Observations of an ex pat: Nuclear madness

MAD was the big acronym during the Cold War. For those who cannot remember, it stood for Mutually Assured Destruction.

The thinking behind the terrifying term was that the nuclear arsenals of the two superpowers—America and the Soviet Union—would be maintained at such a level that neither could risk striking first for fear that the other power would be left with enough weaponry to launch a retaliatory strike that would leave planet Earth an irradiated cinder block.

It worked. Earth is still green and blue

But the political landscape has changed and is changing. There are new players and new threats. This would seem to indicate the need for a new strategy. All the reports are that this new strategy will be unveiled in the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be published next month with the term “low-yield” nuclear weapons entering the defence lexicon.

So what is different? Well for a start Moscow and Washington are not the only two countries with nuclear weapons. Throughout most of the Cold War France and Britain were also armed but their arsenals—especially Britain’s—was closely tied to America’s. China joined the club in 1964 and the basic structure of the East V West stand-off was established.

There were also regional nuclear powers. Israel is incredibly tight-lipped about its capabilities, but most experts agree that it has had the bomb since 1966, and its arsenal currently stands at about 80 warheads.  The weapons, however, are clearly meant to be a deterrent against an overwhelming conventional attack from hostile Arab neighbours. Nowadays they are also concerned about a nuclear attack from Iran.

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Responding to Labour Remain

Recently a friend and Liberal Democrat activist showed me an email from Labour Remain — formed in the last few weeks and claiming significant support. This comes on the back of a survey showing that 78% of Labour members disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to a referendum on the terms of Brexit. How should we respond?

Brexit is a profound threat to British values, the economy and the very integrity of the United Kingdom. In that sense it needs us all to pull together.

The country is in a crisis. We have been so intertwined with the rest of Europe, for so long, that the referendum result has had a deeply destructive effect on public life. Parliament seems paralised. Andrew Adonis has written of a Brexit-induced “nervous breakdown” in Whitehall. The Conservatives and Labour seem massively dysfunctional. There are stories of moderate councillors in both parties being de-selected. Most of the pro-Remain majority in the Commons is silent or vanquished. My excitement over the formation of Labour Remain is more than a little tempered by the lurch to the Left in their recent National Executive Committee elections and stories of MPs being threatened with de-selection. Faced with Brexit, this has all the wisdom of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to think differently.

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Can you name these three animals? Congratulations! Your cognitive skills could be up there with the US President


I said the other day that the “Fire and Fury” book has lowered expectations about Donald Trump:

When you read of the dysfunction and chaos in his White House, it then comes as a pleasant surprise when you hear Donald Trump stringing a basic, reasonably coherent sentence together without falling over the furniture and dribbling.

Well, this week the results of Trump’s annual medical tests were released. There seems to be considerable relief that his tests, at least according to the lead medic, Dr Ronny Jackson, gave good results. As far as Mr Trump’s cognitive abilities are concerned, Dr Jackson said:

The president is mentally very sharp, very intact.

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For Winchester 1997, read Virginia 2017

The mantra “EVERY VOTE COUNTS” is an article of faith for political activists everywhere. Liberal Democrats know this more than most, having won one election and lost one in the last twenty years by a margin of two votes (Winchester 1997 and North East Fife 2017).

Now, from the state of Virginia, comes another reminder that every conversation with an undecided voter can swing an election, in a very unusual outcome. On election night last November, Republican David Yancey ‘won’ a crucial state house seat by ten votes, just preventing Democrats from overturning a 32-seat Republican majority. However, his challenger, Shelly Simonds, filed for a recount.

Held in December, the recount appeared to have Simonds winning the seat by a single vote, 11,608 to 11,607. Great news for Virginia Democrats, who thought they would now split control 50-50 of Virginia’s 100-seat lower House of Delegates.

However, their initial euphoria was short-lived. Two days later, a three-judge panel threw out Simond’s one vote win, ruling a disputed ballot should count for Yancey, the Republican, and tying the race. (Veterans of disputed ballot arguments at recounts might want to look away now – here’s a copy of the disputed ballot in question, which shows a mark against both the Democrat and Republican candidates, but then also crosses out the Democrat candidate’s name).

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My Grandad – A tribute to Liberal Party president Lord Evans of Claughton

Growing up, the subject of politics was often on the agenda at family gatherings. However, it was not until I was older that I realised how important and influential my Grandad was within the political arena.

Gruff Evans was brought up in a Welsh-speaking family who resided in Birkenhead on the Wirral. Despite being offered a place at Oxford University, he chose to study law at Liverpool University where he graduated in 1948. After completing National Service as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, he established a solicitor’s practice in Liverpool.

Both Gruff’s parents supported the Liberal Party, however they were notoriously divided as his mother was an ‘Asquithian’ Liberal, while his father was a supporter of Lloyd-George. Gruff upheld this Liberal tradition, and to the surprise of the local Tory party, he successfully gained a seat on Birkenhead County Council in 1957 which he subsequently held for twelve years. He then went on to win a seat on Wirral Borough Council in 1973 and led the Liberal Group from 1977 to 1981. Unfortunately, Gruff was less successful in national politics, failing to win at seat in the House of Commons (see here, pg. 22, for more information).

My Grandfather was prominent in the Liberal Party from the 1950s through to the early 1990s. He worked his way up the party ranks, from Chair of the National League of Young Liberals 1960-61, to Chairman of the party’s National Executive, Assembly Committee, and General Election Committee, to attaining the Presidency of the Liberal Party in 1977. During his time as President, Gruff had to confront the controversy surrounding the former leader Jeremy Thorpe which unintentionally brought him into the media spotlight and he subsequently found himself being a familiar figure in the national news during the week of the Liberal Party annual conference.

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The January Blues: Desolation

Warning: discussion of suicide

Last week in my county division, someone stood at the edge of a motorway bridge with the intention of jumping off. Fortunately, the emergency services got there in time and their life was saved.

I know personally the devastation that suicide can bring on family and friends. My close relative died 26 years ago, and the ramifications are still deeply felt.

As the third in this January Blues series, I wanted to discuss the often hidden topic of suicide. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 in England and Wales. About three-quarters of suicides in 2016 were male, and the highest rate was amongst men aged 40-44. For women, the age group with the highest suicide rate was 50-54 years. Around the world a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.

Mental Health First Aid training teaches that you should bring up the topic if you have any suspicion that someone might be thinking of suicide.

Suicide can be prevented. Most suicidal people do not want to die. They simply do not want to live with the pain. Openly talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

The opening line, “How are you doing?” can be followed by, “Is it all getting too much?” and “Are you thinking about ending your life?” and then “Have you thought how you might do it?”

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Baroness Sue Miller writes: Lib Dem Conference should debate UN nuclear treaty

This week the Federal Conference Committee will decide whether to allow Conference to debate the UK joining the UN multilateral nuclear disarmament Treaty.

Lib Dems, like the other main parties, have been unwilling to be seen as unilateralist but since the Trident debate a most important new initiative from the UN has changed the nuclear weapons landscape.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, supported at the UN General Assembly by 122 countries, will place nuclear weapons in the same category as other WMDs -illegal under International  law.  Also,  importantly, it provides a framework and a pathway to their eventual total elimination. If we are to live up to our statement that we support multilateral disarmament, internationalism and a long term view we must debate and, I believe, support it.

The Treaty grew out of three Conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War. As the scientists, medics and civil society examined various scenarios it became starkly clear that now, with more powerful weapons, more countries possessing them and a modernisation programme planned in several countries the scenario was even bleaker than at the height of the Cold War. Even a limited regional nuclear exchange would have environmental consequences for agriculture that would lead to the risk of billions starving. They also found that no medical response could be adequate. As the International Red Cross said as the UN debated the Treaty

The treaty alone will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight. But it delegitimises their role in the world today and provides a strong disincentive for their proliferation. The treaty signals to all that any development, modernising, testing, threat or plan to use nuclear weapons by anyone is completely unacceptable.

The timescale is important and practical. Nuclear states will not relinquish their weapons overnight. In the current febrile atmosphere of Russian/Chinese /US relations there are likely to be decades of work to do the create the necessary trust, verification and de escalation. 

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Recent Comments

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    Being a remainer is not about ignoring the referendum vote. Just as being a Lib Dem is not about ignoring the General Election result that...
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    As a campaigner you need massive optimism and massive realism!!! Which is often a hard combination to pull off! We have seen since in the...
  • User AvatarMichael 19th Jan - 7:58am
    And the morale of the story is to keep on getting the vote out until right up until the close of poll. I remember phoning...
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    Well, Mr Red, didn’t they try that in last year’s General Election and where did that get them?
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