Opinion by David Mackenzie, Scottish CND
There seems no limit to human folly. As the UK’s latest aircraft carrier set off to sail the crowed reaches of the South China Sea, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Tony Radakin, opined that the warship would “operate in a “non-confrontational” fashion. The UK carrier strike group consists of The Queen Elizabeth with 18 fighter planes, with six other warships and support vessels. The UK flotilla, although much-trumpeted, will be a small part of a huge NATO-plus-partners naval presence in the South China Sea. There will be warships from the US (already there in force), the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, the UAE, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Israel, India, Oman, and South Korea. The US claim is that the build-up of Chinese naval forces is a threat to the freedom of the seas in that quarter of the ocean but let Radakin’s tenuous grasp on reality sink in – darkening the horizon with hundreds of vessels of war, armed to the teeth, is “non-confrontational”.
It may well be an error to see this as part of a Cold War revival. A smarter retro-take is the first decade of the 20th century. There is a kind of horrid fascination in seeing this all build up now just as it did in Edwardian times as we slipped sleeping into You-Know-What. The struggle for control of colonial opportunities and trade routes produced such bluster upon bluster that in the end, no one knew how to stop it. That is a slippery slope we are now so cheerfully descending on.
This week we learned from Daniel Ellsberg that when the Chinese attacked islands near Taiwan in 1958, the United States moved to support its ally militarily and had a contingency plan to attack China with nuclear weapons. As Ellsberg says, the likelihood is that a similar nuclear contingency exists during the present infantile strut-fest. So long as nuclear weapons exist any conflict involving nuclear-armed states will always carry the nightmare risk of nuclear war. And as for nuclear war, there are only two things we need to know – what nuclear weapons are and do, and how incredibly serious are the risks of their use.