On her first Commons appearance as PM, Theresa May´s insouciant willingness to authorise a nuclear strike (or at very least sing loudly from the usual MoD hymn sheet) confirms the points made by former Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry, in his book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink.
The so-called debate in the Commons underlines the political elite´s collective nuclear denial that in turn mirrors the public’s unawareness – perhaps equal amounts of confusion and ignorance – of the issues.
So parliament has just committed well over £100bn on a weapons system that we won’t use, that we mustn’t use, and that even the Russians know we won’t use.
The British government´s wish to maintain and upgrade its independent nuclear strike capacity is moreover hard to square with its obligations under international law to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile by the mid-2020s.
But the scare-mongering ´deployment´of nuclear terrorism deflects public attention away from the on-going modernisation of the U.S.´s land, air and sea nuclear capability and the expansion of NATO up to the Russian border, programmes started by Bush but which President Obama has been unable to halt (during his Presidential campaign, he pledged to “set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it”), and which has inevitably prompted a range of responses from Putin´s mafia state. But facing a new wave of nuclear proliferation and the concomitant increased risk of a nuclear catastrophe shows how little nuclear and non-nuclear disarmament progress there has been in the past 30+ years – Jonathan Schell´s scary Fate of the Earth was published in 1982 .
John Galbraith in The Economics of Innocent Fraud stressed the corporate interest in the endorsement of rearmament and support for war.
Wars are, one cannot doubt, a major modern threat to civilised existence, and corporate commitment to weapons procurement and use nurtures and supports this threat… War remains the decisive human failure.
This video by Orbital Mechanics shows the global history of nuclear detonations. From the first Manhattan project tests, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty (between the US, UK and the Soviet Union) that saw an end of all the testing of weapons except underground, and through to the North Korean tests. The US carried out 1,054 (904 at the Nevada Test Site), the Soviet Union 715 tests, France 210 (including atmospheric testing until 1974), China and the UK 45 each, India and Pakistan have detonated 6 nuclear devices each, and North Korea has tested 4 times. In all the video shows 2,153 nuclear explosions and tests with an approximate total yield of 545 megatons of TNT equivalent (or 34,000 Hiroshimas …).
To this add the 444 nuclear reactors in operation (May 2016) in 30 countries. What has been – and continues to be – the health implications? It is undeniable that the tests resulted in release of substantial quantities of radioactive materials that are now to be found all around the world. For the Nevada Test Site the National Cancer Institute in 1997 estimated that the levels of radiation were enough to cause 10,000 to 75,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer alone in the U.S. In Russia City 40 is one of the most contaminated places in the world.
For nuclear reactors the evidence seems no better.
The [Radiation and Public Health Project] study of baby teeth showed that Sr-90 levels in children near reactors [104 in the US] were 30-50 percent greater than children in distant areas, and that levels were rising sharply over time, as aging reactors corrode
In the UK studies in the 1990s indicated leukemia clusters near nuclear plants. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment in 2003 found higher rates of leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma near Sellafield and Dounreay which were “… unlikely to be due to chance, although there is not at present a convincing explanation for them”. The arguments over Hinkley Point C is a recent example of corporate lobbyist inside trading in which the health aspects are discounted.
But does the political and corporate elites lack of interest to create “a world free of nuclear weapons” also show their lack of a willingness to deal with climate change? The similarities between the two global concerns are striking. But at least the climate change debate has entered a new arena, one within which there are a wide range of social movements seeking a political revolution – challenging business as usual attitudes and practices from the local to national and international level and linking spaces of resistance and progressive alliances for rights, labour, race and environmental issues. Extra-parliamentary pressure has always been the font of systemic change since the ranks and agitators of the New Model Army argued for the representation of the people in Parliament. Surely writing today Galbraith would have included climate change as an equal existential risk.