New Forest East



By Julian Lewis

South Wales Evening Post – 31 December 1982

In 1977, the Soviet Union began to deploy a new breed of very accurate, highly mobile, intermediate-range nuclear missiles: the SS-20. Each SS-20 had three nuclear warheads capable of hitting separate targets.

There are now over 300 of these weapons, and most of them are aimed at targets in Western Europe, including this country.

Characteristically, virtually no voice of protest was raised against this major Soviet escalation of the arms race by disarmament agitators in the West. Yet, within weeks of NATO's decision at the end of 1979 to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles to help redress the balance, a revived CND had swung into action.

Much to the Kremlin's delight, the cause of unilateral (one-sided) British nuclear disarmament has been overwhelmingly adopted by a Labour Party subverted beyond all recognition since the days of Hugh Gaitskell. The CND's unbalanced propaganda has been digested and repeatedly regurgitated by television and the press.

Last year, Soviet officials were expelled from three NATO countries after being exposed for channelling support to Western disarmament groups. The CND has no need of such assistance, however, when reporters such as Norman Denby (Evening Post, December 24) are prepared to propound its case without any apparent attempt to report the other side.

Many – and probably most – people believe that the best way to prevent a third world war is for the Western democracies to maintain and, where necessary, improve their nuclear and conventional defences, unless and until simultaneous matching arms reductions can be agreed with the Soviet bloc.

Unilateral nuclear disarmers, on the other hand, prefer to put their faith in the supposed good intentions of the Soviet Politburo, and – in the final analysis – advocate a position of British neutrality outside the NATO alliance.

If they were honest, however, both sides would have to agree that they cannot guarantee that this country will never be subjected to a major nuclear, chemical, biological or conventional attack. The arguments for and against a policy of nuclear deterrence are arguments about whether war would be more or less likely if we kept or abandoned our nuclear weapons.

No-one can know for certain what the outcome of either course would be: decisions can be made only on the basis of what seems to be the best prospect of avoiding a conflict.

Those of us who believe that nuclear deterrence has been largely responsible for the longest period of peace in Europe for many decades are not so arrogant as to assume that our people will never be attacked. If such an attack occurred, its effects might range from the serious to the catastrophic – all sorts of scenarios can be envisaged, including that of severe conventional bombardment under circumstances of nuclear stalemate.

Yet, the armchair strategists of the "Nuclear-Free Zone" local councils, reported so uncritically in your columns, would recklessly deprive us of the means of coping (to a greater or lesser extent) with all forms of nuclear or non-nuclear attack, in their anxiety to score political points in the debate about deterrence.

In reality, even the more pessimistic estimates of the effects of a major nuclear strike generally concede that substantial numbers of people would survive, disastrous though such an attack would certainly be. That such numbers could be increased by several millions by even elementary Civil Defence preparations, it is difficult to doubt. The Soviet Union certainly thinks so, judging by the scale and efficiency of its Civil Defence programmes, and even the neutral Swedes and Swiss (who pose no military threat, real or imagined, to anyone) invest heavily in shelters and other protective measures.

If British Civil Defence measures are at fault it is because they do not, as yet, go far enough to protect the population. This deficiency will not be made good by abandoning Civil Defence completely.

The Evening Post article tells us reassuringly that 200 local authorities have voted in "opposition to the threat of nuclear war". I am sure that many more well-informed councillors could be found to vote against, for example, the dangers of violent crime. But councils are no more justified in seeking to sabotage Civil Defence against external attack that they would be in trying to do away with the means of helping the victims of violent crime – even if, in either case, only a minority of the sufferers could be aided.

Nor should we forget that it is for the British Government of the day to determine what national defence policies are required, subject to endorsement or rejection at the General Election. The involvement of local authorities in Civil Defence preparations is primarily a matter of administrative convenience.

Local councillors are seldom, if ever, elected on a platform of defence, and it is therefore preposterous of your reporter to claim that the meaningless votes for "Nuclear-Free Zones" by various local government bodies "have acted as a popular gauge to the opposition to the nuclear threat".

The truth of the matter is that declaring oneself a "Nuclear-Free Zone" makes about as much sense as taking the locks off your doors and declaring your home to be a "Crime-Free Zone". Whether your home is crime-free or not depends not upon you, but upon the potential burglar. To claim that, because millions might die in a nuclear attack, we should dismantle the means to save many others who might survive, is an act of unmitigated criminal negligence.

And it does no harm to remind those who irrelevantly illustrate their unilateralist propaganda with pictures of nuclear explosions over Hiroshima or Nagasaki, that if Japan had had nuclear weapons in 1945 and not just her enemies, it is extremely unlikely that they would have dared to use their atomic bombs against her.

Julian Lewis, who comes from Swansea, holds a doctorate in strategic studies and is Research Director of The Coalition for Peace Through Security – a London-based pressure group opposed to measures of one-sided Western disarmament.