Corbyn and the Bomb
Corbyn has done remarkably well in this election campaign. He comes across as honest, determined, resilient, even charismatic. But one issue he has not handled well. When he is asked whether he would ever launch a nuclear weapon, even in retaliation, he gives every impression that his conscience would not allow him to do so without directly saying so. I’m wondering whether he would do better with a different approach. What he should be saying is that the mind set which imagines we can defend ourselves with retaliatory nuclear weapons is years out of date. For one thing it is not at all clear that cyber attacks could not become sophisticated enough to disable the offensive capacity of nuclear submarines. For another, whether or not we had nuclear weapons ourselves, a state like North Korea would probably not choose a pre-emptive nuclear strike in any case. If it did it would bring the fear and alarm and opprobrium of the whole world down on its head. Far more effective would be to supply a terrorist group with a nuclear weapon. A device powerful enough to destroy central London and kill millions of people virtually instantaneously could be carried in a van. It would be let off without warning. The Prime Minister might well be killed even before he or she could activate the nuclear codes. Even if that was not the case, who would we launch a retaliatory strike against? Who supplied the terrorists with the bomb? Pakistan? Iran? North Korea? Was it a home- made device? Terrorists could well obtain a kilogram of highly enriched uranium the size of a grapefruit on the black market. Are we going to bomb half the countries in the world just in case?
What steps can we take to neutralize such a threat? The kind of talk that comes out of the present Government – Boris Johnson was at it the other day – that the terrorists are targeting us because ‘they hate our way of life and our freedoms’ – is missing the mark completely and is, I think, lazy thinking and extremely counter-productive. Yes they do hate our way of life. But what we need to address is that our policies have been so misguided and foolish we have given them every reason to think, erroneous as that might be, that we hate theirs. What is fuelling all this is the history of colonialism, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was interpreted by them as proof that we still want to impose the western way of life on the rest of the world. Maybe George Bush did, who knows, but the tragedy is that the people who lost their lives in Manchester and on London Bridge certainly didn’t. Ordinary people in the west are totally without colonial ambition. We’ve got over our history even if they haven’t. But this is not the impression our leaders have given. What do people do if you throw bombs at them? They throw them back. Corbyn is essentially right. The best way to counter the nuclear threat is to talk to our enemies. The most important thing is to allay their misconceptions.
Whatever happened in the past we have, or most of us have, no intention of invading and taking over anybody else’s country, even though our government of the day gave every evidence that is just what we do want to do, even as short a time ago as 2003. Corbyn is along the right lines. But he hasn’t gone the whole way yet. Our ambition should be to put all else aside, stretch every nerve and muscle, to save not only ourselves but every country in the world from the threats that now face us all – climate change, automation, soil desertification, millions starving, chronic water shortages, an implosion of the capitalist system, nuclear war – and that includes Islamic countries. It’s a globalized world, we are all in this together. We need to escape the prison of history and live in our own times. We need to get over Theresa May’s ‘what is best for Britain’ and if we do want what is best for Britain think instead of what is best for the whole of humanity. The Tories give me the impression they are mentally stranded in their own past when we really could send gunboats to sort out the natives, but now we can’t. We need to dig out the compost of the past in which resentment flourishes. How difficult it is to live in today instead of yesterday, the while unfailingly forgetting what yesterday was actually like. Don’t forget we were prepared to incinerate 40,000 men, women and children in Hamburg during the Second World War. But we weren’t totally evil or mad or doing it because we hated the German way of life, much as we did. We just didn’t want a concentration camp in Hyde Park. People do terrible things in wars, which is why it’s best not to fight wars if you can possibly avoid it. And at bottom maybe the same is true of them, for all their talk of a caliphate that will impose sharia law on the whole world.