Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Circular arguments

The Secretary of State for Defence has told us this week that the development of nuclear weapons by North Korea justifies the UK’s possession of such weapons.  Unfortunately, he does not set out the logical process he’s used to get from the premise to the conclusion. 
Insofar as there is a degree of logic there, I can understand why a state which fears that another nuclear weapons state might attack it could convince itself that it therefore needs to have its own nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent to a potential attacker.  But isn’t that precisely the logic which has driven Kim Jong-Un to acquire nuclear weapons in the first place?  In essence, Fallon’s argument seems to be that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons to counter what it sees as a threat from us, so we need nuclear weapons to counter the threat that they will pose us as a result.  It’s a circular argument which leads inevitably in only one direction – nuclear proliferation.  If the existence of nuclear weapons in one state justifies the retention or acquisition of such weapons by another, the solution has more to do with getting rid of them than with upgrading them. 
I can understand why Fallon might honestly believe that Kim is mad enough to use his weapons once they are ready, and I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.  A closed dictatorial society where people are afraid to tell the supreme leader anything that he might not want to hear could well create the conditions for a nuclear conflict to break out, but that’s not much of an argument for threatening all-out retaliation; it just proves that ‘deterrence’ doesn’t work in those particular circumstances.  The whole concept of deterrence is based on an assumption that possessors of nuclear weapons will carry out a careful assessment of the likely retaliatory damage to their own side before using them.  It also assumes both that those involved will make a rational assessment, and that weighing up the probable millions of deaths on both sides to decide who wins is in some way a rational act.
The real reason that the UK insists on retaining and upgrading its nuclear weapons – despite treaty obligations forbidding it from doing so – is to maintain the fiction that the UK is one of the world’s great powers and keep hold of its seat on the UN Security Council.  It’s one of the most expensive seats in the world.


TheStone said...

Fiction England is a great power.

Anonymous said...

I rather like thinking Great Britain is still great, be it in terms of nuclear power, intellectual clout, democracy, the language or whatever. Perhaps that's why I so enjoyed the speech Boris made yesterday, despite me being a REMAIN'er.

Just makes me feel so much better about myself.


John Dixon said...

The origins of the term 'Great Britain' are of course geographical - simply a way of referring to the biggest island of this little archipelago - and nothing to do with any perceived 'greatness' of spirit or achievement, although it would be hard to conclude that from the way in which the term is most commonly used. But there's nothing wrong in feeling good about your chosen national identity - nor even in feeling 'great' about it, as long is great is merely a stronger form of 'good'. Feeling comfortable and relaxed with what we perceive ourselves to be is surely a good thing in itself. The problem arises when nationalists - and this is a particular problem with British nationalists - start to see 'great' as being a term of comparison with other nations; to believe that their chosen identity is in any way better or greater than any other; or to insist that others conform to their perception.