The Return of The Nuclear Distractor

Thursday, 22nd April 2010 at 16:16 UTC 1 comment

Its a long while since I’ve dealt with the dichotomy between Nuclear and so-called “Conventional” weapons, those where society has little or no trouble condoning usage, as long as some conditions are assured. In fact, I first raised it in my second ever post. But in the last week its come to the fore-ground, with both Obama’s media-stunt conference and the Lib Dems promising reductions on Labour’s commitments.Anti-Nuclear campaigning follows a certain logic I have never felt fully at ease with. Based out of a historical struggle created through an urgent and real fear of a new and terrifying weapon in an unprecedented conflict where we had little understanding of the role of such a weapon, many in the West were rightly concerned about a sudden decision to launch nuclear missiles. We can look back on films like “Threads” with a sense of amusement at the terror they caused, but that fear was grounded in lack of previous experience on which to base any judgement.

Treaties therefore came along that work on a curious arithmetic: reducing the number of missiles, whilst in no way challenging the capacity of the most powerful super-states to ensure total annihilation of humanity. As each weapon become more powerful, more ‘reliable’, more accurate, etc. treaties reduced the stockpiles. Smaller states were dissuaded from joining ‘the club’, mostly as a way to prevent them interfering with what became the major narrative of world history for 45 years. Achievements were made, but the state known as MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was never removed, nor will it be in the aftermath of the current crisis.

Obama knows as the Lib Dems do that nuclear weapons have a curious role in the world. What neither really want to admit is how much of a distraction nuclear weapons have provided. Because of the scale of theoretical threat posed, its very easy to forget that weapons being created with the express intention of usage and death are rolling off production lines all the time. A vast industry of vested interests, banking on death as the driver of demand, continues to roll on, and alongside it, a marketing machine designed to recruit those who will lose their lives deploying those weapons.

To be honest, I didn’t even think Trident would be an issue in this election. Personally I’m far more concerned with spending on Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter set to climb under a Tory government), and on government support for the arms trade. My dream “defence” policy isn’t an end to Trident, its a ban on military recruitment advertising and recruitment in schools. Its always the most socially deprived areas that are most heavily targeted for recruitment of cannon-fodder, even in Britain. In America, the practice is far worse (see “We are not your soldiers” for more).

My ‘nightmare’ policy (one that actually exists) is to reopen the Defence Export Services Organisation. This won’t mean Britain holding more weapons in its stock piles, it will mean more countries, some with despotic regimes of the worst order, being sold weapons on the pretence that its good for Britain. That frightens me a lot more. So does the amount of power BAE Systems hold in British Politics. This is a company who’s primary economic output is driven by war and the fear of war, and who’s products don’t just sit around being used as pawns in a game of global figurative chess.

It all ties back to a very interesting phenomena: the acceptance of the term “Cold War” in certain countries. Go ask someone in Vietnam what they think of the term, and they’ll probably remind you there was nothing cold about that war for them. And it wasn’t a nuclear war, it was a war fought with helicopters and machine guns, simple explosives and landmines, and (conscripted) human lives.

I’m not trying to say that Nuclear Weapons are irrelevant, but they are not the primary, immediate, concern of people living in war zones. With hindsight, its easy to say that nuclear weapons would never have been used in the cold war (and its possibly wrong to say that), but right now I’m more concerned with the here and now. And it comes down to a simple question in my mind:

Why are military generals agreeing with the Liberal Democrats on reducing nuclear weapons?

For military generals to be happy with a nuclear weapons reduction, two things must be certain: that nuclear weapons aren’t a significant threat in today’s International Relations, and that they expect to be given more money for weapons to actually use in future combat instead. As none of the three main parties is offering to clamp down on BAE, military recruiters or the defence budget, its largely a pointless area of discussion in this election. For it to be anything else, activists should have been out creating a mood for defence spending cuts and banning recruitment in schools and advertising for over a year. The opportunity for any meaningful outcome has been missed.


Entry filed under: Activism, Afghanistan, Arms Trade, Barack Obama, Corporations, Elections, Liberal Democrats, Nuclear Weapons, Peace, Politics.

Nobody mention the Lib Dems Who cares about “the argument” anyway?

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