DAVROS vs. Dr. EVIL

1 December 2006

[I]t is a constant failing of the disarmament lobby to try to ascribe values of reasonableness, tolerance, goodwill and peaceful intent to states under the control of despots, fanatics and dictators.

Thus Julian Lewis lambasts the disarmament lobby.  Only threat of deadly overwhelming retaliation could stop a despot launching a massive attack upon us.

How strong is Lewis’ point?  Hitler, trapped in his Berlin bunker as the Red Army approached, thought the failure of his ambitions indicted the whole of Germany and that the punishment should be destruction.  If he had had nuclear weapons at this point he would have launched them, and welcomed the retaliation: this is incontestable.

So the deterrent doesn’t work against really mad Dictators.  And against the more reasonable Dictator, most interested in screwing over his own population to keep the country’s debt payments flowing (the sort entertained by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s), there’s no need for a deterrence.  What can we say about the middle ground?

The sort of dictator who would be deterred by Trident will be:

– interested in conquest

– seriously thinking about using nuclear weapons

– oblivious to public health risks of his people should they be downwind of the proposed target

– not amenable to rational persuasion that launching the nukes in the first place would not really be cricket

– concerned for his self-preservation (or that of his compatriots).

A 1980s biography of Qaddafi that I read implied that he might be such a person. According to the author of the biog, Qaddafi sent officials around the world to acquire a nuclear weapon without a clear idea of just how serious a weapon it would be, and was rebuffed.  It was claimed, if I remember the book right, that he was thinking of nuking Israel (though it may have been Egypt). 

So perhaps here we have our candidate.  It is a very serious matter to impute such ignorance and such evil intent to another human without hard evidence (Hitler, at least, put his auto-genocidal thoughts on record).  The question is: if Qaddafi had got a bomb, would it only have been the thought of nuclear retaliation that would have stopped him using it.  His diplomatic record throughout the 80s is diabolical, but can (maybe) be read as a rational pursuit of extremely sectoral interests in Libya – and if it is rational, then perhaps rational considerations about retailation would have stopped him using it.

The fact that he didn’t get the Bomb, though, is either testimony to the NPT, which we would be effectively be giving up if we replace Trident; or testimony to the fact that the groups he approached to get the bomb were so convinced of his irrationality that they thought that the thought of nuclear retaliation would not deter him.  If the former, then that tells in favour of losing Trident but and strengthening the NPT; if the latter, then we’ve not yet found a real candidate of someone evil enough to think of using the bomb, but rational enough to be scared off by the consequences.

Which other mad dictators should we consider instead?


Where the parties stand on the Trident debate

25 September 2006

So here’s a quick capsule review of the official policy positions of the main political parties. In no particular order:

Conservatives

David Cameron’s newly be-logoed Tory party are “committed to replacing” the UK’s nuclear deterrent. More information here on their national security policy pages.

Labour

Officially Labour are “committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent” (2005 manifesto). However there is to be a government white paper on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent to be published later this year. It’s pretty much guaranteed that there’ll be a debate and vote in the House of Commons on the issue. But then, given the accusations that Labour won’t even countenance a debate on the issue at its annual conference, I’m not holding my breath for an open debate and a free vote in the Commons.

Liberal Democrats

According to their 2005 manifesto, the Lib Dems “… will press for a new round of multilateral arms reduction talks, retaining the UK’s current minimum nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future, until sufficient progress has been made towards the global elimination of such weapons.” Following the Labour government’s announcement that the future of the UK’s nuclear defence system will be decided this year, the Lib Dems are undertaking a consultation on the issue. If only those pesky kids in government would just slow down so they could catch the heck up.

The Greens

Unsurprisingly the Scottish Green Party’s 2005 manifesto commitment is to “decommission all the UK’s nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.” Fairly unambiguous that, then.

SNP

The Scottish National Party also has an anti-nuclear-defence policy: “The SNP reaffirms that no nuclear weapons will be based on independent Scottish soil. On Independence we will negotiate the safe removal of Trident from Scotland”.

SSP

And for the record, the Scottish Socialist Party opposes “the madness of nuclear weapons”.

Have I missed anyone?


Julian Lewis’ nuclear arguments

3 September 2006

Julian Lewis MP‘s article in International Affairs 82 (4) July 2006, p.667-673 (but also available here) contains an extremely clear and forceful presentation of the arguments against disarmament. Part of its power lies in the historical detail and speculation which makes the reader feel the fear that militates in favour of a deterrent; but here’s a summary of some of his main claims:

1. No tool has intrinsic moral properties, therefore there is nothing intrinsically immoral about nuclear weapons. Morals come into the picture only when we consider the uses to which a tool is put, and though it is wrong implicitly to threaten others with destruction, this wrong is justified by the much greater wrong which it averts (namely, an attack by massive weapons of destruction on the UK).

2. There is a need for a general and flexible deterrent like Trident, because wars break out unpredictably and we can’t know where or when the new threat will arise. We can understand where a war came from in hindsight, but can’t predict it.

3. The disarmament lobby underestimates how dangerous the world is: “it is a constant failing of the disarmament lobby to try to ascribe values of reasonableness, tolerance, goodwill and peaceful intent to states under the control of despots, fanatics and dictators.”

4. There is no causal link between our possession of nuclear weapons and another country’s desire to acquire them: so the purpose of wider disarmament will not be furthered if the UK gives up its nuclear weapons. In fact, it will encourage other countries to attack us.

These arguments seem compelling, but (as argued by KCA77 in the previous post) their logical conclusion seems to be that every state should possess a deterrent – but this is an outrageous conclusion since then acccidental detonation or accidental war would be a near-certainty. Lewis might argue that to avoid this state of affairs, the peace-loving nuclear weapons states should club together to prevent other states getting nuclear weapons! – Exactly what was meant to be happening, before the NPT fell apart.

What do you think? Please comment!

Ben @ kenyersel


Trident must not be deleted

27 August 2006

The one powerful argument in favour of keeping Trident runs something like this:

Trident deters attacks on the UK which are aimed at destroying the UK entirely; it is worth defending ourself against this possibility: therefore we should keep Trident.

Trident is not meant to deter conventional weapons attacks, because conventional attackers are aware that the UK cannot – for moral, practical and legal reasons – make a nuclear attack in response. (And because the attacker may present no clear target.)

It seems to me that the decision on whether to replace Trident turns on very difficult factual questions about whether such an attack is ever likely to happen, and on weighing the risk against the costs of insuring against it.

But if this is right, then what is the point of a public debate? The call to replace it can only be made by professors of international relations, etc.

Incidentally, this observation makes John Redwood MP’s response to a constituent seem quite even- handed. Redwood says he will study the evidence before coming to a decision; whereas the Conservative Party’s defence policy working group has (like the Labour Party) managed to intuit that the evidence will tell in favour of replacement. Perhaps they are both anticipating an attack by an army of Cybermen.

Incidentally, MEDACT has a useful summary article on the Trident replacement debate.