Sunday, 4 June 2017


I've been thinking a bit more about the nuclear option in light of the question to Jeremy Corbyn on Question Time. Let's start with a few postulates:

  • A government's first duty in exchange for leadership is the defence of its citizens.
  • It follows that a government must defend against the possibility of nuclear aggression.
  • Nuclear weapons have only ever been used against non-nuclear states.

Global nuclear disarmament is an ideal - almost all nations have declared chemical weapons illegal (I think there are only 3 countries that haven's signed up), yet they're still in use in some parts of the world - as are other internationally banned armaments. They can't be uninvented and all it takes is a change of government - whether democratically or via a coup - for an ally or treaty signatory to become a rogue state.

I know this is pure semantics, but a retaliatory weapon, used when you're already dead, is not a defence. Defence is prevention, not something you do post mortem in revenge. It's a deterrent against a first strike, or a defence only if your opponent doesn't have nukes in the first place - as in the case of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and nearly, if reports are to be believed, as a last resort by Israel against Egypt in 1967. Nukes can be first strike weapons only in the instance of your enemy not being nuclear capable.

Using a first strike against a nuclear armed opponent without expecting a retaliatory strike is naive. So why launch one, unless you're 100% certain of eliminating the retaliatory strike with your first strike, which is impossible given nuclear armed submarines. Ergo, no-one in their right mind would launch a first strike against a nuclear capable enemy - it's like you both taking a suicide pill. History, thus far, has proven nuclear weapons to be an effective deterrent against nuclear armed states.

Given a government's first duty is one of protection, unless there's a non-nuclear defence against nuclear attack, nuclear arms are the most pragmatic deterrent against geographically bound nation states. They are not, however, a defence against a dispersed ideology that has no territory to lose - other means have to be found for defence against such enemies, even if they have acquired nuclear arms themselves (which is not beyond the bounds of possibility).

A deterrent is only effective as a deterrent if it deters, and that means you have to do some posturing or, at the very least, leave your enemy wondering whether you'd use your nukes in retaliation. What you cannot do is to categorically state that you wouldn't use them. It's like advertising your front door is unlocked.

Next we come to the question of whether not having nuclear arms makes you less susceptible to being a nuclear target. Nagasaki and Hiroshima would indicate this not to be the case - so far - and as we have seen above, there's an argument that they're more likely to be used as a first strike weapon against a non-nuclear opponent.

Any war is a dreadful thing, but nuclear war is the worst.

I've always wondered whether the Hippy movement in the 60s and its associated anti-war stance was shaped by a generation having been brought up by their mothers while their fathers were away fighting wars - the lack of a father and the heavy influence of the mother shaping their view of war.

Feel free to critique and add something.


  1. "Next we come to the question of whether not having nuclear arms makes you less susceptible to being a nuclear target. Nagasaki and Hiroshima would indicate this not to be the case"

    Those words imply that Japan had nuclear arms in 1945

    1. Not the way I read it. It wasn't less susceptible through not having nuclear aram.

  2. I notice that you have erred by not mentioning the use of depleted uranium shell cases on the modern battlefields. Did you omit this deliberately ?

    1. Deliberately, as depleted uranium is used on shell casings due to it being heavier than lead and therefore better at penetrating armour. It's a tactical theatre weapon and not a WMD targeting civilians per se. The effects can be as bad on those lobbing them as those on the receiving end.