The political complexion of the next Government may well have already been decided by the time most readers get this May Newsletter but it is more important than ever that we all lobby our political representatives. This is the only way in which we can ensure that we have an informed House of Commons in a position to question and challenge a government line which will rarely have been spelled out in detail in its party manifesto. We already know that the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system will be decided in the next parliament: those four nuclear-armed submarines each carrying up to 48 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead having eight times the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. (The type of replacement that may be proposed is not yet known, but it is thought that it might be one of the new generation of ‘battlefield nuclear weapons’.) Needless to say, the chances of the British parliament’s having the courage to reject the replacement of Trident altogether are slim indeed, but we can at least help to stimulate real debate on the issue.
We have sent the following questions to local parliamentary candidates and await their answers with interest: all will at least now be aware of Britain’s obligations as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And once the new Parliament has assembled it is up to all of us to ensure that the M.P. for Wimbledon receives a huge postbag on the subject! Write to:
House of Commons,
The final session of Parliament before it was dissolved and the General Election declared was marked by a glimmer of hope as far as we are concerned. A Parliamentary Early Day Motion drafted by the UK Mayors for Peace working group and tabled by Malcolm Savidge M.P. attracted the signatures of 108 M.P.s from many different political parties in the 48 hours it was open for signature.
Notable amongst the signatories were John Hume (Nobel Peace Laureate), Alex Salmond (Leader of the SNP), three former Secretaries of State (Charles Smith, Clare Short and Frank Dobson) and several former Ministers of State, including two former Defence Ministers and a Foreign Office Minister — and many of these EDM signatories will be returned to the new Parliament to be elected on May 5th.
That this House is deeply concerned about the continuing possession and reliance on nuclear weapons, the risks posed by possible nuclear proliferation to more states and to non-state armed groups, and the possibility that nuclear weapons may be used by accident, miscalculation or intent; notes the opportunities provided by the 2005 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons to show greater progress in implementing existing non-proliferation and disarmament commitments; and firmly supports the aims of the 100 strong lobby by international Mayors for Peace that will be present at the NPT Review Conference for the first time, under the leadership of the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to press for early and full Treaty compliance.
Last month we enjoyed a visit from Milan Rai of Justice Not Vengeance, an excellent speaker. He explained the thinking behind JNV, an initiative which aims to engage with the wider issues of the ‘war on terror’ (his earlier work with ‘Voices in the Wilderness’ having been Iraq-specific). This was a wide-ranging talk, which first explored the societal and behavioural issues behind conflict: war as a “social activity” (as opposed to individual aggression) and today a “massive bureaucratic exercise”. In the early stages of human evolution people were “prey” rather than “hunters” and perhaps we are still marked by the experience of being in a victim state for so much of human history? (“A willingness to sacrifice yourself for the community evokes respect.”) Accepting this interpretation implies that human society needs to find ways of redirecting deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour, which will not be easy. Mil then explored the basic principle of the UN Charter, that armed force should not be used “save in the common interest”. This should be the foundation stone of modern international relations: the prohibition under international law of the use of armed force between nation states.
The war in Iraq illuminates some of the problems we have in trying to eliminate force. The allegation that Iraq posed a threat to international peace presented a challenge to the institutions, mechanism and procedures of the UN. Mil pointed out that the post-invasion revelation that the UN weapons inspections of 1991–8 had succeeded in eliminating the Iraqi WMD programme shows that UN procedures were in fact perfectly adequate to the task of containing Saddam Hussein. In order to counter the influence of proponents of terrorist violence such as Al Qaida we need to deal with the legitimate grievances that people feel. US support of undemocratic Middle Eastern governments such as Saudi Arabia and US aggressive policies both lead to increased support for bin Laden. Tony Blair likes to see himself as the bold defender of UK security, requiring extra powers for the government and Home Secretary. Mil reminded us that an Intelligence and Security Committee report said that Tony Blair was told that Iraq was not involved in terrorism and that the threat from Al Qaida would be heightened by the invasion of Iraq.
(We made a donation to JNV funds in appreciation of Mil’s work.)
Two brilliant speakers addressed this stimulating meeting: Canadian Senator Douglas Roche (Chairman, Middle Powers Initiative) and New Zealander Alyn Ware (Global Co-ordinator, Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament). The meeting was part of a European tour drawing attention to the incompatibility of NATO nuclear policy (which maintains that nuclear weapons are ‘essential’) with the obligations of individual nations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
All the nuclear weapons states are conducting research on the modernisation of their arsenals, while the security landscape has been radically altered by the nuclear black market and terrorist ambitions for WMD. Proliferation of nuclear weapons cannot be stopped as long as the most powerful nations in the world maintain that they are essential for their own security. Non-proliferation will never work as a one-dimensional approach and must be combined with disarmament.
The eight NATO states which voted in favour of the New Agenda Coalition resolution in the First Committee at the UN last year represent the ‘moderate middle’ in a very polarised debate (recalcitrant nuclear weapons states versus non-aligned demands for an immediate nuclear weapons convention). Both speakers were excited by the Mayors for Peace initiative and stressed the rôle of civil society in forcing governments into action. “Global consciousness will help to get rid of nuclear weapons.” It was a valuable opportunity to see our own campaign in its international context.
Response to the “Bunte Tücher” appeal was magnificent. (A large parcel was dispatched to Germany at the beginning of April, followed by several smaller packets of late-comers.) Children’s pictures of themselves, of rainbows, doves and other peace symbols showed a real joy in their task, and many of the adult contributions showed imaginative creativity and an impressive skill in needlecraft. All should have arrived in good time to be included in the display being assembled by our German friends outside the UN headquarters in New York, to coincide with the NPT Review Conference this month: I hope that we shall receive photos in due course.