So now we know. There is to be a UK General Election in December. It may be a forlorn hope to expect that either War or the Climate Emergency will be of any priority on the highly toxic and grossly manipulated newsfeeds and combative broadcasts. This will be known historically and somewhat hysterically as the Brexit Election. Any larger global issues, including the prospective catastrophe of either climate collapse or nuclear war, will be airbrushed from the debate. Perhaps they’re deemed too emotive to be discussed, despite the anger, nay rage apparent for and against UK membership of the European Union.
Nevertheless, It has been to the credit of the socialist Left in Scotland that no discussion of Austerity or Brexit has recently taken place without at least a mention of Trident Replacement. Even the SNP are vocal about the issue. After all, they have nuclear weapons at Faslane, some 30 miles from Glasgow, and that NATO base is a huge bargaining chip with the UK Government in London.
Maintaining the campaign against Trident nuclear weapons has not been at anywhere near the same level in the Labour Party or other Left groups in the rest of Britain. There can be little doubt that the Corbyn compromise, leaving the pro-nuclear policies of Blair’s Labour Party in place, has taken focus away from Britain’s nuclear weapons.
Four years ago the polls showed that more than 70% of the population were against the replacement of Trident, the nuclear weapons system based in the UK but owned and controlled by the United States of America.
Back then, Trident was part-and-parcel of anti-war campaigning and common reference was made in any anti-Austerity speech, the cost of Trident replacement having shot up to over £205,000,000,000. Just the preparations, the research and development at the weapons establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield, have been eating-up at least £2billion a year since 2014. The sheer cost, let alone the implications of new nuclear weapons, excited furious opposition.
No doubt Brexit has had an impact against retaining the focus. And the dramatic and welcomed cacophony from the climate protests of school strikes and Extinction Rebellion has all but drowned out the Anti-nuclear campaigns. Indeed many inside the environment movement still consider nuclear power to be an essential ingredient in the drive to carbon-zero in time to stop catastrophe. This is despite Chernobyl and Fukushima, the 10-year-plus build-time of new reactors, their absurdly high cost compared with renewables, huge carbon emissions in construction, thousand-year-plus environmentally toxic and carcinogenic waste, and direct relationship with nuclear weapons. The arguments against nuclear power are vital and worthy of their own blog entry separate to this, and should be discussed everywhere in the climate movement.
The even deeper political problem is that wars across the world are increasing and President Trump has done a great deal to increase the risk of the use of nuclear weaponry. Whilst we are all aware and appalled that Trump has pulled-out of the Paris Climate Agreement and opened up more drilling for oil, there has been far less focus upon his nuclear decisions.
It is not just that the USA broke the nuclear arms agreement with Iran, ramping up the threat of further and most deadly warfare across the Region. Trump has also pulled out of the bilateral INF Treaty with Russia and in so doing unleashed a new nuclear arms race. The New START Treaty talks aimed at reducing the current 13,000+ nuclear warheads in the world (more than enough to destroy all life on earth five times over) were due to begin in 2022 but are likely to be dead before then, by Trump’s intention.
We have seen a bonfire of nuclear treaties and a revitalised commitment to use nuclear weapons alongside new and very deadly tensions between rival nuclear-armed states. This is not just an aberration caused by Trump’s wreckless premiership, but the USA’s long-standing imperialist drive to protect its position as the world’s number one power. Obama had already shifted focus from terrorism to the “revisionist powers” of Russia and China, building new nuclear silos in North East Asia as a direct challenge to China from Guam, Okinawa and Japan.
The stated strategic plan remains for a network of “theatre nuclear weapons”, coldly described as “low-yield” being “only” the explosive size of those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Modern nuclear warheads are generally ten-times that power. US-owned intermediate range nuclear missiles are being stationed across Europe, potentially including UK mainland where we will need to build the same scale of opposition symbolised by the Greenham Common protests that forced the withdrawal of US Cruise Missiles in the 1980’s.
Trump’s recently announced “Space Force” echo Reagan’s Star Wars boasts of the 1980’s but is now harrowingly possible, the technology having developed to make the militarisation of space possible. The addition of the temperamental but tantalising use of Artificial Intelligence is fast-tracking development of nuclear-armed drones with algorithms allowed to determine threat and discharge bombs automatically without needing authorisation from a human.
The risks from military New Technology require that arms control is strengthened, unlikely without widespread public exposure and opposition. The brutal “tactical-use” of a nuclear weapon is once again being considered as a winning gambit. No longer the Mutually Assured Destruction of Cold War defence, the military hawks believe that detonating a couple of nuclear bombs over a few hundred thousand people could once again scare the world into surrender and fast-track regime change.
The one consideration that has held them off so far, and still does, is public upset – the threat of anti-nuclear protest destabilising and even threatening regime change at home. Current levels of civil unrest across the world certainly warns military strategists of the threat from the “Enemy Within”. For their side it is best not publicise any plans for use of nuclear weapons before they’re executed; for our side, and indeed our survival, it is vital that we keep the opposition to nuclear weapons (and their infrastructure including nuclear power) very much alive and active.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, bringing together 29 countries under the domination of the Unites States, has a nuclear first-strike policy. Please read that twice. If and when deemed strategically essential, NATO would sanction the launch of nuclear warheads before any could be used against a NATO country. The old lie of nuclear weapons being a deterrent that ensures they’ll never be used was always a myth, and the “first strike” policy demolishes such nonsense once and for all.
Yet President Trump’s visit to England to join the NATO international Conference in London in December 2019 has very little publicity around protest action compared with his previous visits. Previous NATO Summits have seen huge and violent protests when sited in mainland Europe but are unlikely to be replicated in London. A Counter-Conference has been organised by Stop the War Coalition on Saturday 30th November together with a protest on Tuesday 3rd December when Trump arrives. These should be precisely the type of events for anti-war and environmental protesters to join together, en masse.
The open threat of nuclear war is once again overt and restated. Tensions are mounting in previously nuclear-free South America, where Brazil’s Bolsonaro has two nuclear power stations (first procured by Lula in a deal with France), off-line but producing the agents required for weapons, and the continent’s first nuclear-powered submarine is on order, a precursor to talks with Trump about the possible siting of US nuclear weapons. The threat to Venezuela, and by implication, non-compliant States across the region, is obvious.
The escalating conflicts in the Middle East include the continued use of depleted uranium, having the secondary value of spreading radioactive isotopes into the environment and thus obscuring the difference between the pollution from conventional mega-weapons such as Daisy Cutters and the radioactive residue from “low-yield” nuclear weapons, if and when used. Going nuclear is becoming an option in a world where one definition of the Anthropocene is the global coverage of human-made radioactive isotopes as a geological layer produced since the Second World War. “What difference does it make if a few nukes are exploded?”, is a question voiced by right-wing nationalists.
It is to the South China Seas that most observers look to predict the likeliest escalation in the next few years. In the Autumn of 2019 the UK carried out military exercises as part of the “Five Powers” in East Asia, identifying disputes in the South China Sea, concern about North Korea, and tensions with China, seen as the greatest threat to the USA in the long run. The US is requiring the upgrading of Japan, Australia, USA and India (The Quad) because NATO was never extended here after the independence struggles of the region.
The UK has been building links between NATO and the Quad. From December’s NATO Summit we are likely to see increased budgets and commitments to military control of the area of the South China Sea. Britain remains a Pacific power, and the “close relationship between Trump and Johnson can only assure Britain’s direct involvement in any nuclear tension – after all, we have Trident nuclear-armed submarines in the area and they are only of use as first-strike weapons.
The USA tested a nuclear-carrying new intermediate-range missile in mid-August 2019 weeks after breaking from the INF Treaty dating back to the Cold War era. The new rockets are designed for regional warfare, separate from the inter-continental ballistic missiles still very much in place. The USA is no longer an unrivalled power in the world, and the rivalries are re-arming into a super-charged arms race. Hence Trump boasted that the budget commitment to spend two and a half trillion dollars re-equipping the US military is a statement to rivals that they’ll take on all opposition, everywhere.
Officially, China has reaffirmed commitments to “no first use” whilst pushing forward with new weaponry. North Korea has also signed-up to no first use, as has India, despite its’ stand off with nuclear-armed Pakistan over Kashmir. Pakistan has not signed. Then we have the current tension in the immediate area of nuclear-armed Israel and the tensions with Iran which has restarted nuclear research and development.
The European Union is not to be outdone. Brussels has clearly indicated that they are driving for the military integration of all European States, using the EU Constitution as its rationale to use the EU to its full potential as a world power. The Lisbon Treaty includes the European Defence Treaty and a capability and armaments policy for EU militarisation, with PEScO (The Permanent Structured Cooperation in which 25 of the 28 national armed forces pursue structural integration) seeking funding, currently at €25billions, to be increased by 20 times the existing cash. The EU is on a trajectory towards having its own nuclear weapons independent of the USA. The EU’s Galileo satellite tracking system has been developed as a military answer to the USA being able to switch off its GPS in the event of hostilities.
Whilst Denmark and Ireland are seeking to opt-out of EU militarisation, France and UK have the bilateral “Tuetates” Nuclear Co-operation Treaty of 2010 to work together on nuclear weapons, the USA being in the background, with Aldermaston and Burghfield linking with their co-sites in France. This is likely to continue whatever the outcome of Brexit, Britain looking both ways at once and strategically placed as on the front-line wherever the geography of war may require placement of naval power with nuclear armaments.
Britain is also a central party to Trump’s Space Force. The construction of three space ports, at Sutherland and Prestwick airports in Scotland and one at Cornwall alongside the Newquay airport, places these military guarded sites close to existing nuclear weapons sites. Satellites will be launched with small weapons able to interfere with the satellite systems of other countries. The militarisation of space is accelerating, with India testing anti-satellite weapons whilst Trump has spoken about putting nuclear weapons in space. Israel, USA and UK have consistently abstained or voted against the U.N. Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) motion.
In the history of humanity no two nuclear armed nations have ever gone to war against each other and yet we are closer now to that event than ever before. Members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which organises the Doomsday Clock, announced in January 2019 that “the dangers of the world are being normalised, including climate change and nuclear war”. On the scale of a 24-hour clock of risk, the world is at two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to so-called Armageddon since 1953 when hydrogen bombs were being tested by the US and Soviet Union as the Cold War began to simmer.
It is not difficult to surmise that rival Capitalist nations will drive towards nuclear warfare well before climate catastrophe engulfs the world. Indeed, the competition for food, water, land and resources caused by sea level rise, glacial melt, endless drought and soil deterioration will inevitably be a major catalyst of wars both minor and major.
Global heating is not a single issue amongst many, the threat of climate collapse encompasses all other campaigns from Austerity and anti-racism to Democracy and Peace. But so does the nuclear issue.
Some of us have made great headway this year in building the XR Peace contingent across all Extinction Rebellion protests. We have also linked the climate and anti-war campaigns to those against racism and border controls. Socialists joined with XR Peace protesters in direct action against the Arms Fair in September. The campaign group, Stand Up to Racism has exposed the racist blaming of Muslims for the succession of wars started by the West and still causing tens of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees.
Environmental activists and socialists should use the General Election, not only to challenge Austerity and the gross inequality that has forced more than 14 million people into poverty in the UK, but push for action to prevent Climate Catastrophe and Nuclear war. We have to demand specific consideration by prospective MPs of the just transition of jobs away from building the new generation of drones, new nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons infrastructure including nuclear power plants and the dumping of nuclear waste on land and at sea.
This is far from easy. In the South West we have joined and helped campaigns against Hinkley C nuclear power station, and lead and won campaigns against permanent nuclear dumping in Plymouth. The planned military Space Port alongside Newquay Airport in Cornwall from where armed military satellites will be launched will offer the next target for action, linking climate and nuclear issues once again. To win we have to ensure mass consciousness of the real and present dangers, and demand policies against environmental catastrophe, against war and against nuclear. Time is short.