Bush’s paranoia, Blair’s cowardice and Singh’s opportunism have destroyed global restraint

on nuclear arms.

In just a few months, Bush and Blair have destroyed global restraint on the development of nuclear weapons. August 6 is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The nuclear powers are commemorating it in their own way: by seeking to ensure that the experiment is repeated. The British government appears to have decided to replace the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons, without consulting parliament or informing the public. The UK’s atomic weapons establishment at Aldermaston has been re-equipped to build a new generation of bombs. But when this news was first leaked in 2002 a spokesman for the plant insisted the equipment was being installed not to replace Trident but to build either mini-nukes or warheads.

If this is true it means the British government is replacing Trident and developing a new category of boil-in-the-bag weapons. As if to ensure we got the point, Geoff Hoon, then UK defence secretary, announced before the leak that Britain would be prepared to use small nukes in a pre-emptive strike against a non-nuclear state. This puts us in the hallowed company of North Korea. The London Times, helpful as ever, explains why Trident should be replaced. “A decision to leave the club of nuclear powers,” it says, “would diminish Britain’s international standing and influence.” This is true, and it accounts for why almost everyone wants the bomb. Two weeks ago, on concluding their new nuclear treaty, Bush and Manmohan Singh announced that “international institutions must fully reflect changes in the global scenario that have taken place since 1945.”

This translates as follows: “Now that India has the bomb it should join the UN Security Council.” It is because nuclear weapons confer power and status on the states that possess them that the non-proliferation treaty, of which the UK was a founding signatory, determines two things: that the non-nuclear powers should not acquire nuclear weapons, and that the nuclear powers should “pursue negotiations in good faith on... general and complete disarmament”. Blair has unilaterally decided to rip it up. In May the US government launched a systematic assault on the agreement. The summit in New York was supposed to strengthen it, but the US, led by John Bolton refused even to allow the other nations to draw up an agenda for discussion. The talks collapsed, and the treaty may now be all but dead. Bolton has been promoted: to the post of US ambassador to the UN.

Bush wanted to destroy the treaty because it couldn’t be reconciled with his new plans. Last month the Senate approved an initial $4m for research into a “robust nuclear earth penetrator” (RNEP). This is a bomb with a yield about 10 times that of the Hiroshima device, designed to blow up underground bunkers that might contain weapons of mass destruction. You see what a wonderful world he inhabits when you discover that the RNEP idea was conceived in 1991 as a means of dealing with Saddam Hussein’s biological and chemical weapons. Saddam is pacing his cell, but the Bushites march on. Last year Congress allocated funding for something called the “reliable replacement warhead”. The development of the new bombs probably means the US will also breach the comprehensive test ban treaty — so we can kiss goodbye to another means of preventing proliferation.

But the biggest disaster was Bush’s meeting with Manmohan Singh a fortnight ago. India is one of three states that possess nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the non-proliferation treaty. The treaty says India should be denied access to civil nuclear materials. But on July 18 Bush announced that “as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology, India should acquire the same benefits as other such states’’. Four months before the meeting the US lifted its South Asian arms embargo, selling Pakistan a fleet of F-16s and India an anti-missile system.

If you acquire the bomb and threaten to use it you will qualify for American exceptionalism by proxy. Could there be a greater incentive for proliferation? What the Americans are doing is a double standard. On the one hand they are depriving an NPT member of having peaceful technology, but at the same time they are cooperating with India, which is not a member of the NPT. The lesson is pretty clear. If you have oil and aren’t developing a bomb (Iraq) you get invaded. If you have oil and are developing a bomb (Iran) you get threatened with invasion, but it probably won’t happen. If you don’t have oil, but have the bomb, the US representative will fly to your country and open negotiations. The world of Bush’s imagination comes into being by government decree. As a result of his tail-chasing paranoia, assisted by Blair’s cowardice and Singh’s opportunism, the global restraint on the development of nuclear weapons has, in effect, been destroyed in a few months. The world could now be more vulnerable to the consequences of proliferation than it has been for 35 years. — The Guardian