If you run over the various political issues, it can be tempting to put them on the same level – health, education, welfare, transport etc. When it comes to immigration, most of us can spot that there is something wrong when a party like UKIP gives so much prominence to it. But sometimes, it is necessary to grade one issue much more highly than the others, at least until major progress is made in it. I’d like to persuade you that nuclear weapons is such an issue.
A few facts from a quick search of Wikipedia reveal that the UK has a stockpile of around 225 thermonuclear warheads, of which 160 are operational. (This is dwarfed by the US and Russia both of which have 7,000 to 8,000 warheads.) Nevertheless, as each dropped warhead will kill most people within a 20 mile radius, the UK’s operational nuclear warheads alone could wipe out 160 cities the size of London. If London has 7 million people, then that’s over a billion people. The further damage to other people from radiation, loss of food, employment, shelter and clean-up costs are incalculable.
It is abundantly clear to me that the use of nuclear weapons is unjustifiable in any circumstances. I would never press the nuclear button. If I would not do so, I should not expect any moral being to. The damage that even one warhead would cause is way out of proportion to any threat against us. Even if an aggressor fired a nuclear missile at the UK, retaliation would only be revenge – it would not neutralise the attack. The chances of facing a nuclear threat would in fact be much reduced if we disarm. Perhaps someone can correct me, but I know of no non-nuclear power which has been threatened with a nuclear strike.
If the use of such weapons is immoral, then so is the threat to use them. It is a basic principle of morality that threatening to do something immoral is also immoral.
If we ruled out the use or the threat of using nuclear weapons, but told the world that we just wanted them for “research” or some other non-military reason, then we would probably not be believed. The fact is that there are systems in place for political leaders to activate warheads. Even if our deceit were believed, we would still be guilty of a colossal waste of money. This again is immoral.
The UK’s nuclear weapon system – Trident – “needs” replacing by 2020. Estimates of the cost of Trident replacement are in the region of £20bn to £30bn. Adding in the running costs over its lifetime, overall costs are estimated at up to £100bn for Trident Mk 2. The three Westminster parties have committed themselves to replacing Trident, despite the end of the Cold War and despite no predicted threat from any other nuclear power. So much for multilateral disarmament commitments.
The problem with the UK having the means to kill around 1 billion people is that it corrupts us all. All of us who pay taxes and somehow contribute to the British state, co-operate in this evil to some extent. We can’t avoid it unless we leave the country, refuse to work or engage in civil disobedience. As the level of co-operation of any one of us is low, then we can weigh it in the balance and decide that we can make enough of a positive contribution to the UK to justify tolerating the evil of nuclear weapons.
I would say however that the evil of nuclear weapons is so great that it is hard for any of us to justify voting for a party which supports their retention i.e. the Lib/Lab/Cons. Voting is a deliberate act. There are electoral alternatives, at the least spoiling the ballot paper or not voting at all. I have been a member of Liberal Democrats and Labour in my time and so I need to change my ways.
And if voting for such a party is immoral, joining it is even more so, and running for office yet more. I don’t accuse all elected Lib/Lab/Con officials of being evil – I can’t judge anyone – but I am making an objective point that they are materially co-operating in evil. The more and the longer they tolerate this evil, the more they will be corrupted by it. And the more they are corrupted, the less moral authority and energy they will have to use their office and their energies for the common good.
At some point in their recent careers, Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband made an active choice to replace Trident. No doubt, the choice was shared with fellow cabinet and shadow cabinet members. They could have made the opposite choice, saying that there was no longer any credible nuclear threat to the UK and that the costs of replacement would be prohibitive. They would not have had to lose face to so-called “loony lefties” for having had nuclear weapons up to now. But no, for some reason, they persisted in believing that nuclear weapons were still justified.
Perhaps they were beguiled by the language of defence. There is no merit to examining the pros and cons of different options to implement immoral policies. It is a waste of time. But defence-speak quickly moves into discussions of threats, military “capability” and technical analyses of different weapons systems. It can be easy to be drawn into this world i.e. corrupted, and lose sight of the fact that the whole system is immoral.
The choice that Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband made was for a very serious moral evil. It is probably one reason why I am totally uninterested in anything they say, no matter how high-sounding their words are. They lack moral authority.
I am coming to the conclusion that, whenever I am able to get involved in a political debate with an elected representative from one of those 3 parties, I will ask them the same question:
“How can I take seriously your commitment to e.g. reduce inequality, relieve poverty, create jobs etc, when at the same time, your party is committed to a nuclear weapon system which can kill around 1 billion people?”
When gangland bosses remember to give their mums flowers on Mother’s Day, I am not impressed by their support for the flower industry or by their demonstration of filial love. It may salve their consciences for a while but no-one is fooled. But we allow ourselves to be fooled if we take seriously party leaders when they talk about e.g. social improvements, while at the same time, they commit themselves, our country and our money to maintaining weapons of mass destruction. Talk to the hand.
If we want to find just one reason why we lack political energy in the UK, look no further than nuclear weapons. If we want to find just one reason why we are cynical about politics and politicians and why we can’t be bothered to vote, look no further than nuclear weapons. These weapons are a stain on our nation and our values. They drain the life and respect out of democracy. What is a democracy for if we use it to pose a threat to world peace?
Perhaps a Yes-voting Scot can set me straight on this, but I think that there is more positive energy released from rejecting individuals, parties and institutions which endorse nuclear weapons, than even from embracing the idea of national independence. I have never fully experienced it, but I believe that, over time, rejecting the structures which keep nuclear weapons in the UK will be liberating – intellectually and emotionally. I certainly already feel that I have a greater clarity of thinking since more explicitly rejecting nuclear weapons, and their supporters.
Nuclear weapons have created a huge cloud over and in our minds which saps our energy and unity. It is because they are evil.