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The curious incident of the missing article of the Russian treaty

IAN SINCLAIR says it is no surprise that the media has not accurately reported the fact that Russia proposed a treaty of mutual nuclear de-escalation last year — the aggressive nature of Britain’s bomb is always kept secret from the public

LAST month Russia’s Supreme Court ordered the closure of Memorial International, the nation’s oldest human rights group, which was devoted to researching and recording crimes committed in the Soviet Union.

“It is not hard to see how Putin, mired in historical conflicts over Crimea, Nato expansion and the fall of the Soviet Union, the second world war and more, sees investigation of Soviet history as a threat to national security,” the Guardian noted.

Back in Britain, such overt, authoritarian censorship is rarely deployed by the government.

As George Orwell argued in his unpublished preface to his 1945 novella Animal Farm, “Unpopular ideas can be silenced and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.”

How? “The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary,” he explains — the dominant orthodoxy and wealthy press owners creating an environment in which there is “a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention” particular facts.

Over 75 years later and Orwell’s pithy analysis is as relevant as ever.

“The wildest thing about Western establishment media is its journalists aren’t even working under threat of prison or violence,” Declassified UK’s Matt Kennard tweeted about the fawning media coverage of ex-US secretary of state Colin Powell, who died in October.

“They do state propaganda — and sanitise our worst war criminals — totally off their own back. Incredible discipline and dedication to serving power.”

A good example of the propagandistic nature of British media is its coverage of the draft agreement Russia presented to the United States on December 17 — titled Treaty Between the United States Of America and the Russian Federation on Security Guarantees (Russia also presented a draft security agreement to Nato).

With tensions rising over Ukraine, among other things the draft text calls for an end to further eastward expansion of Nato, no US bases established in former USSR states and that “the parties shall not use the territories of other states with a view to preparing or carrying out an armed attack against the other party or other actions affecting core security interests of the other party.”

Article 7 of the treaty is particularly interesting: “The parties shall refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national territories and return such weapons already deployed outside their national territories at the time of the entry into force of the treaty to their national territories.”

For anyone interested in reducing the threat of nuclear war, this sounds like an extremely sane, fair proposal.

As the Morning Star recently reported, US nuclear weapons are currently based in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands. Russia does not currently station any nuclear weapons outside of Russia.

Interestingly, a January 2021 YouGov poll found 74 per cent of Italian respondents, 58 per cent of Dutch and 57 per cent of Belgians wanted US nuclear weapons removed from their countries.

A July 2020 Kantar poll found 83 per cent of Germans also supported the removal of US nuclear weapons from their country.

However, after conducting searches of Google and the LexisNexis newspaper database, as far as I can tell the existence of Article 7 has only been acknowledged by two national newspapers in Britain — the Morning Star and the Financial Times, in one report on December 17.

Despite devoting a huge amount of column inches to the ongoing tensions between the West and Russia, the Guardian, Independent, Times, Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express do not seem to have mentioned Article 7. (A caveat: on January 10 the Guardian did briefly mention Russia’s demand for “the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons from Europe,” which nods to the content of Article 7, though ignores US nuclear weapons in Turkey and more importantly, erroneously presents the demand as one-sided).

This press blackout is important because productive and fair public debate requires an informed citizenry and politicians.

What happens when the media do not report key facts? How are citizens and politicians supposed to make informed decisions about current affairs?

The memory-holing of Article 7 echoes the British public’s broader ignorance surrounding the country’s nuclear weapons.

This dearth of knowledge is no accident — Britain’s nuclear arsenal has been mired in secrecy from the start, with Labour Party hero Clement Attlee authorising the creation of Britain’s first atomic bomb in 1947, keeping it secret from Parliament, the public and even some members of his own Cabinet.

While the official government narrative — happily repeated by mainstream media commentators and academics — is one of defensive deterrence and use as a last resort, activist and author Milan Rai provides an alternative, very persuasive understanding of Britain’s nuclear weapons.

Rai, editor of Peace News newspaper, highlights the analysis of famed US whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Best known for leaking the Pentagon Papers in 1971, Ellsberg worked at the Rand Corporation in the early ’60s on nuclear strategy, later challenging the popular belief the US hasn’t used its nuclear arsenal since 1945.

“It is not the case that US nuclear weapons have simply piled up over the years … unused and unusuable, save for the single function of deterring their use against us by the Soviets,” Ellsberg argued in 1981.

“Again and again, generally in secret from the American public, US nuclear weapons have been used, for quite difference purposes: in the precise way that a gun is used when you point it at someone’s head in a direct confrontation, whether or not the trigger is pulled.”

This revelatory framing indicates Britain uses its nuclear weapons every day.

In every diplomatic meeting, both cordial and confrontational, Britain’s status as a nuclear power, and all this means, is there in the background, affecting the decision-making of participants. Every time a rival nation considers confronting Britain’s government or military they are there in the background.

More precisely, Rai points out Britain has conducted nuclear terrorism — issuing nuclear threats against non-nuclear weapons states in the global South, with the aim of intimidating its opponent and giving Britain the freedom to act on the world stage.

Writing in Peace News in 2020, he explained that during the “confrontation” with Indonesia between 1963-66 over the future of Brunei and North Borneo, British Victor strategic nuclear bombers were deployed to RAF Tengah in Singapore, carrying out low-level bombing practice.

In his official history of the RAF in south-east Asia, air chief marshall David Lee noted: “Their potential was well known to Indonesia and their presence did not go unnoticed.”

He continues: “The knowledge of RAF strength and competence created a wholesome respect among Indonesia’s leaders and the deterrent effect of RAF air defence fighters, light bombers and V-bombers … was absolute.”

Rai has also highlighted Britain’s threats to use nuclear weapons against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war.

“If we were prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons against the Russians, I can’t see why we shouldn’t be prepared to use them against Iraq,” a senior British minister was quoted saying by the Daily Mail in October 1990.

Twelve years later during the lead-up to the US-British invasion of Iraq, defence secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons defence select committee that states like Iraq “can be absolutely confident that in the right conditions we would be willing to use our nuclear weapons.”

Speaking to ITV’s Jonathan Dimbleby a few days later, he explained what the “right conditions” might be — if British troops were threatened by chemical or biological weapons.

The secrecy and ignorance surrounding the reality of Britain’s nuclear weapons have very real consequences for public opinion, which broadly favours the retention of the Trident nuclear weapons programme.

Who can forget, for example, the seven-minute prime-time TV grilling then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn received from the audience and presenter David Dimbleby about his position on Trident during BBC Question Time’s general election special in 2017?

A key job of anti-war and peace campaigners should be clear — to draw the public’s attention to Britain’s history of aggressively using its nuclear weapons to intimidate and coerce other nations.

This can only undermine the government’s benign “deterrence” narrative and shift the debate towards disarmament.

Follow Ian Sinclair on Twitter @IanJSinclair.


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