Commander Robert Green, 'Security Without Nuclear Deterrence'

IssueNovember 2010
Review by Brian Whicker

The dogma of deterrence is now so deeply ingrained that the national corruption implicit in the willingness to murder the innocent is ignored. Robert Green dares to differ. For many years he was an aircraft bombardier who, if ordered, would have dropped a UK nuclear bomb near St Petersburg, causing “appallingly indiscriminate casualties and long-term poisonous effects from radioactive fallout” as well as destroying a beautiful ancient capital.

Luckily, he has seen the error of his ways. “I realised that nuclear weapons would not save me – and they would not save the Russians either”. So he resigned from the navy and became an anti-nuclear campaigner.

The key case was that only nuclear threats can obstruct the ambitions of future nuclear-armed dictators, and thus prevent nuclear war. Thus it was crucial to make our deterrent both just and legal, by not targeting innocent civilians, so that any killing of innocents would be only unintended side-effects of a nuclear strike.

But Green replies that the “deterrence dogma” of nuclear retaliation is a) incredible, b) incites proliferation and arms racing, c) cannot be proportionate or discriminatory and d) threatens the environment. As to legality, the World Court a) puts nuclear weapons in the same category as chemical and biological weapons (already prohibited by Treaty) and b) insists that “if the envisaged use of force is itself unlawful the stated readiness to use it would be…prohibited under Article 2” (of the UN Charter). Furthermore, participation in a plan in violation of international treaties would be a crime under international law and anyone involved in it would face prosecution. Finally Green says any strategy for a “pre-emptive” use of nuclear weapons against potential terrorists undermines the claim that deterrence prevents war. Indeed, any envisaged use of nuclear weapons would itself amount to a terrorist act.

Green’s book clearly influenced generals Sir Hugh Beach and Lord David Ramsbotham, whose foreword says they wish they had read it long ago, and that a copy should be in every public library. In her very powerful introduction, Rebecca Johnson goes further by pointing out that the deterrence dogma is a form of “voodoo”, like wearing an amulet to ward off illness.

Topics: Nuclear weapons
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