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Chapter 5 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

IN DEFENCE OF FRENCH NUCLEAR TESTS



By John Ray

Amid all the recurrent hysteria about French nuclear tests some very pertinent considerations appear conveniently to have been forgotten. The first is that the French do have a very good reason for continuing to want these tests. To many plastic radicals the very idea of a French nuclear deterrent seems hilarious. What purpose could a French bomb serve in comparison with the overwhelming might of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.? How many times over do we need to be able to destroy ourselves?

Viewed through French (or even European) eyes, however, the question is altogether different. It centres on the reliability of the U.S.A. It didn't come to the help of Europe for several years during the two world wars. Why should Europeans believe that it will do differently in the next one? In the next one, however, even half an hour might be too long to wait. In a limited Russian attack Europe certainly could rapidly be subjugated using nuclear weapons and America might be very tempted not to 'escalate' the war by unleashing its missiles on Russia. Isolationist America is a weak reed indeed for Europe to lean on. In these circumstances Europe must have a deterrent of its own. It is like a crab without a shell until it does.

But how credible is the French deterrent? It doesn't really need to be very credible. Just the chance of one H-bomb exploded over Moscow would surely be enough to restrain any Russian military adventurousness. Missiles are still hard to intercept and only one of the French missiles has to get through to make the gain not worth the cost.

Realising all this then, we can see that France is being far from unreasonable. Indeed what can we expect any member of such a traditionally proud race as the French to think of a deliberate attempt by others to prevent him from having the protection that other nations have already acquired for themselves? This is a point that should be stressed: the U.S.A. and Britain are deliberately trying to exclude France from the nuclear club. If the U.S.A. were willing to share with France the nuclear secrets it already shares with Britain, there would be no need for the French tests. Protests about the Pacific tests should be made as vigorously at the American embassy as the French.

Indeed, pressure on the Americans does seem the most reasonable strategy for those who oppose further tests. France is by now so well and truly in the nuclear club that continued American refusal to share its secrets makes no sense at all. 'Proliferation' has already occurred. It is too late to prevent it. There is even a precedent (Britain) for such sharing once a country has attained independent nuclear capability.

Another thing we need to look at, however, is just how dangerous the French tests are. It should be remembered that they are estimated to increase radiation levels here by only one hundredth of the background radiation level. We all are exposed to radiation from natural sources for every day of our lives. In comparison, the French tests are neither here nor there. If someone is really, worried about radiation causing his wife to have a miscarriage (with a radiation-damaged ovum or zygote your wife probably wouldn't even know she had a miscarriage anyhow. It would just be part of a normal period) he would do more good by ceasing to wear a luminous wristwatch than by protesting about French tests.

The tales we hear about the damage tests will do to the unborn are in fact one of the less creditable forms of scientific generalisation. They are based on extrapolations that assume that if X amount of radiation causes so much damage then one thousandth of that radiation causes one thousandth of the damage. This ignores the possibility (often asserted) that radiation may have to reach a critical level in order to do any damage at all. If normal scientific caution reigned in place of ideology we would have to say that there is simply no evidence that radiation levels as low as those created by the French tests will do any damage.




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