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(27,509 posts)
Mon Oct 5, 2015, 11:56 AM Oct 2015

It's time to leave the nuclear hall of mirrors


It's time to leave the nuclear hall of mirrors

Deterrence isn’t enough to keep us safe: the prospect of a nuclear accident alone justifies ridding the world of these weapons. Britain should lead the way

David Shariatmadari
Monday 5 October 2015 06.00 EDT

“Nuclear weapons can wipe out life on Earth, if used properly.” Despite being found in the liner notes of a Talking Heads album, this is the sentence I think best captures the bizarre contradictions of the atomic age. Human beings have manufactured bombs explicitly designed to unleash destructive forces equivalent to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of TNT. Deploy them and millions die; civilisation as we know it could disappear. And yet, they’re not actually supposed to be used. In fact, their proper function is to remain in the ground, or at sea, or in the air. Launch, fire or drop ‘em and the whole system has failed. Is there any other device so intricately constructed in order to decrease the likelihood of its own use?

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn, a man with at least a chance of being entrusted with the launch codes for 225 British warheads, stated that he would never press the nuclear button. I asked philosopher Jonathan Glover, whose book Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century, includes a study of the Cuban missile crisis, about the comments. He confirmed most analyses so far. “On the assumption that if he’s PM he has full say, that would indeed get rid of any deterrence”. In other words, were Corbyn to gain power, those weapons would become immediately impotent. His shadow defence secretary, Maria Eagle, called the remarks “unhelpful”.

Corbyn had let the air out of the nuclear balloon, given the game away. Despite what David Cameron said yesterday: “There are circumstances in which its use would be justified” – the truth is that no one is going to press the big red button – not Cameron, not George Osborne, Theresa May or whoever follows him. To do so would either be grossly disproportionate (against a non-nuclear state) invite our own destruction (against a nuclear-armed one) or be grossly immoral (a futile retaliation against civilians). But the important thing isn’t to say so.

What Corbyn’s intervention did was immediately change the strategic value of Trident. He may not have got his debate on the question of its renewal at party conference, but that didn’t matter: he’d realised a simple way of pursuing unilateral disarmament was to use a handful of magic words.


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