Jim McCluskey | Preposterous Propositions

Armageddon machines and the merchants of death.

English peace activist Jim McClusky examines just a few of the “preposterous propositions” that underpin British – and US – foreign and security policies.

“Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.”

– George Orwell

To make us safe and feel secure, we must build weapons that can destroy the world. We must then put them on hair-trigger alert, so that they can be launched at the press of a button. So say our UK and US leaders. Weird.

Why do we, the citizens, believe this stuff? Do we believe it? We seem to be dazed into a state of passivity by the grossly irrational nature of the preposterous propositions put to us day after day by those we put in power. Such bizarre tenets are repeated or implied ad nauseam by pundits and TV’s talking heads, by ‘commentators’ and a galaxy of establishment ‘experts.’ The attitudes, if not the words, are repeated so often that we lose the power to think about them.

Let’s cite a few more examples:

  • The UK needs an Independent Nuclear Deterrent – No we don’t. Even if we did, our Armageddon ‘deterrent’ is not ‘ours,’ is not ‘independent’ and is not a ‘deterrent.’ It is not ‘ours’ since the majority of the British public have made it clear in polls that they do not want it. It is not ‘independent’ since it uses missiles designed and made in the US, weapons that are designed in the US, and is dependent for launch on a US satellite system. It is not a ‘deterrent’ since it will not deter the real threats of global warming, the population explosion, peak oil and greedy bankers.
  • Nuclear Deterrence” worked in the past and so it will work in the future. Not so on both counts. See below to find out how wrong is this particular preposterous proposition.
  • The UK government completely supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which commits us to getting rid of our nuclear weapons) and is a signatory to it- yet we know that it is spending billions of pounds on new facilities at its Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermaston, able to develop a more advanced generation of nuclear weapons. The new complex will be on the scale of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. [1]
  • By rebuilding our fleet of Trident nuclear submarines, we would create much needed jobs and ensure that the skills are not lost – the skills, that is, which are needed to build Armageddon machines. Jobs which could be properly transferred to work on sustainable energy facilities.
  • We can afford to spend billions on nuclear weapons – but we cannot afford to spend the necessary amount of money on carbon capture and storage and appropriately sized alternative energy developments.
  • The way to achieve a peaceful world is to wage pre-emptive war against those by whom we feel threatened – hence the ‘War on Terror.’ ‘Perpetual war for perpetual peace’ was how Gore Vidal expressed this particular proposition. [2]
  • People can be bombed into becoming peace-loving liberal democrats.
  • The United Kingdom is a peace-loving state – although we have been involved in more wars since 1945 than virtually any other country in the world. [3]
  • Muslim Fundamentalists are extremely dangerous – Christian (and scientific) Fundamentalists are not.
  • The only way to stop fundamentalism (of the bad kind) is to militarily attack the fundamentalists – the reasons that people become fundamentalists need not be given serious consideration.
  • The way to dissuade people we suspect might become fundamentalists is to invade their country and blow up their families.

Preposterous propositions, one and all – yet ones which are implicit in the decisions of our leaders.

A closer look at a few chosen examples only reinforces their preposterousness:

The UK needs an independent nuclear deterrent.

The UK government’s manifestation of the MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) strategy is our nuclear ‘deterrent.’

Mr Liam Fox, our newly appointed Minster of Defence under the Coalition government which British citizens had hoped would herald a return to rationality, recently reiterated the old threadbare mantra. Referring to Trident renewal, Mr Fox declared, “I am very relaxed about explaining to our Liberal Democrat colleagues that the system is actually the best value for money,” and, “We believe that Britain needs a credible nuclear deterrent.”[4]

Many members of the British public find this attitude incomprehensible. What values are being referred to here by “the best value for money“?

Each of the 48 nuclear weapons carried by Trident has a destructive power at least 7 times that of the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima, killing 140,000 people. Hence the Trident submarine has the firepower to kill 47 million individuals at a cost of around 97 billion pounds. That is a cost of £2,064 per dead person. Is this good value for money? Are there cheaper ways of killing people on a genocidal scale? How much is a person’s life worth?

“Nuclear Deterrence” worked in the past so it will work in the future.

It didn’t and it won’t.

There have been various times in the past when we came within a hair’s breadth of nuclear war, ‘deterrent’ notwithstanding. The Cuban missile crises in 1962 is a strong contender for the ultimate off-the-wall militaristic lunacy, having been credibly billed as the most dangerous few days in human history to date. For 13 days, the peoples of the world waited in terror, aghast that they had been led to the brink of a global holocaust. History has confirmed that the degree of crisis was not exaggerated.

President Kennedy himself said the chances of a nuclear war resulting from the crisis was somewhere between 1 in 3 and fifty-fifty. [5] That is much worse than the odds in playing Russian roulette.

There are those who claim that the fact we did not have a nuclear war at that time proves that ‘deterrence’ works. The logic of this classic preposterous proposition is that the closer you come to nuclear Armageddon, the stronger the proof that the system works and therefore the more secure you should feel.

Since the MAD system is entirely dependent on subject-to-failure electronic warnings, and since, after an alert, the chain of command has minutes to decide whether or not to launch Armageddon, the view that this is a sane posture constitutes yet another preposterous proposition. This realisation began to dawn on President Reagan after the Able Archer debacle in 1983, when we nearly started a nuclear war by simulating the start of one as an ‘exercise’. The Russians nearly took it as real.

The President said afterwards,

“We had many contingency plans for responding to a nuclear attack. But everything would happen so fast that I wondered how much planning or reason could be applied in such a crisis… Six minutes to decide how to respond to a blip on a radar scope and decide whether to unleash Armageddon! How could anyone apply reason at a time like that?”[6]

India and Pakistan have already come very close to the apocalypse on two occasions in spite of each having a ‘deterrent.’

Even if the first part of the ‘deterrence’ preposterous proposition were correct, the second part (that it will work in the future) does not follow. When playing Russian roulette, if you do not blow your brains out the first time round, your chances of doing so in the second round are not reduced – even if you spin the chambers.

The UK government completely supports the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Forty years ago, the UK government and the other four nuclear states (France, Russia US, and China) signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty undertaking to get rid of UK nuclear weapons. In exchange, the non-nuclear states undertook not to develop nuclear weapons.

In the 2006 White Paper entitled ‘The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent,’ [7] the foreword states “Our decision to maintain the deterrent is fully compatible with all our international legal obligations‘ (a classic preposterous proposition).

During May, 2010, the states of the world assembled in New York to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The non-nuclear states (i.e. the great majority of the world’s states) wanted deadlines fixed by which the nuclear states had to honor their agreement under the Treaty and this was written into the initial draft report for the conference. This seemed a reasonable proposition. The UK, US, Russia and France nuclear states refused to agree. They vetoed any fixed timetable and insisted that it was sufficient to write into the report that many states wanted such a timeline. This is what the final report says [8], thereby, quite possibly blowing the last chance to prevent runaway proliferation.

Does this change in the text of the final report come under the heading of preposterous propositions? It does appear that it is now down to you and me, the citizens. We are the only persons on the planet who are going to get rid of this terminal menace. The politicians and diplomats will not do it without the pressure of millions forcing it on them.

“I want to record my strong conviction that the risks entailed by nuclear weapons are far too great to leave the prospects of their elimination solely within the province of governments.”

– General Lee Butler, Former Commander, Strategic Air Command, speech at the State of the World Forum, San Francisco, 3 October 1996

The United Kingdom is a peace-loving state.

The vast majority of UK citizens are peace-loving – as are citizens round the world. But the state is another matter. If the British state is peace-loving why has it been involved in more large and small scale wars since 1945 than virtually any other state on the planet – Korea, The Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan and a plethora of small conflicts; India, Palestine, Malaya, Kenya, Cyprus, Suez, Falklands, etc.? [9]

‘Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament,. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders…’

– Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

Then there is the matter of weapons. British citizens do not carry arms – nor do they wish to. But that does not prevent the UK arms export industry being the fourth largest in the world. The British state gives massive support to the arms trade. Unbelievably, there is an arms sales unit with 160 tax-payer-financed staff right at the heart of government. This is the Defence & Security Organisation within UK Trade & Investment Department (UKTI DSO). [10] We, British citizens, are contributing our earnings to arming the killing fields of the world. How can ‘the merchants of death’ have more clout with our elected representatives than, say, the manufacturers of windmills and solar panels!? Is this what UK citizens want? Does the fact that the arms trade has more civil servants working for it than all other industrial sectors combined not implicitly constitute a preposterous proposition?

Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”

– General Bradley (US General during WWII)

Only an aroused citizenry can challenge this preposterous situation.


1. http://www.tridentploughshares.org/article1584
2. ‘Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace’, by Gore Vidal. Nation Books, 2002.
3. http://www.britains-smallwars.com/main/index1.html
4. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/7730756/Liam-
5. ‘Our Final Century’, Martin Rees, William Heinemann, 2003, p26
(Note: Martin Rees is Astronomer Royal and author of ‘Our Final century’)
6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Able_Archer_83
7. http://www.mod.uk/nr/rdonlyres/ac00dd79-76d6-4fe3-91a1- 6a56b03c092f/0/defencewhitepaper2006_cm6994.pdf
8. Paragraph 83 of the NPT Review Conference Draft Final Document (adopted) states ‘The conference affirms that the final phase of the nuclear disarmament process and the related measures should be pursued within an agreed legal framework, which a majority of States parties believe should include specified timelines.’
9. www.britains-smallwars.com
10. http://www.caat.org.uk/issues/ukti/