sábado, dezembro 02, 2006

162) Dissuasao Nuclear: a visao britanica

Nuclear deterrence may still have role
Lawrence Freedman
Financial Times, November 30 2006

A striking feature of the debate on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent – in which the government is to announce proposals on Monday – is continuity with past debates. The story began during the second world war when the fear was that Germany would make the first vital breakthroughs, moved through the early stages of the cold war and then on to the complex debates about sustaining deterrence as the east-west confrontation settled down. When the UK government took decisions on its Trident nuclear missile system in the early 1980s, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, relations with Moscow were tense. By the time Trident was fully operational in 1994, the Soviet Union and its European empire had collapsed. Now the world seems less benign.

Throughout, three core arguments have been used to justify Britain’s possession of these terrible weapons. First, enemies, actual and potential, are committed to developing nuclear capabilities. Only the threat of retaliation ensures they will not be turned against Britain and its allies. Second, while the main provider of nuclear deterrence is bound to be the US, an independent capability underpins the “special relationship” and confirms Britain’s status as one of the world’s most influential powers. Third, however difficult it is to imagine a plausible scenario where it would be necessary to threaten, let alone use, nuclear weapons, the future is horribly uncertain. This is therefore an essential insurance policy.

For now, the government presents the third of these as the clincher. The public mood may be too sceptical to proclaim the benefits of the special relationship: nor is it evident that only nuclear weapons these days provide a “seat at the top table”. A degree of scepticism may also be expected about the insurance argument. The price of the insurance policy is high, but not unaffordable. If a new policy was being taken out it would seem far too high, but years of investment in technology and infrastructure provide the equivalent of a “no claims bonus”.

Indeed, given that successive governments have been paying out regularly over the past six decades, the real departure would be to decide suddenly to cash it in. What is it about our current strategic environment that suggests that this is the time to abandon the deterrent? The obvious answer is “very little”. Russia is in a bad temper, North Korea has declared its nuclear capability and little seems to have been done to stop Iran acquiring one. There is evidence that al-Qaeda is interested in weapons to cause mass slaughter and mayhem.

Yet the government must be careful about depending too much on these current sources of insecurity. With al-Qaeda, there is a problem with how a full-blown British nuclear capability is going to deter a suicidal sub-state group. The official line is that good relations with Moscow remain both likely and important, while it is far too soon to give up on the possibility of persuading North Korea and Iraq to abandon their nuclear ambitions.

Furthermore, anticipating proliferation also raises the “drunkards preaching abstinence” argument that it is hypocritical to demand that others refrain from developing a capability that we insist on retaining.

As India and Pakistan may be demonstrating, the introduction of nuclear weapons into a conflict can introduce a welcome element of caution. Some conflicts, of course, may become so unstable that mutual deterrence will collapse and catastrophe will ensue, which is why proliferation is not to be encouraged. Nonetheless, they make clear the horrific consequences of full-scale war or even a big miscalculation and so encourage states to resolve disputes without resort to armed force.

Established nuclear powers do not need to dream up circumstances in which they might feel a need to threaten, let alone use, nuclear weapons. The aim must be to encourage these weapons to remain marginal to the everyday conduct of international affairs. If the security debate is no longer preoccupied by big wars, we should be grateful but not take it for granted. This focus on conditions that continue to rule out major war, however, is more appropriate than one on conditions in which one may threaten to break out. This leaves open the questions of the importance of a specifically British nuclear capability and “value for money” set against other national needs. It argues, though, for care with the claim that we no longer need to think about nuclear deterrence because we no longer worry about major war.

Sir Lawrence Freedman is professor of war studies and vice principal (research) at King’s College London

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