Garry Glass discusses Trident Renewal in the age of Brexit and Trump.
Brexit has severed irrevocably our close political and economic union with other European member states. The consequence is that the new ‘Global Britain’ must now go cap in hand to the Americans cementing the ‘special relationship’ but leaving Britain with limited bargaining power. We will be compelled to accept a trade deal with the USA on their terms. Furthermore in order to limit the melancholy of terminal imperial decline it is deemed necessary to maintain our veto at the UN security council. This is only possible by renewing the ageing Trident nuclear weapons system.
Given that the UK is not able to deploy its nuclear capability without American launch codes, the Trident system is little more than an extension of America’s war machine and aggressive foreign policy. UK tax payers are expected to accept austerity whilst paying the exorbitant cost to renew a weapon system that empowers the military ambitions of an erratic despot in his appeasement of the often racist middle american electorate.
Donald Trump has tweeted that he will nuke ISIS, meaning we now live in a world where this man has the means to launch a nuclear attack in the Middle East as impulsively as he might publish an angry tweet. Whilst Hillary Clinton also hawkishly declared that she would be willing to deploy a nuclear weapon to destroy Tehran, the new POTUS seems much more keen to use these weapons. Such blunt rhetoric pleases the vitriolic hawks in America and undoubtedly makes the world less secure.
Trump is openly discussing advancing the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons despite having only a rudimentary knowledge of how these weapons are deployed. In a high level foreign policy briefing Trump is reported to have asked several times “If we have nuclear weapons, what is stopping us using them?” Trump seems keen to display America’s destructive capability saying “To me, I think nuclear — the power, the devastation is very important to me.” At the symbolic level all these gestures are iterations of a posturing that takes us into a much more unstable world. There are now moves in Washington to block the executive use of America’s nuclear arsenal.
Scotland’s independence is of geo-strategic importance because the Scottish electorate can no longer tolerate the hosting of these weapons of mass destruction in their country. Faslane in West Scotland is the only deep water port in British waters that is suitable for locating the V-class submarines which the mobile deployment of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent relies upon. For the SNP and large sections of the Scottish people, Brexit is considered a material breach of the union settlement established in the run up to the independence referendum. Scottish voters did not want to leave the EU and the Scottish parliament has just sent a signal to Westminster that it does not support the triggering of Article 50. All this has the consequence that Scotland’s position as a military outpost of American imperialism is in contention.
In light of the clear embroilment of UK nuclear weapons policy in the contemporary geopolitical landscape it is pertinent to explore the history of the ‘special relationship’ at the dawn of the nuclear age. What is uncovered in such a survey contests the dominant framing of current debates around Trident renewal.
Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The US is widely regarded as the only nation which has deployed a nuclear weapon in a conflict situation. Whilst it is the case that all but the Hiroshima and Nagasaki detonations were for the intended purposes of testing, it is a gross misrepresentation of history to suggest that no other nation was complicit in these attacks against Japan in August 1945.
British complicity in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks is rarely publicly acknowledged.
The British and Canadian military establishments worked with their American allies to develop the bomb under the auspices of the Quebec agreement. Crucially, as part of this, any deployment required the consent of the British and Canadian governments.
Furthermore Britain actually initiated the nuclear bomb program code named “Tube alloys” which was a precursor to the Manhattan project. Physicists from Birmingham University had calculated that the critical mass of fissile Uranium required to create a thermonuclear explosion, being in the order of a few kilos, would be practical to construct and deploy.
Destroying entire cities was a profound reversal of Britain’s original policy proclamations of avoiding civilian targets. Much was made of the barbarity of aerial bombardment tactics by the Nazi enemy. Having witnessed the horror of aerial bombardment first hand the British population were naturally less hubristic in resorting to such a form of warfare.
At the end of the war a survey of public opinion by an organisation called Mass Observation found the British public to be horrified by the Japan attacks, with half of respondents deeply questioning the morality of using such destructive power. The British had been subject to Luftwaffe bombardment with conventional explosives and so were thought more sympathetic to the horrors of aerial bombing compared to the Americans, who had not. Public antipathy was a common response to the detonations of August 1945 but also trepidation about the future of nuclear warfare.
It is a politically convenient historical sleight-of-hand that the American military takes responsibility for such an immoral action whilst the Brits may take credit for their part in the allied victory. Indeed the framing of the nuclear armament narrative in the UK suggests the need for “maintaining a capability that we hopefully never have to use.” This clearly obfuscates the fact that nuclear weapons have already been deployed against a civilian population and that this was sanctioned by the signatories of the Quebec agreement.
Approaching the matter in this way reveals that it is less an issue of applying the abstract logic of mutually assured destruction as it is based in the ideational world of game theory, and much more about acknowledging the actually existent historical facts of the horrors of nuclear holocaust.
The fact that the August 1945 attacks occurred outside of the western hemisphere also allows something of a pseudo-acknowledgement of their horror. Whilst certainly it is acknowledged these attacks did occur, that indeed it is possible to liquidate a population and turn a whole city to ash and cinder, it is also the case that as far as Western civilisation is concerned this is a threat that remains abstract – nuclear armageddon is something which has yet to occur. Certainly the arms race during the Cold War now meant that all metropoles are under threat of decimation through a retaliatory strike, there is an extent to which the horrors are removed from the Western psyche – a threat of something that might only occur in the future – this is in stark contrast to the fact that globally this is a risk which is simply ongoing.
For the Japanese this is obviously less of a speculative matter. In failing to reconcile the horrors which the Japanese people were exposed to, and which is largely an artefact of their perceived otherness to the Western-centric history, the spectre of nuclear annihilation has remained in the abstract. Such obfuscation based as it is on a thinly veiled white supremacy amounts to historical denial and provides a convenient narrative for those in the business of escalating nuclear armament.
Peace or Annihilation
During the Cold War children were taught to hide under their school desks in the event of a nuclear attack. This was more about systematic indoctrination by fear than anything like an effective safety protocol. The fact that Mickey Mouse gas masks were manufactured to normalise nuclear holocaust for the baby boomer generation is emblematic of this propaganda.
The question remains, what sort of civilisation invests the better part of its technical and financial resources into developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal which it wouldn’t actually use because to do so would mutually assure its own annihilation?
Militarism is implicit to the State as the dominant mode of social organisation. Nuclear weapons remain the most destructive force which the military industrial complex has developed. A world organised into warring nation states inevitably leads to the threat of nuclear war. It is argued that Mutually Assured Destruction has actually maintained world peace since the second world war. The litany of close calls suggests it is a miracle the militarists have yet to trigger an extinction level event.
There was some controversy around Jeremy Corbyn’s assertion that he would not be prepared to “push the button” if he were Prime Minister, indeed peace advocates were appalled by Theresa May’s insistence that she would. The so called logic here is “What is the point of having a threat if you are not prepared to use it?” This kind of posturing is an implicit part of having a threat capability. Here the PM speaks not as a human but as an appendage to an infrastructure, this is the inhumane logic of Mutually Assured Destruction. How then might one listen to any other ethical prescriptions or declarations from someone who is indeed prepared, at least in principle, to use such a weapon is surely to be questioned.
The commons debate on Trident renewal was an exercise in the enunciation of sound humanitarian ethics versus appeals to irrational fears of Russia or ISIS in some kind of historical reenactment of Cold War geopolitics. If we are really still so close to nuclear armageddon why are we cooperating with Russia at all? Russia are permitted to compete in the Eurovision song contest despite our leaders’ insistence we are 20 mins away from incinerating each other’s entire populations.
Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq was the first major conflict to be aired on 24 hour news networks and where images of the devastation were shared across the internet. Imperialism was no longer a hidden atrocity but one that took place fully in the home public’s view with the consequence that political opposition was strong. It took years for the images of the fallout of the Japan attacks to reach Western consciousness. What made nuclear weapons different from conventional munitions was not just the scale and power of the blast but the radioactive fallout which would continue to cause death long after the blast. If nuclear weapons were used nowadays the Internet would be filled with images of the destruction. The legitimacy of their use would almost certainly be questioned on a large scale. It is crucial for us to raise our indignation in anticipation for such an atrocity which the military state is fully capable of. Disarmament must be preemptive, that is to say it hardly makes sense to protest against nuclear war after it has started, it would be too little too late.
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and its affiliated networks are committed to resisting the maintenance of these weapons systems through the use of non-violent direct action (NVDA). This has involved blockading nuclear convoys, disrupting the operation of the submarine base and even criminal damage. Visit their website or better still go to Faslane and stay at the Peace camp.