Monday, July 28, 2008

The Nuclear Weapons Dance goes on 

I am very glad that Lynne Featherstone and John Hemming have co-signed the Guardian letter about nuclear warhead replacement.

But the ballooning Aldermaston budget to produce new nuclear warheads is no sudden revelation. Even the Daily Mail was complaining about this way back in December 2006.

I discussed this in a posting in January 2007, saying, amongst other things;

Aldermaston is installing two vital new pieces of kit – the ‘Orion’ laser and a hydrodynamics research unit. Together these give the capacity to gather the information previously only available through live testing of nuclear devices. Their only real purpose is to design new warheads.

In addition two huge new computer projects have been implemented making Aldermaston the most powerful computing complex in western Europe. And 700 new staff are to be recruited over the next two years, pretty openly to build bombs.
It seems to me that the Government has taken the decision to design and build a new generation of nuclear warheads, is proceeding with this regardless of decisions on deployment and launch platforms, has done so without any public debate whatsoever, has committed thousands of millions of pounds to this, (and) is hiding the costs of this from public scrutiny..

This was at the time of the Great Trident Renewal debate and I suggested that the Government was using the ‘Trident Renewal’ issue as a diversion to channel the Nuclear weapons debate into relatively safe tribal war-dance waters. This smokescreen lessened the chances of the Aldermaston Expansion getting proper scrutiny. Everybody (including the nuclear-concerned people in the LibDems) seems to have fallen into the trap.

Like it or not our defence policy needs urgent new discussions. During our last leadership contest I posted a thought that the defence thread was hijacked by ‘Trident’ We must now do much, much better. No apologies for extracting much of my Oct 2007 posting:

Our current so-called ‘Trident’ policy is not a fudge. It is an acid drop, and we need to suck on it….
The implications for our policy are clear. We voted in Parliament to delay Vanguard renewal (and were defeated). We now have an obligation as a party to carry out the clearly implied next stage of the agreed policy. That is, to debate now the position the UK should take at the upcoming negotiations and bring forwards firm recommendations. That is the acid logic of our position.

The (nuclear proliferation) treaty reviews are in the year 2010 – and in the meantime in 2009 we are due to have a general election in which nuclear arms policy can hardly fail to be an issue.We therefore need to revisit this issue in 2008 at the latest….

We should for example:

1 Look at the way the debates on this are put into ‘defining frames’ that shut out important questions and make sure we bring in some neglected frames and themes. Please, no more tribal ‘unilateralist or not’ hot-button posturing.

2 Insist that the whole question of expenditures on AWRE Aldermaston is put in the public domain, at least to equal the public accountability enforced on equivalent establishments in the USA.

3 Insist on a complete review of the way all our weapons procurement policies are managed especially on whether purchasing decision are made to subsidise industries rather than to meet vital defence needs.

4 Make clear the connections between the procurement mess and the corruption allegations about the dealings of BAe and certain foreign customers.

5 Examine the evolution of new non-nuclear high-destruction weapons that may make nuclear devices an expensive obsolescence in the next couple of decades.

6 Above all, insist on a clear strategy for armed forces evolution and for equipping our forces actually to do the jobs we say they must.

I don’t see much progress on any of this frankly, excellent letters to the Guardian be what they may.

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In the nuclear weapons business, "hydrodynamic" testing is a nasty proposition. Here is what happens regularly at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab's Site 300 in the San Francisco Bay Area in the States.

Nasty stuff indeed. Besides the current nuclear weapons are good for 250 to 300 years. There is no physical need to replace the weapons.

The need is purely political, to spend a lot of money with people trusted to make the maximum "free-will" contribution to the ruling political parties and candidates.
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