On the Shoulders of Giants

We are where we are now because we have stood on the shoulders of giants. I remember several who are no longer with us — Eric Fawcett, founding chair, who introduced me to Science for Peace and kept me from making extravagant blunders; George Ignatieff, father of Andrew who is with us tonight; Terry Gardner, whom we lost only a short while ago, and whose widow Connie is here; and, especially Anatol Rapoport, whose widow Gwen is also here. Anatol was always generous with his time, coming to speak at Brock University and to my sociobiology students more than once (we sent a Cadillac to collect him but I fear Anatol lived in a world where Cadillacs and farm pick-ups are just the same — a means of transportation). Anatol had the genius to show complexity where things seemed trivially simple (as in his example game of “button-button”) and to simplify situations where paradoxical complexity seemed to reign (as in his program “Tit-for-Tat”, which won the competition for the most successful strategy for playing reiterated Prisoners’ Dilemma). Anatol was Canada’s pre-eminent peace theoretician.

As a founding North American Treaty Organization (NATO) state with no nuclear weapons on its territory, Canada helps to guide others by acting as a kind of peace “staff college” for the movement against nuclear weapons. It currently provides part of the base for Abolition 2000 internationally at the Rideau Institute in Ottawa (where Stephen Staples is active and where I met Lauren Hunter who acted as an efficient recording officer at the Abolition 2000 annual general meeting last week in Geneva).

However, in the United Kingdom, one of the five nuclear weapons states defined by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), we are closer to the front line, the trenches. Earlier this year non-governmental organizations, think tanks, Ministry of Defence officers, Foreign Office officials and Cabinet Office members discussed the UK’s plans to renew its nuclear weapons submarine fleet some time after 2015. We were in one of the Locarno rooms (named after the treaty that supposedly sorted Europe out after the First World War) and dealt with matters such as warhead numbers. The provisional plans for the new British boats apparently envisage a smaller vessel with only eight missile launch tubes (we were told they needed to find space for the crew and I was happy to note they were not to be drones). The number of warheads per submarine is also to be reduced to a maximum of 40. The policy of continuous 24-hour, seven day a week patrols is under review. The UK’s nuclear deterrent is diminishing. I was reminded of Stephen Jay Gould’s analysis of the evolution of the Hershey bar, getting progressively smaller and more expensive. The final state was to be a bar costing 47 cents and weighing zero grams, sometime around 2015. I think we may see a UK deterrent costing $47 billion with zero warheads a bit later than that.

However, 40/8=5, as I pointed out, not needing Anatol to do the math. There are 12 slots for warheads on a Trident II missile, but the actual number of warheads has been considered as being only either three or four — so if there are to be only eight missiles, 24 or 32 warheads would equip them all. Nonetheless, the number of warheads/missile is classified so I was told my calculations were “wrong”! Nonetheless, it does seem to me that, as with a 12-place centrifuge, one can load three, four or six places and keep it balanced. Not five, however, as this would require at least one dummy of the same size and shape….who knows? I suspect that the actual number of functional warheads is much less than the maximum, both now and in the future. Of course, even a single warhead is a potential genocidal device.

The official UK policy on nuclear disarmament, to which the five acknowledged nuclear powers (NWS) are committed by the NPT, resembles Augustine’s prayer for chastity — yes, but not yet. Unlike the cold war situation, the British public now see no need for our remaining a NWS. Nor do many commentators, ex-politicians (including ex-ministers of defence such as Michael Portillo), and some military professionals. General Sir Hugh Beach, once Master of the Ordnance, has just written a “Blackaby” paper entitled “What price nuclear blackmail” for Abolition 2000 UK, demolishing the arguments for deterrence that have been the official basis for maintaining nuclear weapons for over 60 years (the paper is available as a pdf from www.abolition2000uk.org)). Moreover, some governments, including those in NATO, are playing a role in supporting the anti-nuclear movement in various ways. Canada, even under its present conservative administration, votes “yes” on some relevant issues at the United Nations when the three NATO NWS vote “no”, an example being the “dealerting” resolution (de-alerting introduces some reversible physical change(s) to nuclear weapons or weapon systems in order to lengthen the time required to use nuclear weapons in combat). However, Norway goes further. Cautious as a minor NATO state must be, Norway (like Canada, also not a member of the European Union and also housing no nuclear weapons on its territory), is providing substantial funding for a Geneva office and several personnel appointed to run the new International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) anti-nuclear weapons campaign (see www.icanw.org and www.icanw.org.uk).

What is possible? Canada should become more like Norway. See what you can do.

Peter Nicholls, Colchester, UK (President, 1995-96)

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