In the pandemic the business of staying safe is top of the agenda. It's personal and social responsibility, it's the business of government. It's not a difficult idea – most of us get it. And yet it is a curious and distressing thing that there is one element of our national life that remains relatively impervious to the concept. And it is tragically ironic that this feature is the one that claims almost exclusive responsibility for our security and safety. I mean of course the Ministry of Defence and the interconnected military-industrial web.
Here's one example. As I write a multi-vehicle convoy is travelling on our public roads with a very special payload – nuclear warheads. Though not armed for detonation the warheads contain a particularly potent high explosive plus an array of radiological elements such as plutonium, uranium and tritium. That is enough for a start – should the explosive be set off the plutonium would be spread far and wide. (the Ministry of Defence accepts that there is a risk but it is one we have to take for our “strategic deterrent”.) But there is another layer of risk. The convoy is carrying at least 50 people across the country in a time of tight pandemic restrictions, and is carrying them towards a known coronavirus spike at the Clyde nuclear bases. Essential travel anyone? And another multiplier – this convoy is travelling in the face of a severe weather warning. And yet another – our NHS is under critical stress. Spare ICU beds for shrapnel injuries? A special unit for radiation sickness? Yet in this deformed subculture these elite guardians of our security and safety are carrying on regardless - the show must go on.
Here's another. The greatest threat to the safety of humanity and the planet ( alongside the ever-present risk of nuclear war) is climate and ecological breakdown. The response of our military-industrial complex to this critical threat is to belch out vast quantities of the very emissions that are driving us towards climate collapse. According to a recent study by Stuart Parkinson of Scientists for Global Responsibility, the UK military sector contributed 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to the Earth’s atmosphere in 2017-2018 — the latest year for which all data is available. This compares with the emissions from the whole of Uganda. This is more than a bit like making the house safe by undermining the foundations. It is beyond stupid.
It's not enough to say there is a problem with our thinking here. Rationality does not appear to come into it. It's more “this is what we do – let's do it”. It may be that in the back ground lurks the mantra “the first duty of a state is to defend its people” - a mantra that just lies there without any examination, without the sniff of a suggestion that rational defence might actually involve doing a proper scan of the real threats and having a proper concept of human security. The UN's Human Development Report (1994) outlines that well, listing the need for security in economic terms, in food, health, the environment, in terms of personal and community safety, and politically. I would add the need to recognise that our (own?) security depends on the security and well-being of others and of the whole web of life that supports us. Security is everyone's business and we must grab that agenda with both hands.