By Shaun van Eeden
“In Hiroshima, 30 days after the first atomic bomb destroyed the city and shook the world, people are still dying, mysteriously and horribly – people who were uninjured by the cataclysm – from an unknown something which I can only describe as atomic plague. Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as i can in the hope they will act as a warning to the world.”
As Chomsky details in his book, Who Rules the World? (Girls!) In January 2015 the famous Doomsday Clock was advanced to a level not reached in 30 years. The clock represents a countdown to global catastrophe – a measurement of how close we are as a species to global disaster – and is managed by a board of individuals including 18 Nobel Laureates. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists explained the advance towards catastrophe with reference to the two major threats to our survival; nuclear weapons and climate change. It is the former that this piece will be addressing.
It must be said that there is no mainstream debate within the UK on this issue – keeping our nuclear ‘deterrent’ is established thinking – you only have to look at the hysterical reaction of the press to Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to Trident renewal for evidence of that.
That said, two recent events have brought this issue back onto the news agenda; the recent misfiring of a Trident test missile and the election of a demagogue to the most powerful position on earth (with access to thousands of nuclear weapons).
If, like me, you saw Theresa May’s interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday you would have also witnessed the calamitous malfunctioning of our robotic PM. Now, I have it on good authority that – despite never being elected – the MayBot 4000 has managed to pass the Turing test on at least one occasion. Which made it all the more shocking to see Marr’s studio fill with plumes of smoke as MayBot’s circuits spontaneously combusted, setting alight the skin-like substance that covers its adamantium skull protecting its intel Pentium II processor. And all this in response to a very simple line of questioning: Did you know about the misfired missile whilst you made the case for Trident renewal? Did you know about the misfire and fail to inform Parliament? This proved too much even for MB 4000’s newly installed Tory political deflection algorithm, which went into an incoherent overdrive… “The. The. The. The. issue in Parliament is that JEREMY CORBYN doesn’t want to defend our country whereas weapons I believe are important to our strength and de-de-fence – DOES NOT COMPUTTTTE!! ” I think is what was said in the interview. I may be paraphrasing.
But anyway back to the point of the article, 187/196 countries in the world don’t have nuclear weapons, they don’t need them and neither do we. Not only that, nuclear weapons pose one of the greatest threats to the future of species.
Nuclear Weapons have brought us close to destruction before
Vasili Arkhipov. If you don’t know who this is then you should be asking yourself why. You see if you were born before 27 October 1962, Vasili Arkhipov saved your life. Long story short, his nuclear armed submarine was under attack and the Captain of the ship, assuming WW3 had broken out, ordered the nuclear torpedo be prepared for firing. It would have targeted a US aircraft carrier, leading to an escalation in line with since-published US doomsday planning. Whilst Russia would have wiped out half of the UK population, the U.S would have fired 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets. The launch of the weapon needed the consent of all three senior officers on board, Arkhipov alone refused to consent. If it were not for that one man’s decision on that submarine, our existence as a species would be over. Humanity would have self-destructed.
That couldn’t happen today look how advanced we are, I hear you cry. Well, President Carter leaving the nuclear launch codes in his suit when it was sent for dry cleaning aside, let’s not forget he was also urged to launch a full scale response in 1979 when a training tape depicting a Russian attack appeared as a real attack on the US defence network. Let’s not forget that Boris Yeltsin also had to decide whether to launch a nuclear strike in 1995 when a ‘scientific rocket’ resembled a nuclear one. Do we really want the fate of humanity resting on ‘luck’ in this manner?
Beyond the frequent mishaps that could lead to nuclear war, there is also the very real threat of nuclear terrorism and in my opinion, the strongest case against nuclear weapons, history. Every great civilization throughout history has fallen, but now human beings have created the means for their own destruction. What happens when the great powers diminish, as has always happened?
Those who argue in Orwellian fashion that these weapons are for ‘deterrence’, and that the concept of mutually assured destruction has brought peace, are incredibly short-sighted. Look forward 1,000 years. Do we really believe; given the history of war and conflict that these weapons will not be used? If not deliberately, by accident as technology takes over human interaction within our defence systems? Possessing thousands of weapons capable of murdering hundreds of thousands of people per bomb does not make us safer. Why is the media pedalling this idea? Why isn’t there rigorous questioning of the perverse logic which states that a nuclear arsenal makes us safer?
They aren’t even practical anymore – the threat is from non-state actors
The wealth of conflict we have seen in recent decades has been perpetrated between States and Non – State Actors (NSA’s) – not between States. International law was developed to regulate State to State behaviour and promote cooperation. Given the growth in NSA’s (e.g IS, Al Qaeda etc) what use is a nuclear weapon? If these groups are the ones posing the threat, from a U.K. perspective, what is the use in reinvesting our military budget on a submarine nuclear system which is no longer fit for purpose?
The legality of nuclear weapons
Whilst the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found in its Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion that the possession of such weapons was not de jure illegal under International Law (by treaty or under customary international law) they reiterated key principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) that would render their use de facto illegal. The key principle being distinction – the separation of legitimate targets and civilians – it is illegal to target a civilian or to use weapons that kill indiscriminately. The principle of distinction in IHL is a rule of customary international law and so would apply to nuclear weapons.
The same goes for proportionality, another customary principle. Under what circumstances would firing a nuclear weapon 100 times more powerful than that dropped on Hiroshima be proportionate to the military advantage gained? Would killing hundreds of thousands of civilians whilst taking out military posts be proportionate? It seems obvious to me that it would not.
Given the above, whilst the ICJ in its decision couldn’t conclude definitively on the issue of legality, it is my opinion that using our Trident nuclear arsenal would be illegal under IHL.
We should be moving towards disarmament
As a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the U.K should honour its obligations and pursue nuclear disarmament. The NPT is not a fanciful or utopian piece of writing, more countries have adhered to the NPT than any other agreement on arms use.
The reality is that our government is spending £100 billion pounds, a huge proportion of the military budget, on impractical weapons that endanger the entire population of the globe. Possessing such weapons does not make the U.K safer – quite the contrary – possessing them only provides impetus for other countries to do the same. We now have a demagogue with his finger on the nuclear button – so I ask you as the reader do nuclear weapons make you feel safer?
As a people gifted with the opportunity to do so, it is our responsibility to push for disarmament, if not to honour our country’s international obligations, then for the sake of future generations.