During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis the world stood on the brink of nuclear war, as representatives of two super powers, the USA and the Soviet Union, carried on their ’Cold War’ brinkmanship.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the geo-politics of the world have altered vastly. The USA is the only mega-power state in the world, and it is engaged in overt military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. And through its proxy, Israel, it is both oppressing the stateless Palestinian people and maintaining a strategic presence in the Middle East.
Rather than leading to a reduction on spending on weapons of mass destruction, the period since the ending of the Cold War, spending on arms has grown to unprecedented levels.
This has been accompanied by the problem of nuclear proliferation, where capitalist elites with regional imperialist interests in states such as India, Pakistan, and Israel also possess nuclear weapons. Others such as Iran may be seeking to develop them. The race to nuclear arms compounds the dangerous tensions and the possible threat of a nuclear strike.
At the root of all of this is a crazy economic system, capitalism, which is prepared to spend billions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction, whilst allowing 30,000 people a day to die though poverty.
The global arms industry, including nuclear arms, underpins the capitalist system itself and it is conducted on a vast scale. Current world military spending by governments is running at around $1 trillion a year, whilst 1.4 billion people live on less than $1 a day.
The USA dominates the international arms market, supplying around half of yearly arms exports. Much of these arms go towards fuelling conflicts in the developing world – between 1998 and 2001, over 68% of world arms deliveries were to developing countries.
US imperialism is not fussy about what kind of regime it supplies arms to, as long as it is one which does not immediately threaten its economic interests. The other common link between these states is that all were regimes that oppressed the working class and poor at the same time as they were supplied with US arms.
When the driving force behind the arms industry is inevitably profits and the spreading of ’neo-liberal’ policies around the globe, considerations of the safety and well-being of populations becomes a secondary matter – for hasty negotiations rather than long-term planning.
Taiwan is one of the most dangerous examples. The Taiwanese government has alarmed the Chinese government by trying to push through an $18 billion arms deal with the USA. The Taiwanese prime minister has called for the development of an offensive missile system, warning China: "You fire 100 missiles at me, I fire 50 at you." China has an estimated 610 missiles pointed at Taiwan.
Britain also has a disgusting record of supplying arms to brutal regimes, including to the current Burma dictatorship. Last year it supplied UK army trainers for the Uzbekistan army, which butchered hundreds of civilian demonstrators this year. After news of this link began to break in the media, the Ministry of Defence issued a statement saying: "Our limited activities in Uzbekistan are designed to sow the seeds of democratic management and accountability of the military."
The same twisted logic seems to guide New Labour’s policies on nuclear weapons. Despite the ’Cold War’ being over, Labour’s 2005 election manifesto declares: "We are determined to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent." This prompted journalist Philip Stevens in the Financial Times to comment: "Where is the enemy so threatening that we might one day be obliged to eviscerate it?" In reality, this so-called ’independent deterrent’ is an arm of US policy.
CND points out: "UK nuclear strategy is closely co-ordinated with the US through the NATO Nuclear Planning Group. As the Bush administration has moved towards a more aggressive nuclear posture, the UK and NATO are expected to fall in line."
Then Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, during the Iraq war, made it quite clear that the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq would be considered if it looked as if British troops faced biological or chemical weapons.
Nuclear weapons are a danger to all humanity. They are a colossal waste of money and resources: in Britain alone, the Trident missile system costs £1.5 billion a year to maintain. Although it will not be ’obsolete’ for another 20 years, work has already begun on its successor.
As The Times reported in May: "It is understood that a substantial contingency fund has been built into the Ministry of Defence budget for this purpose. The Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston has been busy recruiting scientists to work on the project."
Several times in the last few years, the potential catastrophe of a nuclear strike has been a real possibility – examples are the Pakistan/India conflict; the threat by Israel to use nuclear weapons against Iraq, and the more recent threat to attack Iran’s ’nuclear facilities’.
The threat of a nuclear conflict has also been highlighted by the ongoing tensions between North Korea and the Bush administration. Recently, representatives of North Korea’s Stalinist leader Kim Jong-il have begun negotiations in South Korea that could lead to a re-opening of the ’six party talks’ on the nuclear stand-off. (The talks would involve the two Koreas, Japan, USA, Russia and China.)
These talks began in 2003 but have yet to achieve any agreement. They assume added importance since the North Korean regime admitted for the first time on 10 February 2005 that it had nuclear weapons.
As the Guardian then reported: "The North Korean statement, which was carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, said: ’We… have manufactured nukes for self-defence to cope with the Bush administration’s evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the [North].’" This came after years of sabre-rattling, during which the Bush administration threatened North Korea, Syria, and Iran as parts of an ’axis of evil’.
Even for the most unbalanced regimes, using nuclear weapons would be a desperate last resort. Not least because the use of such weapons would destroy the working class and its productive capacity – the very source of the profits and privileges of the ruling classes.
Moreover, the use of ’battlefield tactical nuclear weapons’, resulting in massive casualties, would provoke worldwide mass protests, threatening to bring down any government implicated in their use.
Nonetheless, on the basis of capitalism and continued conflicts between increasingly unstable capitalist elites over spheres of influence across the world, the possibility of a nuclear strike will still exist.
Only the working class and the oppressed peoples of the world can put an end to this threat by building a movement to end war and capitalism and creating a socialist society which will have no use for weapons of mass destruction.
In 1980, the Thatcher Tory government announced it would buy Trident nuclear missiles from the USA, and the system became active in 1994. Trident missiles with nuclear warheads are located in four submarines – all based at Faslane, near Glasgow.
Each sub is fitted with up to 16 US Trident missiles which each have 48 nuclear warheads. Each warhead carries an explosive capacity equivalent to 100,000 tons of conventional high explosives, or eight times the power that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, killing over 140,000 people.