ON Saturday November 4, Scottish CND – perhaps our hardest working NGO – is holding a Festival for Survival, with a truly stellar speakers list.

This includes both the Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, William Nolan, and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland’s Glasgow Presbytery, Roger Sturrock.

There will MPs and MSPs from the SNP, Labour and Greens and veterans of the anti-nuclear movement including Isobel Lindsay and the marvellous Jean Urquhart.

Showbiz will be represented by the likes of the actor David Hayman.

The unions will be there in force – I look forward to hearing Cat Boyd of the PCS and Bill Ramsay, of the SNP Trades Union Group. And there will be a host of experts from the movement, local and international.

OK, enough advertising.

This is not just another CND event, even if it is bigger than normal. For the first time since the cruise missile debate of the 1980s, the world faces an immediate existential threat from nuclear weapons. In fact, not since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 has the world been nearer to a nuclear exchange.

At least then, we knew the Soviets and Americans were playing a game of chicken. The inherent danger lay in a miscalculation on the part of either side – not to mention field commanders with their fingers on the triggers of tactical nukes.

We scraped through that one by the skin of our jittery teeth.

The year 2023 is very different. The possibility of a nuclear exchange arising from the war in Ukraine is not just high but very high. The invading Russians have made numerous veiled threats to use their so-called tactical nukes should they face defeat, or if the West provides the Ukrainians with the military wherewithal to recapture Crimea.

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As it is, a much wakened, post-Soviet Russia has adopted a new military doctrine that sees the use of tactical nukes as an integral part of its offensive strategy – not just as weapons of last resort.

The West cannot lay all the blame on the Kremlin. Apart from the provocative and unnecessary expansion eastwards of Cold War Nato after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US since Obama has embarked on a massive modernisation and expansion of its nuclear arsenal.

The pressure for this came from the Pentagon (much humiliated by its inability to police the Middle East and Central Asia) and a greedy defence industry.

The modernisation of the US nuclear arsenal was seen as a direct threat by both Beijing and Moscow.

The National: Anti Nuclear Weapons 1 SA : Anti Nuclear Weapons March at George Square in Glasgow..The March, organised by Scottish CND called on the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland...Photographer :- Stewart Attwood..

The weak Russian economy cannot compete with the Americans, so in retaliation Putin resorted to scrapping much of the carefully negotiated arms limitations treaties so he could build a new generation of heretofore banned supersonic cruise missiles.

Meanwhile, Beijing was never bound by these treaties so has forged ahead with expanding its nuclear delivery systems. We are thus in the middle of the biggest expansion of nuclear weapons technology since the 1950s.

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Last week, the stakes were upped even further. The US has agreed to supply Ukraine with depleted uranium shells to arm Abrams tanks already provided by the Pentagon. Depleted uranium is a by-product of the process used to create the enriched uranium used in nuclear fuel and weapons.

Although incapable of generating a nuclear reaction, depleted uranium is more dense than lead – a quality that makes it the perfect, armour-piercing projectile. It is so dense that it cuts through tank armour like a knife through butter and heats it up so much that the metal actually catches fire.

Depleted uranium shells were developed by the US during the Cold War to destroy Soviet vehicles, the same Russian T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its wavering counter-offensive.

Depleted uranium can’t make a bomb. But supplying it is a new Western escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. It is clearly a response to the relative failure of the Ukrainian spring offensive which has seen large numbers of tanks supplied to Kyiv by the US and Europe destroyed when thrown – First World War style – against prepared Russian defences.

Like the Great War, the Russo-Ukraine conflict is degenerating into a war of attrition. Both sides are seeking ways of breaking the stalemate. Hence America supplying depleted uranium.

But there is a wee problem. Depleted uranium is as toxic as hell.

Using these shells will leave swathes of Ukrainian territory polluted and dangerous to humans. The depleted uranium does not disappear after the round is fired. It hangs around to cause kidney damage.

Depleted uranium munitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War, in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in Serbia and in Kosovo.

The World Health Organisation reports evidence thereafter of contamination of local food and water supplies.

The willingness of the Pentagon to supply depleted uranium rounds is akin to the villages in Vietnam that American soldiers destroyed “in order to save them”. This is war turned insane.

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This is destruction for its own sake where the logic of war escapes rational thinking about how to attain peace. Which is why the Scottish CND Festival for Survival is so apposite. Anything that erodes the checks and balances that limit the slide to nuclear Armageddon is to be feared.

Our best defence is for civil society to shout from the rooftops that we will not countenance the proliferation of new weapons of mass destruction. Even in the form of depleted uranium shells.

The National: Police attend the CND march to keep the peace  Picture: OWEN HINES

The Festival for Survival also recognises that we face a second threat to the human race from unrestricted climate change caused by man-made emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

Both threats require co-ordinated, concerted international action. But this action has to come from below or momentum will be dissipated in diplomatic intrigues and calculated obfuscation.

Again, Scottish civil society has a modest role to play on the global stage. Can I humbly suggest we reverse normal etiquette, and that the Scottish Parliament votes to send a message of welcome and support to the Scottish CND event – giving the Festival the credibility it needs to speak to the world.

And what of the UK in all this?

The 2015 official Strategic Defence and Security Review described the building four new nuclear-armed submarines to replace Trident as the “equivalent in scale to Crossrail or High Speed 2”. In other words, humungous and out of control financially.

The latest independent estimate puts the total cost of replacing the UK’s nuclear deterrent reach £172 billion by 2070. This includes the submarines, missiles, warheads, and infrastructure. And that is before we get to new tactical nukes.

Last month it became known that the US Air Force is expanding its installations at its UK base at Lakenheath in Suffolk. Speculation is rife that this is in anticipation of locating American tactical, free-fall nukes in Britain for the first time in 15 years.

The 495th Fighter Squadron, stationed at Lakenheath, is due to become the first US unit in Europe to receive nuclear-capable F-35 fighter-bombers. And just who are they meant to attack?

This is clearly a signal to Putin to stay his nuclear hand. But how often do signals get lost in the fog of war? Which puts Britain and Scotland squarely in the nuclear firing line.