Submission to Defence Review

To: Emily Thornberry     Shadow Secretary of State for Defence

In responding to the Labour Defence Review I write as a member of the Labour Party and I am a Co-Chair of Christian CND.  Naturally it is Question 5 of the “Military and Security Forces” section that I wish to address.  I am encouraged that you have effectively put this as a two-part question.  I will deal with these in turn and add some more general comments.

Will renewal of Britain’s nuclear capability aid us in protecting Britain’s security…?”

The short answer is No.

If you can, imagine yourself in an illustrated history book as may be read by our great-grandchildren. The page for our time will show a divided world, divided not East from West, but rich from poor.  The rich will be standing with an arsenal of fantastically sophisticated weapons, enough to destroy everything.  They will be facing a vast army of destitute, helpless humanity approaching in inflatable rafts, threatened every moment by the waves that wash over them.  This picture could not be more macabre, but it is real.  Add to it a few people whose eyes are really open, open to the whole world.  These people weep for humanity and for our own foolishness.  Some of them, in a position to change things, are making a real difference.  Will you be one of those?

Responsibility for Britain’s security must not be thought of in anything but a global context.  Could you at least equalise what we spend on real human security with what we spend on offensive protection?  Will you allow our military expenditure to continue to be subsidised by sale of weapons to those most unstable parts of the world where most refugees come from?

As inheritors of a nuclear mindset, along with the concomitant hardware, we must listen to the increasingly clear message from the rest of the world. Towards the end of last year the First Committee of the UNGA generated a whole series of resolutions which led to overwhelming support for measures to resolve in practical ways the factors which have blocked implementation of Article VI of the NPT for 45 years.

The immediate outcome is the OEWG talks in Geneva, making truly historic progress – nothing less than humanity taking the first steps towards a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons, as has already been done for other classes of WMD.  Britain should be there, in these multilateral negotiations.  Ultimately they will lead to development of a treaty which will include a practical process of multilateral disarmament, not merely a vague commitment as we have now.

And if you need a ‘Britain first’ policy prop, think ahead to potentially profitable roles in such a treaty.  It will require an international agency (e.g. as in Article 8 of the draft Nuclear Weapons Convention, 2007).  Britain has the technical, diplomatic and political know-how to host such an agency.

“Will renewal of Britain’s nuclear capability aid us in … pursuing the values that guide our foreign and defence policy?”

Again, the answer is No – most profoundly No.

We would like to assume that the values that guide our foreign and defence policy are the same as those which guide our lives, both personally and nationally.  We know that this is not always true but we do accept that in general the British people at least like to think so and this is a motivation towards a more humane and generous policy; one that is not obsessed with British security at the expense of the world.

Unfortunately, in the case of nuclear weapons the very opposite is true.  The values are very different:

The utility of nuclear weapons depends on their potential for vast indiscriminate destruction.  This is clearly contrary to the Christian and other traditions of Just War.

Hostage taking is unreservedly condemned in our conventional value system but we use nuclear weapons to make hostages of whole populations.

Nuclear weapons are weapons of terror and blackmail.  The military means that we contrive to maintain this covert and supposedly invulnerable threat allow us to think of them as weapons of war, but in principle this is not different from the covert way in which terrorists deliver their weapons.

Nuclear weapons endanger the whole world.  We have no right to risk the lives of all humanity for the sake of our own security.  In doing so we are taking an exceptionalist position which is now opposed and repudiated by the vast majority of nations, including some which have attained or come close to attaining, and then rejected, a nuclear capability

No-one doubts that nuclear weapons are deployed for reasons of prestige and strategic power politics. There can be no moral justification for this; indeed it is a manifestation of moral weakness, bullying and intimidation.  A denial of our values.

The circumstances where nuclear deterrence might be effective are clearly limited.  However Britain’s nuclear weapons are routinely referred to as the “deterrent”.  It sounds like a good a thing, but in view of all the above this is a misleading euphemism.

The concept of deterrence has been placed at the heart of all attempts at a moral justification of nuclear weapons.  But what appears to some as a legitimate means of protection is to others a preparation for mass murder and unimaginable suffering.  Clear thinking is utterly vital on this issue.  We commend to you the Nuclear Morality Flowchart, an algorithm for the individual conscience and a means for parliamentarians to make their decision-path transparent to their electors.

More general points

Values are important.  In accepting nuclear weapons for our defence we live with an inconsistency in our lives, a denial of some of our moral values.  To cope with this we suppress or segregate the conflicting values but this is not good for the wellbeing and integrity of our nation.

Never doubt that nuclear weapons can be abolished.  The making of nuclear weapons requires a vast amount of engineering.  We employ thousands of professional people just to maintain the technology; it cannot be done in secret and we can decide not to do it.  A treaty to ban nuclear weapons is therefore a very practical possibility.

Economically, technically and militarily Trident is a vulnerable project and may be increasingly embarrassing for whoever is responsible. They will be looking for a way out. Stepping across to some moral high ground from which to scrap it might well be an irresistible temptation. The Tories could do this with no electoral cost and they love being radical. In fact everyone would love them for it. On the other hand Labour could have the vision and the courage to take a lead.

I wish you every success in this major project.

Martin Birdseye  C.Eng MIET



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