COMMENT by Muriel Wood

The 54th session of the UN General Assembly will start in November and we are joining campaigners to lobby the British government to vote for the resolution for a New Agenda for Nuclear Disarmament.

This New Agenda Resolution will call for

  1. The USA and Russia to bring START II (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into effect immediately and start negotiations on START III
  2. the seamless integration of all nuclear weapons states into the process leading to the total elimination of nuclear weapons
  3. an examination of ways to reduce the rôle for nuclear weapons in security policies
  4. a range of disarmament measures such as reducing and eliminating tactical nuclear weapons, removing warheads from delivery vehicles, increasing transparency and establishing talks on a ban on fissile materials production.

The countries putting forwards this resolution are Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.

In 1998 a similar resolution was debated. The British Government voted against this resolution but 12 out of 16 of our NATO allies abstained.

We are asking the Government to support the New Agenda Resolution this time. It is particularly urgent following America’s refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the fragile state of nuclear weapons in Russia. It seems that Canada is prepared to vote in favour if others will do the same. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Greece are all thinking about voting Yes.

Five of us discussed this and other matters with Roger Casale, M.P. for Wimbledon, at the House of Commons on October 20th, and following is a report on our discussion with him by Alison Williams. (We indicated that we should be reporting his replies in this newsletter).

Lobby Notes, 20th October 1999

Roger Casale had no hesitation in saying that he strongly supports the UN. He’s a Vice President of the Merton branch of UNA and is interested in international affairs. He’s Secretary of the Labour Party’s Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the European Scrutiny Select Committee. He favours nuclear disarmament “broadly speaking”; and made the point that his first public engagement as MP was at the WDC/CND fête in 1997.

Muriel, with reference to the 2nd target point for the Lobby, (Initiate immediate negotiations for a Nuclear Weapons Abolition Convention) spoke of the New Agenda Coalition’s Resolution and gave him a copy of the CND briefing. Alison added Scilla Elworthy’s point: that 6 NATO powers (Canada and 5 European ones) were considering voting Yes on that resolution (First Committee, 9th November; General Assembly plenary, December) — last year they abstained. Britain had voted against, with the USA and other Nuclear Weapon States. We urged HMG to vote Yes this year; or at least to abstain. Further Conversation: Muriel said we wanted action on disarmament, not talk (Roger indicated we could not expect too much). Sarah asked if he would recommend immediate negotiations (he said it was a matter for HMG to decide. He would make the strongest possible representations on our behalf, privately not publicly.) Maisie wanted to know how he feels personally: he advised us to “keep the pressure up”. People tend to think disarmament is not an issue any more but that is clearly not true. The world is more dangerous than ever, in some ways. Muriel said we were pleased to see some aspects of the Strategic Review and he said the whole question of disarmament would have to be seen in the context of the Strategic Review.

Action on Point Two: Alison is to send him a note of Scilla Elworthy’s point on UNA-headed paper, and he will write to the Minister on the New Agenda Coalition Resolution as he did last year.


Alison spoke to the 1st target point for the Lobby (Support military intervention only with explicit authorisation by the Security Council). He strongly supported the NATO intervention in Kosovo and has visited there since the conflict ended. He is Chair of London Southeast Aid to Kosovo, accepting civic responsibility to help with reconstruction following the bombing. Having seen the need there, he encouraged DfID to send more support to the area than they otherwise would have. He regards that conflict as a watershed in international relations. The need for peace and stability in the Balkans was recognised as a priority although there was no economic interest at stake, such as oil in the case of Iraq. A line had to be drawn in the sand — the European Union was built on democratic principles and we could not allow what was happening in Kosovo on our doorstep. And it was something we could act on, unlike some conflicts in other parts of the world. It had been right to stop what was going on — he had seen evidence of atrocities — one had to say No and stop it.

Alison spoke of the primacy of the Security Council and how NATO’s action had undermined its authority and so the foundations of international law — she gave him a sheet summarising those points and including two paragraphs from Kofi Annan’s 1999 Annual Report saying “enforcement actions without SC authorization threaten the very core of the international system”. He acknowledged that it would have been better to have explicit authorisation for the NATO action in FRY(Federal Republic of Yugoslavia)/Kosovo. It was easier to demonstrate the legitimacy of military intervention with a SC resolution. NATO’s independent action should not be taken as a precedent for the future. We are faced with a very big question here, and no answer as yet.

The veto power presents an obvious difficulty. He visited Russia as well as the Balkans this year and asked a question at Prime Minister’s Question Time in that connection. He could understand the historical reasons why the Russians opposed the NATO action. The Chinese on the other hand had a purely Realpolitik motivation: Macedonia had recognised the state of Taiwan not long before this crisis arose, and Taiwan was investing quite heavily in Macedonia. The Chinese had no wish to support a policy which would give comfort to Macedonia.

Given deadlock in the Security Council in such a situation (gross violations of human rights), he felt that it was unacceptable to take no action at all. He agreed that the Security Council needs to be reformed to be able to deal more effectively with such cases. He added that there was some justification for the NATO action in Security Council resolutions, if not as clear and explicit as desirable.

He said Kofi Annan is an enormous asset to the UN, articulating to the world what is going on. In his Letters from Kosovo, George Robertson had quoted Kofi Annan many times.


Further Conversation: Maisie raised the question of Depleted Uranium/DU Weapons in Iraq, and the deaths of so many children “as a direct result of sanctions”. DU weapons had caused an epidemic of cancer in Iraq. There was an environmental disaster in Kosovo too, including the use of DU weapons. How could he support such action and say he cared about the people there? It seemed incoherent. Roger replied that on the contrary it was “a reasoned reaction”. He could understand where Maisie was coming from but he saw his approach as coherent. Hungary is now asking for more European Aid to clear rubble from the Danube — the need for environmental clean-up is important and can’t be forgotten. On DU weapons he has had information and reassurances — that the sums used were “very small, for specific reasons”, to do with breaking through very hard protective casing on tanks. Dorothy picked up the “what else could have been done?” point and said Bruce Kent claimed total sanctions should have been tried first. Roger responded “As in Iraq?” and the difficulty was acknowledged. Sarah pointed out that he had been to Kosovo but not the FRY. There has been terrible damage there, and sanctions are preventing rebuilding. She is very concerned about the state of the FRY.

Returning to Iraqi sanctions, Roger said Saddam was not making full use of the Oil for Food programme to help his people, and Maisie quoted George Galloway saying the programme was not nearly generous enough. How can we be sure that Saddam is in fact the obstacle preventing his people getting the medicine and food they need? Before the Gulf War, Iraq had one of the higher standards of living in the Middle East. Roger acknowledged that it was an awful situation, and that “the international community are at breaking point over it”.

Action on Point One: Roger will send Alison copies of (1) his speech on the Kosovo crisis (2) his PMQ time question on the Balkans/Russia (3) details of/ or copy of George Robertson’s Letters from Kosovo.

The third point of the Lobby — inviting support for the UN’s International Year of the Culture of Peace — was not discussed for lack of time. We said that Merton UNA will invite Roger to sign UNESCO’s Manifesto 2000 Pledge, preferably as a photo opportunity, at another time.

Conclusion: Roger said he appreciated the work of local organisations in the constituency. Of course we can’t expect everything we want to become government policy immediately but he will represent us to the government as effectively as he can: in his view, that means doing so privately. He is sure he carries more influence in that way.

Alison Williams

Hague Appeal logo

Hague Appeal for Peace: Children’s work to appear in print?

There is a possibility that some of the material submitted to our Hague Appeal competition may feature in a forthcoming book to be published by the Peace Pledge Union. PPU representative Jan Melichar visited Wimbledon to look at samples of the children’s work and to hear about how local schools were involved in the project. The PPU publication will focus on how children are influenced by war toys, video violence etc. and discuss how education can be a positive influence towards a culture of peace in our society.

London Region

Please note that Alison Williams will be guest speaker at the November London Region Council meeting (see Diary on page 1).

‘Trident is illegal’ — it’s official!

As reported in the national press [Guardian/Times 22/10/1999], the three women accused of causing £80,000 worth of damage to Trident installations at Faslane were freed on the grounds that they had been acting to prevent a crime under international law and therefore had reasonable excuse for their actions. The sheriff’s decision to order the jury to acquit was taken after a trial lasting 4½ weeks.

This is the first time that the whole ‘international law’ defence has been heard in a British court, and the sheriff’s decision to allow the World Court evidence to be heard sets a very exciting precedent. (It is also significant that there was no opposing ‘expert witness’ from the Ministry of Defence!) We are proud to have contributed £30 from WDC/CND funds towards the women’s defence costs.

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