No Harm In A Little Perspective: Nuclear Weapons

A Vintage Threat

Black and white image of a stereotypical 1950s family in a nuclear bomb shelter

Nuclear weapons have a kitschy old school feel

Nuclear weapons have a kitschy old-school feel. The threat of nuclear Armageddon is what our parents grew up with, not us. It is not something we tend to think about from day to day. We did some research, though, and were surprised to find the likelihood of nuclear war today is higher than we might think.

The closest the world ever came to nuclear devastation was completely by accident. On September 26th 1983 Soviet Russia picked up signals that a US ballistic missile was heading their way. The poor sod in charge, Stanislav Petrov, had to make the call whether or not to retaliate with their own missiles. Refusing to be ‘that guy’ who started World War III, Petrov decided it was a false alarm and did nothing. Luckily he was right – and the world was spared millions of deaths. Neat. Close call though.

And now for something completely obvious: This would not have happened if nuclear weapons didn’t exist.

Well duh-doy. Donald Trump wouldn’t keep happening if he didn’t exist. Then again, the world’s nations haven’t signed a treaty promising to rid the planet of him, like they have with nuclear weapons.

Ever since 1970 with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or NPT, the whole world, including Britain, has been officially committed to global nuclear disarmament. If we all agree with the UN party line: getting rid of nuclear weapons makes the world a safer place.

Meanwhile, in Britain, senior members of every major political party insist that Britain should keep and update its own nuclear weapons in order to make Britain a safer place. Members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet have even said they would resign if the new Labour leader did not support the renewal of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, Trident. [What is Trident?] A Telegraph column stated recently that possessing nuclear weapons is what keeps European countries protected and free.

Hang on just a tick. How can eliminating nuclear weapons make the world safer while at the same time Britain needs nuclear weapons in order to be safe?

Deterrence Theory: Explained

The logic that solves this conundrum is called deterrence theory.

Deterrence theory is very simple: Take two enemy countries: Country X and Country Y. If Country X possesses nuclear weapons, they are capable of inflicting such enormous damage that Country Y wouldn’t dare attack them.

If both countries have nuclear weapons, their early-warning systems mean that if they are attacked, they will have time to retaliate with their own missile before they are hit. If Country Y was to launch a nuclear missile on country X, deterrence theory suggests that they can expect to have a missile launched right back at them.

False Alarm?

False Alarm?

 

The result is that no one dares do anything.

So – according to this theory – possessing nuclear weapons deters other countries from making aggressive moves. A recipe for everlasting peace?

Perhaps, except when false alarms very nearly lead to nuclear war like it did in 1983. Since we’re only human and liable to make mistakes from time to time, would it not still be safer for the world to get rid of all these weapons of mass destruction? Keep Out of Reach of Humans?

 

The problem with this: now that nuclear weapons exist, we can never un-exist them. They are out there now, like the bad smell of a cooking experiment gone wrong. And like bad smells, not everyone wants to own up to making them.

There are 15,000 nuclear bombs in the world. Here is a map to show you where those bombs are. Five of the eight countries who possess nuclear weapons have signed the non-proliferation treaty, recognising that any aggressive use of their nuclear weapons would be illegal under international law and stating that they will take concrete steps towards worldwide disarmament. These countries are Britain, China, France, Russia and the US.

There are three other countries who have openly tested and declared possessing atomic bombs who have not officially agreed to play nice with their bombs: these are India, North Korea and Pakistan.

Still from Team America of Kim Jong Il

North Korea have got Alec Baldwin. And also nuclear bombs.

 

Meanwhile, Israel is believed to have been developing nuclear weapons since the 1950s and there has been major diplomatic work in the last year to ensure Iran is not making nuclear weapons on the sly.

The key word here is uncertainty. Some reckon that nuclear states like Britain would be mad to get rid of their nuclear deterrents at a time like this. This is because no one can be 100% certain which other countries may or may not possess weapons of mass destruction, and how they intend to use them. Better safe than sorry?

But uncertainty can easily turn into scaremongering: rogue states like North Korea are not the number one threat the UK faces. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament points out that the UK government’s National Security Strategy sees international terrorism, cyber-attacks and climate change are greater threats than nuclear war. These problems cannot be solved with a nuclear deterrent. As the old saying goes, you can’t nuke a terrorist.

Bad for the world, Good for Britain?

What does this mean for the UK’s nuclear weapons programme, Trident? (Tell me again, what’s Trident?). The programme, funding and nuclear technology are outdated and due for renewal – and the House of Commons will vote next year on how, and if, this should be done.

Every major political party, except the Scottish National Party,  supports Trident renewal in principal. So Trident = good?

Not everyone thinks so. The No to Trident campaign argues that the £100 billion needed to renew the programme would be better spent on other methods of national defence, seeing as the threats Britain faces like terrorism and climate change cannot be tackled with nuclear weapons.

This £100 billion cost for renewing the Trident programme is disputed.

According to the Guardian, the Commons library estimates the cost of renewing the programme to be closer to £25 billion.

Whichever estimate convinces you, it’s a lot of monies.

A pricey safety net or necessary investment?

A pricey safety net or necessary investment?

Is Trident an expensive but necessary investment in UK security, or is it a very pricey safety net that we do not need?

The safety of the nation is not the only thing in question. Britain’s status in the world as a nuclear power is what guarantees it a place on the Security Council.

It’s not all or nothing. Britain does have the option of remaining a nuclear power, but reducing its stockpiles of nuclear weapons. The UK has in fact been gradually dismantling its own nuclear warheads from 225 to a goal of 180 by the mid 2020s. This may not seem like much, but it is similar to the agreed joint-reduction of nuclear warheads by the US and Russia that earned President Obama a Nobel Peace Prize.

Are these the concrete steps towards global nuclear disarmament the UK has signed up to under the non-proliferation treaty? Are they enough? Would renewing Trident negate these actions, or is it still a necessary part of Britain’s defence?  

Nuclear weapons explained: When nuclear weapons were invented, we opened a Pandora’s box that cannot be shut.

We now live in a world where we cannot be certain who does and does not possess weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, some would argue that it is better to be safe than sorry, and to use nuclear weapons as a deterrent: the most deadly defence mechanism ever. The counterargument is that nuclear weapons are not what we need to tackle the problems we actually face today, and that they are an unnecessary, expensive and potentially deadly safety net. It is difficult to face the ugly truth of how peace works now, and there are decisions and judgement calls we have to make that we wish would go away, but won’t.

Take Action as part of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons

 

WAR PROFITEERING: HOW TO MAKE A KILLING FROM CONFLICT

Throughout history lots of companies have made money from wars. But would a government ever make the decision to go to war for economic gain?

 

What is War Profiteering?

Scene from Iron Man starring Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark, accused of War Profiteering

Tony Stark; War Profiteer?

War Profiteers sell weapons, services or other goods to groups at war in order to make a profit. In other words: making money from war.

War Profiteers can be arms dealers, scientific research groups, and companies selling commodities like oil. Private Militaries (mercenaries) also make money from war. Why fight when you can pay someone else to do it?

States or countries can also benefit from war by winning territory and gathering resources, and also strengthening themselves politically, strategically and geo-politically.

 

Wars means Weapons

A missile is fired from a jet. Selling weapons to both sides could be considered war profiteering

Is selling weapons to both sides wrong?

Arms dealers are often accused of war profiteering, which is fair given that is basically their job. Think; Tony Stark in Iron Man. War means fighting. Arms companies produce weapons and make a profit from the selling them.

Sometimes arms companies will even sell weapons to both sides in a conflict. Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade describes how international missile systems company MBDA “sold weaponry to the Gaddafi regime in 2007, its missiles were extensively used by the UK and French military in the 2011 war as well as being supplied to rebel forces. In this case they had sold weapons to both sides.”

Double sales equal profits. Great for business but morally questionable?

 

Techno-babble

SIRI, the iphone helper is an example of war profiteering. It was developed using military funding

“SIRI, tell me what war profiteering is?”

Companies profiting from conflict can sometimes create something useful.

Fun-fact of the day: SIRI, the iPhone “helper” was originally developed by SRI international. They took money from a military research group in the US department of defence in order to create SIRI. In fact according to military expert David Brown most of the tech in your iPhone comes from a military research background.

You can also thank military research for creating computers, GPS systems and the internet. Indirectly, the developers of this technology profited from war. Is this wrong, or is it OK because they made cool stuff that was eventually used by everyone?

Commodity, Oddity.

Oil fires up from a well in "There Will Be Blood". Oil companies have been accused of war profiteering

Oil; the number one commodity

Say commodity – think goods, or items that you need… or want.

Wars disrupt production of goods, and generally mean commodities are harder to come by. This usually means the price goes up.

Oil is one of the most important commodities in the world. So it’s no wonder that oil is linked to the most infamous military action in recent history;

Case Study: the Iraq War

Oil fields. Iraq's oil used to be nationally owned, the companies brought in have been accused of war profiteering

For Sale: Iraq’s oil fields

In an article for CNN, journalist Antonia Juhasz describes how the Iraq War in 2003 was “a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.”

Before the war, Iraq’s oil was controlled by the Iraqi government. Today, foreign companies control most of the oil. Juhasz describes how the invasion of Iraq got rid of the two things stopping Western oil companies from setting up shop there. First Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain was removed. Then the USA pushed the new US-friendly Iraqi government to pass laws allowing foreign companies to get in on the oil.

So despite then-Prime Minister Tony Blair describing Iraq as “the central security threat of the 21st century,” some argue that it was all just about money. Several US military high-flyers have even admitted openly that the Iraq War was basically over oil.

Ex-Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney used to be CEO of contracting company Halliburton, which earned billions from the reconstruction work needed in Iraq after the war. Before the war, Cheney chaired a committee that published a report suggesting that the Middle East should “open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.”

Translation: stop hoarding all the goods! Quite ironic, when you think that later his old company would pocket $278 million in a deal to dig oil wells in Iraq.

These examples don’t necessarily mean that political decisions on military matters are influenced by potential income, but it does raise the question of who calls the shots.

 

How much influence do private companies have over Politicians?

The Independent reports how the UK government made £12.3 billion granting export licences for weapons. The licences allow the export of weapons to countries listed as having human rights abuses. So the UK government considered these countries to have a dodgy record, but still allowed weapons companies to sell their goods there.

Perhaps this is due to pressure from the arms companies themselves. Andrew Smith explains that “politically, the arms industry/pro military lobby has always enjoyed a loud voice in the corridors of power. This is not least because of the revolving door between parliament and the arms trade.”

Ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was suspended from the Labour Party after offering influence in Parliament in return for cash. Owen Jones describes that when Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company AgustaWestland were given an order worth £1 billion for 16 helicopters. He writes that “they were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business.”

 

So would the UK ever go to war to make money?

War Profiteering - soldiers marching to war

Before we go to war we should really know why we’re fighting

Dr. Jonathan Gumz, a senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham thinks that “getting a government to go to war purely for economic profit is not something that takes place in reality.”

He expands; “certainly, all wars start for a reason with a political gain in mind. But…with rare exception, few statesmen actually want wars but they miscalculate and then feel forced into a point where war becomes a more reasonable option.”

So, it’s unlikely the UK would ever go to war just in the interests of money. But even if countries are neutral (not involved in conflict) that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from other conflicts around the world. A paper published by Dartmouth University argues that “the costs that wars impose on neutral countries are usually greatly exaggerated; in fact many neutrals profit slightly from the economic changes caused by war.”

“Neutrals fare well during wars because the economy—especially in this era of increased globalization—is inherently flexible and resilient.”

The paper argues that though wars are likely to disrupt trading patterns between neutral countries and countries at war, new agreements are quickly established. This is because during conflict, the country at war “cannot efficiently produce everything they need…and countries at war can least afford to ignore more efficient international sources of supply.”

 

Is War Profiteering wrong?

Is War profiteering immoral or not?

Is war profiteering immoral?

We’ve seen how military research has led to technological advancements such as SIRI. So far there is no proof that a decision to go to war was made solely to make money for the country, not that anyone would admit that. So does it matter if a few companies make money from oil or selling weapons?

War means people will be killed, and seriously injured. The argument against war profiteering is that nobody should benefit from the suffering of others.

Andrew Dey from War Resisters International believes that “if you build something and sell it to someone, you have a moral responsibility for what happens with that weapon.” So if you sell a gun, you are partly responsible for what is done with it.

The largest buyer of UK arms is Saudi Arabia, which has been described as one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. UK arms have also been linked to attacks against innocent people in Egypt, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Kuwait and other countries in recent years.

Andrew Smith says “government ministers and arms companies can’t simply abdicate themselves of responsibility for this.”

Even if you profit indirectly, like the scientists whose research into SIRI was funded by the US defence department, you are still taking money and benefiting because somewhere in the world people are dying.

It’s easy to suggest that perhaps arms companies should take a close look at who they do business with. We asked UK arms manufacturers BAE Systems whether they have a specific policy about who they deal with. They replied stating that they operate to “high standards of ethical business conduct as a responsible and trusted partner” and “trade only with legitimate governments and comply fully with UK and international export regulations.” Don’t know what other answer we would have expected though to be honest.

War Profiteering Explained; companies making weapons are likely to make a killing.

Is war profiteering ethically wrong? Or is it fair game? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

Explain It To Me Like I’m 7: Trident

Oversight of the morning: believing the news were banging on about chewing gum.

TRIDENT = UK NUCLEAR WEAPON SYSTEM, NOT GUM.

What is TRIDENT?

The Trident system sees nuclear-armed missiles kept at-sea around the clock on one of four submarines, patrolling the deep oceans ready to strike if an attack were launched on Britain. The missiles can hit a city 7,000 miles away and travel at speeds of up to 13,000 miles an hour.

Where is it?navy uk .001Faslane Naval Base on Gare Loch, Argyll and Bute, Scotland. The base is one of three operating bases in the UK for the Navy. Others include Devonport, Falmouth and Portsmouth, this is also where you’ll find the majority of UK Navy ships.

Members of Parliament will vote next year on whether all this should be renewed.

Why does anything need to be renewed? 

For the same reasons you have to replace your car or pants every few years, or at least every twenty years. Trident was last renewed in 1994.

The Vanguard class of ballistic-missile submarines would benefit from a new class, maintaining continuous at-sea deterrence beyond the Vanguard lifespan” – in other words, it can be made better, to last longer and there might be a way to cut some costs.

What’s got everyone twittering about it now?

 

Even though the Labour party, led by Jeremy Corbyn, had voted not to talk about Trident at their conference this week, BBC Radio 4 politics programme The Today Show kind of spoiled that decision – asking Corbyn to tell them, in his new open and honest style of politics, whether or not he would personally push the button on nuclear warfare if he were Prime Minister. He said he wouldn’t, and Twitter blew up like a large bomb of some sort.

Is Corbyn cray-cray? Explore 5 Things Corbyn Wants and whether Nuclear Bombs are Good for Britain but Bad for the World.
Subscribe to our newsletter and let us do the explaining. Also Like and Follow for regular decoded news.