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NATO Nuclear Weapons: Power Without Purpose

 Europe is heavily armed with nuclear weapons. Both Britain and France possess their own nuclear forces and the United States has a long history of keeping nuclear weapons on European soil. BritainÂ’s nuclear force is estimated at under 200 weapons, with approximately 150 deployed on four Vanguard submarines and the remainder kept in reserve. France is thought to have approximately 350 nuclear weapons in its Force de frappe (strike force). The US keeps some 200-350 nuclear weapons in six countries: Belgium, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey and the UK. Recent unconfirmed reports indicate that the US has pulled its nuclear weapons out of the UK. If this is correct, approximately 240 US nuclear weapons remain in five European countries.

On the NATO website, it states, “NATO has radically reduced its reliance on nuclear forces. Their role is now more fundamentally political, and they are no longer directed towards a specific threat.” This is a rather enigmatic statement, leaving one to ponder how nuclear weapons are used in a “fundamentally political” role. The NATO website adds, “NATO's reduced reliance on nuclear forces has been manifested in a dramatic reduction in the number of weapons systems and storage facilities. NATO has also ended the practice of maintaining standing peacetime nuclear contingency plans and as a result, NATO's nuclear forces no longer target any country.”

Charles Clarke's New Statesman Article

We should recognise that Tony Blair was an outstanding Labour prime minister who has now departed the British political scene and has no future part to play. His legacy, on the basis of what we inherited in 1997, is historically important, but it does not define the way forward from 2008 onwards. It is worth summarising his approach to government.

In international affairs, Blair stood for a liberal interventionist strategy in our increasingly interdependent world. This attracted fierce criticism in relation to Iraq, but general support on the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. It led him to work with the power of the United States rather than join the anti-American claque, even when George W Bush demonstrated crippling incompetence or opposed British policy. And in the European Union, Blair's good intentions turned to dust, so that Britain is now more remote from the centre of European power than ever.

Liberal interventionism must be underpinned by military force, but its moral authority was undermined by the glacial progress in preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the ill-considered determination to renew Trident. The rise of terrorist atrocities, including London in 2005, identified Tony Blair with tough efforts to strengthen security, sometimes at a perceived cost to liberty. In some circles, this damaged his reputation, despite the series of progressive constitutional reforms that modernised Britain.

No Non-Proliferation without De-Proliferation

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is the single biggest threat facing the world today, according to former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating. Mr Keating, who led the government from 1991 to 1996, said the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) entered into in 1970 was on the verge of collapse.

Speaking to a sold-out crowd at the Melbourne Writers' Festival, Mr Keating called on the international community to push for a new order for world peace. He said the 20th Century order had been one of violence, with major powers holding onto nuclear weapons.

"Nuclear weapon proliferation is the single most immediate threat hanging over the world today," Mr Keating said.

He said the United States, China, France, Britain and Russia - all signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty - are not only not ridding themselves of nuclear weapons, but developing new ones.

He cited Tony Blair's Trident submarine program announced in 2006 and said the Bush administration had "turned its hand to new bunker-busting nuclear weapons designed to attack underground facilities."

Nuclear Waste Containers Likely To Corrode

Thousands of containers of lethal nuclear waste are likely to fail before being safely sealed away underground, a devastating official report concludes. The unpublicised Report is by the Environment Agency, which has to approve any proposals for getting rid of the waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.

The document effectively destroys Britain's already shaky disposal plans just as Ministers are preparing an expansion of nuclear power. It shows that many containers used to store the waste are made of second-rate materials, are handled carelessly, and are liable to corrode. The Report concludes: "It is cautious to assume a significant proportion will fail." It says computer models suggest up to 40 per cent of them could be at risk.

Britain's leading expert on nuclear waste yesterday called the report "devastating" and Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative Environment Spokesman, said he would write to Ministers to urge them to "make changes to ensure public safety". He added: "Such a warning from the Environment Agency must be taken extremely seriously. The failure of just one container could prove catastrophic."

CND Warning on NATO Expansion

CND has warned that the development of the US Missile Defence in central Europe and the expansion of NATO are plunging Europe into a new Cold War.

 

CND condemned Foreign Secretary David Miliband for fuelling international tensions, on the same day that the US and Poland sign a deal on US Missile Defence, by announcing Georgia had been given a ‘route map to membership’.

 

Support for US Missile Defence puts Britain at greater risk of military attack rather than providing greater security, with US bases in Yorkshire potentially on the front line of any future wars involving the US. Moscow has already announced that it will re-target its missiles on Europe if missile defence goes ahead.

 

The Foreign SecretaryÂ’s stated commitment to Georgian membership of NATO, ratchets up the new Cold War danger, siding with the US in escalating tensions with Russia. Rather than expanding NATO, CND advocates the extension of the influence, resources and funding of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe to develop a strategic approach to European security, independent of White House dominance.

 

Kate Hudson, CND Chair, said ‘The United States, with UK support, seems hell bent on escalating tensions with Russia and is leading us into a new Cold War. The agreement to place interceptor missiles in Poland, together with its drive to expand NATO into Georgia and the Ukraine, is enormously provocative and puts British and other European citizens at greater risk. It is not providing us with greater security. Europe is being used as a pawn in the global military strategy of the United States – our Government should be championing dialogue and diplomacy rather than missile systems and nuclear-armed military alliances.

Workers overcooked nuclear warhead

leftA US federal spokesman confirmed that Oak Ridge workers overcooked some nuclear warhead components during a drying process to such an extent that the parts could no longer be "used as intended." The incident at the Y-12 National Security Complex was revealed in a report by staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.

The timing was about a month after the Oak Ridge plant received approval to restart production work on W76 warheads, which had been delayed for more than a year because of technical issues. However, Steven Wyatt of the National Nuclear Security Administration said he could not comment on whether the oven-dried weapon parts were associated with the plant's W76 life-extension program, which is refurbishing old warheads deployed on Trident submarine missiles.

The Safety Board's Report said the components - known as canned subassemblies - were mistakenly dried at a "much higher temperature" than intended. Asked if they were damaged by the process, Wyatt responded  "The parts were not prepared in accordance with the original application and could not be used as intended." Wyatt said the parts were deemed acceptable for an "alternate use" but said they had to be rebuilt. He would not disclose the future use or say if it was a weapons mission

UK's Lack of Civil Defence

The diplomatic brinkmanship between Russia and the West over Georgia has brought back memories of the dark days of the Cold War. But the return of tension has raised disturbing questions over the preparedness of Britain's civil defence system, which was all but scrapped after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The country once had a network of thousands of underground bunkers kept in a constant state of readiness by trained volunteers in the Royal Observation Corps (ROC) and governed by a complex command structure. Most have been mothballed, sold to private owners to become tourist attractions, or left to crumble into disrepair.

The network of sirens designed to provide the famous "four-minute warning" has been dismantled and the ROC was finally stood down in 1995. Since decommissioning its last air-launched nuclear missiles in 1998, Britain has only a single nuclear deterrent in the form of four Vanguard-class submarines each equipped with up to four Trident missiles.

Experts say that, while the risk of a missile attack on Britain is low, the country may still be faced with a serious threat.

Economist Article on Disarmament

BRITAIN as a “disarmament laboratory”? Tell that one to veterans of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Earlier this year they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Easter protest march to Aldermaston, home of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) where research and design work continues on Britain’s Trident-based nuclear warheads. Yet AWE has lately been turning its nuclear skills to a rather different purpose: finding solutions to some of the many difficulties that disarmament would pose if it ever turned from slogan to reality.

To CNDÂ’s regret, and the annoyance of the Scottish Nationalists who want to eject the submarines that carry the countryÂ’s nuclear-tipped Trident missiles from their Faslane base on the Clyde, Britain is not about to disarm unilaterally. It remains one of the five officially recognised nuclear powers, alongside America, China, France and Russia. Over the protests of its own left-wingers, last year the Labour government persuaded Parliament to replace the deterrentÂ’s ageing submarines; legislators will probably have to vote before long on replacing the missiles and warheads too

The “disarmament laboratory” notion was floated last year by Margaret Beckett, Foreign Secretary at the time and a noted nuclear sceptic. A sop to Labour’s left after the Trident decision? Or a cynical ploy, before the 2010 review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to blunt criticism that Britain is not doing enough to honour its treaty pledge to work towards nuclear disarmament? Away from the politics of it all, defence officials and AWE have a more intriguing story to tell.

US Panel Recommends Conventional Trident Warhead

An United States National Research Council panel of defense experts is recommending development and testing of a conventional warhead for submarine-launched intercontinental Trident missiles to give the US President an alternative to using nuclear weapons for a prompt strike anywhere in the world.

In critical situations, such an immediate global strike weapon "would eliminate the dilemma of having to choose between responding to a sudden threat either by using nuclear weapons or by not responding at all," the panel said.

Congress has delayed funding the conventional Trident program for two years while providing more than $200 million for research and development of additional, longer-term concepts for quick global strikes. One major congressional concern was that to other countries, such as Russia or China, the launch of a conventional Trident missile could not be distinguished from a nuclear one and could be mistaken for the start of a nuclear war.

General Jackson is a Feartie

left

The former head of the British Army has warned that Scottish independence could have disastrous consequences for the defence of the rest of the UK. General Sir Michael Jackson said he was alarmed by the SNPÂ’s plan to remove Trident nuclear missiles from Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde.

Jackson, the former Chief of the General Staff, said no alternative sites were available to house and fit the weapons, which are armed with nuclear warheads at Coulport in Argyllshire. All four of BritainÂ’s Trident-equipped submarines are based at nearby Faslane.

Asked about the prospect of independence in an interview with The Sunday Times, he said: “God forbid. It would be very serious for the United Kingdom because it would be the disunited kingdom. I’m pro maintaining the nuclear deterrent. If an independent Scotland were to say, ‘You must take away the nuclear base at Garelochhead, Faslane,’ then no doubt we would have to re-site those facilities. It couldn’t be done overnight, that’s for sure. Coulport would have to be replicated.”