Nuclear Status Anxiety

Thanks to the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party,* suddenly there’s a debate in Britain about “whether to retain nuclear weapons”:, in the form of a follow-on strategic submarine program. (The “PONI blog”: has the story covered.)

Making the “case against disarmament”: in _The Times_ is one Sash Tusa, whose case, while illogical, is interesting:

bq. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France) achieved their positions by being the victors of the Second World War. But they now retain those seats only thanks to their possession of credible nuclear deterrents. It’s not about GDP, hospitals, improvements in child poverty or school league tables: abandon the deterrent and, sooner or later, Britain loses its seat.

Now, how exactly does that work? Does the IAEA come along take the Security Council seat away? The Tooth Fairy, maybe?

The Security Council is not the S&P 500. Those contestants with veto power cannot be voted off the island.

But the factual truth pales before the psychological truth, whose implications go well beyond Britain. In this realm, nukes = status. It’s the “Alpha Dog”: principle. If I can thrash you at will, then you have to be nice to me at all times, whereas I’m under no such compulsion. This makes me Somebody and you Nobody.

It would be understandably tough for any country to bow its head before fiscal, political, or other realities that might impinge on maintaining this sacred symbol of national manhood. The _psychological_ realities are just so powerful that it’s remarkable that the thing has ever been done. Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to national self-abasement. That it has taken place in the context of “regime capitulation”: is perhaps not so surprising.

There’s something almost childish about this, but mass politics does have a lot to do with emotions. Disarmament is the _other_ nuclear taboo.

*Britain’s perennial third party, out of power since 1922.

One thought on “Nuclear Status Anxiety

  1. Pavel

    Recently someone (French) referred to Britain as “a weakling in the nuclear weapon brotherhood”. I wish it lived up to this reputation.


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