Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Nuclear Deterrent and Nuclear Blackmail

Yesterday, on the BBC's "Daily Politics", Tory MP, Julian Lewis argued that it was necessary to have a nuclear deterrent to prevent nuclear blackmail.  He did not seem to have any answer to the point put to him that, in that case, every country should have nuclear weapons to act as such a deterrent and prevent them being blackmailed.

The fact is that the only people being subjected to nuclear blackmail are the peoples of the countries that possess nuclear weapons.  They are being blackmailed into believing that they have to keep paying out hundreds of billions of pounds to retain and upgrade such useless weapons systems, so as not to face some unspecified nuclear attack from some unspecified nuclear armed power, over some as yet unspecified conflict!

Lewis made the point that Japan did not have nuclear weapons, and was bombed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US.  If Japan had had nuclear weapons he asked, would the US have undertaken that bombing?  That, of course, brings us back to the question above, which he failed to answer, which is why then, in that case, North Korea, Iran and any other country is not right to believe that they must get nuclear weapons as soon as possible to prevent such an attack.

However, the argument is phoney.  The US did not threaten Japan that if it didn't surrender it would face nuclear destruction.  It just dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  Having done so, it then dropped another on Nagasaki for good measure.  But, Japan thought that the US had then used up all of its nuclear weapons.  We now know that the reason for Japan surrendering was not fear of further nuclear strikes, but a fear that the USSR was already sweeping down upon it.  The Japanese rulers favoured occupation by the US, rather than occupation by the USSR.

Yet, despite having been seen to be prepared to use nuclear weapons, and despite having built up a sizeable stock of such weapons, that potential for nuclear blackmail did not prevent North Korea from continuing to engage the US in a bloody war for three years.  If the possession of nuclear weapons is supposed to give the possessor an overwhelming power of blackmail, history repeatedly shows that it is a pretty ineffective threat.

It was not just the North Koreans that were prepared to refuse to submit to nuclear blackmail by the US.  The North Vietnamese similarly conducted a bloody war against the US, for 20 years between 1955-75.  Where the North Koreans fought the US to a standoff, the North Vietnamese defeated the US despite the nuclear weapons of the US!

The US did consider using nuclear weapons against the North Vietnamese, and yet despite the fact that they were clearly losing the aar, a war which Cold War ideology, of the time, depicted as one of a series of dominoes set to fall, as communists overthrew governments across the globe, they chose not to.  The reason they did nopt is quite clear.  The US came in for severe criticism for its use of nuclear weapons against Japan.  That was despite the fact that it was Japan that had attacked the US at Pearl Harbour, and which had conducted a particularly brutal war against its opponents, which it seemed doggedly intent on continuing.

The use of nuclear weapons by the US not only provoked outrage, but it was probably the biggest factor in promoting the development of the nuclear disarmament and peace movements that sprung up across the globe in the 1950's.  Even many of those who had been involved in the development of the bomb, as well as Albert Einstein, whose physics had mad it possible, came out to oppose nuclear weapons.  And that fed into the anti-War movement in the US in the 1960's itself.

When during WWII, Britain bombed Dresden in Germany even with conventional munitions, but to such a degree that it caused a firestorm, that wiped the city off the map, it too came in for severe criticism for its actions.  Governments do not operate in a vacuum, even despotic governments, which tend to be brittle, so that an appearance of strength and stability is skin deep, and ruptures quickly, as happened with the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe, and the dictatorships of Latin America.  Every government has to consider in its actions not only the response it will provoke from other countries, but the response it will provoke from its own people.

In the end, the US did not use nuclear weapons in Vietnam, preferring instead to go down to ignominious defeat, because given the already powerful and growing anti-war movement in the US, alongside the development of the civil rights movement, and urban discontent, it knew that any such nuclear attack on Vietnam, would not only provoke international opposition, calls for boycotts and so on, but would risk turning the existing discontent in the US into a potential revolutionary situation, or at least a period of severe social dislocation.

In fact, the question that should be put to Julian Lewis or any proponent of the so called deterrent or blackmailing power of nuclear weapons is, "Can you name for me one single country that has either been subjected to such nuclear blackmail, or which has conceded in the face of such blackmail?"  The answer is there are none.

When nuclear armed Britain was drawn into the Cod Wars against tiny Iceland in the 1970's, if the proponents of nuclear weapons are correct, then Britain should have won hands down.  On Day One, it should have simply said to iceland, concede, or be nuked.  It didn't, and Iceland won the Cod Wars.  In 1982, after non-nuclear Argentina occupied the Falklands, why did Britain bother to send an armada to the South Atlantic, and in the process get hundreds of its soldiers and sailors killed or badly injured, when it could much more effectively have simply said to Galtieri, get your troops off that bit of rock, by tomorrow, or one of our nukes will be landing on your office.

Yet, id didn't do that, and thousands of troops on both sides died or were badly injured.  The same thing applies with Israel.  Israel never admits it, but it has one of the biggest stocks of nuclear weapons and of chemical and biological weapons on the planet.  It could blackmail all of its Arab neighbours, yet it hasn't done so.

Why is it the case that countries do not use their nuclear weapons to prevent wars or to get their way, by simply blackmailing their opponents with the threat of nuclear attack?  Because for any regime to do so is to invite its own destruction, not as a result of a nuclear counterstrike, though in some cases that would be an inevitable consequence too, but because the regime would be overthrown by its own population.

The question is put that Corbyn has said that he will not use the nuclear deterrent.  In fact, the letters sent by the prime Minister of the day to the Trident submarine captains are secret, but its reported that many of the letters sent to them by past Prime Ministers instructed them not to fire.  Most reasonable and moral human beings could not, in cold blood, order the murder of millions of innocent civilians in some other country.

But, the first question that has to be asked in response is, "Tell me which country you beleive is about to launch a nuclear attack on Britain?"  The answer is, of course, there are none!  The second question that has to be asked is, "For what reason do you believe that some other country might now, or at some future point launch a nuclear attack on Britain?"

The reality is, of course, that some other country would only ever be in a position where it might be threatening Britain with such a nuclear attack, if Britain was already engaged in some form of conventional conflict with that country.  Given that Britain is not involved in any such conflict with any nuclear armed power at the moment, there is no immediacy in needing to commit to a use of nuclear weapons in response, in such an hypothetical and non-existent situation.

Moreover, the only conceivable basis on which Britain might be involved in such a conflict with some other power is if Britain itself were in some way involved in a conflict, not on its own shores, but on the shores of this other country.  In that case, the question should be asked, "what the hell was Britain doing poking its nose into the affairs of this other country in the first place?"  The much easier solution to such a problem is for Britain to stop acting as some 19th century imperialist power, thinking it can throw its weight around with other countries in their backyards, and instead to focus its resources on improving the lives of British people, and ensuring their real defence and security.

The only other reason for some country launching an unprovoked nuclear attack on Britain would be that we have to believe that these other powers are run by madmen, who simply launch nuclear missiles at people for absolutely no reason.  Well, of course, there are some mad men about.  The one in the White House has more nuclear weapons than any other!  The North Korean dictators seem congenitally mad, but they are not threatening to launch nuclear weapons against anyone unless they are provoked, and the reality is that in all these cases, the act of firing the missiles is not the decision of just some individual madman.  In the end, the top generals and others would be more likely to put down their mad dog, rather than face their own annihilation.

The reality is that even outside the EU, there is no conceivable scenario in which some country such as North Korea, or Iran, or Russia is going to threaten Britain without that being outside a more general conflict engulfing the whole of Europe.  No serious person believes that any of these countries is going to threaten a nuclear strike on Britain, or the rest of Europe without that provoking a response from the United States.  The US, if it carries on in the current trajectory under Trump, might, as it did in WWI, and WWII, allow a conventional conflict to be waged for some time, before intervening on the side of whoever was losing, so as to further its own long-term strategic ends, but it is not going to allow some other power to start slinging nukes around, without a response.

And, of course, many countries in Europe themselves have no nuclear weapons, and yet have not been subject to such blackmail.  The whole concept is nonsensical.

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