National Missile Defence

January 20th marked the inauguration of President George W. Bush and a group of WDC/CND members joined the anti-NMD protest outside the American embassy in Grosvenor Square. We rubbed shoulders with other demonstrators campaigning against the US attitude to global warming and against US plans for military intervention in Columbia. The common theme of all these protests was indignation with US arrogance: the basic assumption that the US has an absolute right to take whatever action seems to serve short-term national US interests with blind disregard for the effect on the rest of the world.

Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn both spoke vigorously about the implications of NMD for nuclear disarmament, and denounced the cowardice of the UK government in refusing to take a stand against the US. At least the media are now sitting up and taking notice and it is up to us to make sure that NMD gets maximum exposure between now and the General Election.

Janet Bloomfield speaking at a recent Abolition 2000 meeting pointed out that the whole mindset of NMD is completely opposed to the idea of a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons. NMD is an attempt to ensure US military dominance by technological means. Existing treaties have been dismissed as ‘ancient history’ by Donald Rumsfeld, and such a contemptuous attitude is in itself profoundly destablising.

NMD could stand for No More Disarmament! We need to continue to campaign towards a Nuclear Weapons Convention following up the commitments made by the nuclear weapons states at the NPT Review last May and at the UN (New Agenda Coalition Resolution) last November. We must remember that we are dealing with the “toughest of tough politics” here — NMD goes to the heart of the ‘special relationship’ and rôle of the UK as a client state of the US.

Beryl Huffinley (Labour Action for Peace) who lives in Ilkley reported that NMD has “widened the appeal of the Abolition message” in Yorkshire, with local councillors and M.P.s much more willing to speak out against NMD than against Trident. William Hague’s pro-American line on NMD is widely seen as a threat to Yorkshire.

Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the London region AGM on January 14th was very dismissive of William Hague’s “idiotic proposals” and pointed out that despite the fact that NMD technology is still untested and unproven, it is supported by the huge military conglomeration which also finances US politics. He poured scorn on “the ludicrous belief that the US can defend its own high standard of living for a small number of people, by technology”. “Is the US really preparing for a war with China?” he asked.

Keep Space for Peace

Bruce Gagnon, co-ordinator of the US-based Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, came to Britain in December for a two-week speaking tour. He warned against the dangers of a new arms race posed by the revival of the US Star Wars programme. Although the Pentagon says it wants national missile defence to defend the US from ‘rogue states’ this is really a Trojan horse for a plan to take over the whole of space for military purposes. A recent report, Maintaining military superiority in the 21st century, says “The Pentagon must invest in the means to neutralise space assets, both commercial and military”. In other words, the US has assumed the right to decide if other countries’ commercial satellites are legitimate military targets.

Space is being filled up with US satellites, and bases such as Menwith Hill are primed to receive and process their signals. The big US ærospace corporations see an enormously lucrative market opening up, but the Russians and Chinese feel very threatened by developments which seem to amount to an appropriation of space by the US as part of their extended territory.

“The time has come for us not only to create opposition to missile defence, but also to call for a new consciousness about the way we view space. We have a long way to go. Help us prevent a new arms race.”

Peter Hain

A footnote to the Peter Mandelson saga is that in the subsequent reshuffle Peter Hain has been moved sideways from the Foreign Office to a new post in the DTI. One hopes that this is in no way connected with his memo to the Foreign Secretary before Christmas expressing outright opposition to the NMD programme. [British minister attacks US missile plan, Guardian 12·12·2000] His replacement is Brian Wilson.

Nuclear Trains

One of London Region CND’s most successful action groups in recent years has been the Nuclear Trains group which has worked to publicise the movement of spent nuclear fuel through the capital along the ordinary rail network. A major breakthrough was achieved last year when the Greater London Authority agreed to set up an Inquiry chaired by Darren Johnson (Green Party). The Inquiry will investigate and report on health, safety and environment implications of the transport and consult with local residents.

Peter Eldridge, Chair of Harrow & District CND and RMT member (Neasden branch) supplied the following background information.

“Uranium fuel rods travel by road to the nuclear power station. They are slotted into the nuclear reactor and ‘burnt’ as fuel. Ash is formed and some of the uranium is converted into plutonium which is so highly radioactive that only robots can touch it.

“When ‘spent’, these fuel rods, which still produce heat continuously, are submerged in water to keep cool. Prior to dispatch to Sellafield (for reprocessing), the rods are transferred from the cooling pond to an open-top fuel skip which forms a snug fit within the transport flask. This is then filled with water which serves as coolant whilst the lead and steel of the flask provides shielding against the highly radioactive material. When fully loaded with 200 rods, each transport flask weighs around 50 tonnes with the fuel itself weighing around 2·0 to 2·5 tonnes.

“Each transport flask, generally painted white, is carried on a flat-bed railway wagon. One, two or three flasks make up a short train. They are not mixed with any other freight.

“Such trains run from power stations at Sizewell (Suffolk), Bradwell (Essex), and Dungeness (Kent) to Sellafield on the Cumbrian coast. Often the trains stand for hours on end at Willesden in N.W. London for marshalling, then run to Sellafield as a single train some 2/3 times a week.

“At Sellafield, the plutonium is separated out from the unused uranium, and radioactive waste accumulates. Plutonium is used in nuclear weapons and for the production of mixed oxide fuel (MOX). This is exported to countries who want it.”

Lobby of Parliament Dec 6th

A joint delegation from WDC/CND and Merton UNA went up to Westminster to lobby Wimbledon M.P. Roger Casale, as part of the mass lobby arranged by Action for UN Renewal. Three specific areas of government action had been identified:

• Changes to the great global economic institutions such as the World Trade Organisation so that these become integrated into and accountable to the UN. Roger accepted this as desirable in principle although he stressed the daunting scale of the problem to be tackled.

• Positive action on disarmament, from nuclear weapons to small-arms. Roger was asked to press the Government to specify how and when it will implement the Non-Proliferation Treaty May 2000 Review agreements towards nuclear disarmament. He defended the government from our accusations of foot-dragging but did promise to pass on the points we were making. He was equally unwilling to be associated with any criticism of the US National Missile Defence system, although once again he “understood our concerns”.

• Providing adequate funding for global citizenship education. Here there was a much greater measure of agreement. Peace education is integral to education in Citizenship, which is now part of the National Curriculum, and statutory for Key Stages 3 and 4. Roger was urged to make representation for global citizenship education to be made statutory at Key Stage 2 (as well as KS3 and 4) and to press for sufficient funding for materials and curriculum support for the international governance aspect of the curriculum, especially the rôle of the UN and its agencies. Roger is involved in the all-party group of M.P.s on Citizenship and has already asked questions in Parliament to the Minister for Education. He readily agreed to pursue these matters further.

Report by Maisie.

I quite like playing the oboe,
I like London and Hiroshima,
I love my family, Mother Nature and Japanese rice,
I don’t like thunder and cockroaches,
I hate war.

Lines by Masako Kirihara, a Japanese student of English [sent by Alison Williams].

National Peace Council — Network for Peace

The old NPC formally ceased to exist on 2nd December 2000, but a new interim organisation called Network for Peace (working out of the UNA London Office and staffed 1 day a week) will attempt to maintain links between former NPC members while exploring a strategy for a possible new umbrella organisation for peace work in the UK.

The swansong of the National Peace Council was an ambitious attempt to organise events nationwide to mark the International Year for a Culture of Peace. (Budgeting problems were already apparent, but a decision was made to go out in a blaze of glory rather than to struggle on for a few more months). In their final report the organisers admit that in many respects response to the International Year for a Culture of Peace was disappointing — in spite of Tony Blair’s personal ‘patronage’ of the Year, the government did absolutely nothing to commemorate it, and neither did the media. The UN Manifesto 2000 petition nowhere near reached its original target of 1 million British signatures, despite achieving a total of more than 40 million signatures worldwide.

However, changing attitudes in society was always going to be a long-term project. The Year for a Culture of Peace leads on to a Decade for a Culture of Peace. Peace education and community relationships are the twin keys — building upon links tentatively forged around the country on and around November 11th 2000 when we first tried to turn Remembrance Day into a day for promoting peace, reconciliation and the abolition of war — links amongst peace groups, churches, British Legion, inter-faith and anti-racist groups. PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) and Citizenship are now taught in all schools, and the opportunity for peace education is there for any imaginative teacher.

The NPC teaching pack “Building Peace where I live” is being distributed via the Ludus Dance Company as they perform around the country over the next 18 months. “Packs have also been bought by local education authorities, youth organisations, development education centres, peace groups and interested individuals” says the report. Please do what you can to get them circulating in Merton!

[Network for Peace c/o UNA, 3 Whitehall Court SW1A 2EL. Tel: 020-7839-7729]

Trident Disarmers Not Guilty!

The acquittal of Sylvia Boyes and ‘River’ in Manchester Crown Court on January 18th was an impressive tribute to the power of the case made by the defendants and the expert witnesses who spoke on their behalf. The two Trident Ploughshares activists attempted in November 1999 to disarm the Trident submarine Vengeance when it was undergoing pre-operational testing in Barrow docks, intending to inflict sufficient damage so that it could not be commissioned into service.

Their closely argued defence was that the Government was in breach of international humanitarian law by continuing to use Trident, despite the World Court Advisory Opinion of 1996. They argued that politicians could not be trusted with Britain’s nuclear arsenal, therefore civilians had to act to stop disaster, and the jury agreed by a majority of 10 to 2. As with the Greenock judgement (Angie Zelter, Ellen Moxley, Ulla Röder) the prosecution failure to call expert witnesses to give evidence for the legality of Trident undoubtedly weakened the prosecution case.

So far there has been no government comment. “Is this because Trident’s embattled defenders will be feeling even more unsure of their legal position?” writes George Farebrother of World Court Project UK, who points out that although official answers to letters invariably claim that Britain’s nuclear deterrent is consistent with international law, this is never supported by argument but simply asserted, and legal aspects of Britain’s nuclear deterrent received no mention in the Strategic Defence Review.

Note: Sylvia Boyes appeared on the BBC programme Everyman on January 22nd and we hope to be able to show a video of this broadcast at a later date.


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