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Nuclear Disarmament Versus Peace in the 21st Century

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					       FOCUS: Nuclear Weapons and Strategic Stability

       Nuclear Disarmament Versus
       Peace in the 21st Century
       Julian Lewis

             Dr Julian Lewis MP is the Shadow      In the closing stages of the Second World    they were about to unleash. Is it likely
          Defence Minister with responsibility     War, a series of terrible blows rained       that they would have proceeded to do
             for the Royal Navy. This article is   down on the Japanese homeland. City          so in the certain knowledge of total
                        the 2005 winner of the     after city was attacked and civilian         destruction? The theory that they would
                       Trench Gascoigne Essay      casualties were measured in the tens of      not had already been formulated before
                            Prize competition.     thousands. Still, the Japanese did not       the atomic bomb was tested. In a report
                                                   surrender – any more than had the            for the Chiefs of Staff in June 1945,
                                                   Germans, under a similar weight of           Professor Sir Henry Tizard concluded
                                                   bombardment, until overrun by the Allied     that the only answer which he and
                                                   armies. When the atomic bombs were           other senior defence scientists could see
                                                   used against two more Japanese cities,       to the atomic bomb was to be prepared
                                                   however, the shock effect on the             to use it in retaliation:
                                                   country’s rulers was decisive, even
                                                   though initially the numbers of casualties      A knowledge that we were prepared,
                                                   were no greater than those inflicted by          in the last resort, to do this might well
                                                   the conventional attacks against Tokyo          deter an aggressive nation. Duelling
                                                   and elsewhere. The real change brought          was a recognised method of settling
                                                   about by the atomic bomb was not the            quarrels between men of high social
                                                   scale of the destruction it could inflict,       standing so long as the duellists stood
                                                   but the absolute certainty that that            twenty paces apart and fired at each
                                                   destruction would be inflicted and could         other with pistols of a primitive type.
                                                   not be avoided.                                 If the rule had been that they should
                                                       By contrast, when the thousand-             stand a yard apart with pistols at each
                                                   bomber raids had been launched against          other’s hearts, we doubt whether it
                                                   German and Japanese cities, a whole             would long have remained a
                                                   variety of possible outcomes might have         recognised method of settling affairs
                                                   resulted. At one end of the spectrum,           of honour.1
                                                   the mass bomber formations might
                                                   have achieved their aim, destroyed their     This argument was only the latest in a
                                                   target and returned to base with very        long line of similarly hard-headed but
                                                   few losses. At the other end of the          hopeful views. The motto: ‘If you want
                                                   spectrum, the bombers might have been        peace, prepare for war’ was essentially
                                                   intercepted and attacked, diverted from      the same, as was the statement in the
                                                   their target, which remained unscathed,      early days of aviation: ‘When German
                                                   and forced to suffer very heavy losses       bombers can destroy London and
                                                   themselves, as happened on the               British bombers can destroy Berlin,
                                                   infamous Nuremberg raid.                     Germany and Britain will never again
                                                       There was no way of knowing in           go to war’. Alfred Nobel – of Peace
                                                   advance how such encounters would            Prize fame – was likewise convinced
                                                   work out – prior to the coming of the        that his invention of dynamite would
                                                   atomic bomb. Let us imagine that the         make war too destructive for countries
                                                   Germans and the Japanese had known           to contemplate.
                                                   in advance that their potential victims,         Why the Tizard scenario of peace
                                                   the democracies, would develop nuclear       through the threat of mutual
                                                   weapons before the end of the wars           destruction stood the test of time
                                                                                                                    Nuclear Focus

better than the earlier arguments was        thing to do: to possess the weapons and        Moral choices are, as often as not,
because of the factor of certainty (or       avoid anyone being attacked, or to             choices to determine the lesser of two
‘assuredness’) which atomic weapons          renounce them and lay yourself open to         evils. In the case of possessing and
for the first time guaranteed. Earlier        aggression? The central problem which          threatening to use a horrifying weapon,
explosives, like dynamite, and earlier       has to be faced by those who argue that        or renouncing it with the result that
means of delivery, like manned               the mere possession of, or the threat to       such weapons are actually used against
bombers, still left the outcome of the       use, nuclear weapons in retaliation is         one’s own society, only the purest
encounter in doubt. Even where both          morally unacceptable, is the extreme           pacifist can be in any doubt as to which
sides were similarly armed, there            level of destructiveness which                 course to follow.
remained enough of a chance that one         conventional warfare had reached
of them would suffer total defeat whilst     before the atomic bomb was invented. If        Predictability
the other enjoyed total victory to make      it is the case that possessing a deadly        Many who oppose Britain’s retention
the gamble of waging war seem                weapon or being willing to threaten to         and replacement of nuclear weapons in
worthwhile. There was, in short, too         use it in retaliation will avert a conflict     the twenty-first century also advocated
much uncertainty as to what the              in which millions would otherwise die,         unilateral nuclear disarmament, despite
outcome would be.                            can it seriously be claimed that the           the level of the Soviet threat, during

The Ethical Paradox                          more ethical policy is to renounce the         the Cold War. There are, however,
The dawning of the atomic age was thus       weapon and let the millions meet their         significant numbers who believe that
accompanied by what seemed to be an          fate? Even if one argues that the threat       what was necessary then no longer
extreme ethical paradox: peace could         to retaliate is itself immoral, is it as       applies now. This brings us to the
apparently best be maintained by the         immoral as the failure to forestall so         central problem of predictability.
possession of, and the threat to use,        many preventable casualties?                       From time to time wars break out in
weapons which could obliterate tens of            This is, in reality, a variation on the   circumstances which were anticipated;
thousands of people in an instant.           argument against absolute pacifism              but, more often than not, they arise
Simply because nuclear weapons, if           which the late Leonard Cheshire                totally unexpectedly. The Yom Kippur
used, would cause hideous destruction        illustrated when such issues were being        War in 1973 took even hypersensitive
and loss of life, it has often been argued   debated twenty years ago. He set out           Israel by surprise. The Falklands War, nine
that there is something immoral in their     the scenario of a security guard who is        years later, took Britain by surprise. The
very possession. Yet no weapon is moral      the only person in a position to prevent       invasion of Kuwait in 1990 took
or immoral in itself. Ethics enter the       a terrorist from opening fire on a queue        everyone by surprise. And the attacks of
equation only when one considers the         of passengers in an airport lounge.            11 September 2001 took the world’s
motivation for possessing weapons and        According to most people’s values, not         only superpower by surprise. There was
the uses to which they are put.              only is it morally correct for him to          nothing new in any of this – as a detour
    If the consequence of possessing a       shoot the armed terrorist, it would be         into the archives strikingly illustrates:
lethal weapon is that nobody uses lethal     profoundly unethical for him to decline        from August 1919 until November 1933
weapons, whilst the consequence of not       to do so. This is without prejudice to the     British foreign and defence policy was
possessing a lethal weapon is that           fact that the security guard might well        hamstrung by a prediction that the
someone else uses his lethal weapons         be right to feel that it was a tragedy         country would not be engaged in a war
against you, which is the more moral         that he had to take anyone’s life at all.      with another major power for at least a
decade. This had a dangerously adverse        defence policy designed to meet the             that country continues to tread,
effect on necessary rearmament when           threat. Fortunately, the British strategic      however hesitantly, the democratic path.
the international scene darkened.             nuclear deterrent is less dependent than        Indeed, it is striking to note that many
Arguing against the continuation of           conventional armed forces upon the              prophets of nuclear doom during the
this so-called ‘Ten Year Rule’ in January     correct identification of the enemy in           1970s and 1980s have been all but
1931, when Secretary of the                   advance. Any country which emerges as           silenced by the change in East-West
Committee of Imperial Defence, Sir            a potential aggressor with mass-                relations, even though enough nuclear
Maurice Hankey, observed:                     destruction weapons, in the next three          weapons remain in US and Russian
                                              or four decades, will be vulnerable to          hands to destroy the world’s main
    As a nation we have been prone in the     retaliation from Trident or its successor       population centres with many warheads
    past to assume that the international     – and this is the sort of time scale            to spare. This illustrates the fact that it
    outlook is in accordance with our         which we have to consider.                      is not the weapons themselves which
    desires rather than with the facts of         Each generation of the strategic            we have to fear but the nature of the
    the situation…We are also apt to          nuclear deterrent functions for a period        governments that possess them. As soon
    forget how suddenly war breaks out.       of thirty years or more. The actual             as Russia turned away from
    In 1870, a fortnight before the event,    replacement of the Trident system, if it        totalitarianism, the main concern about
    we were not in the least expecting the    occurs, will not even begin for at least        her nuclear arsenal shifted from those
    outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War.      another fifteen years. No one can                devices under the control of the Kremlin
    The same was true in 1914. A              possibly foretell what dangers will face        to those which might leach out from
    fortnight after the murder of the         us between the years 2020 and 2050,             Russian stockpiles and fall into the
    Austrian Archduke, a debate took          just as the threats facing us today             hands of other regimes which remained
    place in the House of Commons on          would have seemed bizarre to politicians        more hostile.
    foreign affairs. The European situation   and military planners at the height of
    was hardly referred to at all. More       the Cold War. During periods of peace,
    attention was given to the                democratic states naturally tend to             It is not the weapons
    preparations for the next Peace           scale down their conventional fighting           themselves which we
    Conference!…There was no statement        services, but they try to do so in a way
    made on the subject of the European       which is reversible should the                  have to fear but the
    crisis in Parliament until July 27…We     international scene deteriorate. This           nature of the
    really had, at the outside, not more      option does not apply to the nuclear
    than ten days’ warning.2                  deterrent, which has always been set at         governments that
                                              the minimum level regarded as essential
The onset of armed conflicts is                for credibility. There can be no more
                                                                                              possess them
inherently unpredictable. This is why it      assurance that a nuclear or major
makes sense to keep in being an army, a       chemical or biological threat will not          One concept which advocates of
navy and an air force during long             arise in the next half-century than that        nuclear disarmament have traditionally
periods of peace. The same applies a          major land, sea or air threats will not         ignored is the propensity for
fortiori to the nuclear deterrent.            have to be faced. If it is right to insure      dictatorships to go to war with
Investment in armed forces in                 against the latter, it is essential to insure   dictatorships, and for democracies and
apparently peaceful times is analogous        against the former.                             dictatorships to clash, whilst few – if
to the payment of premiums on                                                                 any – examples exist of liberal
insurance policies. No one knows when         New Threats                                     democracies attacking each other. This
the accident or disaster may happen           Apart from those who have always                suggests that it is quite right to have
against which one is insuring; if one did,    opposed British nuclear weapons,                fewer qualms about the possession of
one could probably avoid it and save          irrespective of the level of threat, some       deadly weapons by democracies, though
oneself the cost of the premiums.             politicians, some churchmen and                 regarding their possession by
    With the benefit of hindsight, the         commentators, and even some military            dictatorships as wholly unacceptable.
Second World War is often regarded as a       figures who used to support it, have             There is no comparison between the
disaster predetermined by mistakes            now changed their minds. This is                two, and it is a constant failing of the
made at the end of the First World War.       primarily because the Cold War is over,         disarmament lobby to try to ascribe
Yet in the decade of the 1920s, there         America appears to be the dominant              values of reasonableness, tolerance,
was so little sign of an obvious enemy        world power and the principal threats           goodwill and peaceful intent to states
that each of Britain’s three Armed            today emanate from rogue regimes and            under the control of despots, fanatics
Services prepared its hypothetical            stateless terrorist groups. Let us consider     and dictators.
contingency plans against an entirely         each of these in turn.                              Secondly, the current period of
different potential enemy. In those days,         First, the ending of the Cold War           America’s solo superpower status in no
the choice of possible enemy would            removes the danger of nuclear                   way diminishes the case for an
seriously affect the nature of the            confrontation with Russia for as long as        independent British deterrent. Nuclear
                                                                                                                 Nuclear Focus

weapons, by their very nature, have          main battle tanks, guided-missile               relating to cessation of the nuclear
devastating potential even in very small     destroyers or any other heavy-weight            arms race at an early date and to
numbers. Quite apart from the prospect       military equipment. The presence of a           nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty
of unpredictable major threats in the        serious terrorist threat is clearly an          on general and complete
longer term, the current enmity towards      argument in favour of expanded                  disarmament under strict and
Britain by near-nuclear regimes like Iran    counter-insurgency forces and security          effective international control.
suggests that unilateralism would be         and intelligence services. It is no
fraught with danger. It used to be pointed   argument at all for the abolition of         There are thus three obligations, only the
out that the British Polaris fleet had done   those military capabilities which are        first of which is time-limited. This is to
nothing to deter Argentina from invading     designed to meet other types of threat       end ‘the nuclear arms race’ at ‘an early
the Falkland Islands. Certainly, there was   which this country has faced in the past     date’. Given that the United Kingdom –
never a prospect of democratic Britain       and may well face again in the future.       and, for that matter, France and China –
threatening to use its ultimate weapon                                                    have never engaged in a nuclear arms
except in response to a mortal threat        Utopian NPT Obligations                      race, their policy of each having a
against the cities of the United Kingdom.    Does proliferation make Britain’s            minimum strategic nuclear deterrent
What would have been the case, though,       continued possession of nuclear              does not fall foul of this provision. None
if the Argentine junta had possessed even    weapons unethical? There might be a          of these countries has ever sought to
a few atomic weapons or other mass-          case for arguing this if it could be shown   match the nuclear stockpiles of Russia or
destruction devices? Without a nuclear       that there were a causal link between        the United States. Each has been
force of her own, would Britain then have    our continued possession of a strategic      content to possess a much smaller
dared to respond to the occupation           nuclear deterrent and the decision of        nuclear capability, provided that it is
militarily, despite her superiority in       one or more identifiable countries to         adequate to threaten an unacceptable
conventional forces?                         acquire nuclear weapons. During the          level of retaliation if attacked. The same
     Time and again, the United Kingdom      Cold War era, the proliferation argument     would apply to any replacement system
and the United States have stood side-       was often used by one-sided nuclear          for Trident.
by-side in international conflicts. If this   disarmers in their campaign against
pattern continues, the prospect could        Polaris, Trident and the deployment of
arise of a nuclear-armed enemy               cruise missiles. Yet whenever asked to       A quixotic renunciation
regarding it as safer to threaten or         name a specific nuclear or near-nuclear       by democratic Britain is
attack the smaller of the two allies. The    country which would be likely to
danger would then arise of a possible        abandon its nuclear ambitions if we          not very likely to
miscalculation by an aggressor thinking      unilaterally renounced ours, the             encourage any
that the US would not respond in kind        Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and
to an attack with mass-destruction           its fellow travellers were notably           undemocratic state to
weapons on British cities. If this were a    unforthcoming. Countries make the
miscalculation, the attacker would           decision whether or not to seek to
                                                                                          follow suit
discover it only when it was too late for    acquire mass-destruction weapons
all concerned, instead of having been        according to hard-headed calculations of     It is true that Article VI aspires to both
deterred at the outset by the knowledge      their own strategic interests. A quixotic    ‘nuclear disarmament’ and ‘a Treaty on
that Britain could respond in kind on her    renunciation by democratic Britain is not    general and complete disarmament’ as
own behalf.                                  very likely to encourage any                 well – but this is nothing more than a
     These considerations clearly bear on    undemocratic state to follow suit. On        double aspiration for the indefinite
the third issue: that of rogue regimes.      the contrary, it is more likely to           future. What it amounts to is nothing
Several of them are already nuclear          encourage any such state which views         less than a world completely disarmed
powers or on the verge of becoming so.       Britain as a potential enemy to redouble     of all weapons of every description
The notion that they will abandon such       its efforts to join the WMD club, given      ‘under strict and effective international
a course indefinitely in response to          that we would no longer have the means       control’. This utopia would require
unilateral British nuclear disarmament is    to threaten retaliation against nuclear,     several things to happen: the creation of
totally unrealistic. Those who subscribe     biological or chemical aggression.           a World Government; the establishment
to it continually make the error of               What does the Non-Proliferation         of foolproof methods of preventing
projecting civilized values onto             Treaty actually commit the United            clandestine rearmament; and, above all,
extremist governments which actually         Kingdom to do? Article VI of the NPT is      a revolution in the minds of men so that
hold them in contempt.                       often referred to, but seldom quoted in      warfare became redundant.
     Turning, fourthly, to the current       full. This is what it states:
emergence of non-state terrorist groups,                                                  Conclusion
it is absolutely correct that strategic         Each of the Parties to the Treaty         During the inter-war years, the process
nuclear weapons are of no relevance             undertakes to pursue negotiations in      of disarmament was taken to new
whatsoever. Neither are aircraft carriers,      good faith on effective measures          heights of complexity, but it achieved
only this: the peace-loving democracies     so many small but deadly wars fought     panacea and it is not designed to
disarmed each other and themselves,         between client states of the             forestall every type of threat.
while the rogues, the villains, the         superpowers (but not between the         Nevertheless, the threat which it is
bandits, the dictators and the tyrants      superpowers themselves) strongly         designed to counter is so overwhelming
re-armed in secret, threatened              suggests that the mutual threat of       that no other form of military
democracy and destroyed the peace of        nuclear annihilation had something to    capability could manage to avert it.
the world. After the final defeat of the    do with the restraint exercised by the   The possession of the deterrent may
Nazis, the democratic states faced a        superpowers themselves.                  be unpleasant, but it is an unpleasant
new challenge and a variation on an                                                  necessity, the purpose of which lies
old dilemma. The challenge was that of                                               not in its actual use but in its nature
confrontation with Soviet communism;        The possession of the                    as the ultimate ‘stalemate weapon’ –
the dilemma was whether to try to           deterrent may be                         and, in the nuclear age, stalemate is
defuse it by disarmament or to contain                                               the most reliable source of security
it by deterrence.                           unpleasant, but it is an                 available to us all. s
    The fact that the Third World War       unpleasant necessity
did not break out is not, of itself,                                                 NOTES
conclusive proof that containment by
deterrence was successful. It is of the     The purpose of the British nuclear       1. CAB 80/94: COS(45)402(0), ‘Future
nature of deterrence that, whenever it      deterrent remains what it has always        Development in Weapons and Methods of War’,
works, its opponents can always argue       been: to minimize the prospect of the       16 June 1945.
that the war would not have happened        United Kingdom being attacked by         2. CAB21/2093: 19/10/201, ‘The Basis of Service
in any case. Yet the fact that there were   mass-destruction weapons. It is not a       Estimates’, 9 January 1931.


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