When in trouble, reach for nuclear submarines. President Nicolas Sarkozy, derided by the French as a lightweight,
rushed off at the end of March to launch Le Terrible, the fourth in France’s fourth generation of such submarines. Thus he seizes the torch of “massive retaliation” from his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who said that a state-terrorist onslaught on France or even the EU might require a nuclear missile lobbed into the perp’s presumptive backyard, wherever that might be. Le Terrible is itself powered by a nuclear reactor, and the range of its sixteen missiles, each armed with three warheads, is just under 5,000 miles, so M’sieu Ahmadinejad had better watch his tongue, otherwise it might be Tehran frappe.
Le Terrible’s deployment brings France’s full menu of warheads to 348, of which 288 are on submarines and fifty on air-launched cruise missiles. There are ten old-fashioned bombs.
On his way out of office, at the end of 2006, Tony Blair took the same line as Sarkozy. A Britain without up-to-date nuclear-armed subs, he proclaimed, would be the sport of every bully on the block. “Our independent nuclear deterrent is the ultimate insurance,” Blair told Parliament. He cited Iran and North Korea as prime present dangers. Mind you, Britain’s current nuclear guardians–the Vanguard subs–are scheduled to go out of service in 2022. It will apparently take seventeen years to design and build the new subs. Double this to allow for screw-ups (more on screw-ups below) and we won’t be seeing Britain’s last, best line of defense deployed until about 2050. By then global freezing will have rendered subs moot anyway.
Now, a familiar pattern is for retired statesmen and high functionaries to retire and then spend their sunset years denouncing nuclear weapons and “the balance of terror.” Not Jimmy Carter, I’m glad to say. You’d think that after years talking up peace and the benefits of peaceful negotiation, Carter would reel in shock if someone said, “I want our next nuclear sub to bear your name.” But he didn’t. Bill Clinton tied down the Connecticut vote by OK-ing another Seawolf nuclear sub to be built at Groton and called the Jimmy Carter. As in, “Today Tehran is a smoldering, irradiated ruin after receiving a salvo of nuclear missiles from the Jimmy Carter.” It was probably Clinton’s idea of a joke after Carter had said that he really loved Al Gore’s loyal and loving relationship with Tipper, so similar to his with Rosalynn.
But Carter was thrilled. Larry King, who interviewed him at the time of the Democratic convention in Los Angeles in 2000, was clearly baffled at the contradiction:
: The USS Jimmy Carter is being constructed. It will be the newest submarine in the fleet.
: And the fastest and quietest ship in the world.
: Now that has got to be–
: I’m very flattered.
: I know, Mr. Former President, there’s a lot of things to be proud of, but that’s got to be kooky.
: I mean, kind of like kooky. You’re going to go and slam the champagne against it. It’s your sub.
: My wife will christen the submarine.
: Permission to board the Carter, right? They’re going to say that.
: Absolutely. You’ll be welcome, by the way.
Sums it all up, doesn’t it? Here we have an absolute disconnect between the rational human who has criticized Israel for its apartheid policies and the lunatic reveling in having his name painted on a machine that could kill hundreds of thousands of people with a single detonation. In the old days I would have ended with a pious paragraph or two about the pressing need to end the arms race. Not anymore. We’ll never stuff that genie back in the bottle. Every country should have a couple of nuclear missiles and, if they really want one, a nuclear sub.
“Screw-ups,” I wrote above. Why so negative, Mr. Cockburn? I speak as a maiden voyager on March 27 through Britain’s latest tour de force in technological incompetence: T5. This is the new British Airways terminal at Heathrow, which cost about $8.6 billion to build across nearly twenty years. Before launch day British TV channels blared its marvels. Chief among these was a system of steel entrails, governed by state-of-the-art software to whirl your bag from check-in to aircraft hold and to take your bag off again in case you’d packed it with Semtex and headed back on foot to the Hindu Kush.
On the surface, all seemed well at 11 am. I handed in my bags. I refreshed myself with sauvignon blanc at $15 a glass in the restaurant. Meanwhile–so it turns out–my bags shot forward on the conveyor belt at irresistible speed until they met the immovable force of 10,000 bags already jammed in the middle of the entrails. All systems had failed. BA had forgotten to provide parking for the baggage handlers. The software for the entrail didn’t work either.
If you can’t design an entrail to put a bag on a plane, can you design a nuclear sub to launch untested armed systems to speed a nuclear missile on its way to Tehran or the Hindu Kush or Pyongyang and be sure it won’t swerve off course and hit Tel Aviv, capital city of our “stalwart ally,” as Barack Obama calls it even when he’s sound asleep?
Richard Rogers, designer of T5, is also the architect retained to do the redesign of the Javits Convention Center in New York. He was recently pressed by defenders of the reputation of our stalwart ally to explain his connection to a group called Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, which had criticized Israel’s wall. Rogers distanced himself from APJP at a speed approaching that of light and said he thought the wall is a fine idea. Maybe the T5 disaster was retribution for this cowardice.