An excellent documentary from the BBC kinda spelling out how SuperMac wasn’t that fantastic and worse, clearly thought the British should be ready to use nuclear weapons if our supreme (oil) interests in Kuwait were threatened.
Yep, Supermac would want to start a nuclear war over oil in Kuwait.
Witness Einstein’s challenge – “the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything except our thinking.”
The tv documentary started with a simple reminder – because we were part of the Manhatten project, we thought we started out as a nuclear power.
We could wipe out a city more effectively than we did with Hamburg or Dresden. But with one bomber, one bomb, and in one night (or indeed, minute).
Yes, acknowleding it was powerful – hence every superpower needed one – and yes the radioactivity was poisonous.
But perhaps not grasping acknowledging how the debris is poisonous, how an explosion came to be might not be understood and that in a full exchange, that many cities would be destroyed in a short time, their electro-magnetic pulses making so much equipment beyond the blast useless, and then all the airborne waste, soil, dust and smoke creating a nuclear winter.
Yet, even in the eighties, top brass were planning on fighting tactical nuclear wars in Europe.
Witness Einstein’s challenge, again.
But Attlee decided we British needed our own bomb, and then Macmillan decided we British needed a delivery system beyond a bomber, and then Wilson decided we British needed our own submarines and missiles with American warheads (check).
So not quite an independent British deterrent – hence the sarcasm in the title.
The programme focuses on Macmillan’s travails, and how he accepted an American Polaris nuclear base in Holy Loch for not a lot, and finally gets a concession from JF Kennedy ‘to allow Britain to keep up with the Joneses’.
(Yeah, don’t know what Einstein would say about that one.)
But Einstein’s challenge kinda applies to disarmament as well.
We need an approach that is not as simple as “we’ll give up ours”.
But calling it multilaterism don’t cut it either – cos often multilaterists have been the keenest to expand one side’s capability to destroy.
Start by not answering questions about pressing a button that doesn’t exist.
And recognise that when crises come, leaders do work hard to avoid an exchange.
But a new focus to avoid a waste of resources and to mitigate against accidents would be nice.
Meanwhile, check out the documentary. And the FT review.