Thursday, 1 October 2015

Please don't nuke Bradford

Yesterday's media meltdown over Jeremy Corbyn giving a straight answer to a straight question, and sticking consistently to a position he has held for his entire political life, tells us much about how the Labour Party's coming debate over nuclear weapons is likely to be played out.

I'm no pacifist and can think of a few wars in which I would have volunteered to fight, had I been born in the 1920s rather than the 1950s.  As it was, the big war of my generation was in Vietnam, and I spent several of my younger years trying to stop it. Pondering the victory of the North Vietnamese Army over the United States has made me consider a historic perspective on how we can best deal with the threats to Britain's security today.

Once upon a time, in a fairyland of castles and knights on horseback, wars were won by a fearsome weapon of mass destruction.  It was called the Longbow, and in the hands of skilled archers it could rain down death from the skies from the safe distance of nearly 400 yards.  At some point in the Middle Ages, the Kings began to wonder if the Longbow might have outlived its usefulness.  The idea of firing muskets, and canons, would soon become a reality.

You can imagine how those deliberations must have sounded.  The Longbow Manufacturers' Union would have been furious.  "What about our jobs?" they would have cried.  The word went round that those who advocated getting rid of Longbows were traitors who would leave the country defenceless.

Yet slowly, very slowly, armies learned that they could win wars without the Longbow.  Even the muskets and canons eventually gave way to tanks and aeroplanes, as wars themselves constantly evolved, and it wasn't long before concepts like "cyber-terrorism" and tools like robotic drones were soaking up all the hot money.

There were some Kings who were so stupid that while all this was going on were determined to stick with the Longbow.  History records that they lost.

And so it is with the Trident nuclear submarine system.  A concept designed to end World War Two in 1945 still consumes £100billion of Britain's defence budget more than 70 years later.  There was once a bizarre, deeply immoral logic to its existence, called Mutually Assured Destruction, as a handful of so-called "superpowers" manoeuvred for position on the global stage while threatening to end all life on Earth if they didn't get their way.  The MAD doctrine ended when the superpowers realised that what they really needed was access to the planet's resources, all over the world, and that this involved strategic alliances with client states whose leaders could be replaced whenever they stepped out of line.

Nuclear weapons have always been beyond the reach of poor people, and in some parts of the world those people found new ways to wage wars.  They realised that nuclear weapons were powerless against an idea, and so they set about spreading ideas.  Mostly these were very bad ideas, like hijacking aeroplanes and flying them into tall buildings in the United States, killing thousands of completely innocent civilians.  

In Britain, a handful of young men from Bradford went to London one day with the very bad idea of blowing up innocent people on buses and underground trains.  But the point was that no matter how poor they were, these people could wage war without nuclear weapons.

The only way of defeating these "ideas" people was through the collection of vast amounts of intelligence, to interrupt their plans before they could do any harm.  But the Kings and Queens of the 21st Century were, like their Longbow predecessors from several hundred years previously, so stupidly obsessed with their expensive-but-out-of-date weapons' system that they could not see the solution.

I can't think of any good reasons for dropping an atom bomb on Bradford.  Defeating terrorism certainly isn't one of them.  But £100billion buys you an awful lot of spies.

You don't have to be a pacifist to want to ban the bomb.  You have to pick your wars - and want to win them.