I am in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. I’m not a peacenik, in that I don’t hold all violence to be inherently unjustifiable, but the very idea of nuclear war makes my mind boggle. That we, that is, the UK, retain a nuclear arsenal with the capacity to wipe out millions if not hundreds of millions of lives is effectively a crime against all humanity. I’ve met a few Labourite activists who believe we should keep our weapons, but I’ve never yet met one who is consistent about it.
The question is intrinsically bound up with our view of the State, and how we view the mechanisms of international diplomacy established under American-Western European hegemony. Let’s take Tom Miller’s view as an example. He approvingly links to Nick Cohen, who asked the following question:
Hudson demanded that Iran be left alone and expressed her ‘deepest concern’ at the news that the UK, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China were to report the mullahs to the UN Security Council as part of the anti-nuclear proliferation treaty enforcement procedures.
What is going on? Why is CND doing everything it can to cheer on a reactionary regime that wants to go nuclear?
Far be it from me to stand up for Iran, but there seems an element of character assassination built into this selection from Cohen. Isn’t it possible that the concern on the part of Kate Hudson was rather that this referral is the first step towards a military strike? It is concerning that CND invited the Iranian ambassador to come speak to them, and then evicted Iranian anti-nuclear activists who protested inside the hall, but let’s not suddenly pretend that the UN Security Council is a disinterested anti-proliferation enforcer.
I’m not exonerating Hudson; it’s entirely possible that she and others believe Iran has a right to nuclear weapons, on the grounds of national sovereignty or some other rubbish. I’m simply saying that Cohen is out to portray this badly.
Tom suggests that this tendentious approach on the part of CND is related to Lenin’s revolutionary defeatism - which I think is balderdash. First of all, Lenin campaigned for the soldiers, workers and peasants of Russia to force upon the Russian ruling class an immediate surrender. This was the quickest route to peace. Yet he did not campaign on this while considering the nation-state as the building block of world politics, he campaigned believing the global proletariat to be the basic building block of any political theory.
Thus Lenin advocated a policy of revolutionary defeatism for all nations equally, each working class to deprive its own ruling class of the means to wage war. The difference between a tendentious approach and revolutionary defeatism should be blindly obvious, and Tom is wrong to calumniate Lenin’s practical call to action on the basis of this CND behaviour. If Cohen is correct, it is not calling for revolutionary defeatism at all. Not only that, but we should be ‘concerned’ about the referral of Iran to the UN Security Council as it probably is the first step towards bombing.
Invasion of Iran by Western forces - even for a purpose so limited as bombing - is likely to set back opposition to the regime in Tehran, giving credence to Ahmedinejad’s nonsense about the Great Satan. Moreover, it is gross hypocrisy for Russia, China, the US, the UK and France to talk about non-proliferation when virtually all of these powers have been involved in proliferation - not just in terms of obvious things like fissile materials, but in ballistic weapons technology, trained personnel in the construction of nuclear reactors that have the capacity to produce enriched uranium and so on.
Bearing these things in mind, my questions to the non-unilateralists run as follows.
Are there any circumstances where you would consider the use of nuclear weapons? If not, why have them? Even if another nation launched a nuclear attack against the United Kingdom, we would have notice of it but we couldn’t stop it. For what reason would we return fire and kill millions of people, none of whom actually had any hand in the death of these islands? I don’t think there is anything any nation could do which would justify the extermination of whole peoples with nuclear fire.
If you think our possession of nuclear weapons lowers the chance that someone will attack us, why would you be against Iran having them? Surely every country has a right to protect itself? I suspect the answer to this, if stripped of all pretention, boils down to the belief that the US and UK are the ‘good’ guys in international diplomacy - peace, freedom and homemade apple pie etc. Iran, so the theory runs, is much more likely to use nuclear weapons in a war…but what is there to substantiate such a theory?
I’m against any nation having nuclear weapons, and the essence of revolutionary defeatism calls for us to support any Iranian movement towards unilateral disarmament, whilst equally demanding the government disarm our own weapons. I don’t think possession of nuclear weapons reduces the possibility of nuclear war, I think it raises the possibility of further proliferation. Moreover, its only by continuing to exert ‘imperial’ pretensions of influence that we invite other national ruling classes to oppose us violently.
Let’s stop doing that, for a start. No more Afghanistans, no more Iraqs. Forcing the end of such policies is a big part of a campaign of revolutionary defeatism, and would tie into unilateral disarmament in various ways.
Finally, there will come a point at which we choose either unilateral disarmament or to purchase new nuclear weapons. We can certainly advocate multilateral disarmament - but if that fails, at the end of the life of our nuclear weapons, are we to buy more? If not, we disarm by default. If so, we’re effectively rearming ourselves and continuing the cycle anew. In such circumstances, people who aren’t unilateralists either become such by default or become no different to those who say we need nuclear weapons.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament is thus the only consistent position.