COMMENT by Barbara Bampton

What couldn’t we all do with £5·3 billion? A particularly apt question for Budget Day 2004. For this is the value of the new contracts on offer to the commercial consortium now operating the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston on behalf of the Government.

And this is the reason that Good Friday (9th April this year) will witness the renewal of the Aldermaston marches of 1958–64, when thousands upon thousands of people covered the 50 miles between London and Aldermaston on foot to express their outrage at this country’s continued involvement in nuclear weapon manufacture. In 1957 Britain ‘tested’ its own hydrogen bomb in the Pacific, in spite of huge controversy and criticism. Four years earlier the USA conducted its own tests on Bikini atoll — with awful consequences for many Pacific islanders. Were other nuclear explosions really needed after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WW2 to prove that these weapons of death and destruction were ‘effective’?

On 12th May 1957 there was a march of women — 3,000 marched through London, some wearing black sashes (taken from South African women’s example). They were addressed in Trafalgar Square by Diana Collins, Vera Brittain and Dr Edith Summerskill. This did not prevent the explosion of Britain’s H-Bomb on Christmas Island in the Pacific. Women’s hopes were high then. Edith Summerskill pointed out that the rain which fell during this demo could in different circumstances fall on our heads causing sterility or birth defects in our children. We now know that this dreadful circumstance has befallen women in the Pacific, to Aborigines in southern Australia where Britain tested many atomic weapons, and to native Americans in or near the Nevada test site.

Yet in the 1950s the world was only at the beginning of a massive escalation of atomic weapons: today we are in the midst of a lethal nuclear age, with the world spilling over with nuclear stockpiles, and with space being sought for more nuclear waste storage — much still stored under dangerous conditions. Nuclear states proliferate (ironically Iraq does not feature among them) and no war has been averted or a single inter-state problem been solved as a consequence of all this.

There are those among us who can remember how, footsore and in pouring rain, they spent the three nights on the way to Berkshire in village halls, and I spoke recently to someone who recalls being lent dry plimsolls to ease blistered feet. The solidarity and comradeship kept the walkers going, sharing their hopes and fears with leaders such as Canon Collins and his wife Diana, Bertrand Russell, J.B.Priestley and many others. The argument, so plain for laymen and women to see, will only be won when the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction ceases.

It is this continued manufacture that the £5·3 billion is all about. The Atomic Weapons Establishment’s explanation for expansion of Aldermaston is based on “the maintenance of Trident and the capability to build a successor, which will have to be achieved without conducting nuclear tests” (since Britain signed up to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998). Nuclear warheads will continue to be manufactured and disposed of. Dangerous waste by-products will remain to be disposed of. Little change — just a makeover.

To take part in this year’s Aldermaston March contact tel. 07880-941-849 nationally, or locally 8543-0362. Please register at the website

Join us in the hunt for Britain’s weapons of mass destruction

Coach to Aldermaston, Easter Monday

We are running a coach to Aldermaston on Easter Monday, April 12th, departing from Wimbledon Community Centre 8·30am and returning about 6·30pm, cost £10 per head. We shall arrive at Aldermaston in time to welcome the London march, listen to speakers and join in workshops. The march and rally then plan to combine to encircle the base and tie messages on the fence. Music, theatre, tea, jugglers and face painting are promised — plus those all-important accessible loos! Phone 8543-0362 to book your place, and bring friends. We must fill this coach!

P.S. Consider sponsoring a place on the coach for somebody unable to afford full fare if you are unable to go yourself.

‘Law not War’ conference in Oxford, February 28th

This latest in the series of Treaties Dayschools organised by Christian CND was easily the most successful to date. The Lord Mayor of Oxford gave a vigorous introductory speech and stayed on throughout the proceedings. His presence was particularly appropriate given that one of the areas under discussion was the Mayors for Peace campaign. Panel speakers were: Rebecca Johnson (former Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and now special advisor to Hans Blix), Patrick Lamb (Deputy Head of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office Counter-proliferation Department), Sian Jones (Aldermaston Women’s Peace Campaign) and Stewart Kemp (Nuclear-Free Local Authorities).

Rebecca Johnson gave an overview of existing nuclear weapons treaties and the diplomatic context in which the forthcoming NPT PrepCom and Review will take place. She made it clear that the 13 steps agreed by consensus at the NPT Review 2000 are to be regarded as a systematic plan of action, conferring inescapable obligations on all the nuclear weapons states. We must not accept a roll-back from 2000: our campaigning must have clear and specific objectives.

With current US developments (‘usable’ nuclear weapons), there are strong indications of plans for the associated resumption of nuclear testing, putting the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty at risk. The 1958 US/UK nuclear co-operation agreement is up for renewal (exchange of missile technology contravenes Article 1 of the NPT) and the 2003 Defence White Paper refers to the need for the next parliament to take a decision on whether to replace Trident. We should say what we really want i.e. full implementation of the NPT Review 13 steps; the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to enter into force; the UK not even to think of replacing Trident.

Nuclear weapons states must stop treating nuclear weapons as a security enhancer. They must accept their obligation to disarm under Article VI. The security concerns of potential nuclear weapons states must be taken seriously. “Powerful governments steal security from everyone.”

Sian Jones gave an impressively researched account of developments at Aldermaston: although AWE Aldermaston is seeking a new image as a science/technology centre, with its environmental viewing platform and visitors’ centre, it is simply not credible that the government can be investing money on this scale to look after ‘old nukes’ (Trident maintenance) as it claims. A new consortium has taken over at Aldermaston, which now operates as a ‘government-owned contractor-operated company’. The PPF partners include Serco, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton, all of whom have a vested commercial interest in signing development contracts on as large a scale as possible. Plans for a massive new laser facility have been withdrawn temporarily because failure to provide an environmental impact assessment furnished grounds for a legal challenge. The Easter March will help to draw public attention to what is going on. We do still have the opportunity to stop these developments.

Patrick Lamb’s defence of FCO policy was an interesting opportunity to see how the Civil Service mentality works. This was one of the writers of all those bland ministerial responses in the flesh. He described how the nature of his work has changed from ‘non-proliferation’ to ‘counter-proliferation’; rather than focusing on multilateralism it was now a question of “dealing with countries that are in breach” and doing everything possible to ensure terrorists do not acquire nuclear material. There was no acceptance that nuclear weapons states are, by their persistent failure to disarm, also ‘in breach’. The most rewarding glimpse of the official mindset came in answer to the question “What do you understand by deterrence?” to which Mr Lamb replied “I don’t deal with the deterrent — I am intrigued by it and reflect on it with some of my colleagues... I assume and accept the UK government policy.”

Stewart Kemp provided an update on the Mayors for Peace campaign launched by the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to support the NPT and now involving 560 towns and cities in 108 countries. There was considerable discussion about how this can be adapted to the requirements of UK local government and non-elected mayors. The Mayor of London has made a commitment to be represented in New York in 2005. We should be lobbying councillors and trying to persuade them that local authorities are important stakeholders as representatives of civil society in the international debate.

Report by Joanna Bazley

UNA Lobby of Parliament

The annual Lobby on March 16th was a very impressive event, with over 400 registered lobbyists presumably connecting with a significant proportion of Westminster M.P.s. Chair Tony Colman said that the turnout had impressed a number of his colleagues, and that “all the talk in the Division lobby” was about the UNA event.

Tony Colman (M.P. for neighbouring Putney, former Leader of Merton Council and Chair of the All-Party UN Group) presided over the meeting in Portcullis House, displaying an impressive level of personal commitment to the proceedings. In addition to his backbench UN rôle at Westminster, Tony Colman is also a member of the All-Party Group on nuclear proliferation chaired by Malcolm Savidge. Speaking from personal experience he spoke of Rebecca Johnson, who is academic adviser to this group, as a “search-light” providing “light in the darkness” in the face of Civil Service obstruction.

‘UN at the heart of UK foreign policy’ was the theme of the day and speakers addressed issues such as greater parliamentary accountability to the UN, ways to give the developing world a louder voice in global decision making and — most significantly for us — how the British government can help promote real progress towards the implementation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Alison Williams (representing Merton UNA) and myself (representing WDC/CND) had an interview with Wimbledon MP Roger Casale at his surgery a few days after the Lobby but were only able to put over our points very briefly in the time available: our correspondence will continue.

Letter to Roger Casale following our interview on March 19th:

Dear Roger,

Thank you for your time on Friday, a useful (if brief) meeting. I should like to repeat the points that I made about the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I have heard a series of well-informed speakers recently (‘Law not War’ Conference Oxford Feb 28th, UNA Lobby of Parliament March 16th) and all convey a great sense of unease about the future of the NPT. This is a seminal international treaty signed by the huge majority of nations and it now threatens to disintegrate — not because of non-compliance by ‘rogue states’ as nuclear weapons states’ propaganda would have us believe, but because of the open and demonstrable failure of the nuclear weapons states themselves to accept that their own NPT obligations must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Not only do the nuclear weapons states continue to show contempt for their responsibilities to move towards the complete elimination of their arsenals (Article VI) but they openly equate nuclear weapons systems with their own national security. Even worse, there is now every indication that the US and Britain are engaged in actively researching and developing a whole new generation of ‘usable’ nuclear weapons. It is also a matter of concern that the 2003 Defence White Paper refers to Trident as “likely to remain a necessary element of our security”. I have written separately to Bruce George, Chair of the Defence Select Committee, asking him to start an investigation into the planning that is going into a replacement for Trident. As you are aware, the ‘lead’ times for major military projects extend over several years. It is essential that when the next Parliament considers the future of British nuclear weapons it is in the context of an open and informed public debate.

Thirteen practical and progressive steps towards fulfilment of the nuclear weapons states’ disarmament obligations were agreed by consensus at the conclusion of the last NPT Review (2000), a copy of which I handed to you for your information, together with a Resolution recently adopted by the European Parliament. The government customarily cites measures which it has taken towards reducing its nuclear stockpile which were taken pre-1995: I should therefore like you to please ask the Minister what steps have been taken by the UK towards the fulfilment of its obligations under the NPT Article VI in the past four years, i.e. since the last Review. I should also be interested to know what are the goals of the UK government, both at this April’s NPT PrepCom and at the Review Conference in 2005.

Joanna Bazley

Defeatism about the feasibility of plans for disarmament and ordered peace has been the most calamitous of all the errors made by democratic governments in modern times.

Philip Noel Baker, ‘The Arms Race’

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