De Profundis

Brian Quail is back in jail.  The redoubtable 79 year old CND pensionista and former Glasgow Schools Latin teacher was arrested for his part in a peaceful demonstration outside the nuclear arsenal at Coulport.  I’m not sure what the charge was.  The last time he was in court it was on a charge, ironically enough, of breach of the peace.  He halted the progress of a nuclear convoy by lying down on the road in front of it.

This time his trial is set for August 3rd.  He was offered bail, on condition that he agreed not to go within 100 yards of Faslane or Coulport.  He said he was unable to give this guarantee; consequently he is currently languishing in HM Prison Low Moss, from which he sent The Herald a letter, which appeared in the Letters Column on Thursday.  It is, as ever, beautifully written.  Mr Quail belongs to a movement, Trident Ploughshares, which condemns Trident as being manifestly illegal and morally reprehensible.

On July 7th the United Nations agreed a draft treaty banning nuclear weapons.  122 states signed up to it, but this did not include any of the nine recognised nuclear powers.  Despite the fact that Winston Churchill advised us that to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war, the UK did not even turn up for the UN treaty negotiations which ran between 27th  to 31st  March, and from 15th June to 7th July.  (This goes a long way towards explaining why Mr Quail is a supporter of Scottish Independence.  The SNP would remove Trident from Scottish waters and Mr Quail believes there is no viable harbour for it anywhere else in the UK.)  So far as I could see, UK mass media gave the UN negotiations scant coverage.  I didn’t see anything about it on the BBC.  I am fortunate to be kept informed by my sources in CND and, indeed, Low Moss.

Mr Quail is widely respected.  He said himself that the police who arrested him treated him with the utmost courtesy, and I imagine that the judge who sent him down did so with the greatest reluctance.  Yet, with respect to hawks and doves, the hawks are winning the debate.  People who go on CND marches are a bunch of bearded vegans in sandals, admirably idealistic but hopelessly naïve.  Sir Michael Fallon’s arguments carry the day: we effectively use Trident round the clock because every day it functions as a nuclear deterrent.  This is why it is being upgraded, in order to provide us with defence for the next half century.

Well, there has been an impasse between the hawks and the doves for the past 72 years, and I guess this blog isn’t going to make a whit of difference.  Yet can I move the debate forward one Angstrom?  It seems to me there are two preconceptions about the pro-Trident camp that are widely accepted as being true but which are, under scrutiny, fallacious.  The first is that those who are pro-Trident are supporters of multilateral nuclear disarmament.  That this cannot be true is demonstrated by the fact that the UK government did not send representation to the UN conference.  I have the General Assembly’s ten page document in front of me now.  “United Nations conference to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”  Anybody truly seeking a nuclear-free world would have gone to that, if only to highlight difficulties in the path ahead.  But the current British government has no intention of relinquishing the Bomb.

The second misconception is that in some sense the hawks are really doves; they are only bluffing.  The interviewer says to the Defence Secretary, “Sir Michael, why are you spending vast sums of money on a weapon you can never use?”  And Sir Michael, who is a very plausible man, replies, “On the contrary, we use our deterrent every day.  Every day our submariners are on patrol, our shores are protected.”  Hence the Bomb’s use is not in its deployment, but rather in its state of readiness.  So when Mrs May was asked in the House if she would be prepared to deploy the weapon, she immediately and unequivocally replied, “Yes.”  This was widely understood not necessarily to be a statement of fact, but rather a necessary utterance without which the entire Trident project must collapse.  In order for the deterrent to work, a potential enemy must believe that you are prepared to deploy the weapon.  So it helps to project a swashbuckling persona with more than a hint of instability and unpredictability.  The nuclear power which from our viewpoint carries off such a coup-de-theatre most effectively must be North Korea.  Whether their possession of a long range ballistic missile and their imminent perfection of a deliverable nuclear warhead makes their country safer (as apparently Trident makes us safer) is another matter.

We don’t know whether or not the PM is bluffing because we are not privy to the contents of her directives to the Trident submariners, the “letters of last resort”.  Is it not outrageous that in a parliamentary democracy the future – or otherwise – of the entire planet should be at the whim of a single individual who need not communicate let alone debate her decision with anybody else?

Yet I have a sense that it matters not one whit whether or not the PM is bluffing.  Events develop a momentum of their own.  If the payload, and the means of delivery, are held in readiness, then the deployment becomes merely a matter of time, either by accident or design.  We witnessed the same thing in 1914.  A planned mobilisation was simply put into effect.  The inevitability of war was merely subject to the vagaries of railway timetables.  In our present case, all you need is a rapid deterioration in international relations, and the sense that a nation state is facing a supreme crisis.

But we already knew that the Bomb is not a bluff.  Just ask the hibakusha.

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