Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ian Leslie and the fallacy of fatuousness

I've just read a piece by Ian Leslie at the New Statesman called 'Jeremy Corbyn and the nirvana fallacy', and it's been a long time since any article made me so angry.  It basically argues that Corbyn and his ilk present us with a bogus binary choice between a perfect state of affairs, and the imperfect state of affairs we currently have - which was created by those who lack the vision to understand what is possible.  Back in the real world, Leslie tells us, there are only a range of imperfect options, and the least worst one has to be chosen.  Inevitably, Trident is cited as the primary example - Corbyn is too simple-minded to grasp that nobody would ever want to see nuclear weapons being used, and that the best way of preventing that from happening is the deterrent approach.  The most jaw-dropping line is this -

"Even the most hawkish American neo-cons do not pretend that using nuclear weapons is a good idea – it’s more that they argue that holding them, and signalling your willingness to use them, is the best way to stop any being used."

It beggars belief that anyone seriously thinks the neocons wouldn't want to use nuclear weapons if they thought they could do so in a cost-free way - in other words if America was still the only nuclear armed state in the world, as it was when it dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The US didn't develop the bomb as a 'deterrent', but rather with the intention of using it on Germany or Japan as soon it was available.  Considerable diplomatic efforts were needed to prevent Truman launching a nuclear attack during the Korean War, and it seems highly probable that a repeat of Hiroshima would have occurred sooner or later if it hadn't been for the inhibiting factor of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  Ironically, that's the 'deterrent' argument in a nutshell, but Leslie seems curiously reluctant to embrace it fully when it's the 'good guys' who need deterring.

In fact, it's Leslie himself who presents us with the bogus, fatuous binary choices.  The true choice is not between maturity on the one hand and opposition to Trident on the other.  You don't even have to be a unilateralist in principle to understand that Trident is useless in practice.  The only nuclear arsenals that are really factored in to the balance of terror are very large ones (like America's and Russia's) or those held by 'lone wolf' states such as Israel and North Korea.  Our weapons fall into neither category - they're relatively few in number, and if they didn't exist Britain would still be 'protected' by the American nuclear umbrella as a result of the NATO treaty.  Tony Blair openly (some would say brazenly) admitted in his memoirs that Trident had no military value, and that he only wanted to renew it to prevent a downgrading of Britain's national 'status'.  (So much for his eschewing of 'caveman nationalism'.)  Denis Healey mused a few years ago that the only conceivable rational reason for retaining Trident was to prevent France being left as Europe's sole nuclear power, although he didn't explain why that would be so awful.

Leslie also asks us not to compare the last Labour government with the Labour government of our dreams, but instead with the alternative of John Major winning the 1997 election, and the Conservatives winning every subsequent election as well.  But that isn't the alternative, is it?  The Tories were so unpopular by 1997 that most Labour leaders would have beaten them.  John Smith certainly would have.  Pondering how far to the left Labour could have gone in 1997 and still won is a fascinating thought experiment.  A soft left leader probably would have won.  I'm not going to be brave enough to say Jeremy Corbyn would have beaten John Major, but neither am I going to say it's completely impossible.

24 comments:

  1. The thing these pro-nuke types never seem to get is that having them "normalizes" them, making other countries think, well if they've got them why shouldn't we?
    More generally, as you bring out in your post, it's a classic Blairite line to identify yourself as the reasonable pragmatist while labelling anyone to your left as a hopeless dreamer/dangerous radical. Much of what is hyped in the media as "radical" isn't particularly extreme anyway and is often being done in other European countries anyway (I.e. Spain and Italy amazingly survive without nukes, etc)

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  2. What deters the use of nuclear weapons is in fact, nuclear weapons. Similar to the school bully knowing a nemesis who can kick him in the jaw if he becomes too pushy. But we are not in the school yards, and this is not a game. Nuclear weapons are in fact useless, only coming to use during the destruction of all things they are meant to protect. Perhaps like an imaginary bomb attached to our homes which would explode should there ever be a fire (as to save the neighbors' properties). But alas such a bomb would serve to set off all the neighboring bombs like dominoes. This nuclear deterrent concept is totally irrational and utterly wasteful. Get a grip man!!

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  3. I don't understand how a weapon which has now been included in the list of illegal weapons, and so cannot be used, can be thought of as having any use whatsoever beyond the fun Osborne would have grinding Scottish faces in the dirt.

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  4. Correct about the US in World War 2. The war was over when they bombed Japan. The Japanese soldiers were told so by their generals. They deserted the prison camps and fled to the cities to seek anonymity. Then the US dropped the bomb. They bombed for two reasons. One to test the bomb and how much damge it could do in a populated area. You see you don't get to test collateral and human damage in a test! Secondly they wanted to show the world they were masters and don't mess with the US.

    It was an attrocity and the US should have been sanctioned for the war crimes against normal Japanese civilians.

    You are also correct that at the time they, and only they had the atom bomb. So a counter strike would not be forthcoming.

    It was cruel, cowardly and vindictive.

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    1. I think it was more to do with Stalin's advance toward Japan after the fall of Berlin. The yanks had to finish Japan off quickly and also scare the ruskies so they wouldn't mess with them. The bomb marked the end of WW2 and the start of the Cold War.

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  5. The real argument for Trident is that if you want to play a role on the international stage in negotiations over nuclear weapons you have more influence if you're a nuclear power. It's the ticket that buys you a seat at the table. It's your leverage in a negotiation with other states (well if you cut back on yours, we'll cut back on ours).

    That's always been the reason behind Trident and it's still the reason why we would want to keep it - it's got nothing to do with the horrors of actually using the thing or its actual value as a weapon in comparison to those available to the US or Russia. I'm not saying I agree with that reasoning because you're balancing global influence against the cost to taxpayers (there's a fairly reasonable argument that the money could be better spent on people living here rather than on playing at international relations) but that is what the argument should really be about and I'm a bit baffled why we rarely talk about it in those terms.

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    1. Presumably it's because the weapons aren't even "ours" at all - and if they are, then they're so tied with the Americans as to fail the definition of "independent" deterrents. In addition, the UK has only a fraction of the world's nuclear weapons (225 to Russia's 7,500 and the US's 7,100), with France and China having more nuclear weapons. It isn't really much negotiating power is it?

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    2. I can feel myself getting dragged into an argument I'm not making already. I'm not saying I agree with the argument, I'm saying that's the case that has to be argued. The question shouldn't be "are they any use in a practical sense" but "would we lose influence if we got rid of them/is that influence worth the financial cost".

      The first question (are they any use) is pretty much a no-brainer (they have no practical purpose as weapons) the second question, however, is a legitimate debate. From my side I think it would be a fairly exaggerated argument to claim they provide no influence at all given the UK's role in the NPT, EU3+3 talks and various other examples. Is it worth the financial cost, though? Probably not given it's not a live issue and countries like Germany also participate in the EU3+3 talks.

      What I really detest is the way a fairly complex argument always gets reduced down to exaggerated soundbites - one side claims anyone who wants to get rid of Trident is a radical left-wing lunatic, while the other side claims anyone who supports it is some sort of deranged bloodthirsty warmonger. There is a middle ground and I think we should start having a proper conversation about it - ideally a referendum where people can be consulted directly on whether they're content for that sum of money to be spent on it. A proper adult conversation is almost always better than ideological warfare.

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  6. Dont forget that tricky Dicky wanted to use them on Vietnam. I think a large number of US Fundamentalist loonies would like to use it and bring on Revelations. The neocons would use it if they thought there was a profit to be had and if they thought they could survive it.

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    1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted to use them during the presidency of JFK. His air force general, Curtis LeMay, was in particular an almost unbelievable character, and a uber, uber hawk. Some think he might even have been present at JFK''s autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, and LeMay really hated Kennedy, but that is another story....

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  7. I refuse to believe there could never be a situation where an independent nuclear deterrent would be not be useful. For example if we scrapped ours surely it would become very interesting for the Argentinians do develop their own nukes, invade Falklands and dare us to risk retaliation if we tried to retake them...or heres another more ironic possibility...what if a Putinesque Russia decided to invade Orkney and Shetland part of non-Nato signatory independent Scotland. Would the USA and the rest of europe really go to the mats for a few barren islands when there was no treaty obligations to?...rUK might but then with no big stick what could they.
    Do i think these scenarios are plausible...no...do I think they are impossible? No...if history teaches us anything is that the certainties we take for granted just now are nothing but illusions. And given as the New Statesman article states, that the world can't unlearn how to make nuclear weapons I'd rather we were ready for anything

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    1. Aye, the UK nukes have prevented the Argies invading the Falklands. Good point.

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    2. They did not prevent Al-Qaeda from flying passengers planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon either.

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    3. Glasgow Working ClassOctober 1, 2015 at 9:12 PM

      Skier and muttley. Pure immature irrelevant drivel from you. Pair of saddos indeed. The twin towers and the Falklands were local issues and not empire changers. Get a grip.

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    4. The Argentines knew that as a functioning western democracy we would not risk WW3 over the falklands...the also thought we wouldn't even risk the lives of our soldiers over them and got a mighty surprise when we did. Could we be sure of the same about a likely dictatorial Argentina fired with national patriotism as well as shame from their previous defeat...not 100% and that doubt however small would prevent us from acting
      As for Al-Qaeda, nuclear weapons were never (nor should they ever be) designed to deter non-state actors so your point is meaningless

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  8. Off topic

    I just voted for SNP first pref and Green second pref in the Heldon n Laich by election for Moray Council. I didn't bother voting for the Tory or the independent at all.

    It has been a bloody gorgeous day here and going by what I saw a fairly decent turn out for a council election so far.

    Been a big effort from the SNP here. I don't recall ever having seen pledge cards given out for a council election before. The only party to canvass at all. But then they are perhaps the only one with enough committed members to do it.

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    1. "Britain Elects" has tweeted that the SNP have held the council seats in Irvine and Glenrothes (2 of the 8 today). Glenrothes looks like the SNP got a slightly higher share on a lower turnout than a by-election in the same ward in March.

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  9. Trident is a hugely expensive delivery vehicle for nuclear war heads.
    There are cheaper alternatives e.g. cruise missiles etc.
    On the so called "detterence" claim,having every US citizen armed to the teeth has done nothing to deter violent gun crime.
    There is No evidence that these weapons have kept the peace in the world since 1945 and that retention of them is about politics and nothing else.

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    1. It is expensive because it is submarine deployed and it is submarine deployed so that unlike cruise missiles it is 100% impossible to neutralise by a surprise attack
      Your analogy about guns does not apply...nuclear deterrance relies on the 100% certainty that any nuclear attack will be replied in kind. If I shoot you dead you will not be able to retaliate
      Finally the fact we have had no global conflagration since 1945 is one piece of evidence that MAD may have had an effect. Do you really believe that without the threat of nuclear retaliation the USSR would not have at least tried to conquer western europe?

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    2. Are you MAD?
      Soo 1960s.
      The logical extension of your argument is that every country in the world should possess a nuclear deterrent in order to ensure "peace".
      That,of course,would lead directly to my analogy of gun happy USA and the consequences.
      So,it appears that you support the idea of only a few countries having this capability in order to " police" the peace.
      Who then polices the police?

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  10. Some stimulating arguments above.

    However, am inclined to say "Get them to fcuk off Scots soil and continue the neo-medieval pseudo-Scholastic arguments on your own ground. For example, the English Home Counties".

    I wonder how that would pan out?

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    1. They are perfectly happy to possess nuclear weapons as long as they are as far away from London as they can manage. The perfect illustration of South East of England nimbyism.

      They are a bunch of arrogant cowards.

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    2. Nonsense....the South of England is and has been home to nuclear weapons...forward deployed aircraft launched US nuclear weapons. And the only reason Trident is in Scotland is because the west coast is the only place with deep water ports to allow our submarines to operate.
      Finally in fact the only Nimbyists are the SNP who oppose nuclear weapons in scotland but are happy to sign up to Nato - a nuclear defence treaty

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  11. Didn't Thatcher want to use them in Falklands/ Malvina's?

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