Breaking Free From the Nuclear Deterrence Scam

02/25/2011 03:47 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday I spoke at the EastWest Institute in Manhattan on the consequences of nuclear deterrence failure. I began by explaining that I will shortly fly home to my earthquake-ravaged city of Christchurch, in nuclear-free New Zealand. Friends describe it as a war zone, with over 110 dead, 160 badly injured, and 200 missing. My family are fortunate: apparently our house is trashed and barely standing, but it is reparable. Though likely to cost over $10 billion, Christchurch will be rebuilt; sewerage and water systems will be relaid, power reconnected; the land and survivors will recover.

As the only ex-British Navy Commander with nuclear weapon experience to have come out against them, I then recounted my experience of a public meeting in Islamabad in 2001. Anti-nuclear nuclear scientist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had persuaded General Aslam Beg, one of the "fathers" of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, to join a panel with him and me. Beg warned against raising awareness about the effects of a nuclear strike on a Pakistan city, "in case it scares the people." He had a simplistic faith in nuclear deterrence, ignoring all the added dangers of nuclear rivalry with India. He is not alone: my experience is that most believers in nuclear deterrence refuse to discuss the consequences of failure. This is why.

Economic Consequences. In April 2005, an internal report for US Homeland Security appeared on the web. Titled Economic Consequences of a Rad/Nuc Attack, it examined what it would take to recover from the detonation of just one nuclear device in various cities. Much depends on the size of bomb and level of radioactive fallout decontamination, but the authors concluded the costs would be catastrophic.

For New York, the Federal Bank estimated it would cost $11.9 billion just to replace the World Trade Center complex, equating to $193 billion per square kilometer. Across almost every cleanup level, the economic consequences for New York meet or exceed $10 trillion. This is roughly the annual GDP of the entire US economy. Just one Hiroshima-size nuclear bomb could do this, to one city.

Health Consequences. In 2004, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War published their findings regarding casualties from a Hiroshima-size nuclear warhead detonated over New York. Total fatalities were estimated at about 60,000. Another 60,000 would be seriously injured, utterly overwhelming any hospitals surviving the explosion. Again, all this from just one tactical nuclear bomb like the one I was trained to drop on a military airfield outside Leningrad, on one city.

Agriculture Consequences. A Scientific American article, published in January last year, reported on recent climate research about a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan in which about 100 Hiroshima-size nuclear devices would be detonated over cities. Apart from the mutual carnage, radioactive contamination and destruction across South Asia, enough smoke from firestorms would be generated to cripple global agriculture. Plunging temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere would cause hundreds of millions of people to starve to death, even in countries far from the conflict.

Had a nuclear weapon been detonated over Christchurch, it would be a radiated wasteland. Water supplies would be poisoned; emergency teams could not be deployed without wearing heavy protective clothing. There would be unmitigated terror, and no hope.

In 1999, I landed at my former target, now St Petersburg's airport. I was shocked to see that my ten-kiloton WE177 tactical bomb would have caused huge casualties and destruction to Russia's beautiful ancient capital as collateral damage. When I confessed to my Russian hosts, they put me on TV, where I apologized for having agreed to carry out such a terrible order. Then I told the citizens of St Petersburg that I had learned nuclear weapons would not save me -- or them.

A nuclear weapon is not a weapon at all. Its unique combination of long-term health effects and unimaginably horrific explosive power make it the ultimate terror device. That made me implicitly a state-sponsored nuclear terrorist.

The American writer H L Mencken once quipped: "There's always an easy solution to every problem: neat, plausible, and wrong." As the only ex-British Navy Commander with nuclear weapon experience to have come out against them, I have learned that:

• Nuclear weapons have been exploited as a fetishistic currency of power
• Nuclear weapons did not end World War 2
• Nuclear deterrence has an insoluble credibility problem
• It did not work in Korea, Vietnam, the Falklands, Israel or Iraq
• It might not work against a paranoid regime
• It is worse than useless against terrorists
• It stimulates hostility, mistrust and arms racing
• It provokes proliferation
• It creates instability
• It is immoral and implicitly unlawful
• There are safer, more cost-effective, humane and lawful security strategies

Now the nuclear weapon states, admitting that extremists with weapons of mass destruction cannot be deterred, plan pre-emptive nuclear attacks in "anticipatory self-defense" of their "vital interests" -- not last-ditch defense of their homeland. Thereby, their unprovable claim that nuclear deterrence averts war is cynically stood on its head.

For all these reasons, I now suspect that nuclear deterrence is an outrageous confidence trick, a scam devised sixty years ago by the US military-industrial complex dominating and distorting American politics and foreign policy for its vested interests - which are gargantuan. Yet all but about 35 states feel more secure without depending on the delusions of nuclear deterrence; so they have seen through the hoax.

A surprisingly small network of individuals drove the campaign to abolish slavery. As with nuclear deterrence, slavery's leading apologists were the power elites of the United States, Britain and France. They argued that slavery was a "necessary evil," for which there was "no alternative." They were discredited as charlatans after a few courageous, committed ordinary British, American and French citizens mobilized unstoppable public and political support for their campaign to replace slavery with more humane, lawful and effective ways to create wealth. The analogy holds for nuclear deterrence, which can and must be discarded for more humane, lawful and safer security strategies if civilization and the Earth's ecosystems are to survive.

Robert Green served as a bombardier-navigator in Buccaneer nuclear strike jets and anti-submarine helicopters equipped with nuclear depth-bombs. On promotion to Commander, he worked in the UK Ministry of Defense before his final appointment as Staff Officer (Intelligence) to CinC Fleet during the Falklands War. His latest book, Security Without Nuclear Deterrence, is available on