used.

In purely military strategic terms, and this is a point that many in the army itself put forward, the money spent on a nuclear deterrent that is never likely to be used, would have been far better spent on conventional defence forces, to deal with the actual threats posed by jihadism and other terrorist organisations. For a consistent democrat, those resources would be better used, as, for example, in Switzerland in the development of a Citizen's Militia, and real defence. In fact, as Engels long ago pointed out, a consistent democracy is impossible without such a militia and universal military conscription.

“The more workers who are trained in the use of weapons the better. Universal conscription is the necessary and natural corollary of universal suffrage; it puts the voters in the position of being able to enforce their decisions gun in hand against any attempt at a coup d'état.”

( The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party)

And from a social-democratic standpoint, the money spent on nuclear weapons is a complete waste, a drain of vital resources out of surplus value that could be used for the expansion of productive-capital. The sectional trades union interests being expressed against scrapping a renewal of Trident, are understandable, in the very short term, because they imply a loss of jobs in shipbuilding and so on. But, in the longer-term, even in those narrow sectional terms, the money wasted on Trident makes no sense. The expense of Trident is financed out of taxes, which is revenue deducted from surplus value, but it goes to no accumulation of capital, and so no longer-term increase in employment or wealth.

Put simply, if £30 billion goes into the construction of additional factories, machines, and employment of workers to produce, cars, kidney machines, or other commodities, then that capital produces profit, as a result of the workers employed creating surplus value. In turn that means that additional factories, machines and workers are put to work and so on. But spending £30 billion on a Trident submarine does none of that. The submarine simply slinks around the oceans, soaking up even more potential productive-capital, as a result of its running costs.

Moreover, as the Lucas Plan showed, the alternative is not just to produce weapons of war or nothing. Here and now, workers can follow the example of the Lucas workers from nearly 40 years ago, and create their own alternative plan for the conversion of useless arms production, into useful production to meet society's needs.

Corbyn and the Labour leadership, need to ensure that the Labour Party is turned outwards and away from esoteric internal debates and manoeuvring, towards campaigns for such alternatives that can bring in groups of workers, trades unions and others across a wide spectrum to debate such alternatives, which would create the basis for winning over the respective trades unions and their members to a policy of replacing the money spent on Trident with a programme of useful social investment.

1 comment:

David Timoney said...

The question asked of Jeremy Corbyn is otiose: no British PM has ever had his or her finger exclusively on the button, so their ethical preferences are irrelevant.

The decision to deploy a Trident missile would actually require the approval of both the US President and the UK Chief of the Defence Staff (who is appointed by the monarch); and if the PM refused a US request to fire British missiles, he or she could expect to be bypassed through an appeal to the head of state.

The UK's nuclear arms policy has little to do with military utility, and is only marginal to dipomatic utility. Fundamentally it a matter of elite self-image.