New Internationalist

No Kidding

Issue 163

new internationalist
issue 163 - September 1986

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Children are children; adults are adults. These pages are
for NI readers who don't fit into either of these categories.

There are already enough nuclear weapons to blow
the world up 16 times over. Many people believe that we
need these nuclear weapons to prevent war. But the NI believes
that the only sensible way to prevent war is to disarm. If you
agree, try using the argument below to explode the
most common myths about the arms race.

1  
MYTH

'The Russians will take over. How can you trust the Soviets? If we didn't have the Bomb they could over run us with ease.'

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MYTH EXPLODER

The Russians, having lost 15 million people during World War Two 1, detest and fear war as much as anyone else.

They already have more than enough trouble keeping their East European 'allies' in check, never mind about a hostile border with China, a messy war in Afghanistan. It is unlikely they would want to add the their problems.

But even if they did, the conventional forces of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and ANZUS (the Australia, New Zealand and US alliance) could give the Soviets a tough, expensive and bloody war.

As things stand, US nuclear bases around the world make host nations a threat to the Soviet Union, and turn them into targets in the event of attack


2  
MYTH

'Unilateral disarmament is asking for trouble. The only safe way to get of nuclear weapons is by governments agreeing to do so around a negotiating table - multilaterally. For just one country (say the UK) to renounce them - unilaterally - would simply encourage the Soviets to think we are going to disarm of our own accord, without them having to give up a single missile.'

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MYTH EXPLODER

Each side can only decrease its own stockpile - it can only be unilateralist. Multilateral (many sided) agreements to reduce nuclear weapons would result in a collection of unilateral (independent) actions by individual countries.

There is no risk in being the first to cut back. The US could safely start by scrapping half its weapons and still have ample to deter a Soviet attack.

The way to break the deadlock is for one side to say 'Whatever you do, we will make these reductions - and if you respond we will cut back even further'.


3  
MYTH

'Peace activists are dancing to Moscow's tune. I'm sure you are well-meaning, but rather naïve. You are being manipulated by the Russians, playing into their hands - and doing their work for them.

 

 

MYTH EXPLODER

The peace movement campaigns against nuclear weapons everywhere. But we have to start by persuading our own governments to reduce their involvement in the arms race.

There is no evidence connecting the peace movement with financial backing from Moscow. If there had been, you can be sure it would have been headline news by now.

There have been huge demonstrations throughout the West against nuclear weapons. If the Kremlin already controlled the minds of so many people, it would hardly need nuclear weapons.

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4  
MYTH

'Nuclear deterrence (the balance of terror) has kept the peace since 1945 - there hasn't been a war between Warsaw Pact and NATO/ANZUS countries. It would be more risky to abandon the Bomb than to keep it as threat to a potential aggressor.'

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MYTH EXPLODER

True, US and Soviet forces have not fought directly against each other. But it is impossible to prove that this is because of nuclear weapons. And the world has not been at peace anyway - there have been over 100 wars since World War Two and 19 million people have died because of them2. The superpowers have often armed conflicting sides in the Third World, making vicarious was on each other.

If deterrence is to work, each side must demonstrate that it is prepared actually to use nuclear weapons. While in the past the country attacking first (called 'first strike') would undoubtedly have been obliterated itself in retaliation, new developments in defence - the Strategic Defence Initiative ('Star Wars') - might give the US the chance to attack and survive. And if the US could safely attack and survive, would that really make war less likely, as President Reagan claims?

The risks of nuclear war increase as warheads proliferate increasing the likelihood of computer or human error. With over 50,000 weapons already inexistence3, it is only a matter of time before something goes wrong. Or instance, a US Congressional Report published in 1980 stated there were 147 false alarms of nuclear attack during an 18-month period.


5  
MYTH

Before you can disarm, you must be stronger than the enemy. Every time the Soviet Union introduces a new weapon, NATO/ANZUS must close this gap with more modern missiles such as Trident. Then we can negotiate from a position of strength and achieve a balance reduction of weaponry on both sides. Otherwise we'll be trying to bargain from a weaker position.'

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MYTH EXPLODER

If both sides go on adding to their nuclear arsenals until they feel stronger than the other, the arms race will never end. Someone has to say 'enough is enough'

Existing weapons give the superpowers the capacity to wipe out each other's cities 50 times over. With such overkill, what does 'nuclear superiority' mean?

Any new generation of weapons - whether from the USSR or the West - will provoke an equivalent response from the other side. So the spiral of more sophisticated weapons will go on upwards, as we're seeing with the development of space weapons.


6  
MYTH

'What we need is good civil defence. We must minimize the numbers of casualties from nuclear attack by providing protection and emergency relief.

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MYTH EXPLODER

Nuclear warheads devastate through blast, fire and radiation. No meaningful protection or emergency services could be provided in target countries - those with nuclear weapons.

According to scientists, nuclear war could cause temperature to drop by 30 degrees centigrade for months5 - the Nuclear Winter. This would destroy food supplies and could kill even more people than the initial explosions or radiation (see page 11)

The only effective defence is to work for peace between countries. Building bunkers simply brings the idea of a 20th-century Armageddon into the realms of possibility, even respectability. Preparing for survival afterwards makes nuclear war much less unthinkable.

1 Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military and Social Expenditures 1985, World Priorities Inc.
2
ibid.
3
ibid.
4
Earthscan, No place to hide - Nuclear Winter and the Third World.
5
ibid

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