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Showing posts with label nuclear deterrence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nuclear deterrence. Show all posts

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Cameron, North Korea, Iran, Scotland and WMD

I have to keep this simple – at the risk of seeming simplistic – because the nuclear argument is buried alive in technical complexity and sophistry.

David Cameron is repeating  his  Telegraph argument for retention of the UK nuclear deterrent and the nuclear presence in Scotland – they are one and the same thing – in the offices of a defence contractor in Scotland today (Herald).

This piece of blatant self-serving sophistry by Cameron is delivered in the full knowledge that the UK nuclear deterrent deters nobody, is entirely irrelevant strategically to any conceivable global threat the UK might face, and whose presence in Scotland and the UK is in itself the main threat to the UK, but principally and directly to Scotland.

The importance to Cameron of nuclear weapons - and to the contemptible nuclear trio of political parties known as the Better Together campaign – rests on the fact that the UK’s pretensions as a world power, its place on the UN Security Council, its grossly inflated defence budget relative to the size of the UK ( it is the fourth largest defence budget in the world) and its ability to use the defence-as-job-creation scheme as a political bribe and threat are all dependent on nuclear weapons.

Additionally, there is an enduring and insidious technical, scientific, political  and profit linkage between nuclear power generation, the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons of mass destruction – they are in a symbiotic relationship. Champions and apologists for one almost always champion the other.


Cameron’s argument rests on the “highly unpredictable and aggressive regimes” argument, with the current villains being North Korea and Iran. This argument has been around since the early 1940s and was the driving force behind the Manhattan Project with Hitler’s Germany being the very real villain of the time.

The insanity of this line of thought – a paranoid fantasy based on a grim reality – made the United States the first country in the world to have nuclear weapons – and so far, the only country to use them (against a non-nuclear power, Japan). Since then, every country in the world that has nuclear weapons has acquired them because America had them. These countries then developed an uneasy, deeply unstable and to date, ineffective consensus called the non-proliferation agreement, i.e. “We’ve got them, but for God’s sake, let’s stop anybody else getting them!

It hasn’t stopped Iran allegedly New York Time Feb 2012 and North Korea undoubtedly trying to acquire them, using exactly the same rationale that Cameron uses, that the United States uses, that Israel uses – the other side are nutcases and might try to intimidate us - or actually use them - in a pre-emptive strike. So the lunatic closed circle of paranoid argument continues …

Let’s look at the highly aggressive and unpredictable regime argument, and start by saying that North Korea is a brutal, oppressive dictatorship, impoverishing its people by its militarism and its defence budget, run by a dynastic heir who is young and deeply immature. (I will resist the temptation to draw the current potential parallels in these attributes with UK and at times the US – they are not quite so far along the same lines, but they are getting there, especially the UK. )

Iran, undoubtedly unpredictable, is not quite so irrational, its nuclear weapons programme is embryo at best, and much of its posturing results from the grave instability caused in the Middle East by Blair, Bush and their misconceived illegal war.

The Cameron argument leaves us with this situation – we must have nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future – i.e. for ever – because one day there might be a nutcase regime in possession of them. But here we have a convenient example of one, maybe two nutcase regimes, North Korea and Iran – Q.E.D.!


Here are the options – the only options under the Cameron doctrine of nuclear deterrence-

1. Once a nutcase regime has been identified, nuke them instantly – a pre-emptive strike. This will regrettably kill millions of innocent civilians under the tyrant and pollute the planet, but hey, shit happens! Of course, such a course of action would mean that the UK would be instantly reclassified as a nutcase regime by other nuclear powers, and they would launch a pre-emptive strike against UK, just in case …

2. If the nutcase regime begins to sound belligerent, proceed as 1) above, etc., etc.

3. Try to reason with the nutcase regime by diplomacy, backed by economic sanctions. But, since they are nutcases, this won’t work, and delay creates risk, so proceed as 1) above – etc., etc.

4. Assume that the fact that the UK has a bigger nuclear deterrent will deter the nutcase regime. That, after all, is the ostensible rationale for the deterrent. But, since they are nutcases, by definition, it won’t, so best go back to 1) above ….


Don’t wait for multilateral disarmament – if it is possible at all, the time scale is too long, since the risks of unpredictable international incident creating a global nuclear war are too great, and in all probability, multilateral nuclear disarmament will never happen – either the world remains in a terrifying and unstable nuclear standoff for generations or we blow ourselves apart in the next few years – perhaps a very few…

Unilaterally announce nuclear disarmament, UK – if you don’t, an independent Scotland will, and most likely force virtue and morality upon you.

This now brings me logically and inevitably to a point in my argument that I don’t want to confront – but must.

The next logical step is to persuade the UN - and allies - to follow suit, but also persuade them to make it clear that unstable regimes who are -

undoubtedly and verifiably in possession of nuclear weapons and delivery systems


who make threats and are actively moving to a state of preparation to launch a nuclear strike

must face pre-emptive action by conventional forces acting under a UN mandate  to disable their nuclear capacity.


Does this turn me into Tony Blair and George W. Bush in 2003?

Wasn’t that exactly their argument?

Wasn’t that the argument that convinced at least some good people to feel that the invasion of Iraq was justified?

My answers to the above questions are NO, YES and YES.

It was their argument, and it was the argument that convinced some good people – and some honest, ethical politicians – to vote for the war.

But my conditions (above) were not met – there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly and verifiably in possession of nuclear weapons, nor that he was actively moving to a state of preparation to launch a nuclear strike, nor, crucially, was there a UN mandate.

The Iraq War was launched on a false prospectus, false intelligence and false evidence. It was driven by oil, ambition, vanity and profit. The American and British electorates and their legislatures were deceived.

The nuclear insanity has been with us for about 70 years, as have the specious arguments that underpin it. Reject them absolutely, electors of Scotland and vote YES in 2014 for independence and a nuclear-free Scotland.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Nuclear issues – will we reach critical mass in 2014/2016?

A reprise, with stuff published before, but updated for recent events, e.g. NATO vote at SNP conference.


1. The entire UK nuclear deterrent - the Trident weapons system, and the nuclear submarines that carry it, together with nuclear-powered submarines that don’t carry it – is based in Scotland.

2. The permission of the Scottish people was never sought for this, but it is supported by all three major London-based unionist parties – Labour, Tory and LibDems. It is opposed by the SNP, the Greens and by the Scottish socialist parties.

3. The SNP has a non-nuclear policy, and is opposed to nuclear weapons. It was also opposed to an independent Scotland being a member of the NATO alliance because NATO is committed to the possession and use of nuclear weapons, and committed to  an independent Scotland seeking membership of Partnership for Peace (PfP),  a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) program aimed at creating trust between NATO and other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union; 22 states are members.

PfP members in the EU include Austria, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden. Other members are Switzerland, Russia, former Eastern bloc countries and former Yugoslavian states.

This policy was changed at Conference last year by a close-run vote after passionate debate. Two members of the Party resigned after the vote.


Comparison of Scotland with Norway – a non-nuclear policy country in NATO (as are another 24) are repeatedly made by the SNP and by proponents of nuclear deterrence, but such comparisons are flawed and invalid because Scotland’s situation is unique within NATO, and infinitely more complex in its ramifications. (see blogs passim and further analysis in this blog.)


Step ONE: Deactivation of Trident weapons system – remove triggers and keys, remove certain components of missiles, and take submarines off patrol. Timescale: a few days.

Step TWO: Remove all weapons and store at Coulport. Timescale: approximately eight weeks.

Step THREE: Physically remove weapons from Scotland.   Timescale: two years approximately.

Step FOUR: Dismantle weapons at Burghfield Timescale: four years approximately.

N.B. A key international principle of disarmament is the principle of irreversibility. (For example, steps one and two are relatively easily reversible in a short timescale unless special actions are taken to ensure irreversibility.)

These are the necessary immediate steps – the full decommissioning and cleanup of the nuclear facilities of the base are complex, as is the question of the continued use of the base by submarines, both the former missile carrying subs and the nuclear-powered non-missile carrying subs.


Most of what I wanted to say – and was able to say, given that I am neither an academic  nor a military expert nor a politicians – I have said in these blogs and, vitally, in my replies to comments (which were predominantly in favour of the SNP’s position on NATO). These blogs were mainly in the second half of 2012 – I have blogged many times at earlier dates on NATO.

Alex Salmond, the SNP and NATO - a Faustian bargain?
The SNP, NATO and the end of a dream of a nuclear-free Scotland
Scotland as NATO’s aircraft carrier–Jim Sillar’s shining vision for independence
Nicola Sturgeon on Trident on Question Time, 7th May 2009
More on Scotland and NATO–the Vienna Convention
Scotland’s NATO membership – a deeply flawed concept and a retreat from principle
Truth and transparency in politics – unrealisable ideals or practical necessities?
Sitting on de fence on defence
A nuclear letter over three years ago …


The Scottish Government’s policy on NATO membership of the Robertson/MacNeil motion was carried and the stated policy of the SNP is now as follow -

“Scotland will inherit its international treaty obligations including those with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and will remain a member, subject to agreement on withdrawal of Trident from Scotland.”

“With agreement on the withdrawal of Trident and retaining the important role of the UN, Scotland can continue working with neighbours and allies within NATO.”

“ … An SNP Government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations. In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. …”

Let’s take the first part of that -

Negotiation on the removal of Trident will take place with the UK Government after YES vote in 2014 and before independence day – not with NATO.

So membership of NATO is contingent on two things – prior agreement with UK negotiators on “the withdrawal of Trident” and then a subsequent agreement with NATO “that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO continues to respect the right of members only to take part in UN-sanctioned operations”.

In other words, after agreement with the UK negotiators on the ‘withdrawal’ of Trident, the SNP Government will graciously ‘maintain NATO membership’, subject to – etc.

As a negotiating position this is on the face of it, naive. It raised horse laughs from the Wee Lord of Islay, George Robertson and the SNP’s political  enemies last year, despite the fact that their defence thinking is at least as naive, and compounded by the MOD’s monumental incompetence and corruption, allied to NATO’s deep confusion and uncertainty about their role in the modern world.

In point of fact, any defence-related negotiation on the deterrent will take place with one party on the other side of the table - the UK – but two heavyweights in the backroom, the United States Defence Department and NATO, and no deal will be done that does not have the broad consent of this nuclear trio. The prospect of Philip Hammond, David Cameron and William Hague, three politicians of limited political experience and worse judgement, trying to deal with the hard-eyed men of America and NATO is not one to inspire confidence, especially since a UK general election will take place in May 2015, only six to eight months after the Scottish referendum.

In effect, Scotland’s hopes of getting rid of Trident are inextricably linked to NATO and the United States, and therefore the second part – membership of NATO, etc. must of necessity be a part of the negotiations with the UK. What the SNP objective means in effect is

We will attempt to destroy NATO UK nuclear capacity, remove its Northern European aircraft carrier, Scotland, then tell NATO the conditions on which we will join, then be welcomed with open arms.”

This entirely begs the question of why the hell NATO would want us in membership under these circumstances. To become the 26th member country, with no power or capacity to influence the NATO Big Three’s nuclear policy or the decision to initiate a nuclear strike without political approval?

(At the moment NATO effectively has been given a political blank cheque by the USA, France and the UK to launch a nuclear strike instantly on the strategic judgement of its command structure, without reference to any of their three elected decision-making bodies – e.g. the House of Commons -  but with the token endorsement of their heads – the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of France and the Prime Minister of the UK.)

What will actually happen when the SNP negotiating team, flushed with the success of the 2014 YES vote, actually sits down to prepare its opening position on the nuclear issues?

I can’t answer that, since I have no idea how their team will be structured and how it will be advised, nor how they will define their range of negotiating objectives.  So I can only say what could happen, and, tentatively, what should happen from the standpoint of good diplomatic and negotiating practice.

The pre-negotiations analysis is a critical phase in any negotiation. Under certain circumstances, especially if it is done badly, it can become the critical phase.

Over-simplifying, the first steps are to determine negotiating objectives, i.e. the desired outcomes of the negotiation, to prioritise them, to quantify the range of acceptability within the objectives, and to determine which objectives are linked, and how. Clearly defence related matters are interlinked, but defence as a total issue may have critical linkage to other issues, e.g. jobs, environmental matters, investment.

Two key aspects exist in relation to prioritisation of issues – significance and urgency. Issues may be of high significance but low urgency in terms of when the objective or at the other extreme may have high urgency but low significance. As in project planning, sequencing of issues is necessary – achievement of one may be contingent on prior achievement of another.

Let’s try to look at the removal of Trident and NATO membership from a simple perspective -

The achievement of the removal of Trident objective, in the SNP defence paper, must be negotiated with the UK before membership of NATO can be negotiated – that is, if one accepts that it must, or even can be negotiated with NATO.

Both are presented to the SNP membership as deal breakers, i.e. crucial objectives that must be achieved. A nuclear Scotland is a totally unacceptable outcome in the negotiations with the UK. Membership of NATO is unacceptable if, after negotiating a nuclear-free Scotland with the UK, NATO requires Scotland to host nuclear weapons or participate in non-UN sanctioned operations. But all objective, even crucial objectives, have measurable elements defining how acceptable the agreement is on a spectrum of acceptability.

If it is essential, say for example, that I buy a car, there is almost certainly a minimum and maximum price that I will pay. If I must have the car by the end of the month, I may take delivery today or on the last day of the month. I therefore have entry and exit points on price and time.

And so it is with the crucial objective of the removal of Trident after independence – in an ideal world, Trident would vanish the day after independence, painlessly and without any cost to the Scottish people. The reality is more complex, and the SNP’s ‘withdrawal of Trident’ will have to be defined on a spectrum of acceptability on a number of measurable criteria, with an ideal position as entry point and a deal-breaker definition on the same measures as an exit point.

Theoretically the entry point is immediately and the exit point is at some point on a loosely-defined or undefined timescale – a case of now or sometime …

In the magical thinking of many SNP supporters, independence is a magic wand that will conjure away all difficulties, as my correspondents are regular witness to, but realpolitik – and life – just ain’t like that.

The dangers of the spectrum between entry and exit point on the removal of Trident are more or less signalled – defined almost – by the stage shown above -

Step ONE: Deactivation of Trident weapons system – remove triggers and keys, remove certain components of missiles, and take submarines off patrol. Timescale: a few days.

Step TWO: Remove all weapons and store at Coulport. Timescale: approximately eight weeks.

Step THREE: Physically remove weapons from Scotland. Timescale: two years approximately.

Step FOUR: Dismantle weapons at Burghfield Timescale: four years approximately.

Bear in mind these are John Ainslie’s and CND’s estimates (supported by some experts) – but the UK side of the negotiation has very different views, as the loaded questions of the Select Committee MPs demonstrated very clearly. (Whether they actually believe their estimates or not is immaterial – they have a vested interest in inflating them, and in inflating costs and exaggerating difficulties.)