Monday 5 April 2010

No nuclear weapons here, thank you.

Nuclear weapons, created during the Second World War, used only twice in anger (both times against a nation which had not managed to develop nuclear weapons - although this could not be known at the time), and displayed ever since as totems of state virility, have no place in modern weaponry and we should be doing all we can to rid our world of them.

Leo Szilard, the physicist who first properly developed the concept of nuclear weapons (purportedly after reading an HG Wells novel) and it was his urging, supported by Einstein, that moved the US administration down the path that led to the Manhattan Project. Szilard worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons (Einstein was refused security clearance and never worked on it) and petitioned the US President not to drop the bombs on Japan but to allow them to observe a demonstration of the power of the bombs, thus persuading them that they should surrender. His views were made clear after the war:
Suppose Germany had developed two bombs before we had any bombs. And suppose Germany had dropped one bomb, say, on Rochester and the other on Buffalo, and then having run out of bombs she would have lost the war. Can anyone doubt that we would then have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and that we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them?

He wasn't the only one of the scientists involved in the development of nuclear weapons who opposed their use. Joseph Rotblat resigned from the project when he found out that the Germans had not made a nuclear weapon and Klaus Fuchs shared information with the Soviet Union to ensure that there was parity of knowledge - a move that may have led to proliferation but certainly led to the stand-off of Mutually Assured Destruction which may have focused minds and helped hold off a nuclear holocaust.

They weren't the only people whose opposition to nuclear weapons might be termed surprising. Colin Powell, for example:
The one thing that I convinced myself after all these years of exposure to the use of nuclear weapons is that they were useless. They could not be used.

Mountbatten argued that nuclear weapons had no military utility, Kissinger said they risked the destruction of civilisation, Gayler said:
There is no sensible military use of any of our nuclear forces. The only reasonable use is to deter our opponent from using his nuclear forces

They were bested by Field Marshal Lord Carver who asked of Trident:
What the bloody hell is it for?

Nuclear weapons are ludicrously expensive and singularly useless pieces of military hardware.

There can be no moral justification for such an indiscriminate and deadly weapon; not only would nuclear weapons affect non-combatants, their very nature suggests that they are designed to target civilian populations, designed to inflict damage on non-combatants rather than to give a military advantage.

In fact, one of the reasons for the choice of targets in Japan during WWII was that these places had escaped the worst of the fire bombing we had already inflicted upon that country and it would be easy to see how much damage could be done to a city by a nuclear weapon. I can see no justification for their use and, therefore, no justification for their existence.

Interestingly, an Observer story last year indicated that the UK was the only one of the established nuclear powers to have increased its arsenal between 200 and 2009 - - not only is there talk of replacement in the UK Government, there also appears to be growth in the nuclear arsenal.

While other areas of spending, even other areas of defence spending, are being squeezed until the pips are squeaking nuclear weapons appear to be untouchable - the UK's virility totem is protected while public services suffer but would-be international statesmen demand the mojo. If only they had the moral strength to work towards what is right rather than what they think makes them look tough...

I was delighted when the SNP Scottish Government set up the working group Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons even though defence, and therefore control over these things, is reserved to Westminster - defence may be reserved but morality and common human decency cannot be reserved. I look forward to seeing our Scottish Government continue to seek to drive the issue forward. I want to see nuclear weapons removed from Scotland and I want to see disarmament across the world, and each of us has to do our bit to try to make sure that that happens.


Tormod said...

Hi Calum,
I watched First Strike from the late 70's and both Threads and the Day after recently I forgot how good they were.

A nuclear exchange would mean the end of society and civilisation.

PolitePaulo said...

The public are, as usual, far in advance of the main political parties on this point. Opinion polls consistently show big majorities opposed to replacing Trident. At a cost of £97 billion that's no surprise at all.

The work of the Scotland Without Nuclear Weapons working group was an excellent initiative, but has regrettably been downplayed by the SNP leadership. After the election the Scottish Government should take steps to implement the working group's recommendations firmly and proudly.