Twenty-one years ago the national conference of the Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons (MCANW) questioned the thinking behind the nuclear arms race. MCANW’s members were particularly concerned that this race was continuing despite positive signs of a more peaceful future beginning to emerge at the end of the Cold War.
The conference, organised by MCANW’s Study Group on Psychosocial Issues in the Nuclear Age, addressed in particular:
• why those favouring international cooperation rather than confrontation had so far failed to change the nuclear status quo, despite public opposition to nuclear weapons
• why many political leaders appeared to be resistant to changing their nuclear policies.
This report reconsiders these issues in the context of the 21st century. It aims to understand what is behind the continued belief in a policy of nuclear deterrence on the part of many members of the UK government. This is particularly important in an age of increasingly asymmetrical warfare and economic instability, ever more sophisticated technology, and the aftermath of the ‘War on Terror’. We know that our decision makers do not want to inflict another Hiroshima or Nagasaki on the people of another nation. Yet this threat continues to be part of the UK’s national defence strategy. This report concentrates on the delusional nature of the thinking that underpins a policy of nuclear deterrence. We concentrate on the statements of decision makers because of their power and influence, and because these statements reflect the views held by some in wider society. In trying to throw some light on the thinking that underpins this policy, we hope to make it easier for our decision makers to abandon their belief in nuclear deterrence, and to contribute to the growing movement for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.