Guardian – 15 October 1983
Apart from an unworthy suggestion that opponents of CND are in some way mentally defective, Bruce Kent's letter (October 10) raises several interesting points. He is right to distinguish concepts of nuclear balance and deterrence; it is precisely because relatively small nuclear forces can cause enormous devastation, irrespective of one's potential adversary's "overkill" capacity, that frequent CND attempts to deride the independent British strategic deterrent as militarily insignificant are wholly misconceived.
He is right to identify the Soviet SS-20s as one of the "critical international issues of the day"; this system confers an ability to strike at key Western military targets in the – probably correct – belief that retaliatory strikes against Soviet cities – the only nuclear option open to NATO if cruise and Pershing II are not deployed – would not be mounted in response.
When Bruce Kent asks for scenarios in which the use of Polaris or its successor may credibly be threatened, I would suggest the following: that of a Western Europe overrun by the Warsaw Pact without the use of nuclear weapons by either side; and of a United Kingdom able to hold out conventionally against a hostile power on the Continent, which could otherwise induce surrender by threatening to obliterate British cities one by one in the event of non-compliance.
He is absolutely wrong, however, to denigrate those of us who are not prepared to "negotiate away" Polaris while potential enemies have nuclear weapons as "bogus multilateralists". Refusal to do that is the very essence of multilateralism. It is also wrong to concede in one sentence – as he does – that "we are dealing with psychology rather than morality or strategy," and then in the next to deny comparisons with the 1930s when extremely similar psychological considerations were operating on the minds of aggressors and appeasers alike.
As for his implied suggestion that countries acquire nuclear weapons for reasons other than selfish perceptions of their own military circumstances, it is now nearly a year since you, Sir, published my invitation (November 6, 1982) to Guardian readers to list specific nuclear or near-nuclear powers likely to renounce nuclear weapons in response to a unilateral British abandonment of them. I am still waiting for an answer.
Dr JULIAN LEWIS
The Coalition for Peace Through Security