I’d like to start with a disclaimer of sorts. This is not an article advocating with the production and use of nuclear weapons. Nor is it a dig at Jeremy Corbyn. The essence of democracy is being able to have different views on certain topics without feeling attacked or becoming more entrenched in your own views. I don’t treat Jeremy as a messiah figure, unlike some. I agree with the majority of his aims and disagree with a few, trident being the latter. So with that being said, let me begin.
Trident has become a major political subject over the last decade. The argument against it has always been attached to cost or the horrific ramification that can be inflicted with the launch of a misguided nuclear attack. The argument in favour of it has been national safety and national interests. Both are compelling arguments, one having more neoliberal connotations attached to it while the other leaning towards neorealist nuance (respectively). I would however argue a more salient perspective: a deep mistrust of state governments. If states had any trust in their political counterparts across the global or the institutionalised political aspirations of states, then nuclear weapons may be redundant. But the problem lies within our inability to be transparent globally. That is an issue that lies with each state. If we can’t addresses the fundamental principle separating us, what is the benefit of eliminating nuclear weapons from our arsenal?
Can Nuclear weapons be a deterrent from war?
One of the imperative psychological needs of a human is safety. Self-preservation is crucial to our survival as Abraham Maslow illustrated within in the famous doctrine – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This same concept can be applied to nation states which harbours these citizens. However we live in a globalised society which is contaminated with cynicism and suspicion. And rightly so. Whether it’s the NSA using Prism and Tempora surveillance programs to spy on domestic citizens or international governments, or colluding with foreign rebel groups to install tyrannical regimes which benefit their policies (Gaddafi, Pinochet etc.) – this is a conundrum that has always existed. So when nation states have such a profound distrust of their counterparts, why hasn’t there been more war since 1945?
Deterrence Theory was conceptualised in 1966 by Thomas Schelling in the midst of the Cold War. It states that military strategy was now equal among nation states, and the art of coercion, intimidation and deterrence where more prevalent in vanquishing foes. The capacity to inflict destruction on another nation state has become the most compelling factor in creating cooperation and deterring war. We can certainly apply this to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lack military intervention. Instead trade embargos and economic sanctions have been placed. This brings us back to the Maslow’s assertion that self-preservation is vital to our survival. Why would a nation state risk geopolitical suicide by initiating a needless war when there are different measures that can be taken.
Some would say that the cost of war is deterrence from initiating in it, but let’s examine this premise. War is a profitable commodity. The manufacturing missiles, war heads, weaponry and ammunition have built nations to the point of imperial dominance. Not to mention how much governments can gain from mercenary and security contracts. For instance Aegis Defence Service were granted $497 million contract by the U.S. Department of State for assuming security forces in Kabul. Not only does this top-down privatisation distort the boundaries between public service and the commercial sector, it also cuts costs and contractors pay corporation tax as well (though this will require a further breakdown in separate article). So why give all that up? War is lucrative and there are almost no political ramifications for instigating it. Who was indicted for the Invasion of Iraq? Even after subsequent investigations and reports that deemed it illegal, irresponsible and fraudulent (in the context of misleading citizens and politicians). Was George Bush indicted? Was Tony Blair? Was Donald Rumsfeld? Was Geoff Hoon? No they weren’t. No accountability or responsibility for the atrocities that they implemented. Yet there are less wars there ever since 1945.
Yes, the deterrence of nuclear weapons is not the only factor in relative peace since the end of World War II however it is a major element. And although deterrence theory was more or less abandoned entering the 21st century (with key figures like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz reversing their positions) it has become more relevant in the last few years. With the rise of nationalistic sentiment across the world, the need to protect ourselves has also increased thus giving validation to the theory again.
Are Fundamental Changes needed?
I am against the production, distribution and use of nuclear weapons, however getting rid of Trident does not eliminate the rudimentary problem – multifaceted distrust between states.
Kenneth Waltz makes a rare, but strong point about the distrust between states, which in our belligerent society has profound significance. First he claims that main motivation for states is survival. That is why we have such high security measures right now. In the UK we voted to leave the EU (a body that was initially created to be platform for diplomacy) and the biggest reasons why we left? Immigrations and fears that refugees were ISIS soldiers in disguise. Yes the leave campaign acted as demagogues and the right wing/establishment based media tapped into that narrative. But throughout the last decade we have seen a rise in nationalistic sentiment throughout Europe and actually throughout the globe. Buddhists in Sri Lanka are calling for the genocide of Muslims. Neo-Nazis are more and more prevalent in Germany and Greece in the form of Pegida and Golden Dawn respectively. And do we really have to mention Trump in America? We have tightened up security and shut off our borders, essentially, because we fear ‘external threats’.
This comes to Waltz view that states are distrustful of others states’ intentions. Maybe that is because of the mercurial nature of states? Afghanistan was allies to the US during the cold war but they went to war with them in 21st century. The UK installed Gadhafi as the leader of Libya but that relationship also went south. The US and China’s relationship during WWII was impeccable but that didn’t last very long after the rise of Communism in China. This volatile flux between nation states is a major factor in distrust; who is your enemy and who is your ally?
If we can’t alter the fundamental motivations in having nuclear weapons, what is the point in getting rid of them? Trust between states has to be created. Transparent governments need to exist. You cannot make a unilateral decision about nuclear weapons because it isn’t a domestic issue. 9 states posse nuclear weapons and there are a further 5 nations that act as hosts (another example of fear and geopolitical advantage and pressure). Yet this culture of fear we live in has escalated to extreme levels. Will it have ramification which will reverberate throughout history? I like to believe that self-preservation wins but with the rise of nationalistic and far right wing government it is not a certainty. Keep Trident because of mercurial nature of states, but work to build bridges. Let’s not wait for WW3. Let’s learn from our history. Or we will our spiral into the dark pit of despair that is known as decadence.