Britain's nuclear dilemma

The British Defence Secretary John Reid's recent assertion before the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence that his country will retain the nuclear deterrent as long as there was the threat of a potential enemy possessing such weapons reinforces the inherent arbitrariness in the global nuclear bargain, a recipe for the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). His remarks appear against the backdrop of the sharply polarised debate over the replacement of the Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles due by 2020. The Ministry of Defence has rejected requests for details of the proposal under the right to information law on grounds of national security and public interest. The Trident is said to possess 300 times firepower than the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima that instantly killed thousands and inflicted radiation-related disease and suffering on subsequent generations. The current debate should be viewed in the context of the renewal last year of Britain's 1958 nuclear agreement for mutual defence with the U.S. — widely seen as a framework for clandestine trade in WMDs. It is no surprise therefore that the proposal for the induction of the new generation of weapons should have been called into question in terms of Britain's disarmament obligations under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty to reduce its arsenals.

Members of Parliament in the ruling Labour Party led by Paul Flynn have demanded that a final decision on updating the missile system, expected before the 2010 general elections, be made on the basis of a vote in the House of Commons. The move away from Labour's call — despite the cold-war — for unilateral disarmament in the 1983 manifesto to the commitment to an independent nuclear deterrent in Tony Blair's 2005 manifesto is indeed striking and anti-nuclear campaigners have questioned the rationale behind the investment of billions of dollars at the expense of more pressing social commitments. Nuclear deterrence — the doctrine that purportedly deters aggression from the enemy in view of the capacity to inflict total and irreversible destruction in retaliation — advocated by the nuclear weapons states has in fact been the root cause of what is known as vertical and horizontal proliferation. Not only are today's increased stockpiles of weapons and delivery systems technologically more sophisticated; but there are more countries that either have the bomb or nurture nuclear ambitions. The failure of deterrence is also tellingly revealed by the development of the so-called usable nukes by the U.S. and its withdrawal, along with Britain, of the guarantee not to use WMDs against non-nuclear weapons states. The justification for Trident's replacement in terms of national security has merely underscored this hypocrisy once again.

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