Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trident and the AK-47

Today Parliament votes on whether to renew our Trident submarines. There will be a Labour rebellion, but, with the aid of the Tories, the vote will be won by Blair. I have no idea what I think about this. Here and here are cogent statements of the two sides of the argument. Both broadly agree that we don't currently need a Cold War type deterrent. But, say the pros, we have to plan for the long-term and our possible rogue state enemies in the medium term - Iran, North Korea - will be unimpressed by our decision to relinquish the nukes. Absurd, says the antis, such arguments could be used to justify anything and we would acquire the moral high ground by abolition. Both sides can be off-putting. Some pros have a nasty, testosteroney, nuke-the-buggers manner. Some antis can be as cretinous as this press release from CND. But both sides, as my examples show, can be impressively lucid - though, in these two cases, Simon Jenkins beats Oliver Kamm who has yet to master the art of sounding as though he's thinking rather than simply making a case. But, as I say, I don't know and it is, in the eyes of Heaven, a fantastically depressing subject. Not as depressing, however as the fact that this year the AK-47, the handiest killing machine ever made, is sixty years old.

25 comments:

  1. In afct, my real problem may be with Oliver Kamm's picture. He looks like a plastic surgeon.

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  2. Do you mean a practitioner of facelifts or a surgeon made of plastic? Or both?

    As seems to be the pattern, I share your wavering for a while and then come down somewhat on the right hand side of the argument.

    In the long-term it is unthinkable for Britain not to be among the states with a nuclear deterrent, and statements like the CND one give me the willies.

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  3. Those who argue against the need for a nuclear deterrent underestimate the threat from the bug-planet, Klendathu.

    "Nuke 'em Johnnie!"

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  4. And Sir Simon Jenkins looks unutterably smug. Presumably most people don't mind the US nuclear shield over us. Just in case. Trident gives Britain a certain independent clout, in the event that the burghers of Chicago decide they don't need an all-out war on our behalf. While nuclear weapons may be ineffective against terrorist groups themselves they may 'incentivise' the states which passively or actively allow them to operate. Any state allowing anyone to plot another 9/11 would be very unwise, vide the clear warning from Chirac last year. There is also the risk of a nuclear armed state, like Pakistan, falling to radical Islamists. And then there is Russia, still armed to the teeth, and (murderously) erratic, and China, which has massively upped its defence expenditure this year. Do we know that in ten or twenty years China will still be content with domestic growth? Look at where it is quietly expanding its influence. Given all the things Gordon Brown casually blows our money on, let's renew Trident, just in case. Better a few missile submarines than the whole of British local government, many of the universities, and so on.

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  5. I don't where this idea of Pakistan falling to radical Islamists comes from. Islamic parties barely get above 10% of the popular vote and have only been able to form governments in the backwater provinces by virtue of the US being in Afghanistan. If it was up to the Army, Pakistan would be recognising Israel. Radicals in Pakistan tend to go after soft targets since they know they have no serious hope of taking over the state machinery.

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  6. Iran is certainly a big threat to Britain- at least as dangerous as the Orkneys. However, the threat posed to Iran by Britain and its allies is of course non-existent.

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  7. 911 was a false-flag operation, dark heart. Though I agree allowing such lunatics plan another one would be very unwise.

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  8. Simon Jenkins's case against Trident can be broken down into the following propositions, a mix of arguments against an independent UK deterrent, and arguments against any type of nuclear deterrent:

    1) Its value as a deterrent depends upon the existence of a coherent enemy with a leadership capable of being deterred, and there is no such present enemy.

    2) Britain's use of nuclear weapons is unthinkable.

    3) The West's nuclear shield would continue to be supplied by America.

    4) The truth is that the West's nuclear status has not deterred any aggressor. It does not matter how devastating a weapon is. If its use is inconceivable, its deterrent value is zero.

    5) The wars being fought by the West's current leaders are 'fourth generation' wars, post-conventional, post-nuclear and post-guerrilla.

    6) Trident is too expensive given our current commitments.

    These arguments are highly typical of those pitched against Trident, so it's worthwhile responding to them on a point-by-point basis:

    1) Given the long lead-times for defence procurement, it is necessary to plan now for the threats we may be facing in 20 years' time. The absence of a current enemy capable of being deterred by an independent UK nuclear deterrent is therefore irrelevant.

    2) The use of strategic nuclear weapons is not unthinkable, as Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrated. But, more importantly, it is not the usability of your own nuclear weapons, but those of your enemy which matter. You cannot be sure whether or not your enemy is willing to use strategic nuclear weapons, hence nuclear weapons can be used as weapons of blackmail. Thus the need for an evenly balanced deterrent.

    3) It's curious that those in the anti-nuclear movement, who often seem to be most distrustful of the US in normal circumstances, suddenly develop a deep faith in the altruistic willingness of the US to strategically protect the UK under all future circumstances, when the discussion turns to the issue of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent. I would proffer to suggest that, on the contrary, the US serves its own strategic interests, at all times. If our nuclear deterrent is independent from the US in name only, as some other commentators have suggested, then that is a reason to change our arrangements with the US so that we do have an independent nuclear deterrent.

    4) If Jenkins is arguing that strategic nuclear weapons do not deter 'rogue' states from engaging the West in non-nuclear conventional warfare, and does not deter terrorists from engaging the West in asymmetric warfare, then he is quite correct. But this is not what a nuclear deterrent is capable of doing. The fact remains that China and Russia are nuclear powers, and China is likely to become a nuclear super-power within decades. China, for example, may wish to annexe Taiwan. Because we cannot be sure whether or not these countries will use their strategic nuclear weapons, we need a deterrent.

    5) The current wars being fought are indeed asymmetric wars against terrorists, guerillas and insurgents. However, to assume that these are the types of wars which will continue to be fought in the coming decades, is to wrongly assume, just like military planners assumed during the Cold War, that the future will continue to resemble the present.

    6) As I understand it, the annual cost of Trident is a small proportion of overall defence expenditure. However, if we do need an independent nuclear deterrent to secure our country in the coming decades, then the cost of that deterrent is irrelevant. Conversely, if an independent deterrent makes the world a more dangerous place, and does nothing to deter anyone, then this is the reason not to renew our nuclear deterrent; its financial cost is irrelevant either way. If our soldiers are being severely stretched and inadequately supplied in the conduct of current wars, then that is a reason to enhance spending on current wars, not a reason to decommission our independent deterrent.

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  9. Jenkins can be a fantastically persuasive polemicist. I don't doubt the worthlessness of nuclear weaponry as a deterrent to rogue states today, or the shambling mess the non-proliferation treaty has become. But to give it up completely?

    That woeful non-entity Michael Meacher's argument that there is "no enemy in sight" seems clumsy contrariness.

    And the argument against the cost of the programme is flawed in light of the billions already being wasted on NHS IT, identity cards etc. Yet defence spending appears to have been fatally weak in areas where it is most needed, like kitting out troops in Afghanistan.

    What's truly depressing about this emotive and significant issue is, as Jenkins suggests, whichever way MPs vote, personal, passionately-held convictions are unlikely to be the dominant motivation in many cases.

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  10. I can't think of a single war that was won by holding the moral high ground. Being moral is not the same as being defenceless.

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  11. River of deceitMarch 14, 2007 2:31 pm

    "That woeful non-entity Michael Meacher's argument that there is "no enemy in sight" seems clumsy contrariness"

    Yea, the whole CND arguement (what do we need it for! we have no enemies! bla bla) isn't helpful. We don't have crystal balls. We could be at war with America one day.

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  12. The whole argument in the end comes down to one proposition: Are we happy for the French to have it and for us not to? Ill be buggerred if we are. Let them lord it over Europe and gloatingly look down their noses at us as a little power. No chance

    Simon Jenkins. Doesn't anyone else find him an awfully closed-minded, appeasing, nihilistic misanthrope?

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  13. So basically penis envy, recusant?

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  14. "So basically penis envy, recusant?"

    No Andrew. The opposite. Can't have the French wandering around saying they've got the biggest, without giving the audience an opportunity for comparison.

    But rational? No. But my intuition - and 1,000 years of history - tells me that if the French are the only ones to have them in Europe we will live to regret it, even if the effects show themselves in some very tangential ways.

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  15. I agree Recusant that he who had the most to be admired had not yet been decided.
    How, to raise the tedious but no less relevant issue, are potential targets to deter the aggressive foreign policies of Britain and the US at the moment, I wonder?
    There was a certain style in the Muscovites almost total desertion of their city before Napoleon's triumphant entry there. I'm strugling to think of modern variations on that- "If you attack us with nuclear weapons, we're all going to die and go and exist exist in another dimension." Perhaps.

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  16. Stuff trident. I'm more concerned to find that one of my friends has an AK47!

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  17. As the EU progressively tightens it's stranglehold on a now fragmented Britain and as the world government agenda is slowly smoothed into existence and as the whore countries like Turkey sell their souls to join and as the nutters in Iran see the writing on the wall, so the need for Trident becomes less.

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  18. Actually, I completely missed Gordon McCabe's excellent point. Yes, perhaps there is a need after all.

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  19. A sorry state of affairs. I cannot rationalise away my feelings of despair when I consider that there may be a need for nuclear weapons in the world. The word 'deterrent' provides no consolation. Our worst nightmare is real and our very existence depends upon us never waking up. I'm not sure that last sentence makes any sense whatsoever, but even if I can't make sense of it, I remain undeterred in my opposition to nuclear weapons.

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  20. I think the problem, Neil, is an unwillingness to form oppinions in relation to absolute insanity. Nuclear weapons being the beautiful union of absolute suicidal insanity with the utmost scientific practicality. "How do you stand on beautiful union of absolute suicidal insanity with scientific practicality?" "I'm all for it."

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  21. But whether nuclear weapons are insane in general is a question for the junior common room, not the Commons.

    "I wish the world wasn't like it is" is not a strategy available to our decision-makers.

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  22. But the idea of adapting oneself to a world of murderous nutters isn't very appealing, and frankly repulsive from certain perspectives. For the sake of argument lets assume the Jesus of absolute pacifism were to exist again. How would he feel about being asked his opinions on nuclear deterrents. A world which has ended up with nuclear weapons is one obviously gone down a very sick path, and also a world where truth is a very rare substance. And I don't think the people who deal in such matters of death machines are dishing out much in this truth substance. I find it defiling to have to pretend to any position of truth in such a world of lies.

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  23. Very true, Andrew. And that's why we have golf courses, cricket matches and Happy Hour at the pub.

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  24. Amis (when he writes about nuclear weapons, he always scares the crap out of me): "Most of us believe, incorrectly but with good reason, that we live under the auspices of Mutual Assured Destruction. In fact, the Soviet Union has never subscribed to MAD; and neither has the United States, except for a brief period in the Sixties (when McNamara briefly allowed the notion to hold sway as a means of heading off military procurements). The underlying strategy has always been something else: preemption, counterforce, escalation dominance, prevailing, denying victory to the Soviet Union. Or, if you prefer, winning, which in turn means going first. Why then does MAD continue to loom in the public consciousness? Because it is an accurate description of reality. Whatever the policy, whatever the plan, MAD will be the result. Mutual Assured Destruction is not an arrangement between the US and the USSR. It is an arrangement between human beings and nuclear weapons."

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  25. A world which has ended up with nuclear weapons is one obviously gone down a very sick path, and also a world where truth is a very rare substance. And I don't think the people who deal in such matters of death machines are dishing out much in this truth substance.

    History has been a pretty sick path from the beginning. I'd like to know what truths the death machine crowd is ignoring. It seems to me that they are dealing with the difficult truth that you can't wish the psychotic nutters away and you can't ignore them. If you want your society to survive, you had better be prepared to meet your enemies on the battlefield with the best weapons available, for they will bring these weapons against you if they can. Do you really feel safer in an England without nukes when Iran has them?

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