September 19, 2017

An ecological defence policy for Britain

In this article Edward Goldsmith argues the need for a viable defence policy for the Green Party, and what form it should take.

It was originally published in The Ecologist in March 1983.

See also The Ecology of War.


Is there a coherent ecological defence policy? I have yet to see it. Most members of the Green Party or ecological parties in Europe are quite rightly strongly against nuclear weapons but few have considered exactly what defence policy should be set up in its stead. Some will argue that defence is unnecessary (this is fortunately not the case with our Ecology Party) on the principle that the Soviets have nothing to gain by invading the West.

It is probably true that for the Soviets to occupy Europe would simply add to their problems. Their military adventures so far have proved costly. Maintaining the pro-Russian puppet regimes in Angola, Ethiopia and in particular in Afghanistan have earned them the worst possible publicity and have proved to be economic disasters. Even if they did conquer western Europe, for how long could they hold on to it? The Russian empire is already very shaky. Nationalistic, anti-Russian movements appear to be building up just about everywhere within the Russian empire especially in the Asiatic states.

Wars are not always conducted rationally

To take over Western Europe would undoubtedly be irresponsible indeed idiotic from the Russian point of view. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do it. The idea that people only do rational things is very naive. As Anatol Rapoport puts it “man is not a rational animal but a rationalising one”. He does the most idiotic things and then tries to find reasons for justifying them so as to make them appear rational. It was an idiotic thing for Napoleon to have invaded Russia, even more idiotic for Hitler to have done so since one would have expected him to have learnt from Napoleon’s experience.

The fact is you cannot discount a Russian invasion of the West on the grounds that such an action does not appear to serve Russia’s interest. To predict how Russia will behave towards the West one must know very much more about the real forces at work within the Soviet Union. It may well be for instance that a war with the West is the best means of diverting attention from the growing discontent associated with the falling material standard of living, the food shortages, the tyranny imposed by the party on the population in general and that imposed by the Russians over all the other ethnic groups.

Nor must we forget that the Soviets have built up the mightiest war machine of all time and that this machine is run by powerful and ambitious military men who may well be itching to make use of it in order to increase their own power and prestige. This view was expressed by Solzhenitsyn. It is very frustrating to be trained to do things and then not to be given the opportunity to do them. Thus not surprisingly if you train people to build dams they will search desperately for excuses to build them. If almost every river in America has been dammed, sometimes over and over again, it is partly at least, because America has trained so many engineers to build them. If you train surgeons to remove women’s wombs they will spend much of their professional life looking for wombs to remove, and will be tempted to diagnose the health problems of their patients in such a way as to justify the performance of such operations. That is why it appears that three times more women have hysterectomies in California than in the UK.

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Pacifism is not a tenable policy

Pacifism is not a tenable position for a very much more profound reason. It is that man is naturally aggressive. War has been a feature of the human experience on this planet from time immemorial. This is the thesis of ethologists such as Conrad Lorenz and Eibl Eibesfeldt. It is a thesis that is inescapable to anthropologists who have studied human behaviour in its natural state i.e. among the tribal societies of the past.

I have gone into this issue at considerable length in “The Ecology of War” which I published in The Ecologist in May 1974. In it, I pointed out that aggression was a normal and indeed necessary feature of human life, among other things helping to maintain social identity and cohesion. It is certainly not the only operative factor. The Neo-Darwinists and, in particular, the sociobiologists have grossly exaggerated its importance and have, at the same time, correspondingly underrated the importance of cooperation without which there can be no family or real community—cooperation that is undoubtedly favoured by aggressive relations between communities.

To pretend that man is naturally peaceful is wishful thinking at its most naive. As I said in the Ecology of War, “self righteous exhortations in favour of peace or pious declarations of the universal brotherhood of man can serve no purpose other than to mask the real issues.” And the real issue is how to accommodate man’s aggressive nature without causing serious social and ecological destruction, and we can only learn to do this by looking at the experience of the past.

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Ritualised warfare

So long as man lived in natural conditions i.e. as a member of a tribe living in its natural environment, his aggressive nature was perfectly well accommodated. In these conditions war was effectively ritualised. Among other things, its goal was a purely ritual one. It was not to acquire a neighbour’s land as it is often with us. There was no need for it. Population was culturally controlled and remained stable for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years. Besides a neighbouring society’s land was seen as inhabited by its ancestral spirits who were regarded as very hostile. Nor was there a need to go to war in order to acquire one’s neighbours’ mineral resources, because tribal people did not develop an industrial system which required the massive use of such resources.

War was in fact very little more than a sporting activity. War leaders who distinguished themselves, obtained great prestige. That was basically what they were after. Casualties were very low indeed. Even in our own Middle Ages war was quite effectively ritualised. Consider the story told by Runciman of the war fought between Peter of Aragon and Charles d’Anjou. They agreed to meet on the field of Poitiers, where the hundred most valiant knights of Aragon would confront the hundred bravest knights of France. To limit the conflict in this way was a very civilised thing to do, but the conflict was still further ritualised in that both monarchs made sure that their armies should never actually confront each other. The Aragonese knights arrived first at the arranged rendezvous. Since there was no sign of the French knights, King Peter drew his sword, proclaimed the French to be cowards for not daring confront the valiant knights of Aragon, who proceeded to charge a non-existent enemy in an empty field. Having thereby won their victory they returned to their capital to be feted as heroes. The French arrived a few hours later and did likewise and returned to Paris to a well-earned triumph.

Up to a point, war was ritualised until fairly recently as can be gauged by the splendour of the uniforms worn by soldiers as they went into battle. If the object of war is to kill, then to wear uniforms covered in gold braid and to sport tall and plumed hats is clearly counter-productive—to use a fashionable term. If, on the other hand, the object is to impress the enemy, intimidate him, impair his morale and induce him to flee from the field of battle then such displays may well be advantageous.

In the same way, a tiger makes himself look as ferocious as possible when he attacks his rival and will roar at him in the most threatening way. The reason is that his aim is not to kill him but to frighten him away from his territory and from the female whose favours he seeks. When the tiger pursues his prey, his goal is quite different. It is not to frighten it away, but to catch and kill it. For this reason the tiger no longer adopts a threatening attitude nor does he roar. On the contrary he sneaks up to his prey as stealthily and unobtrusively as possible and then pounces on it out of the blue.

It is significant that our soldiers today have given up the resplendent uniforms of old, and have donned drab camouflage instead. Their behaviour is like that of the tiger stalking his prey. Its object is to creep up on the enemy and kill him, rather than impress him with his splendour and flamboyance and frighten him away. This clearly reflects the changed role of war. It has ceased to be a sport. It is now dead earnest, purely utilitarian, highly efficient, a characteristic product of mass technological society.

Since we cannot abolish war, as I have already said, what we must aim for instead is to canalise it into less destructive channels, ritualise it in fact. The development of modern instruments of warfare and in particular nuclear weaponry is ritualisation in reverse. The first step in achieving our goal must therefore be to abolish the use of such weapons. That it has served in the last forty years as a deterrent against a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe I don’t think we can honestly deny. It would undoubtedly be very stupid for the Russians to invade us if this would mean seeing their major cities obliterated by American nuclear missiles, but as already pointed out, it is unrealistic to suppose that politicians, let alone military leaders, will always behave in a responsible way. We know that they will not, and the bomb would only always remain a deterrent if they did.

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Nuclear deterrence is not a viable defence policy

We must also remember that in the last thirty years only a few nations have been in possession of nuclear weapons. In the next decades, the atom bomb is likely to be generally available to whatever state is willing to pay for it and probably to non-government groups as well. Few people doubt that it is but a question of time before organised crime, for instance, whose turnover in such countries as America and, as we have seen recently, Australia—is simply enormous—has access to nuclear weapons.

Consider just how many wars are going on today. There is war between South Africa and Namibian guerrillas. There is war in Angola between the Russian backed government and the Ovimbundu tribes of the south. There is war between Ethiopia and Somalia and also between Ethiopia and Eritrea. There is war between Morocco and the Polisario rebels of the Spanish Sahara. We are on the verge of a war between the Mashona and the Matabeles in Zimbabwe. A new war between the Nilotic tribes of the South Sudan and the Arab government may well be breaking out again in Khartum. There is war in the Chad between a Libyan backed government and rebels in the South. There is war in the Persian Gulf between Iraq and Iran which could easily spread to other parts of the Middle East. There is perpetual war in the Lebanon between the different ethnic groups that make up this totally artificial country, and war too between Syria and Israel could easily break out if the Syrians do not soon evacuate the Bekka Valley. There is also war in the Philippines between the Government and Moslem rebels. War in East Timor has only come to an end as a result of the virtual extermination of the nationalists by a brutal and cynical Indonesian government. There is war between the Vietnam-backed puppet government, aided by a large contingent of Russian troops. War between India and Pakistan could easily flair up again over Kashmir and other contested territories. There is war in El Salvador between the American backed government troops and powerful rebel forces. The Sandinista Government of Nicaragua is fighting on two fronts against right-wing invaders in the North and the partisans of Commander Zero aided by Mesquito tribesmen in the South, while another war could easily flair up again between Britain and Argentina over possession of the Falkland Islands.

It is difficult to believe that the governments and guerrilla leaders involved in these conflicts would forego the use of nuclear weapons if these were made available to them, and if they were persuaded that their use would lead to the defeat of their enemies. To suggest that they wouldn’t is I think nothing more than sheer wishful thinking.

I don’t have to explain what would be the human and environmental consequences of nuclear war. I am sure my readers are as aware as I am that nuclear war is something too horrible to imagine, something that only the most callous and the most cynical can conceivably contemplate. For this reason, the bomb must be banned and it must be an essential part of the policy of the ecological movement to render its production totally unacceptable to the electorate. Such a policy can of course be criticised by those who fear possible Soviet domination. If they consider the matter more carefully, I think that they would find, and I believe a lot of military men would agree, that nuclear weapons cannot provide the basis for an effective defence policy.

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Weaponry alone does not win wars

To defend oneself effectively does not necessarily mean using the most destructive weaponry. I once had dinner with Kakasaheb Kalelkar in Bombay. He was then well over ninety. He was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s chief lieutenants, and also the founder of the Gandhian University in Ahmedabab where I gave a week’s seminar in 1974. He told us during dinner that he had once been a member of a guerrilla organisation whose object it was to get rid of the British by force. I cannot remember the name of its leader but I remember Kakasaheb Kalelkar telling us that he left him for Gandhi—not for ideological reasons as one might suppose, but because Gandhi, he thought, was the better general. Non violent resistance was indeed probably more effective against the British Raj than any terrorist campaign could have been. I am not suggesting that it would be effective against the Soviets. Gandhi was never a pacifist. He admitted very explicitly that his methods would be of little use against Hitler or Stalin.

But the fact remains that it is not just weaponry that wins wars. It is cooperation, morale, patriotism, pride, the spirit of self sacrifice. It is all these and a lot of other qualities that are difficult to define, still more difficult to quantify and which cannot be taken into account by politicians and military theorists whose thinking is conditioned by modern science and who, as a result are only capable of taking into account those factors that are visible physically, that can be quantified and arranged in pairs to constitute empirically verifiable one-way cause-and-effect relationships.

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Nuclear deterrence is a symptom of social disintegration

I think that one of the main reasons why the Western nations depend for their defence on nuclear weapons, is that their societies have disintegrated to such an extent under the influence of the industrial system and the welfare state and their citizens have become so totally alienated and demoralised that they can no longer be counted upon to defend their country as the Afghans today are defending theirs. The nuclear option is then the only option—but it is the soft option, the only one open to people who are unwilling and incapable of defending their family and their community against an external aggressor. It is the only option too that is open once defence has been taken out of the hands of society and handed over to a few specialised technocrats, once a function previously assumed by all citizens has been usurped by a few professional bureaucrats and politicians.

It is part of the same fatal trend that prevents people from looking after their own children, looking after their own health, producing their own food, governing their own community and fulfilling all the other necessary functions that they have fulfilled from time immemorial. If they have a right to do all those essential things they also have a right to defend themselves from aggressors, and, needless to say, there is no right without a corresponding obligation. To give up those functions, to hand them over to specialists is totally unacceptable, it is but a means of assuring the redundancy and alienation of modern man and at the same time the further disintegration of his family, his community, his society and his ecosystem.

There is another thing we must also not forget. The UK covers an area of 90,000 square miles, the Soviet Union an area of over 900,000 square miles. This means, that all things being equal, the Soviet Union could absorb 100 times more nuclear punishment than we can. A few bombs would obliterate this minute and highly centralised country while many more would be required to destroy the Soviet Union. To engage in nuclear war would thereby be self-defeating. In addition what happens once we have fired off our entire arsenal of nuclear weapons? What do we do next? Unless we have obliterated our enemy we are then quite helpless in the face of any possible invasion. We have no other means of defence left to us. That is why the nuclear deterrent is, in fact, a more-up-to-date version of the Maginot Line. Like the Maginot Line, once its possibilities have been exhausted, no further defence is possible.

There is another reason too why nuclear weapons cannot provide the basis of a sound defence policy. To produce the plutonium required to make nuclear bombs, nuclear power stations are required. That is one of the principal reasons why the governments of the countries that are building up a nuclear arsenal are so keen to build nuclear power stations in spite of the radioactive pollution they give rise to and in spite of their massive construction and operation costs (see the CSENE Report The Ecologist Vol. 11, No. 6).

Now conventional bombs wreak havoc with nuclear power stations, worse still with nuclear reprocessing plants. Professor Patricia Lindop, one of the country’s leading radiobiologists, recently told us that if conventional bombs were dropped on Windscale (or Sellafield as our nuclear reprocessing plant is now called), it would be necessary to evacuate almost half the population of England—to where exactly we are of course not told. Not surprisingly a well known general on the French General’s staff informed his government a few years ago that, in his opinion, a country with a network of nuclear power stations is indefensible.

Finally to base our defence on nuclear weapons is to opt for a high technology mass-society which is unacceptable on a host of social and ecological grounds of which our readers will be only too aware. For all these reasons we need a very different defence strategy and, in my opinion, and in that of quite a number of people within the Ecological Movement (for instance I recently received a short article from Frank P Hughes of Hawkesbury, Ontario in which the author comes to exactly the same conclusion as I do) there is only one possible answer. It involves quite obviously taking defence into our own hands.

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The need for a decentralised citizens’ army

As Gladstone once said “there is no barrier like the breasts of free men.” And free men are men who run themselves, not helpless marionettes manipulated by distant bureaucrats. This means building up a highly decentralised citizens’ army. It means too reintroducing national service which should never have been abolished. How else can we train our citizens in the use of sophisticated light weaponry? How else can they learn to become efficient guerrilla fighters? Nor is it sufficient that they should undergo a single period of training during the course of their lives. As in the Swiss Army they should go on refresher courses every year for at least two weeks, possibly more. Nor should they be anonymous members of a vast anonymous army—mere faces in the crowd.

The army should be reorganised, as it was on a county basis. The old regiments must be restored with all their tradition and all their regalia. People are more likely to be motivated to defend their own area with the aid of their neighbours and friends than distant parts of the land in the company of strangers. By joining local regiments, they can also meet and cooperate with other members of their community and build up real local patriotism which has largely ceased to exist. This would also help to give them faith and pride in themselves in the knowledge that the defence of their country and of their homes rests squarely on their shoulders.

Only such an army could possibly be able to operate in the event of our main cities being destroyed by nuclear warfare and only such an army is likely to be motivated to do so. Besides, the adoption of such a defence policy would be an important step in a strategy of social regeneration, a sine-qua-non for the solution of all the problems that confront our society today—not only that of defence but the associated problems of social and environmental degradation with which the Ecological Movement is primarily concerned.

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