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Thursday, October 01, 2015 

Can you direct me to the nearest designated mass grave?

"In the long run," Keynes said, "we are all dead."  When it comes to any exchange of nuclear weapons, you can reverse his maxim.  Verily, in the very short term we will all be dead.  Or, if extraordinarily unlucky, still alive in a world where the living will envy the dead.

In what has already been a remarkably stupid last few weeks, the whole why-won't-that-bastard-Corbyn-incinerate-everyone-out-of-spite-if-we're-all-going-to-die-anyway debate has truly taken the cake.  Last night's Newsnight was utterly surreal: Evan Davis and Lord Falconer considering hypothetical after hypothetical, Falconer making clear that he would indeed if prime minister keep the option open of taking part in unprecedented slaughter, as that is clearly what the British people would expect.  The reaction of members of the shadow cabinet team to Jeremy Corbyn replying to a straight question with a straight answer they must have known he would give, that he cannot conceive of any circumstances in which he would ever launch nukes, has been bizarre and disloyal.  Andy Burnham, Maria Eagle and all the others are apparently perfectly happy to join in with the end of the world, so long as someone else starts it first.

As Dan Davies pointed out, Corbyn was asked entirely the wrong question.  The question should not be would you break out the nukes, as it is almost inconceivable we would ever use them without the support of the people who help to make our "independent" deterrent.  The question rather should be whether a prime minister would use them without US approval, and secondly what they think would happen if they did.  It's all but impossible to think of any scenario where potential nuclear war was imminent that would not involve a square off between the US and either Russia/China, the only other nuclear armed states that have the potential to destroy each other and much of the rest of the planet if they so wished.

In such circumstances, the NATO doctrine of an attack on one is an attack on all would come into play; there would be little effective choice in the matter unless the PM decided the whole Threads look wasn't a good one.  If nuclear holocaust happens, we're going to die.  Simple as.  If the prime minister of the day then is such an utter shitbag that his letter to the commander of the Vanguard sub says yes, please spray more nuclear megadeath around for the sheer sake of it, it's not going to make a blind bit of difference to us.  It might well to other countries without insane defence/war policies, but to a nation where Radio 4 has stopped broadcasting?  Nope.  Of course, the commander himself might in such circumstances decline to follow those orders, as who's going to know or rebuke him.  You wouldn't however put your mortgage on such a hope.

The oh, you can't say definitively you would never use nukes because you always have to make the potential enemy think you might argument is therefore bunk.  It's not about making the Russians/Chinese think twice, it's wholly about the ridiculous, yes I'm so dedicated to the security of my country that I will happily see it annihilated in a nuclear fire, my bollocks are bigger than yours political game.  It wouldn't matter as much if there was on the horizon the merest suggestion that we might be returning to a Cold War frame of mind, but there isn't.  On the contrary, the Russian intervention in Syria and the relative lack of reaction to it makes clear that the wear your mushroom with pride days are not about to make a comeback.  The Russian intervention in Afghanistan in the 80s seemed of a piece with the rise in belligerence by both sides.  Today, there is no such desire to restart the waving of ICBMs.

This doesn't mean it can't happen.  It could, not least if leaders more volatile than Obama or Putin come to power, or if China decides to further step up its militarisation of the South China Sea.  The smart money though remains on either a continued terrorist threat, as far as there is one, against which anything other than conventional forces are useless, or small scale actions like the ones in Ukraine, where irregular forces and militias are used, and so ditto.  As Diane Abbott rightly points out, some of the most respected retired generals previously made clear their opposition to Trident replacement, wanting the money to be spent instead on conventional weaponry.

The biggest obstacles to getting rid of Trident if we so wished are not so much those considerations, as politicians know full well nukes are useless militarily, but rather the "loss of standing" disarming would have. Allied with how the military-industrial complex must go on being fed, a view supported by the unions, with GMB leader Sir Paul Kenny (knighted by Cameron, natch) saying Corbyn would have to resign if he became prime minister and didn't change his stance, it's far easier to just accept that our weapons are both "independent" and a "deterrent", must be replaced, and be on the brink of being launched at all times.  Anything less is to give in to the "nirvana fallacy", to be unrealistic, to go against the accepted rules of politics.  Whether such thinking stands up in a world that moves ever further away from 1989, where the public mood is one of wanting to stop meddling as a direct result of the foreign policy failures of recent times, remains to be seen.

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