Occasionally, I receive emails from jobs.ac.uk about vacancies in which I might be interested. Usually I just skim through, since I'm not actively looking right now, to see what kinds of things I might want to do after my PhD, or else what I would really like to avoid. Today I saw an advert for a job about which I couldn't immediately decide what I thought: a Consequence Modeller for the Atomic Weapons Establishment.
The Atomic Weapons Establishment (from their website) "provides the warheads for the United Kingdom nuclear deterrent" and "is one of the largest high technology research, design development and production facilities in the country". Well, no wonder they're interested in science graduates. This is no NGO!
Being pretty much a pacifist, I normally steer well clear of any military research and I certainly would not in a million years want to design nuclear warheads, but what exactly does "consequence modelling" entail in this field? I mean, firstly is anyone under any illusion that the consequences of the detonation of a nuclear weapon would be anything other than massive, indiscriminate, ugly, painful death, mutilation and an environmental impact the like of which would probably change the culture of a country like Britain overnight?
I suppose what they are really after is the ability to be able to somehow justify nuclear weapons as "tactical", things which can be used for precision attacks, the consequences of which could be fine tuned by the selection of warhead. In this way, perhaps they hope that weapons can be used more "safely", in order to minimise civilian casualty, or some such rubbish.
And, I do believe that it is rubbish. We've heard this kind of talk before of course, about precision weapons, highly sophisticated targetting systems which minimise what is heartlessly referred to as "collateral damage". Indeed, this is very similar to the claim being made by the United States about their missile "defence" system: as soon as an incoming missile is detected, they send up one of their own (from a base in Europe) to intercept it and take it out before it reaches its target. Of course, the simple and very obvious problem with this approach is that the attackers just need a slightly more sophisticated missile. At this point of course, the US can just spend a bit more on missile defence research... And here we have it, another arms race.
Thinking about these precision targetted weapons we hear so much about these days, of whose consequences their users are so certain, well doesn't this just encourage the people who are being targetted to hole up in the middle of a town, or in a school? I firmly believe that there is no way to hope to bring about more peace in the world by researching better weapons, only by disarmament, and by not spending people's taxes on jobs like this.
Anyway, if you disagree, and have an "understanding of nuclear weapons' effects", their "consequences for persons" as well as "good computer literacy, particularly Microsoft Office applications", (the three do actually appear adjacent to each other in the ad) then feel free to apply and prove me wrong.