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Trident the Deterrent - A Terrifying Myth

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Trident the Deterrent - A Terrifying Myth The 20th century may well have been the bloodiest in human history. The number of people killed by mass murder, war and genocide during that period has been variously estimated at between 170 and 262 million (see APPENDIX). We are appalled by the size of these figures. How could human beings have behaved in such a way? Yet we want Trident to be replaced by a newer and upgraded version. Prime Minister Blair has decided that it should be replaced. He has invited us to have a public debate about it. Perhaps then, before embarking on a public debate, we should ask ourselves 'Do we know what Trident is?' Surely a meaningful debate is dependent upon such knowledge. Do we know for example that, before upgrading, in its present form, when fully armed a single Trident submarine has the fire-power to incinerate between 100 and 200 million people. In other words a single Trident submarine has the killing power to carry out destruction of human life of the same order as all the mass murders, atrocities and wars perpetrated in the entire hundred years of the last century. We are appalled at the mass destruction of the 20th century yet we wish to upgrade a fleet of these machines which are capable of perpetrating much much worse. This is a bizarre ambition. How can it be? Surely there must be a sane explanation for this apparently grotesque goal. Trident - What is it? Let us consider a little more closely what Trident is before moving on to the matter of considering why its existence is viewed as so desirable by our Prime Minister and some others. It can reasonably to supposed that if the reality of Trident was conscious in the mind of civic society those 'some others' would be much fewer than the statistics claim. The word 'Trident' is batted around the media as though it were just another weapons system. This is not so. Trident is a weapons system with a power for destruction of Armageddon proportions. When we talk about Trident we are referring to a weapons system that comprises a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines armed with nuclear weapons ('Trident' is, strictly speaking, the name of a ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads). The Trident submarine is armed with 16 Trident II D5 ballistic missiles. Each submarine carries 48 warheads distributed among 12 missiles. Each warhead has an explosive power of 100 kilotons. A 100 kiloton detonation would have about 7 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb which killed 140,000 innocent people. The submarine was originally designed to carry D4 Missiles which could hold the 100 kiloton warheads. Later the D4 was replaced by the D5 missile and this is able to carry the hugely more destructive 450 kiloton W88 warhead(1). This warhead is 36 times more powerful than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima and so this one bomb has the capacity to kill over 5 million people. That 5 million is the killing capacity of one bomb on one submarine which can carry many bombs and which is one submarine in a fleet of 4 submarines. . This means that (assuming 48 warheads are carried) each Trident submarine could kill between 100 and 200 million people. (America has 24 similar submarines). Trident is not a deterrent It seems to be taken for granted in all discussion about Trident that it worked as a deterrent during the cold war. It did not. This was definitively illustrated during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Robert McNamara who was the American Secretary of Defence at the time said '...we came within a hairbreadth of nuclear war...' and 'It became very clear to me as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis that the indefinite combination of human fallibility (which we can never get rid of) and nuclear weapons carries the very high probability of the destruction of nations'(2). Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who was one of President Kennedy's aides, informed us that 'this was not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history'(2). Dean Acheson, who was an adviser to President Kennedy during the Crisis said "I wrote a note to President Kennedy congratulating him on his 'leadership, firmness, and judgement over the past touchy week'. It does not detract from the sincerity of this message to add that I also thought he had been phenomenally lucky"(3). President Kennedy himself said the chances of a nuclear war resulting from the crisis was somewhere between 1 in 3 and fifty-fifty(2). These are not good odds. I certainly would not bet someone's life on them let alone the survival of the human race. These odds are much worse than those when playing Russian Roulette. In fact they are little better than we get from the toss of a coin. A simple thought experiment should make the matter even more clear. Imagine that a man with a huge nuclear arsenal says he is going to toss a coin and if it comes down tails there will be a global nuclear war but if it comes down heads there will be no war. This is a 50-50 chance. He tosses the coin and it comes down heads. Would it then be reasonable to keep tossing the coin in the belief that it will continue to come down heads? I don't think so. Yet this is what we are doing by continuing to rely on nuclear 'deterrence'. We are betting the survival of humanity (or most of it) on the assumption that every time there is a crisis the coin will come up heads. Armageddon - Trident is an Armageddon machine. There is a good reason that long-range nuclear missiles are carried by submarines. Since the warheads are in submarines they can be continually on the move and since the missiles are long-range their possible location at any particular time covers a huge expanse of the ocean as far as an enemy is concerned. In short their location is unknown so they cannot be destroyed by a pre-emptive strike from the enemy. However if only one missile was fired the submarine would quickly be located and destroyed. Consequently Trident submarines are designed so that they can discharge all their weapons at the same time1 (within ten minutes). . It would therefore only be used after an attack unless the British (or American) government itself decided to start a Global Nuclear War. If they were used, these weapons would be fired as an act of revenge. They would be used after an enemy had launched a major attack; after, in other words, all is lost. The Trident submarine is an Armageddon machine. This deterrent system is very appropriately known as the MAD system of defence. As well as signifying the system's true nature the MAD acronym stands for Mutual Assured Destruction. Those who advocate the use of the MAD defence claim that they are being rational. There is a very strong case for challenging this claim. The Power of the Irrational - Paranoia et al. The advocates of 'Deterrence' seem to see the world as being faced with a stark choice- get rid of nuclear weapons or build the capability of wiping out an enemy after having been attacked and after having been virtually wiped out oneself (although, of course, it is never expressed in these terms). They then claim, in relation to getting rid of nuclear weapons that 'it's not going to happen' (or not now) so 'deterrence' is the logical and rational expedient. In view of the appalling dangers and, in fact, the likelihood of disaster (some have said inevitability with the MAD strategy) inherent in this course of action it would appear to be much more rational to say 'We must find a way of making it happen'. Countries must reach agreement and disarm completely or they must disarm unilaterally. The rational response to the present situation is that the overriding goal is to get rid of all nuclear weapons. If the only way to start that process is to disarm unilaterally then that is the sane course of action. We know from the history of man that he has never developed an 'efficient' weapon that he did not use. The spear, the bow and arrow, the musket, the cannon, the Gatling gun, high explosive bombs and shells, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons - they have all been used. The Canberra Commission on the elimination of nuclear weapons, convened by the Australian government, reported in 1997 and stated 'The proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used,- accidentally or by decision - defies credibility'. Members of the commission included Joseph Rotblat, the Nuclear physicist, Michael Rocard, former prime minister of France, Robert McNamara and air force chiefs and military generals. Were we to reliably behave rationally in the matter of killing our fellow humans we would have read the signs and said, at some stage, enough is enough. If we don't stop this we will just go on and on until we destroy ourselves. An obvious time to stop from the rational point of view was when killing humans became industrialised; with the development of the Gatling gun, say. This was the first rapid-repeating, reliable, easily trasportable killing machine that enabled a single individual to destroy his fellow man 'en masse'. From the point of view of the rational it would have been expedient to stop their manufacture. Rationally it would have been possible to see that science and technology would just go on and on bringing every more efficient machines to the killing fields. Unbelievably we are still doing this, even though we have enough weapons stockpiled to wipe out the human race several times over. Although the MAD strategy is not rational its execution relies on man always behaving rationally in sustaining the threat without activating it, at all stages before the Armageddon act itself. All future crisis must be handled flaulessly. With the capacity to wipe out nations always available to our leaders at the press of a button we rely on the fact that they would always act in a rational manner; never interpret options wrongly; never make a fatal mistake. Yet we observe that man does not always behave rationally. Robert MacNamara spoke after the Cuban Crisis of 'human fallibility, which we can never get rid of...'. This human fallibility has a number of causes. One such is the fact that we are capable of acting irrationally and in a way which is not in our best interests; sometimes quite the opposite of our best interests. We can for instance deny the existence of certain factors in a dispute, which are quite apparent to an outside observer or a historian. In the Cuban crisis for example President Kennedy appeared to be unaware of the degree to which American nuclear armed missiles in Turkey aimed at Russia were a provocation and Krushchev was not aware that, with the existing American government's mindset there was no way that he was going to be allowed to plant nuclear missiles in Cuba. In clinical circles this is called 'denial'. Our present world is awash with examples of denial. President Bush still believes that he can 'win' in Iraq and that the threat of pre-emptive strikes is a good way to ensure peace in the world. Prime Minister Blair still believes that he has credibility in the Middle East and that the war in Iraq has not aggrivated the terrorist threat in Britain. 'Denial' is not the only symptom of psychopathology we need to worry about. With Prime Minister Blair recommending an upgrade on Trident, the question comes to mind 'How many people do we need to be capable of killing in order to feel secure?' The enemies we have in the world are mainly of our own making and none of them are likely to be deterred in any way by our Trident submarines. The sort of killing power they represent is totally out of proportion to any threat. This implies an irrational fear; normally called 'paranoia'. Our government's stance implies that with North Korea and Iran planning to develop nuclear weapons we must have an improved Trident. Do we think that these countries would mount a nuclear attack on Britain? To what end? The rational view, it might be suggested, is that such countries want nuclear weapons as security against bellicose and nuclear armed countries like Britain and America. There is only space for one final, chilling, example of the irrational at work in the decision-making process. In a speech in 1963, after the Cuban crisis President Kennedy said:
"Nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war. To adopt that kind of course in the nuclear age would be evidence only of the bankruptcy of our policy-or of a collective death wish for the world(2)."
There is an implication here that if world leaders are faced with the choice of a global war and humiliation they could choose global war. So much for rational decision-making. Mistakes, Misjudgements and unbearable Stress The fallibility of human beings has other symptoms than irrational behaviour. We make mistakes. We all make mistakes. 'Deterrence' means keeping the world permanently on a hair-trigger alert. We are permanently in a state of readiness for Global Nuclear War. There is no room for mistakes. This stance is itself, for that reason alone, a mistake. Then there is the well-known phenomenon of 'The Fog of War'. War is chaotic. Each side is largely unaware of what the other side is doing or planning. The same circumstance can be true of the run-up to war. Misjudgements are virtually inevitable. And in major conflicts before the red buttons are pressed, misjudgements can be catastrophic. Then there is the inhuman stress put on participants by the 'deterrence' stance - and we are all participants. With the nuclear stockpiles and the 'deterrence' state of readiness we all have the threat of Global Nuclear War hanging over us at all times. Most people try to put it out of their minds. But it is there - and it causes stress. Then there is the terrible stress on those immediately involved; the scientists, the technicians, the armed forces, the submarine commanders. Lieutenant Colonel Paul Tibbets was the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This is what he wrote in his diary:
"A bright light filled the plane. We turned back to look at Hiroshima. The city was hidden by that awful cloud...boiling up, mushrooming." For a moment, no one spoke. Then everyone was talking. "Look at that! Look at that! Look at that!" exclaimed the co-pilot, Robert Lewis, pounding on Tibbets's shoulder. Lewis said he could taste atomic fission; it tasted like lead. Then he turned away to write in his journal. "My God," he asked himself, "what have we done?"(4)
Do we really believe that we can dehumanise operatives sufficiently so that they will be willing to incinerate hundreds of millions of people as a hopeless act of revenge? - because this time they will know what they are doing. Do our leaders really believe that the citizens of the world are prepared to tolerate the threat of nuclear Armageddon hanging over them permanently under the guise of the terrifying 'deterrence' myth? 1. 'The Future of the British Bomb' , John Ainslie, Clydeside Press. 2. 'Our Final Century', Professor Martin Rees, William Heinemann, 2003, p91 3. 4. special report, "Hiroshima: August 6, 1945" [see] APPENDIX Professor RUDOLPH J. RUMMEL is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Hawaii. He has been frequently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (see here) and received the Lifetime Achievement Award 2003 from the Conflict Processes Section, American Political Science Association. Twentieth century world total for deaths due to war, genocide and mass murder by governments, tyrants and others is calculated by Professor Rummel as 262,000,000. MILTON LEITENBERG, of the Center for International and Security Studies, estimates the total number of deaths from mass killings in the 20th century as 216.000,000 . MATTHEW WHITE made a conservative estimate of lives lost to war and major atrocities in the last century of nearly 170,000,000. Historian ERIC HOBSBAWM in The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914- 1991 (1994) wrote that 187,000,000 people died in the "short 20th century" because of what he termed "government decision". Jim McCluskey (BSc. MICE. MISructE. MInstHE. ALI) 1.1.07 (Address: 3 St Margarets Road, Twickenham, Middx TW1 2LN. Tel: 020 8892 5704)
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I had a consultancy practice in Landscape Architecture from which I have now retired. I am also a writer and painter. I have become increasingly concerned at governments'continuing, and counterproductive, use of violence to solve conflicts. With (more...)
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