Sunday, February 11, 2007

Turkeys, Trident and lessons of the Iraq war fiasco 

Dealing with Bird Flu and the deployment of Nuclear Weapons by the UK. Both are situations involving high risks and (sometimes) taking decisions under stress.

We know relatively little about the control and risk avoidance systems embedding our nuclear weapons systems. Some bits of it however cast shadows in public. This includes the political evaluation of risks and the decisions on appropriate responses to perceived threats.

Our systems for dealing with infectious diseases are being market tested for real right now. We have found some inadequacies. That is to be expected of any control system. Let us hope the breakdowns are not fatal for humans and that we learn how to do these things a little better.

Our systems for dealing with live nuclear threats have never been market tested in quite this rigorous live way, as far as we know in public. But thanks to the fiascos over Iraq War justification ‘intelligence’ we know something about how our political control systems can malfunction and this country can get involved in a war through wilful political blindness and manipulation of the decision making process – to keep it polite.

If we are truly to evaluate what is involved in being a ‘nuclear weapons power’ we need to use whatever evidence we can glean about how our systems work. For example, the systems taking in intelligence on possible risks of nuclear exchanges and providing justifications for possible live use of our weapons.

I suggest it is incumbent on those suggesting we renew our nuclear weapons capabilities to demonstrate that the lessons of the Iraq fiasco have been learnt, absorbed and acted on.

Any talk about sophisticated control systems should also deal with the fiascos of the Child Support Agency computer system, The Passport Agency computer system and the upcoming mega-mess of the Identity Card national database. Our big-project civilian Information Technology decisions have been ludicrous and damaging. Why should the complex of military and political evaluation systems be any different?

The burden of proof on this lies with the renewers not with those taking a stand on principle against nuclear weapons.

It is a pity that our internal debates on nuclear matters have been sidelined into the usual tribal dances about ‘Trident’, which diverts attention from so many relevant issues.

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