Nuclear Launch control

Brian Heron looks at why Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to use nuclear weapons has caused outrage amongst the establishment

We have all learnt something about the British nuclear deterrent thanks to Labour’s new leader, Jeremy Corbyn. (If you haven’t, then you are probably reading this as part of your job.) But for the rest of us it came as news that any new Prime Minister has to write a letter (it was shown as written in long hand) to the Captain of the nuclear submarines that carry the Trident missile. This is placed in the sub-mariner’s on-board safe and is to be opened in the event that the PM and his representatives are ‘unavailable.’ (Wiped out.)

Corbyn got into trouble sticking to his traditional anti-nukes position. What’s the point in Corbyn’s principles – railed his angry fellow shadow cabinet members – as his public statement that he would not use these weapons removes the deterrent effect of Trident to our enemies? And that is very dangerous.

What should the PM’s letter say?

‘Dear Captain,
Whatever you do, and for the sake of the continued existence of humanity, do not fire your missiles at anybody. I’m gone and a great swathe of our population is already wiped out. Your duty is clear. Use your wits, your technology, your communications, to preserve whatever you can of the human population wherever it is to be found.

I remain … etc’

Seriously; who are likely to use nuclear weapons against Britain? And if the UK got rid of them would that make the threat greater? In the past Britain’s nukes were meant to protect Western Europe and the UK from Russian invasion. It turned out that Russia did not invade the West – even including nations not under the West’s (the US’s) nuclear umbrella. So that was not it. Today Britain has joined the West’s war against Islamic fundamentalism. Certainly, some of the fundamentalists’ military groups would use nuclear weapons to murder millions – if they could get them. Is Trident a deterrent to that? Where would the Trident missiles be aimed in retaliation? The paradox of nuclear weapons in the 21st century is that those mad or bad enough to use them – cannot be deterred. In this century nukes would be a ‘first use’ weapon.

So what exactly is the safest thing to do ‘in defence’ of Britain’s population? Get rid of the bloody things. Remove as many of them as possible from the face of the earth. And start up a campaign, like those organised by the UN to eradicate polio or small pox, to end them across the globe. If they did not exist then neither the Middle East’s fundamentalists, nor those of the Barry Goldwater / Donald Trump hue in the West would have access to them.

But the British ‘powers that be’ are not idiots. With the exception of some really loopy Generals the arguments against Trident (leaving aside its truly enormous cost) are well understood. So the public are fed mainly on a diet of fear about nobody knowing what might happen in the future to maintain their support for the nuclear status quo, as though it has any relation to keeping the peace. (At the same time, the British establishment have commissioned the Chinese to build the UK’s next nuclear power stations  - decades into the future!)

What is really at stake for Britain’s rulers in their defence of their ‘independent nuclear deterrent’?

Leaving aside a seat in the Security Council of the United Nations and the prestige aquired to sell enormous amounts of arms round the world, Britain’s nuclear weapon is a decisive keystone in the political and economic structure and ambitions of its ruling class. There is no doubting Trident’s ‘global reach’: or its integral relationship to the military and political power of the US. Its existence was a part of the underpinning, up until 2008, of the biggest bank in the world, the Royal Bank of Scotland with its assets of £1.9 trillion. Trident was and remains a decisive part of the military wing of Britain’s political and economic power across the globe.

Corbyn wants a different country. So do the SNP in Scotland. When they challenge Trident, Britain’s rulers know that in their guts. And they will fight by all means that they can bring to hand to break the anti Trident, anti-war movement.

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