Question: How do you top a story on a collision of satellites in outer space?
Answer: With a story of a collision of submarines in the Atlantic ocean.
It was the most unnerving thing: in the first week of February, 2009, two French and British nuclear submarines managed to collide within the second largest ocean in the world (over a hundred million square kilometres to play with). What was so worrisome was not just the 246 crew, 2 nuclear reactors, 32 nuclear missiles or 144 nuclear warheads on board – bad as those were. It was the fact that submarine incidents are by no means unique after all. The fender-bender years: 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008… not counting 2000, during which a Russian sub sank with 118 souls.
The security implications of this most recent accident in the Atlantic dwarfs the crash of satellites in outer space. That this can happen between neighbouring EU, NATO countries that have been at peace for 2 centuries is insane. It is easy to conclude, after the fact, that a nuclear explosion was always unlikely to result from a collision, but after such a freak, one-in-a-million collision, it is perfectly reasonable to seriously consider the most unlikely scenarios.
The world has been spared a nuclear catasthrope: a blast in excess of 500 megatons, which would have made of Hiroshima a firecracker by comparison. As French and British tax-payers queue up to pick up the repair bills for the accident (reportedly £50m for the French) it is worth remembering that, if the very worst had happened, all of humanity could not have paid the bill.
It is time to overhaul our war ideologies. It took nuclear catastrophe to set Japan so firmly on its unique 3 Non-Nuclear Principles that have kept that country free of nuclear weapons, despite its obvious potential. Those principles were created, and retained, by the vocal power of the Japanese public, who were the chief victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and who had – over and over again – overawed the pragmatic instincts of some of their governments to build their own nuclear weapons.
One imagines that it requires the same order of catastrophe on the doorsteps of the triumphant to create the level of public revulsion that will swamp the pragmatism of war ideologues. More’s the pity.