From Swords to Ploughshares – Breaking Free from Nuclear Deterrence
Commander Robert Green RN (Rtd)
People often ask why I am the only former British Navy Commander with experience of nuclear weapons to have come out against them. Others in the peace movement ask why it took me so long. My short answer is that I now realize my lack of military pedigree meant I had a truly open mind; but military indoctrination, peer pressure and top security clearances overrode this, especially when combined with reminders not to damage my career prospects.
A Child of the Nuclear Age
I was five days past my first birthday when 24-year-old Theodore Van Kirk, navigator of the Enola Gay, flew on the ?rst tactical nuclear strike, against Hiroshima. In 1968, I too was a 24-year-old bombardier-navigator when told that my Buccaneer strike jet pilot and I had been chosen as a nuclear crew in our squadron aboard the aircraft-carrier HMS Eagle, and we were given a target near Leningrad. After being cleared to see top secret infonnation, and indoctrinated about the honour and heavy responsibility of this role, we were given our target: a military airbase on the outskirts of Leningrad. We had to plan how to get there undetected from somewhere in the Norwegian Sea. This meant choosing the shortest route, over Sweden – a neutral country with very capable air defence. Our mission was to deliver a ten-kiloton WEI77 tactical nuclear bomb, and then try to get back to our carrier, or at least bale out over Sweden or Norway. When I discovered there would not be enough fuel because the target was at the limit of our aircraft’s range, my pilot shrugged and said: “Well, Rob, if we ever have to do this, by then there won’t be anything to go back for.” So we submitted our flight plan, and celebrated our initiation into the nuclear elite.
Thirty years later, I was shocked to land at my target, to attend an anti-nuclear conference on European security on the eve of the 21st century. During the taxi drive into St Petersburg, I understood how my bomb would have caused massive civilian casualties from collateral damage. On TV that evening, I apologized to the citizens of Russia’s ancient capital. Then I told them I had leamed that nuclear weapons would not save me — or them.
Back in 1972, after retraining in anti-submarine warfare, I was appointed as senior bombardier-navigator of a Sea King helicopter squadron aboard the aircraft-carrier HMS Ark Royal. Our task was to use variable-depth sonar, radar and other electronic sensors, plus a variety of weapons, to detect and destroy enemy submarines threatening our ships. However, our lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes were not fast enough and could not go deep enough to catch the latest Soviet nuclear-powered submarines. So we were given a nucleardepth-bomb, an underwater variant of the WEI77 design.
The problem was that, if I had dropped one, it would have vaporized and irradiated one Soviet nuclear submarine, a large volume of ocean — and myself. This was because, unlike a strike jet, a helicopter was too slow to escape before detonation. So it would have been a suicide mission. Also, my leaders ignored the a fact that there would have been heavy radioactive fallout from my bomb, plus the submarine’s nuclear power plant and any nuclear- tipped torpedoes it carried. And I might have escalated World War 3 to nuclear holocaust. All this, just to protect my aircraft-carrier.
This time I did complain. I was reassured there would almost certainly be no need to use nuclear depth-bombs; no civilians would be involved; and the Soviets might not even detect it. Besides, I had a glittering career ahead of me, and did not want to spoil my prospects, did I? As I was ambitious, and no-one else raised concerns, I fell silent. In due course, I was promoted.
However, the experience of such military incompetence and irresponsibility shocked me into a less trusting, more questioning frame of mind. That potent military tradition, carefully nurtured to carve out and hold down the British Empire, was immortalized in Tennyson’s Crimean war poem The Charge of the Light Brigade about an earlier suicide mission: “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.” That attitude was alive and well, in an all- volunteer Royal Navy. This was when I realized the significance of the fact that, unlike most of my colleagues, I had no military pedigree. My father worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. His father was a priest and divinity teacher at Trinity College, Dublin; and my paternal great-grandfather was an engineer. On my mother’s side, her father came from a line of professional gardeners and horticulturalists.
UK Polaris Replacement and Falklands War
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher swept into 1O Downing Street as Britain’s first woman Prime Minister. I was working just across the street as a newly promoted Commander, in the Ministry of Defence. In my position as Personal Staff Officer to the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy), I watched my Admiral facilitate the internal debate on replacing the four British Polaris nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines. The nuclear submarine lobby insisted upon a scaled down version of the massively expensive, over- capable US Trident system, despite threatening the future of the Navy as a balanced, useful force. Mrs. Thatcher rammed the decision through without consulting her Cabinet; and the Chiefs of Staff, despite misgivings, were brought into line.
My final appointment was as Staff Qfficer (Intelligence) to Commander-in-Chief Fleet. It was a stimulating time to work in military intelligence in the command bunker in Northwood, just outside London, where operational control of the British Navy was coordinated. The Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan; the Polish trade union movement Solidarnosc was pioneering the East European challenge to them; and new Soviet warship designs were emerging almost every month. I ran the 40-strong team providing round-the-clock intelligence support to the Polaris submarine on so-called “deterrent” patrol, as well as the rest of the Fleet.
In 1981, the Thatcher government, desperate to find savings because of her determination to have Trident, announced a major defence review. With projected cuts to the Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates, my chances of commanding a ship – the next step to higher rank – were slim. So I took the plunge and applied for redundancy.
Notification of my successful application came one week into the Falklands War. In 1982, Britain suddenly went to war with an erstwhile friend, Argentina; and the Royal Navy’s role was pivotal. So the war was directed from Northwood by my boss, Admiral Sir John Fieldhouse. At one point the outcome was in the balance: our ships were being sunk, and some friends and colleagues killed. If Argentine strike aircraft or submarines had sunk an aircraft-carrier or troopship before the landing force got ashore, the British might have risked defeat. What would Mrs. Thatcher have done‘? Until then, she had been the most unpopular Prime Minister in British history. Now she had become the ‘Iron Lady’, and needed a military victory to save her political career.
Polaris had not deterred Argentine President Galtieri from invading the Falkland Islands. With victory in his grasp, would he have believed, let alone been deterred by, a threat from Mrs. Thatcher to use nuclear weapons against Argentina? Yet after I left the Navy I heard rumours of a very secret contingency plan to move the British Polaris submarine on patrol south within range of Buenos Aires. The submarine was fitted with 16 launch tubes, each housing an intercontinental ballistic missile equipped with three 200 kiloton warheads. Then came corroboration, from France. Francois Mitterrand was President in 1982. In 2005, his psychoanalyst’s memoirs revealed that in his first counselling session Mitterrand had just come from an extremely stressful phone call with Thatcher. A French-supplied Exocet missile fired from a French- supplied Argentine Navy Super Etendard strike jet had sunk a British destroyer. Mrs. Thatcher had threatened to carry out a nuclear strike against Argentina unless Mitterrand ordered his brother, who ran the Exocet factory, to release the missile’s acquisition system frequencies to enable the British to jam them. Mitterrand, convinced she was serious, had complied.
These nightmarish rumours led me to confront the realities of operating nuclear weapons for a leader in such a crisis. Defeat would have been unthinkable for the British military,“ and would have ended Mrs. Thatcher’s career. She was a true believer in nuclear deterrence. Yet if she had threatened Galtieri with a nuclear strike, he would have publicly called her bluff and relished watching President Reagan try to rein her in. The Polaris submarine’s Commanding Officer, briefed by me before going on patrol, would have been faced with a shift of target. Had he obeyed the order, Britain would have become a pariah state, its case for retaining the Falklands lost in the international outrage from such a war crime, especially against a non-nuclear state. Nuclear deterrence failure would have compounded the ignominy of defeat.
Redundancy, Roof-thatching and Murder
Back in 1982, on terminal leave after the British retook the Falkland Islands, I was 38 years old, with no qualifications except my rank and experience. Tired of weekend commuting to high- pressure jobs in London, I decided to try my luck and find local work which allowed me to be home every night. So I became a roof thatcher, enduring many painful jokes with stunned fonner colleagues. For eight idyllic years, I loved working with my hands in the open air restoring fine old houses, with a bird’s eye view of some of the most picturesque parts of southwest England.
Thatching proved vitally therapeutic in 1984, when my beloved aunt Hilda Murrell was murdered. My mother’s unmarried elder sister, she had become my mentor and close friend after my mother died when I was a 19-year-old Midshipman. Hilda was a Cambridge University graduate, and a successful businesswoman who ran the family rose nurseries. In retirement she became a fearless environmentalist and opponent of nuclear energy and weapons. At the age of 78, she applied to testify at the first British public planning inquiry into a nuclear power plant. Mrs. Thatcher was determined to introduce a programme of reactors of a design which failed at Three Mile Island. Hilda, who had a formidable network of establishment contacts, did her homework about the insoluble problems of nuclear waste. A true patriot, she was not prepared to let the nuclear industry ruin and poison her country, and potentially the rest of the planet, with nuclear weapons.
Rumours of nuclear conspiracy swirled around an incompetent police investigation into her bizarre murder. Then in December 1984, a maverick member of parliament announced in the House of Commons that I had been suspected of leaking secret documents about the controversial sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano in the Falklands War, and hiding them with my aunt. I had done nothing so stupidly treasonable; yet several reliable sources agreed that State security agents had allegedly searched her house. A cold case review resulted in the 2005 trial and conviction of a petty thief, who was 16 years old in 1984. I have evidence that he was framed; and I have just published a book about this.
First Gulf War and Breakout
Implicating me in Hilda’s murder radicalized me. Then after Chernobyl, I took up her anti-nuclear energy torch. I learned that the nuclear energy industry had begun as a cynical by-product of the race to provide plutonium for nuclear weapons. My case for supporting nuclear deterrence crumbled with the Berlin Wall. However, it took the 1991 first Gulf War to break me out of my indoctrination.
From the moment in November 1990 when the US doubled its original figure for ground forces to eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, I realised this was to be a punitive expedition. My military intelligence training wamed me that the US-led coalition’s blitzkrieg strategy, targeting Iraq’s infrastructure as well as the leadership and military, would give Saddam Hussein the pretext he needed to attack Israel in order to split the coalition and become the Arabs’ champion. If personally threatened, he could order the launch of Scud ballistic missiles with chemical or biological warheads. If such an attack caused heavy Israeli casualties, Prime Minister Shamir would come under massive pressure to retaliate with a nuclear strike on Baghdad. Even if Saddam Hussein did not survive (he had the best anti-nuclear bunkers Western technology could provide), the Arab world would erupt in fury against Israel and its allies, its security would be destroyed forever, and Russia would be sucked into the crisis…
In January 1991, I joined the growing anti-war movement in Britain and addressed a crowd of 20,000 in Trafalgar Square. A week later, the first Scud attack hit Tel Aviv two days after the Allied blitzkrieg began. For the first time, the second city of a de facto nuclear state was attacked and its capital threatened. Worse still for nuclear deterrence, Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. The Israeli people, cowering in gas masks in basements, leamed that night that their so-called ‘deterrent’ had failed in its primary purpose. Thirty-eight more conventionally anned Scud attacks followed, causing miraculously few casualties. When US satellites detected Israeli nuclear anned missiles being readied for launch, President Bush rushed Patriot missiles and military aid to Israel, which was congratulated on its restraint.
Meanwhile, in Britain, the Irish Republican Anny just missed wiping out the entire Gulf War Cabinet with a mortar-bomb attack from a van in central London. A more direct threat to the government could barely be imagined. What if instead they had threatened to use even a crude nuclear device? A counter-threat of nuclear retaliation would have had zero credibility.
Coming out against nuclear weapons was traumatic. My conversion was no sudden Damascene experience. I knew about indoctrination, the Official Secrets Act and top security clearances, linked to the carrots and sticks of a career requiring me uncritically to accept the nuclear policies of my government. My circumstances were unique. I went through a process of cumulative experiences, including the murder of my aunt and mentor in which British state security agents were allegedly involved. Nuclear weapons and power seem to make superficially democratic govemments behave badly.
Belatedly forced to research the history of ‘the Bomb’, I leamed that the British scientific-politico-military establishment initiated and spread the nuclear arms race. Having alerted the United States to the feasibility of making a nuclear weapon, Britain participated in the Manhattan Project. On being frozen out of further collaboration by the 1946 McMahon Act, it began to develop its own nuclear arsenal. Thus Britain became a role model for France, and later Iraq and India: the first medium-sized power with delusions of grandeur to threaten nuclear terrorism. Also, I learned that nuclear deterrence does not work; it is immoral and unlawful, and there are more credible and acceptable altemative strategies to deter aggression and achieve security.
Legal Challenge to Nuclear Deterrence
Having given up thatching as the 1991 Gulf War loomed, after my breakout I became Chair of the British affiliate of the World Court Project. This worldwide network of citizen groups helped persuade the United Nations General Assembly, despite desperate countennoves by the three NATO nuclear weapon states, to ask the International Court of Justice for its Advisory Opinion on the legal status of nuclear weapons. In 1996, the Court confirmed‘ that the threat, let alone use, of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal. For the first time, the legality of nuclear deterrence had been implicitly challenged.
One aspect of the Court’s decision was especially important. It confirmed that, as part of international humanitarian law, the Nuremberg Principles apply to nuclear Weapons. This has serious implications for all those involved in operating nuclear weapons — particularly military professionals who, unlike a President or Prime Minister, really would have to “press the button”. What is at stake here is a crucial difference between military professionals and hired killers or terrorists: militaryprofessionals need to be seen to act within the law. Nuclear weapons should be stigmatized as chemical and biological weapons have been, so that no military professional is prepared to operate them.
The next year, recently retired General Lee Butler spoke out far more powerfully than I could. He is still encouraging me to keep going. Then in 1999 I found myself leading a delegation to Tokyo not just with Lee Butler, but Robert McNamara too. In an heretical team of that calibre, I knew what I was doing was right.
Why Nuclear Deterrence is a Hoax
It was the American writer H L Mencken who quipped: “T here’s always an easy solution to every problem: neat, plausible, and wrong.” Nuclear deterrence fits this nicely. I only have time to offer these soundbites to explain why:
- Nuclear weapons have been exploited as a fetishistic currency of power .
- Nuclear weapons did not end World War 2
- Nuclear deterrence has an insoluble credibility problem
- It did not work in Korea, Vietnam, Falklands, Israel, Iraq
- It might not work against a paranoid regime
- It is worse than useless against terrorists
- It stimulates hostility, mistrust and arms racing
- It provokes proliferation
- It creates instability
- It is immoral and implicitly unlawful
- There are safer, more cost-effective, humane and lawful altemative security strategies
To make nuclear deterrence acceptable to political leaders and those in the military who have to operate them, the appalling effects of even the smallest modern nuclear weapon have been played down, and that “there would almost certainly be no need to use them.” In fact, they are not weapons at all. They are utterly indiscriminate devices combining the poisoning horrors of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, plus inter- generational genetic effects unique to radioactivity, with almost unimaginable explosive violence. Yet nuclear deterrence is not credible without the will to use them. This is why a state practising nuclear deterrence is actually conducting a deliberate policy of nuclear terrorism.
My next fundamental objection relates to the fact that, if deterrence based on conventional weapons fails, the damage is confined to the belligerent states and the environment recovers. What is at stake from nuclear deterrence failure is the devastation and poisoning of not just the belligerents, but potentially most forms of life on Earth.
Closely related to this is a crazy reality: nuclear deterrence is a scheme for making nuclear war less probable by making it more probable. The danger of inadvertent nuclear war is greater than we think, when nuclear deterrence dogma demands that the United States and Russia persist with over 2,000 nuclear warheads between them poised for launch at each other inside half an hour. What are they playing at, over twenty years after the Cold War ended and when they are collaborating in the so-called ‘war on terror’?
The deception deepens when the nuclear weapon states, aware that extremists armed with weapons of mass destruction cannot be deterred, plan pre-emptive nuclear attacks in ‘anticipatory self- defence’ of their ‘vital interests’ — not last-ditch defence of their homeland. Thereby, their unprovable claim that nuclear deterrence averts war is cynically stood on its head.
Not only would extremists not be deterred by nuclear weapons, they could provoke nuclear retaliation in order to turn moral outrage against the retaliator and recruit more to their nightmarish causes.
For all these reasons, I now suspect that nuclear deterrence is an outrageous confidence trick — a hoax devised sixty years ago by the US military-industrial complex and now dominating and distorting US politics and foreign policy for its vested interests.
Consequences of Nuclear Deterrence Failure
With such an irresponsible example from the five recognised nuclear weapon states, it is no surprise that India and Pakistan are trying to emulate it, locked toe to toe in hostile rivalry. Indian governments became convinced that the fetishistic power of nuclear deterrence held the key to guaranteed security and acceptance as a great power; whereupon Pakistan promptly followed suit.
I will never forget a public meeting in Islamabad in 2001. The nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had persuaded General Aslam Beg, one of the ‘fathers’ of Pakistan’s Bomb, to join the two of us on a discussion panel.” Beg warned against raising awareness about the effects of a nuclear strike on a Pakistan city, “in case it scares the people”. He had a simplistic faith in nuclear deterrence, ignonng all the added dangers of a nuclear standoff with India. He is not alone: my experience is that most believers in nuclear deterrence refuse to discuss the consequences of failure. I will now confront them.
In April 2005, an internal report for US Homeland Security appeared on the web. Titled Economic Consequences of a Rad/Nuc Attack, the report examined what it would take to recover from the detonation of just one nuclear device in various cities. Much depends on the size of bomb and level of contamination, but the economic consequences for New York alone would be around $10 trillion. That is roughly the annual Gross Domestic Product of the entire US economy. Just one nuclear bomb, on one city.
Environmental and Agricultural Consequences.
A deeply disturbing article, published in January 2010 in Scientific American, reported on recent climate research about a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which about only 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear devices would be detonated over cities. Apart from the mutual carnage and destruction across South Asia, enough smoke from firestonns — let alone radioactive fallout — would be generated to ’ cripple global agriculture. Plunging temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere would cause hundreds of millions of people to starve to death, even in countries far from the conflict. The link for the article is
Also I encourage you check the website www.nuclearfamineorg .
In 2004, Intemational Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War published their findings regarding casualties from a Hiroshima-size nuclear warhead detonated over New York (see www.ippnw.org/PDF/NuclearTerrorismNYC.pdf).
Total fatalities were estimated at about 60,000. Another 60,000 would be seriously but non-fatally injured. These would clearly utterly overwhelm any hospitals surviving the explosion. Again, this is just one nuclear weapon on one city.
Australia and Nuclear Deterrence
I was encouraged when the 2009 report Eliminating Nuclear Threats by the Australia-Japan Intemational Cormnission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (ICNND) challenged the assumption that nuclear weapons have deterred major war. It acknowledged that avoidance of nuclear war has been due more to luck than deterrence. It agreed that nuclear weapons are worse than useless to deter terrorists. It correctly argued that, just because nuclear weapons cannot be un-invented, this does not mean they should not be outlawed and abolished as chemical and biological weapons have been.
A nuclear weapon’s unique combination of indiscriminate, long- term health effects including genetic damage from radioactivity with almost unimaginable explosive violence, make it the ultimate terror device. That is why I now realize that, when I operated nuclear weapons in the British Navy as a bombardier-navigator in nuclear strike jets with a target in Russia, I was in effect a state- sponsored nuclear terrorist.
Surprisingly, the ICNND report also questioned the need for extended nuclear deterrence. Asserting that US conventional military capability offers just as credible a deterrent to any plausible threat to its allies, the report pointed out that ‘the real need over time is to create so stable and cooperative a security environment…that reliance does not have to be placed by anyone on disproportionate conventional capability (with all the disincentives to nuclear disarmament by others that this tends to bring in its wake).’
Yet, having admitted that extended nuclear deterrence undermines progress towards a nuclear weapon-free world, it failed to follow the logic of its criticisms. No doubt this was because, unlike New Zealand, Australia and Japan continue to fall for the hoax of nuclear deterrence.
The report should have concluded that extended nuclear deterrence does not make Australia secure, and is not credible. The misnamed US ‘nuclear umbrella’ has helped the US maintain its military alliance and military bases in Australia for its own purposes. However, the ANZUS Treaty only commits the US to consult in the event of an attack.
Apart from the implausibility of any state threatening to attack Australia, let alone with nuclear weapons, the US would almost certainly not use nuclear weapons in response because it would risk inevitable, uncontrollable escalation to full-scale nuclear war. Instead, if the US decided it was in its national interest to come to Australia’s defence, it would rely on its formidable conventional firepower.
Nuclear deterrence has not prevented non-nuclear states from attacking allies of nuclear weapon states. Examples include China entering the Korean War when the US had a nuclear monopoly in 1950; Argentina invading the British Falkland Islands in 1982; and Iraq invading close US ally Kuwait in 1990. In all these cases nuclear deterrence failed. The US in Korea and Vietnam, and the USSR in Afghanistan, preferred withdrawal to the ultimate ignominy of resorting to nuclear weapons to secure victory or revenge against a non-nuclear state.
Reliance on nuclear deterrence perpetuates security threats. It also provokes proliferation. Australia’s main security problems — associated with climate change, and Asia’s resource depletion and population pressures — require co-operative, non-military responses.
Safer Security Strategies
For the above reasons, all but about thirty-five states feel more secure without depending on the delusions of nuclear deterrence. Most are in nuclear weapon free zones; and many are pushing for legally binding security assurances that the nuclear-anned states will not use nuclear weapons against them.
In a period of rapid changes towards a multipolar world community, Australia needs to embrace regional, non-provocative defence under UN auspices. Its first priority should be to press the US and Russia to stand down their combined total of 2,000 nuclear warheads from high alert — another irresponsible legacy of nuclear deterrence dogma.
The key is to see nuclear disarmament as a security-building process, moving from an outdated adversarial mindset to a co- operative one where nuclear Weapons are recognized as an irrelevant security liability, and any non-nuclear security strategy is safer, more credible and more cost-effective.
After Australia’s admirable leadership in the mid-1990s hosting the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, it was encouraging to learn on 27 June this year of an announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She said she had agreed to sponsor a Parliamentary motion calling for global nuclear disannament. Although it has not yet been tabled, I understand the text will reflect Recommendation 21 from a report by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, known as J SCOT, which reads as follows: ‘That the Parliament adopt a resolution on the Parliament’s commitment to the abolition of nuclear weapons. This is a matter for the Parliament as a Whole rather than the Presiding Officers and would require a resolution to be prepared and then put to the Parliament by a parliamentarian or group of parliamentarians.’
A year ago, Dimity Hawkins working for the Intemational Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and Dr Sue Wareham from the Medical Association for Prevention of War organised for Sue, Kate and myself to visit Canberra for meetings with three senior officials from the Anns Control Section of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Labor’s Kelvin Thompson chairing J SCOT, Green Senator Scott Ludlam, and Independent MP Andrew Wilkie plus advisers to Kevin Rudd and the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. We asked them to act on Recommendation 21 from Chapter 12 of the J SCOT Report, and gave them copies of other parliamentary resolutions, including the one adopted unanimously by New Zealand’s Parliament. We urged them to get bipartisan support and to include mention of the UN Secretary-Genera_l’s Five- Point Plan for Nuclear Disannament. The J SCOT Report is worth reading, especially the recommendations about a Nuclear Weapons Convention. The URL is:
A shortened URL is: http://bit.ly/n1LszD
I understand from Scott Ludlam’s office that the text has been finalized and is not in dispute; and it is with the Prime Minister’s office. However, we should not expect it to be tabled any time soon. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to the Australian NGO leaders of ICAN, who are doing a wonderful job at a difficult time for nuclear disarmament.
Potential British Breakout
So, will Australia be ready if Britain becomes the first of the recognized nuclear Weapon states to rely on safer and more cost- effective security strategies than nuclear deterrence? A defence budget crisis has revived the debate about replacing Trident, and uncritical British support for US foreign policy. Indeed, the black hole in defence spending has been caused by desperate attempts to keep up with the Americans. Such poor decisions were driven by British nuclear dependence on the US.
Instead, making a virtue from necessity, the British government should reassert its sovereignty and announce that it will rescue the dysfunctional nuclear non-proliferation regime. A new World role awaits the British. By far the best-placed candidate for ‘breakout’, Bn’tain’s nuclear arsenal is the smallest of the five recognized nuclear weapon states; and they are deployed in just one system, a scaled down version of Trident. Its government has to decide by 2016 whether to replace Trident with whatever the US decides. The minority Liberal Democrats, in coalition with the Conservatives, oppose Trident replacement. The altemative — nuclear-tipped Cruise missiles launched from attack submarines — has been ruled out, because the Obama Administration is scrapping its nuclear- anned Tomahawk missiles.
All Britain has to do is decide not to replace its four Vanguard class Trident-armed submarines. British ‘breakout’ would be sensational, transforming the nuclear disarmament debate overnight. In NATO, Britain would wield unprecedented in?uence leading the drive for a non-nuclear strategy. British leadership would create new openings for shifting the mindset in the US and France, the other two most zealous guardians of nuclear deterrence. This would heavily influence India, Israel, Pakistan and states intent on obtaining nuclear weapons. The way would then open for a major reassessment by Russia and China, for all nuclear forces to be stood down, and for negotiations to begin on a Nuclear Weapons Convention.
Finding our way back from the nuclear abyss, on the edge of which nuclear deterrence has held us hypnotised and terrorised for sixty- five years, will not be easy. As with all advances in human rights and justice, the engine for shifting the mindset has to come from civil society.
A surprisingly small network of individuals drove the campaign to abolish slavery. As with nuclear deterrence, slavery’s leading apologists were the power elites of the United States, Britain and France. They argued that slavery was a ‘necessary evil’, for which there was ‘no alternative’. They failed, because courageous ordinary British, American and French citizens mobilised unstoppable public and political support for their campaign to replace slavery with more humane, lawful and effective ways to create wealth. The analogy holds for nuclear deterrence, which can and must be discarded for more humane, lawful and safer security strategies if civilisation and the Earth’s ecosystems are to survive.
About the Author
Commander Robert D. Green,
Royal Navy (Retired)
ROBERT GREEN served in the British
Royal Navy from 1962-82. As a Fleet Air
Arm Observer (Navigator), he ï¬‚ew in
Buccaneer carrier-borne nuclear strike
aircraft (1968-72), then in anti-submarine
helicopters equipped with nuclear depth-
Promoted to Commander in 1978, he served
in the Ministry of Defence in London as
Personal Staff Officer to the Assistant Chief
of Naval Staff (Policy). In his final
appointment, he was Staff Officer
(Intelligence) to Commander-in-Chief Fleet
at Northwood HQ near London. Having
taken voluntary redundancy in 1981, he was
released after the 1982 Falklands War.
In 1984, the murder of his aunt Hilda
Murrell, an anti-nuclear energy and
weapons campaigner, led him to examine
and then challenge the hazards of nuclear
electricity generation. This plus the break-
up of the Soviet Union followed by the
1991 Gulf War caused him to speak out
against nuclear weapons â€” the first ex-
Commander with nuclear weapon
experience to do so. I
In October 1991 he became Chair of the UK
branch of the World Court Project — which
was how he met Dr Kate Dewes ONZM, a
Christchurch New Zealand–based pioneer of
this international legal challenge to nuclear
deterrence in the International Court of
Justice. In 1996 the Court confirmed that
the threat or use of nuclear weapons would
generally be illegal. After Kate and he were
married in 1997, they established a
Disarmament & Security Centre in their
home in Christchurch, as the South Island
branch of the NZ Peace Foundation
(See http://www.disarmsecure.org ).
Cdr Green emigrated to NZ in 1999, and
became a NZ citizen two years later. They
are working closely with the NZ
government on disarmament issues.
Cdr Green is using his military experience
to promote alternative thinking about
security and disarmament, and to help build
bridges between the military and the peace
movement. In 1998, as Chair of the
Strategic Planning Committee of the Middle
Powers Initiative, he was commissioned to
write a briefing book on the nuclear
disarmament crisis, Fast Track to Zero
Nuclear Weapons: The Middle Powers
Initiative. His latest book, Security Without
Nuclear Deterrence, was published in May 2010