Events in the UK in 2016 make me think – particularly Brexit (a horrible new word) and the vote in Parliament in favour of a replacement for the current Trident submarine system.
Brexit means a sovereign nation state disentangling itself from an international alliances – against the worldwide trend.
Trident replacement also means a sovereign state trying to assert itself as a global power – in a changed world.
One excuse for Trident replacement is the assertion that it forms a UK contribution to NATO. However, whatever the UK provides is dwarfed by the US contribution.
The building, testing and maintenance of nuclear weapons systems is extremely expensive – billions of pounds. (Will the cost go up?)
This policy has been kept up since the end of the Second World War.
I would argue that the costs associated with nuclear weapons has distorted the UK economy all this time. Compare the more prosperous Germany, which has no such weapons.
(The economic record of West Germany and subsequently the reunited Germany has been far superior to the UK’s. The UK has suffered successive devaluations of its currency, with no visible long term benefit, whereas West Germany periodically revalued – upwards – the Deutsche Mark.)
UK policies are characterised by militarism – they rest on the belief that war, and preparedness for war – is an acceptable way of solving conflicts.
I wish to step back in time for a while.
In the 1930s, in the UK, success stories include the defeat of home grown fascism and the acceptance of refugees (many of them Jewish, many of them children).
In the 1940s, after long struggles and much shedding of blood, fascism was defeated in Germany, Italy, Japan, etc. A case can be made that here, militarism worked. Once defeated, resistance by the fascist elites crumbled; and democracy was installed (with a great degree of success).
The nature of war has changed. Recognisable front lines have gone; guerrilla tactics and terrorism are prevalent; that the great powers rely heavily on air strikes (bombing both the armed and unarmed on the ground). The world is flooded with so-called “small arms” and indeed BIG arms too. So if a former imperial power, like the UK, or a current economic and military power, like the USA, invades a country, they run great risks of being confronted by Kalashnikovs and more.
The practicality of militarism is called into question. (Have we realised this yet?) As for Trident, is it really a cold war weapon? Is it a useful response to the threats we all face, in 21st century? In particular, does it help us counter terrorism? I think not.
It is fair to recognise that governments have the responsibility to use ‘reasonable force’ (UK courts pay attention to this) to maintain law and order (‘the Queen’s peace’) at home. Indeed, many people who work in the public sector play some role in this (eg social workers, myself included).
The picture, beyond the borders, is less clear. For example, one of the duties placed on the UK’s Royal Navy is the protection of British trade, ie that carried by the Merchant Navy – this can be a long way from home.
So much for practicalities. What about the ethics of militarism? Is it compatible with (for example) Christianity?
To go to the root of Christianity: the teaching of Jesus is pacifist. Consider the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew and Luke). We should allow for the fact that the Gospels do not provide a political manifesto, nor (in my opinion) a clear answer to every detailed moral problem that arises today.
One aspect of Christianity is other-worldliness. Militarists constantly argue that we have to live in the “real world”. (A counsel of despair.) In other words, war will be abolished when all lay down their weapons. Till then, “if you seek peace, prepare for war.” An excuse or a reason?
If militarism is essential to the maintenance of “law and order” between nations, then the corollary is that Christianity, as it has been handed down to us, is imperfect – idealist and not realistic.
One can argue that when Christians were a minority, in the Roman Empire, governance was not an issue for them – they were the governed. (And they had to decide when to conform to Roman rule and when not to. Saints Peter and Paul tried to give guidance on this.)
Eventually, of course, Christians (genuine or nominal) found themselves in positions of power, in many countries, and in many times.
This is the point where I need to refer to the conventional wisdom that the first duties of the State are to safeguard its population, internally and at its borders. I also need to refer to the idea, concocted by theologians, of the “just war”.
It is virtually impossible to wage a “just war”, especially today. No state or alliance can be sure that a display of its fire power will result in a conclusive military victory. Recent history differs significantly from that of the 1940s (see above).
I worry that, once one steps into the arena of governance, backed up by force and the threat of force, it is not clear where one should stop – where the line should be drawn.
I also fear that, if one possesses military might, then one may be tempted to use it. (Every challenge is like a nail; and the military response will be like a hammer.)
Self-restraint on the part of a government is required. Sometimes, members of the public, media moguls and populist politicians will demand the opposite. I do not see the development of Trident as an example of self-restraint. And I have grave doubts about other systems too.
Self-restraint is the watchword. It is the best concept I can offer at present.