According to the Sydney Morning Herald, a couple of weeks ago a group of former war chiefs from the US, Britain, France, Germany and (not so unsurprisingly anymore) the Netherlands presented a paper to the two biggest war machines in the world: the Pentagon and NATO. Their point was that a ‘first strike’ nuclear option is an “indispensable [strategic] instrument” because there is “no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world”. Amongst the group were the usual suspects, like the former chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff (John Shalikashvili) and the former chief British defence staff (Lord Inge).
Apart from painting a grim picture of the possible threats the West faces to its way of life and its values (without questioning either, of course), they basically put forward two arguments: so-called rogue states (e.g. North Korea and Iran) are irrational enough to attack the West, and terrorist could, supported by sympathising governments, blow up targets in the US or allied countries like Israel. A realistic strategy for the West then would be to use a preemptive nuclear strike against rogue nations or countries supplying nuclear material to terrorist groups, on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an ‘enemy’ attack is imminent while the preventative attack would need to be designed to destroy or to greatly reduce the ‘enemy’s’ ability to launch such an attack.
Such arguments are not just controversial – they are outright dangerous as well as morally and ethically indefensible. First: who are the biggest nuclear weapon holders on this planet? The US, Britain, France and Russia. Who killed instantly more than 100.000 mostly innocent people through nuclear bombs (leave alone those thousands who suffered and died from those explosions in the decades after that barbaric act)? The US in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Who was responsible for the death and suffering of thousands of people through testing atomic weapons in the atmosphere and underground? The US, Britain, France and Russia. Who has supported the building of nuclear facilities in India, Pakistan and North Korea? Again the four nuclear superpowers. Add China to the equation and ask whether any of these countries’ political and military leaders is willing to dismantle their military nuclear arsenals, and the answer is a resounding NO. The opposite is the case. The US has started a new arms race with the child of the star wars program and has retreated from nuclear disarmament programs; Britain has recently decided to replace its Trident warheads with new, more powerful weapons.
I always find it mind-boggling how the West can muster the arrogance to argue against the nuclear proliferation given its own past and current record in this regard. To be able to take any moral high ground, shouldn’t the West set an example by reducing its nuclear capability rather than expanding it? While this seems sensible even within in our own value system (already as children we learn to set a good example for others to follow), the answer sadly but realistically cannot be found in widely accepted value systems – it lies embedded in crass materialism (the military-industrial complex with its gigantic profits) and the psychological and especially psychopathic tendencies operating in the human elements of these political, military and economic systems. In other words: the probabilities are low for our system to exchange military aggression for a newly found sensibility.
What about then looking at the ‘first strike’ strategy from from a military point of view? What are the chances that a rogue state might strike, and can a first strike prevent terrorist attacks? Let’s look at the first scenario. Even if Kim Jong-il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are psychopaths too and therefore would risk the mass annihilation of their people by striking first against the West, it is more than doubtful that they believe they can escape the following carnage with their own lives, leave alone finding a new purpose in life that would match their role and the power and influence they had before their proposed aggression. Why then would they risk such a strike against an overwhelmingly powerful enemy? I can’t think of anything sensible that could explain such a suicidal move, and there is nothing to suggest that such level of irrationality could be backed up by evidence for serious mental illness (except maybe in the West’s propaganda). These guys are not suicide bombers nor are they lunatics or cretins. Yes, if they do develop nuclear weapons they will pose a danger, but so do all other nations who already have them. The prevention strategy therefore is not nuclear attack but the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Scenario two: terrorism. Because it takes states to produce the fissile materials needed to produce nuclear weapons, and because it now seems possible to trace the origins of these materials, the US thinks that the only way to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on them is to punish the country of origin with a nuclear strike, including a preemptive one. In other words: as practiced in Japan in WWII, the US is prepared to slaughter innocent people in their ten thousands to prevent their own people from being killed by an attack that might or might not happen. Remember the 100.000 plus people who died in the first days of the Iraq war for WMD that never existed? The killing of innocent live is already deeply immoral, and if done by a nation that cannot be trusted, any rationalising argument would immediately have to be discredited (and will be by the majority of people on this planet – as it happened in the case of the Iraq war). Not exactly a strong position for the military and their political backers to launch a preemptive strike.
Apart from the moral and ethical indefensibility, the question also needs to be raised: do acts of aggression solve conflicts? It’s a no-brainer to realise that this is not the case, especially nowadays where wars can’t necessarily be won anymore by military means. That seems to particularly be the case where wars are accompanied by ideological clashes involving religious fundamentalism – which certainly would fit the West vs Iran scenario. Afghanistan should serve as a powerful example, and the same goes for Iraq. In addition, using nuclear weapons brings warfare to a totally new level: they only have been used once, with the terrible consequences still embedded in our collective memory. Using them again for the first time would be the secular equivalent of a sacrilege, especially in today’s world where religion in its most fundamentalist forms is part of the ferment that contributes to the most violent expressions of current world conflicts. A preemptive nuclear strike therefore would most likely not eliminate threads but amplify them beyond anything we have seen so far (which already is based on failed military adventures).
So what is the solution? I would say a totally different paradigm. We have tried military solutions now for millennia – without having having managed to even getting close to world peace. Therefore, rather then being driven by the old elite towards another war (this time maybe even a world war), maybe we should stand up for a new paradigm – one that favours dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation, based on a deep desire for peace, harmonious co-existence and the realisation that we all are one people living in one world. That might sound idealistic and unrealistic – the question though is: do we really have many other options left?
[The photos were taken in Hiroshima and Nagasaki]