From the June 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
How do the views of both CND and the government relate to the current state of military technology and its impact on arms control? Are their propositions — respectively preventing the deployment of Cruise and Trident and multilateral and verifiable disarmament — tenable within capitalism in general and contemporary military technology and doctrine in particular?
The main focus of present CND policy is to prevent the deployment of the Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) and the replacement of the Polaris A-3 missile with the Trident D-5 missile — a qualitiative improvement, they argue, which brings the doctrinal concept of nuclear war-fighting closer. Moreover, Britain can only avoid being a major target in the event of war by cancelling Trident and Cruise as a step towards unilateral nuclear disarmament. While it is correct to say that the Trident D-5 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) is a qualitative improvement on Polaris (it has a longer range, 11,000 km compared to 4600 km; 14 independently targetable warheads with a yield of 150 kt each compared to 3 re-entry vehicles each with a yield of 200 kt; improved accuracy and terminal guidance) its cancellation will not make Britain any less of a target in the event of war.
Targeting is the key to military doctrine. The CND argument loses sight of this, focusing on particular weapon types, such as Cruise and Trident, without attempting to relate them to overall force structures and strategic doctrine or to the political and economic conflict from which they originate. In terms of military doctrine CND miss the main point — the vital importance of command, control, communications and intelligence (C3') to the capacity to wage and win a war. Without C3’ Cruise and Trident are useless. The location and targeting of C3' installations determines priority in target selection. In this respect Britain is high on the list, irrespective of existing military-targets, because of its strategic importance in relation to C3'.
C3’ includes all modern communications systems: radio, telephone, air traffic control, early warning systems, satellite tracking stations and airports. In war installations such as those at Cheltenham, Rugby, Preston and Fylingdales would be priority targets. These facilities are elemental to the use of weapon systems; for example, C3' is necessary for the rapid transmission of targeting information and directions to offensive forces. The vulnerability of C3’ is not restricted to a direct hit by a nuclear device. The air detonation (the higher the better) of a thermo-nuclear bomb several kilometres from a C3’ target is just as effective. This is because such an explosion produces an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which creates a voltage surge in electrical circuits strong enough to be permanently- damaging; moreover, EMP can obliterate information stored in computer software. Other affects include “TREE" — transient radiation effects on electronics. The combined effect is the disruption and dislocation of C3', a communications blackout which seriously inhibits the capacity to wage war. An explosion at an altitude of 100 km would be more than sufficient to affect all of the British Isles.
Soviet military commanders could not allow C3' facilities in Britain to remain intact even though Britain possessed no nuclear weapons. (John Erickson, The War About Peace, Central TV, 21 April 1983 and a Radio Scotland Broadcast 2 April 1983). They would have to be "denied" to the Americans. So Britain is a major target, and from a military point of view, when C3' is so vital this is an eminently sensible policy. In this respect unilateralism is irrelevant. In fact, for Britain to avoid being targeted all telecommunication systems and airports would have to be dismantled, in effect reducing Britain to the level of a medieval agrarian society, and would then need to be towed to somewhere like the South Atlantic.
Target identification and location plays a major role in modern military strategy. Here the technical improvements to weapons, increased accuracy and yield to weight ratios for example, militate against a doctrine of "minimum deterrence" in which about 200 to 400 warheads would be enough to destroy either superpower. The identification of potential targets is no problem; there are 40,000 in the Soviet Union alone, and when one considers that there are only about 200 Soviet cities with populations in excess of 100,000 and relatively few specifically military targets, then it is clear that there are numerous non-military targets. C3' has already been mentioned, but other targets include petroleum refineries, power stations, railway yards, docks and shipyards. This form of targeting is known as "countervalue" and Britain has no shortage of such targets either; for example Grangemouth, Drax. Millerhill and Southampton.
The targeting of military sites, missile silos and troop concentrations is known as "counterforce” and despite the CND argument that preparation for fighting a nuclear war is something new, counterforce has been around since the late 1950s and early 1960s. The US Airforce was committed to counterforce by the early 1960s; this provided a rationale for the development of the Multiple Independently-Targetable Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) which would make more targets available per missile.
In 1964 . . . the Mark 12 Task Group realised that the MIRV system it was developing could not be justified by any existing mission requirement. Its members made a conscious effort to find a strategic rationale. Counterforce targeting and growth of Soviet missile forces promised the solution. MIRV could be justified by the need for greater target coverage.
(Making the MIRV: A Study of Defense Decision Making, Ted Greenwood, Ballinger. Cambridge. Mass.. 1975. p.53).
So what appears to be happening is that technology is running out of control in relation to weapon systems, doctrine and C3’. In short it is the technical improvements to weapons that shapes doctrine and not the other way around. Just how the banning of Cruise and Trident is supposed to reverse this process is not clear.
As civil and military technology develop the distinction between nuclear and conventional weaponry becomes blurred. In effect the major difference between different types of weaponry is time — conventional, chemical and biological weapons will take a rather longer time to destroy the world. The notion that war can be sanitised by the removal or barring of specific weapon systems is ludicrous; for example, there is a fuel air explosive (Arms Control and Technological Innovation, eds. D. Carlton & C. Schaerf. Croom Helm, London, 1977, p.65) which can create the same overpressures as a small yield nuclear weapon; secondly, the new Soviet 5.45 x 39mm bullet contains a mild steel core surrounded by lead which forms a plug toward the tip of the bullet but fails to fill the tip. The centre of gravity is far to the rear ensuring that it will flip over when hitting the human body. It will thus very effectively deposit its energy in the body, causing an “explosive type wound". (World Armaments and Disarmament 1982, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Taylor & Francis, London, p.451). Efforts to contain these technological developments have not been conspicuous by their success. This brings us neatly to the whole question of arms control in relation to technological development.
The British government insists that multilateral arms control is the best road to disarmament; however, it is clear that disarmament has never been a serious possibility. The Russians claim that they have tabled 150 separate disarmament proposals since the 1950s, all of which were rejected. The West could no doubt make the same claim. Such proposals were, and still are, for propaganda purposes and chiefly for internal consumption; arms control, on the other hand, seeks to “stabilise" the arms race; it can never provide “security". The object is to institutionalise the arms race by avoiding or limiting major quantitative improvements to existing forces. The superpowers agree to put certain areas out of bounds to save the expense of developing or deploying new weapon systems; for instance, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Antarctic Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty and the Seabed Treaty. In contrast, SALT actually fuelled the arms race since it placed no restrictions on qualitative improvements which in any case are very difficult to monitor, let alone enforce. SALT only limited launchers — holes in the ground or in submarines — not warheads or accuracy. The MIRV was left unchecked permitting a legitimate increase in the number of warheads. The US had 6784 in 1973, but 9000 in 1981. Since a Mirved missile is externally indistinguishable from a non-mirved one it is impossible for satellites to tell the difference. In this respect arms control achieved its principal aim which was to put the arms race on a more predictable course and avoid de-stabilising events. In any event technological improvements in weapons makes existing arms control procedures increasingly redundant.
As one American general said you cannot compare “apples and pears”; this refers to not only the asymmetries in superpower force structures, but also to their strategic doctrines. The Russians prefer large land based missiles, reflecting technological inferiority, 72 per cent of Russian warheads are land based. The Americans prefer to put their deterrent to sea, 50 per cent of warheads are on SLBMs. This presents accounting problems. Considerable time was spent in SALT II disputing the status of the Soviet Tu-22m, Backfire bomber. The Americans insisted that it was a strategic delivery system (intercontinental) whereas the Russians argued that it was for the Eurasian theatre only.
In the European theatre the asymmetries and technical complexities are even more acute making arms control more difficult, if not impossible, to come by. For instance, in the Intermediate Nuclear Force talks both sides cannot agree on what to count or include. The question of nuclear capable aircraft (those able to drop nuclear bombs) is a case in point; for example, should the Russian Mig 23/27 Flogger be classed as a “Primary long-range theatre aircraft" or a “marginal long-range nuclear aircraft"?
The inclusion of British and French forces is another area of contention. Both insist that their forces should be excluded; the Americans agree, but the Russians argue that anything that can hit Soviet territory, irrespective of origin, must be counted. All this despite the fact that a rationale for Britain’s “independent deterrent" is that it allows access to the “top table". Indeed the Nassau Agreement of 1962. when Britain bought Polaris from America, specifically allocated Polaris to NATO for targeting purposes, in other words a theatre role as opposed to a strategic one.
Conventional weapons control in Europe is equally confused and unsuccessful. The Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks have been going on since 1973 and have achieved little. NATO considered the number of Warsaw Pact divisions and tanks a problem, but then discovered that it could not even count its own. Arms control is more than a numbers game. The case of the British government, that deterrence has kept the peace since 1945, is quite irrelevant to the state of military technology. In fact no one really knows what deters in deterrence in the first place, and when one considers the technical barriers to arms control, the government’s position is untenable.
Nor has Britain been active in the field of arms control. Lawrence Freedman in Britain and Nuclear Weapons notes that Britain has judiciously avoided arms control since it would involve the complete dismantlement of Britain's nuclear force. Despite the fact that Britain signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 in which Article VI puts the onus on the signatories "to negotiate in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race", Britain avoided the SALT talks, fearing that the US would bargain away the Polaris force or be restrained from transferring weapon systems in the future. Furthermore Britain has no interest in a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and as Thatcher has stated, "The British deterrent has no place at the INF negotiations" (Hansard, 18 January 1983. col. 109 written answers). Therefore, in addition to the technical obstacles to arms control, Britain has little enthusiasm for it, as is made clear by the decision to buy the Trident D-5. Just how arms control is supposed to lead to disarmament is never made clear.
Many in the arms control fraternity fear that technology is out of control making arms control an impossibility. The focus of concern is that it will be impossible to reassert human control; likewise with the talc of the Sorcerer’s apprentice who, having summoned up magical powers, lost control and was unable to regain it by himself since he did not understand the power he had brought into existence. The reassertion of social control over military technology is impossible even within the confines of capitalism; arms control, whether unilateral or multilateral, is an irrelevancy. Supporters of CND or the government would do well to consider such a proposition.