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Richard Lawson  

CHIRAC IN A HOLE LOT OF TROUBLE

 

Jacques Chirac is becoming increasingly desperate in his attempt to provide some rationalisation for his ill-conceived series of nuclear explosions. One of his most foolish was to claim that France is selflessly working to provide the future European superstate with a suitable Euro-nuke, a totemic nuclear status symbol befitting its exalted status. This statement was breathtaking both as a diplomatic gaffe and also as a self-defeating bit of logical nonsense in its own right.

It was a diplomatic gaffe because the decision for a state to join the nuclear club is traditionally taken behind closed doors by secret cabals, not bellowed into a forest of microphones straight at the ears of an unprepared world. The British nuclear "deterrent" was financed after the war under the guise of a "Repairs to Public Buildings" budget. Labour's Chevaline nuclear warhead programme was never passed through Parliament. Israel still holds Mordechai Vannunu in solitary confinement for revealing that it has a nuclear bomb. That is the way nuclear weapons decisions are taken—in stealthy secret, not blurted to the world's media. Chirac has seriously offended against the rules (unwritten, naturally) of the Nuclear Club, and although the reaction on the surface has been negligible, the effects beneath the diplomatic surface must be seismic, with unchartable cracks opening up.

After the diplomatic effects, there is the small matter of logic. For Chirac's proposal for a Pan-European Nuclear Insurance Strikeforce (PENIS) to have any shred of intellectual respectability, Europe requires two things: first an enemy, and second, unity.

The Mururoa tests will certainly supply the first with a vengeance, since they undermine not just the atoll, but also the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which is. the only defence the world has against a situation where every Hussein, Milosovich and Tudjman has his own peacekeeping nuclear deterrent. This is indeed the implicit logic of nuclear deterrence. If world peace for the past 50 years has been guaranteed by the five (or is it nine?) states who possess nuclear weapons, how much more peaceful it would be if all 170 world states had their own weapons. Yet no-one believes this. It follows logically that the five (or is it nine?) established nuclear states are responsible, whereas the other 160- odd non nuclear States are potentially irresponsible.    Especially the ones who want to join the (responsible) nuclear club.

This is not only racist, it is the logic of the madhouse. The bald fact is that some nations have nukes and some don't. Deterrence is not absolutely safe—no system conceived, designed and run by humans ever can be. It is probable that the presence of nuclear weapons raises the threshold at which powers go to war with each other, but this is a relative, not an absolute attribute of deterrence. It is undeniable that the more Nuclear Weapons States there are, the greater the risk of someone losing their nuclear temper. This is the one thing that both sides of the argument agree on—proliferation of nuclear weapons is a bad thing and must be prevented. Chirac and China by continuing testing undermine the Non Proliferation Treaty, and thereby increase the likelihood of the Bomb falling into the hands of politicians perceived as hostile and more irresponsible. So Chirac's actions are certainly producing dangerous enemies. In due course, he (and other nuclear pundits) will bring the existence of these enemies forward as evidence that Europe needs more nuclear deterrents.

The second prerequisite for Europe to have a deterrent is political unity. There is no point in having a deterrent if the question of whether to use it in anger has to pass through several committees of quasi-autonomous national representatives who may or may not have the power of veto but who are in any case necessarily cognisant of and responsive to the political climate in their home country. If you have a nuclear capability of any credibility, you need a nasty little coterie, a kitchen cabinet of Presidential advisers who can nip into the corner of the room, have a quick discussion, come to a majority decision, shoot any dissenters, and bugger off quick to the bunkers before the masses discover what you have done. To have a credible deterrent, you need political unity.

However, even my cat has noticed that Chirac's obduracy is producing the very opposite of European unity. In a recent poll, 85-95% of Europeans oppose the tests, France being lowest with 60% against, and Britain second lowest with a mere 75% against. Advanced nations like the Dutch and Scandinavians are incandescent. Ordinary people, including those who subscribed to the deterrence theory during the Cold War, are angry that politicians have not taken the opportunity to move towards a nuclear free world. A CND petition and pledge to boycott French goods in my surgery waiting room is filling up with unprecedented speed. French sales are falling in British supermarkets without a high profile boycott campaign, and even Tony Blair's New Labour has expressed reservations about the tests. If Europe's people (as opposed to Europe's leaders) is united about anything, it is united in its opinion that Chirac has committed a gigantic blunder.

The beauty of the political unity argument is that it brings the Right onto our side as opponents of Chirac. Recently I had the privilege of demonstrating outside a Tory Party meeting in Bristol at which Brian Mawhinney, the Tory Chairman; was speaking. We were requesting that his Government speak out against the tests. He declined v to give us a hearing, so we chanted our message outside the windows for twenty minutes in an effort to got him to hear the message. Eventually the Tories spilled out to drive us off the premises, and we were able to ask them, "Do you support the European superstate? Do you support the Euro-bomb?" They were clearly confused and unable to answer this line of inquiry. As Tories, they love the Bomb, but hate the European Superstate. They had no answer. The Conservatives (as the party of Government) have to explain not just their reluctance to condemn the French tests, but also the extent to which the British Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston will gain information from the tests.

Teddy Taylor, the charmingly eccentric right wing MP has posted an Early Day Motion opposing the French tests. Redwood, German, and all the other Europhobes should be lobbied to press the Government to condemn Chirac's big mistake. We should not be squeamish in enlisting help from dubious quarters. We act with the Tory Right not as allies, but as co-beligerents. Popular opinion is against the tests: Green and Peace movements are against the tests: if we can induce even that rump of political opinion that normally approves of nuclear weapons to oppose the tests, the tests will undoubtedly be stopped.

The writing is on the wall for nuclear weaponeers: if France tries to fit the European horse with a nuclear saddle, it will be against the wishes of the horse itself, and to the detriment of European unity. If Europe has a future, it is as a confederation of regions bound together by a common interest in developing sustainability and social justice, not as a glowering nuclear superstate daring the world to touch it on pain of feeling the wrath of the Euro-bomb.