Its been 30 or so years since Mutual Assured Destruction was the philosophy behind the nuclear weapons build up. In the 1980s we were all reassured that more nukes on both sides of the Cold War was a good thing, as then we could feel safe from them and them from us, cos neither of us wanted to be incinerated or radiated by the other. I haven’t heard so much about that MAD doctrine any more, but only because its entered into “common sense”. These days, no one really wants to talk about nuclear weapons in the UK except as an unnecessary cost burden and safety risk, reassured by an undeclared assumption that no-one would ever use them and that they are just for show. But is that really the case….
Trident was first put back on the political agenda during the Scottish Independence Referendum. Trident is a long running sore between the Scottish people and the UK, who offloads its weapons and its waste onto our shores. Surgeon made it a central point of the independence campaign that her vision of an independent Scotland would not include nuclear weapons, and through televised debates Salmond brought the issue into the living rooms of Middle England, who had kindof forgotten all about that CND stuff.
Corbyn has kept it on the agenda – declaring his continuing opposition to Trident, seeking party support for the position and declaring that he, personally as Prime Minister, would not detonate a nuke. By contrast, Cameron yesterday was keen to insist that he would “press the red button”, yet the actual circumstances and goals of taking such a remarkably drastic action remain the fuzzy “circumstances in which its use would be justified”, yet there is no engagement with what those circumstances might be.
Neither does it appear that the US have any serious strategy around engagement in nuclear warfare. On the other hand, Russia has declared that “ in certain circumstances, local and regional armed conflicts could grow into a large-scale war, possibly even with nuclear weapons.“, setting out a circumstance and a condition of escalation that would prompt nuclear weapons use.
Cold War tensions are already high over the situation in the Ukraine. The far right gains power and influence, backed by Western monies. While Russia is maligned for its limited role in protecting centres of resistance such as Crimea, Donesk and Odessa, it is the West who have provided direct military aid – $75m and £0.85m from the governments of the US and the UK respectively this year.
Although still ongoing, the Ukraine conflict appears to have become less intense of late. It is Syria which is the main international theatre of war these days. Russia – at the invitation of Assad, still the UN recognised representative of the area -entered the Syrian situation earlier this week. The Western press has gone apoplectic that Russia is not bombing Daesh, who they present as the righteous target of global fury, but Russia aren’t in Syria to attack ISIS, they are there at Assad’s invitation to quell resistance. While Daesh is an obvious target, its not hypocrisy or off-mission for them to attack other anti-Assad forces, such as the Free Syrian Army. The press has also highlighted the civilian casualties, but ”collateral damage” both in Syria and in the wider region has been going on for a very long time before the Ruskis ever dropped a single bomb.
While the press is outraged at the actions of Russia, the US is bombing hospitals in Afghanistan with precision technology; Turkey is attacking the PKK, ISIS’s enemies, under the guise of fighting ISIS and the UK is bombing Syria to extra-judicially kill its own citizens. Regardless of whether or not you think Russian support of Assad is a good thing or not, the Russians are a hell of a lot more upfront about what they are doing than most of the other countries meddling and they have a mandate for intervention from what is still the UN recognised authority in Syria.
It is known that the US have been arming jihadi groups, oftentimes using Qatar and Saudi to act as intermediaries, just as they did in Libya, yet the medieval and bloodthirsty ISIS is presented as the main target of US intervention even although US military equipment keeps mysteriously falling into Daesh’s hands. Should they continue to support anti-Assad rebels, either directly or through security failures, Putin may interpret it as a direct aggressive intervention in a sovereign nation and strategic ally, now that Russia has demonstrated that it is willing to use its military power to defend Assad.
Were the situation in Syria to deteriorate, to the point where coalition forces were directly challenging a Russian backed Assad, Russia may consider that a tactical nuclear strike on a coalition partner may be a strategic move. Unlike France – the only other officially recognised nuclear state in the coalition – the UK has no sovereign control over the warheads it hosts, but requires US authorisation to retaliate. Were Russia to strike a coalition partner, rather than the US directly, the hasty decision making of retaliation, may be tempered with more cool headed rationality and a desire to avoid direct strikes on US territory which would almost certainly follow any retaliation.
Living 30 miles or so from Faslane where the UK’s nuclear weapons are based, it is a clear worry that this site would be a target for any nuclear strike. Although Russia currently possesses the largest nuclear warhead at 50 mega tonnes, capable of making the majority of Scotland uninhabitable to say nothing of the secondary effects of domestic detonation of trident, all indications are that Russian use of nuclear weapons would be tactical rather than annihilationary, hence a military base, would not necessarily be a desirable target compared with a centre of power.
Russia also hosts a number of far smaller weapons, comparable to those dropped on Japan in the 40s. Although strike accuracy is debatable, andprecision targetting is beyond capability, accuracy is sufficient to hit inner London, which according to NukeMap would give an estimated death figure of 30K and 100K of casualties: a modest figure compared with the death toll in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.
And, the more I contemplate the possibility of a nuclear strike on London, the less I care. If that’s what will stop the carnage in the Middle East, maybe its time London took one for the team. The ethnic cleansing and gentrification of London has turned it into a speculative playground rather than a functioning vibrant city. Austerity is turning London into a city that is just asking to be nuked.
Maybe then when British people realise the true horrors of a nuclear strike, maybe then they will reconsider whether we really want to hold nuclear weapons; maybe when they experience the reality of war, when it becomes evident on the doorstep rather than on the television, they may not be so keen to bray for military action; when those from Surrey and Kent are desperately seeking refuge from the radiation fall out, they might be less keen to condemn refugees, maybe when it is British hospitals, creaking under the strain of underfunding that are coping with the casualties, we may realise that a functioning and adequate health service which can respond to emergencies is more important than the latest high-tech drone warriors.
….and maybe, once the realisation dawns that we are not invincible, that we too are flesh and blood, just like the Syrians, the Iraqis and Afghans, flesh and blood that can be blasted across a 500 meter radius, we might stop this madness and refuse to chase ghosts in far off lands to secure oil supplies.