Letters: Nuclear weapons

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The Independent Online

Sir: Britain and France are the only European states to possess supposedly independent nuclear weapons (report, 9 March). Why do they need nuclear weapons when other European states do not? Some, like Italy, Sweden, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland, seriously considered the matter, but abandoned it because any deterrent effects of nuclear weapons were not seen as worth the costs, or because they were not seen as the way to a safer world. Some European states repudiate nuclear weapons themselves but allow US nuclear weapons on their soil, or see themselves as under the protection of Nato.

Fear, or its absence, has been behind the decisions. In the rest of the world, countries that have acquired nuclear weapons have all been motivated by fear of neighbours: Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea, perhaps Iran. Again notable are the countries that started along the nuclear weapons road but turned back: South Africa, Brazil, possibly Argentina, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan. Any possible benefits were not seen as worth the costs. The vast majority of nation states do not have nuclear weapons.

Britain and France once had fear of the Soviet Union as an excuse to add to their desire for national prestige. The UK government now uses fear of the unpredictable, an argument that any state could use - but by whom could the UK or France be threatened? And like others, whether one likes it or not, the UK and France shelter under the US umbrella. The only nuclear threat is from terrorists, and nuclear weapons cannot be used against dispersed cells of terrorists. They would never be used against a state that harboured terrorists because that would lead to disproportionate civilian and material damage.

Surely it is not just inertia, or the fear of losing votes, that give these governments reasons for continuing to hold nuclear weapons? Their prestige would be enhanced to a much greater extent if they abandoned nuclear weapons, leading the way towards a more peaceful world in which mutual fear no longer determined government policies.

ROBERT A. HINDE

CHAIR, BRITISH PUGWASH GROUP, CAMBRIDGE GEORGES PARISOT CHAIR, FRENCH PUGWASH GROUP, PARIS

The word 'racist' is being devalued

Sir: It is unfortunate that the word "racism" has been so devalued in recent years and that you are contributing to this (front page, 9 March). Racism used to mean a belief that those of another colour/race were inferior, leading to discrimination. Now it means anyone who ever criticises any person of colour, anyone who ever questions UK immigration policies, anyone who arrests a violent drunk if that violent drunk is black, and anyone who says that being a soldier is quite a macho job where you may be insulted - and that sometimes ethnic minorities use their race, or the threat of accusing others of racism, to give themselves advantage.

Everyone has the right to their opinions, however extreme. Private life and professional life are not the same thing, and I would be happy for any teacher or lecturer with extreme views to teach my children, so long as they were treating students equally and not promoting their extremism.

You say in your editorial that students should not be compelled to "take lessons from someone whose views they feel uncomfortable with". Why? Many people in schools and universities are compelled to be taught by people who believe in extreme and intolerant religions. Would you offer the same choice to those students to refuse to take lessons from Christians or Muslims whose views might be seen as repulsive?

It is time to stop these witch-hunts against those who refuse to bow to the tyranny of orthodox opinion. Education is supposed to encourage freedom of thought, not crush it.

EDWIN WEBB

LONDON SE10

Sir: You suggest that Oxford students in my constituency should not be compelled to be taught by someone like Professor David Coleman, with whose views they feel deeply uncomfortable (leading article, 9 March). As someone who has spent months and years campaigning against the spurious arguments of Migration Watch and their friends, I am nevertheless appalled by the personalised campaign to ban Professor Coleman.

The price of us all enjoying academic freedom and free expression is that we provide those freedoms to those with whom we disagree. I urge the protesters either to debate with or to ignore their opponents, not to try to ban them or have them sacked. This campaign, like other "No Platform" policies, is not only illiberal but, by making a martyr out of Professor Coleman, is counter-productive.

DR EVAN HARRIS MP

(OXFORD W AND ABINGDON, LIB DEM), MEMBER OF THE JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RIGHTS, HOUSE OF COMMONS, LONDON SW1

Sir: You've seen a few seconds of CCTV footage, without context. I've seen all of the film; read the statements; read Ms Comer's signed custody record; read the CPS advice. You see fit to judge the incident ("I'm not racist, but... "). I refer it to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Lazy journalism. Lazy populist editing. Not worthy of your reputation.

MEREDYDD HUGHES

CHIEF CONSTABLE SOUTH YORKSHIRE POLICE

Who cares who's to blame for warming?

Sir: Dominic Lawson seems to think it a matter of huge importance to decide who is to blame for global warming and, in his case, to take comfort from the view that it's not mankind's fault (Opinion, 9 March). The sheer irrelevance of this whole debate is mindblowing. If I'm about to die in a car crash I don't much care whether it was my bad driving or a design fault. What I do care about is whether I can reach the emergency brake.

With the arctic ice and the glaciers melting as we speak, and our summers rapidly becoming intolerable, the only thing that matters, unless we've all lost interest in survival, is whether there is anything we can now do to reverse the process.

JIM BOWMAN

SOUTH HARROW, MIDDLESEX

Sir: Your cover story "The big green fuel lie" (5 March) misjudges key points regarding biofuels. You cite a think tank which claims that there will be competition for grain between fuel and food, between the "world's 800 million motorists ... and those who simply want to stay alive". Such exaggeration is typical of the biofuel debate at present. No country is suggesting anything like that order of magnitude of biofuel use, and it should be pointed out that grain is only one of several feedcrops used in biofuel production.

Your article omits to mention the overarching reason why we are having this discussion in the first place: biofuels will be, for the foreseeable future, the only viable alternative to replace fossil fuel in the transport sector. For the EU, Brazil, some Asian states and some US states the environmental challenge posed by the anticipated increase in demand for transport fuel globally (in particular by India and China) makes biofuel a crucial aspect of any renewable energy policy. Given this, concerns of environmental harm and the land-use issues your article identifies should be portrayed as issues to be addressed and resolved rather than matters which call into question the very idea of biofuels.

WISAM ABBOUD

ENERGY CONSULTANT TO PRIVATE EQUITY/INVESTMENT FUNDS LONDON NW8

Bad gangmasters must be tackled

Sir: I was interested in your article "Britain shamed for its 'immoral' exploitation of foreign labour" (8 March), especially as it was published the day after the Gangmasters Licensing Authority revoked the licenses of seven labour providers (gangmasters). One of these licences was revoked immediately to protect the welfare of Polish and Slovakian workers. If that labour provider continues to operate they will face up to 10 years' imprisonment.

The GLA was formed to combat the unacceptable conditions that many migrant and some indigenous workers face in the UK. We have powers to deal with those unscrupulous people who readily take advantage of the workers' lack of knowledge of UK law. We are particularly concerned with debt bondage - a form of modern-day slavery.

We do not condone illegal working in the UK, but we do ensure that anybody who supplies workers in or to the UK meets this country's legal requirements and does not exploit or endanger workers. There are many organisations, including the Churches, which are working hard to ensure that this despicable treatment is not ignored and we welcome all attempts to highlight the issue.

Our powers are currently restricted to the supply of labour to the agriculture and food sectors as well as shellfish gathering from April 2007. Our workers' rights leaflets are available in a variety of languages. Any information about worker exploitation is helpful to us, on 0845 602 5020, or via Crimestoppers at 0800 555 111. We don't need to know who you are, just who is doing what and where.

PAUL WHITEHOUSE, CHAIRMAN, GANGMASTERS LICENSING AUTHORITY, NOTTINGHAM

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