“Now I Am Become Death, The Destroyer of Worlds.”
In the late 20th Century the world was nearly destroyed — the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 threatened to turn the Cold War hot, and the world stood still and waited with baited breath. They held their breath until the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), the Helsinki Accords and then the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. From there we all breathed a little easier as the world woke up a little bit and realised ‘oh wow we could have actually blown up the whole planet with these things’ and began a scheme of gradual nuclear disarmament.
That is until 2021, when Boris Johnson, the man who last month couldn’t find enough money to give our NHS staff more than a 1% pay rise after they kept him alive and fought through the pandemic, scrounged up enough to build more nukes. The British Government has removed the cap placed on Britain’s nuclear stockpile and intends to increase our stocks of nuclear warheads by 44%! One imagines that now we’ve officially Brexited and are no longer answerable to the EU, and what with the government removing people’s human right to protest (ushering in an authoritarian and fascist regime), nuclear rearmament will be unopposed.
The government is claiming that this increase will keep us “safe” yet fails to name which threat can’t be stopped with 180 nuclear bombs…but can be stopped with 260. Have we just forgotten about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? In 1965, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist in charge of the Manhattan Project, famously declared with a cold dead gaze, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’” What the twin nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented to the world was that nuclear weapons are, as Oppenheimer stated, “the destroyer of worlds”. People got a look at one possible ending of our existence, in the nuclear fallout of Hiroshima they had the premonition of how the world could end. And that was back in 1945, imagine how much nuclear weapons have evolved since then — imagine how much more damage one nuclear bomb could do some 71 years later. It raises two questions: is Johnson a moron who just wants to literally obliterate the world? (I wouldn’t put it past him) and why do we need 260 nuclear weapons?
In fact, a report published in 2018 co-authored by Michigan Technological University professor Joshua Pearce and David Denkenberger, assistant professor at Tennessee State University and director of Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters, argued that 100 nuclear weapons is the “pragmatic limit” — the study states, “The results found that 100 nuclear warheads is adequate for nuclear deterrence in the worst case scenario, while using more than 100 nuclear weapons by any aggressor nation (including the best positioned strategically to handle the unintended consequences) even with optimistic assumptions (including no retaliation) would cause unacceptable damage to their own society.” Pearce and Denkenberger argued that the use of government funds to maintain more than 100 nuclear weapons is irrational, especially not from a nation like the UK who can’t even afford to feed children during a pandemic! Other than the initial destruction which would kill so many people, the geopolitical as well as environmental consequences are sure to spell the end of life on Earth…other than the cockroaches. I guess the Tory cabinet will be fine then.
A 2016 government report concluded the biggest threats to Britain where cyber attacks, terrorism, and…pandemics. Can we stop cyber attacks with 260 nukes? Maybe, but those cyber attacks could be able to access our nukes eventually, so why get more? Can we stop terrorism with nukes? Probably, though that’s a bad idea — at the very least we would cause irreparable damage and quite possibly kill ourselves in the process. Can we solve a pandemic with 260 nukes? No, though we could have certainly alleviated the great death toll and impact the pandemic has had on this country if we didn’t waste so much money on weapons of mass destruction that pose a risk to all of us. The government has not disclosed how much this will all cost, but they said we would get that info in “due course”. Suffice to say, its not gonna be cheap, estimated roughly £10 billion — enough to provide our NHS with a 5% pay rise (something the Tories said was “unaffordable”).
Other than the absolute irrationality of this decision, it is also illegal. As of January 22nd 2021 the UN Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty came into force and made the further development or production of new nuclear warheads illegal under international law. The UK is one of 5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and was a signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which commits the government to gradual nuclear disarmament under international law — a policy successive administrations have stuck to, cross-party. But is it really surprising that the Tory government are in breach of international law? It isn’t their first offence, the EU are beginning their legal action against the UK over their breach of the Northern Ireland protocols established in the haphazard, last minute Brexit deal.
Kate Hudson, general secretary of the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said: “A decision to increase Britain’s nuclear arsenal absolutely goes against our legal obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Not only is the UK failing to take the required steps towards disarmament, it is wilfully and actively embarking on a new nuclear arms race – at a time when presidents Biden and Putin have renewed their bilateral nuclear reductions treaty.” Russia declared that Johnson’s decision was a “blow to international peace” and labelled the UK a threat to denuclearisation and world security — when Putin is the one scolding you, you’re definitely doing something wrong.
The government would rather spend money on useless weapons we won’t use and can’t legally have than on rewarding the doctors and nurses that got us through the pandemic. A country that chose not to feed starving kids during a global pandemic, a government led by a bunch of rich, corrupt elites who give billions of pounds worth of contracts to their mates, a police force that arrests women during a peaceful vigil, a nation that answered discussions of racism with violence, one of the wealthiest kingdoms in the world that fumbled the management of Covid-19 leading to the highest death toll globally, and that now, instead of, you know, CONSERVING funds to rebuild this society after the pandemic, wastes £10 Billion on illegal, dangerous, and utterly useless nuclear weapons. Nukes aren’t going to feed the children Mr Johnson, nukes aren’t going to reward the NHS workers Mr Gove, nukes aren’t going to solve police brutality Ms Patel, nukes aren’t going to bring back those 130 thousand who lost their lives or bring their families peace and stability Mr Hancock. All nukes are good for is more death and destruction. To quote JFK, “The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us.”