Would a sane Commander in Chief ever deploy Nuclear Weapons?

Sunday, 17th July 2016

The British Parliament is about to vote on the renewal of the country’s US-built and US-controlled nuclear missile shield. In case you didn't know, these nuclear warheads are launched from submarines based in Faslane on the Firth of Clyde, just 20 miles from Glasgow, Scotland.

I’ve long realised pacifism, while an ideal we should all aspire to, is not a viable option in a dangerous and grotesquely unequal world. Pacifism makes as much sense as open borders without any police surveillance. It might work once we have overcome the dark sides of human nature and established a truly egalitarian and peace loving society in which not only do we all care for each other, but we all trust each other. If you can justify self-defence and accept the need for public institutions to protect us, you have to recognise we need some form of defence, especially in the wake of recent terrorist attacks and attempted coups d’état.

The biggest threats to the security of the British people do not come rival superpowers intent on destroying our infrastructure and killing millions of people, but from unstable militias and unhinged local despots who retaliate against UK involvement in military operations in their neck of the woods. Britain is a prime target of foreign aggressors not because we have failed to destroy their power bases, but because our government's actions in supporting US and NATO interventions has greatly destabilised much of the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. A major military power such as Russia, with vast territory of its own, would have little reason to attack the British Isles, unless we became directly involved in a future conflagration with Russia over Ukraine. In such a scenario, were Russia to deploy nuclear warheads against a densely populated country, without the military and economic might for total world domination, the fallout would permanently shatter its international reputation and almost certainly invite disastrous military and/or economic retaliation. In a globally connected world destroying your customers’ countries doesn’t make much sense unless it’s the only way to gain control of mission-critical resources only available there in abundance.

A quick look at military spending figures for 2015 reveals a changing world. With the notable exception of the United States, which account for over 40% of the global military spending, the countries with the most successful economies have rather modest defence budgets. Even Russia, with around 145 million, only spends 10 billion more than the UK. Most of its military budget is invested in land forces and a large personnel of 771 thousand. Russia is also surrounded by US bases in Eastern Europe, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Japan. Of greater concern should be Saudi Arabia’s massive $88 billion defence budget.

RankCountry$ Billion
1United States597.5
3Saudi Arabia81.8
5United Kingdom56.2
10South Korea33.5

Source: Wikipedia: List of Countries By Military Expenditures

What would happen if some madman launched a nuclear attack against us

While NATO’s military planners may be fixated with Russia, the real threat comes from an unstable Middle East, especially in the event of a popular uprising in Saudi Arabia and the ascension to power of an anti-Western regime allied with countries such as Pakistan and possibly Iran. They might, at least until the development of viable alternatives, hold the world to ransom through their control of cheap oil, and fight regional wars of conquest just as Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in bombing campaigns in Yemen. However, any nuclear strikes against European cities would kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims too. Nuclear weapons are useless against strategic military targets, unless such targets are conveniently located in remote sparsely populated regions. Indeed to be effective a nuclear attack would have to annihilate enemy territory. A large superpower, like the USA, could wipe out a geographically constrained enemy, albeit with cataclysmic human consequences, but a small militias linked to an ad-hoc state such as Daesh would only succeed in killing people before inviting immediate retaliation against an ill-defined target. A nuclear strike would be the ultimate act of extreme terrorism that no sane commander in chief of a stable country would contemplate even in the event of nuclear attack on their territory, by which time the damage would have been done. The only logical defence would be an advanced anti-nuclear defence shield that could intercept and destroy nuclear warheads before they reach major population centres. Our priority would be to minimise human deaths and neutralise the enemy. Oddly the huge projected £100 and 200 billion budget for the new Trident system over 30 years would be much better spent on more intelligent satellite reconnaissance and surface to air missiles launched from existing submarines but without nuclear warheads. Mail On Sunday columnist Peter Hitchins supported Trident in the cold war days when most of us on the left opposed it, but he rightly says now "To spend all your money of a nuclear weapon for a war that won't happen is like spending all your money on insurance against alien abduction and then neglecting to insure your self against fire and theft." 

Deterrence theory relies on convincing your potential enemy that you'd actually deploy your warheads, which would have no tactical advantage. Nuclear weapons are good at two things: mass destruction and complete humiliation. It's what the US did to the Japanese towards the end of Second World War. They could only get away with it because of their massive technological and economic superiority. That's no longer the case. Nuclear war would lead to mutually assured destruction. Keeping nuclear weapons only encourages rogue states from following suit.