Legacy of Robin Cook

In an article published in the Guardian newspaper on Friday July 29th, Robin Cook wrote: “Replacing Trident is against both our national interests and our international obligations”. Eight days later he was dead.

On re-reading this trenchant piece of journalism one is reminded yet again of the loss to our campaign of such a brilliant writer and clear thinker. It is an abiding source of regret that Robin Cook will never now be able to argue his case against Trident in the House of Commons, but it is to be hoped that those of his colleagues who are brave enough to defy the sloppy rationale behind received government thinking on the subject will derive inspiration and support from Robin Cook’s example and speak up in his memory. I feel that in this Newsletter we can do no better than to quote Robin Cook’s own words.

“Down at Aldermaston they are spending hundreds of millions of pounds of your money on a refit of the production line for nuclear warheads. We are assured this does not mean that any decision has been made to replace the Trident nuclear system. Dear me no, the investment is merely intended to keep open our options.

“If we want to exercise the option of producing more weapons, we are told we must make up our minds in this parliament. This is not because Trident is in imminent danger of going out of service. The British submarines can go on diving and surfacing for another two decades. The problem is that it will take that long to order, build and commission another expensive fleet to replace them.

“This is an excellent opportunity for Tony Blair to prove that he is a real moderniser..... by making the case that nuclear weapons now have no relevance to Britain’s defences in the modern world. The justification of both Polaris and Trident was that we faced in the Soviet Union a great, hostile bear bristling with nuclear claws. The missiles were put on submarines precisely because the ocean bed was the only place they could hide from Russian firepower. But those are calculations from a long-vanished era.....

“No other credible nuclear threat has stepped forward to replace the Soviet Union as a rationale for the British nuclear weapons system. To be sure, two or three other nations have emerged with a crude nuclear capability, but none of them has developed the capacity or the motivation to attack Britain.

“It is not easy to see what practical return Britain ever got out of the extravagant sums we invested in our nuclear systems. None of our wars were ever won by them and none of the enemies we fought was deterred by them....

“However, the spirit of the cold war lives on in the minds of those who cannot let go of fear and who need an enemy to buttress their own identity. Hence the vacuum left by the cold war has been filled by George Bush’s global war on terror....

“But nuclear weapons are hopelessly irrelevant to that terrorist threat. The elegant theories of deterrence all appear beside the point in the face of a suicide bomber.... Investment in a new strategic nuclear system would be worse than an irrelevance. It would be an extravagant diversion of resources from priorities more relevant to combating terrorism.

“...Britain’s most valuable rôle in global stability is the professional, experienced contribution of our soldiers to peacekeeping missions, which earns us much more goodwill round the world than our nuclear submarines prowling the seas. The world would be less stable and Britain would be less secure if we were to trade in even more of those army units for son-of-Trident. It is not just peaceniks who would oppose such a choice. I suspect a clear majority of the officer corps would vote against diverting the defence budget into another generation of nuclear weapons....

“There is a chasm too wide for logic to leap, between arguing that Britain must maintain nuclear weapons to guarantee its security, and lecturing Iran et al that the safety of the world would be compromised if they behaved in the same way.

“Despite the current anxieties over proliferation, more nations have given up nuclear weapons over the past generation than have developed them.... None of those countries regards itself as any less secure than before. Nor need we, if our leadership can find the courage to let Trident be the end of Britain’s futile and costly obsession with nuclear-weapons status.”

‘Spineless NPT Conference papers over cracks and ends with a whimper’

“Delegates from 153 countries at the 2005 NPT Review Conference failed to build on past agreements and adopt any kind of decisions or recommendations for furthering progress in the vital security issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. From start to finish, this conference did little more than go through the motions, and was one of the most shameful exhibitions of cynical time-wasting seen outside the Geneva Conference on Disarmament”: the considered opinion of seasoned conference-watcher Rebecca Johnson.

She reaches the conclusion that stalemate was a deliberately contrived outcome by a minority of countries (most notably the US and Iran) displaying blocking moves in their own self-interest, and these are some of her specific points:

“Finally, in view of the failure of the 2005 Review Conference, the agreements obtained in the review conferences of 1995 and 2000 still stand as the legal and political benchmarks for measuring progress and promoting compliance until the NPT can be fully implemented in all its nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation aspects. Lack of agreement to build substantively on these commitments and undertakings may be disappointing but the problems of the 2005 conference neither invalidate nor undermine the relevant obligations and undertakings previously agreed to. If anything the lack of consensus in 2005.... underscores the fact that the principles, measures and steps adopted by consensus in past review conferences have not yet been implemented, and more work must be done to ensure that they are.”

(The complete version of this report can be found at http://www.acronym.org.uk)

DSEi: Defence Systems Equipment International

The DSEi exhibition is a vast shop window of weapons and other equipment of war, and is supported by millions of pounds of public money. Over 600 weapons-producing companies will be represented, and potential buyers will arrive from over fifty different countries (including delegates from human-rights-abusing states and regions of conflict, if past showing is anything to go by). DSEi is one of the largest arms fairs in the world, sponsored and subsidised by the Ministry of Defence and organised by Spearhead Exhibitions, owned by the publishing giant Reed Elsevier.

CAAT (the Campaign Against the Arms Trade) has been campaigning against DSEi for many months, challenging Reed Elsevier (which acquired Spearhead in 2003) about their management’s decision to get involved in the arms trade, and attending the sites of other Reed exhibitions to distribute information and encourage protest. Since DSEi 2003 there has also been sustained opposition to its return from local residents. Newham council recently passed a motion opposing the arms fair and Mayor Ken Livingstone has spoken out against it. Spearhead’s standard response when challenged about the ethics of organising the event is to deny that DSEi is an ‘arms fair’! (‘Defence systems’ sounds better.)

CAAT has organised a full programme of events during the month of September which are summarised on this month’s Diary page. Most importantly there will be a peaceful demonstration on the first day of the fair, leaving from Central Park in East Ham around 12 noon and processing to the ExCel centre in Docklands where the arms fair is being held. Be there! (For a full programme and further details http://www.armsfairs.com or 020 7281 0297).

Write to:   Jan Hommen
   Chairman, Reed Elsevier PLC
   1–3 Strand, London WC2N 5JR
telling him that organising arms fairs is a dirty business.

Your Affirmation of Freedom from Nuclear Weapons

Please take a few moments to sign and return the personal Affirmation enclosed with this Newsletter. This is a new initiative by the World Court Project UK in cooperation with the international Mayors for Peace who are campaigning for a signed Convention by 2010 (to be fully implemented by 2020) to abolish all nuclear weapons everywhere.

The inspiration for the ‘personal affirmations’ came from Mexico’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Sr. Luis Alfonso de Alba who addressed a packed meeting of citizen group delegates during this year’s NPT Conference. Emphasising that citizen groups and governments need to see each other as partners, and that the general public needs to be more aware of nuclear non-proliferation issues, he said “Whole regions have become nuclear-free and several cities. How about individual citizens doing the same?”

George Farebrother of WCP UK managed to speak personally with Sr. de Alba (“one of the many diplomats who were frustrated at the antics of some of the states represented at the Conference”) and is hopeful that the Affirmations will be endorsed by the Mexican government and perhaps gain support from other South American and New Agenda Coalition States. This is a project which aims to link states, municipalities, citizen groups and ordinary individuals in the cause of nuclear abolition. It is an important way of moving on after the disappointments of the NPT.

(World Court Project UK Newsletter June 2005: http://www.gn.apc.org/wcp)

CND Conference

This takes place in London on Saturday 5th and Sunday 16th October, at the Old Cinema, University of Westminster, Regent Street W1: guest speakers, workshops, debates and leadership elections. Individual registration is £10 per person and the deadline is October 3rd. For more details contact Genia at CND (020 7700 2393) or <genia@cnd...> .

Future Events in Wimbledon

This autumn we are looking forward to two major events as part of our campaign to spread our message more widely and raise awareness of nuclear issues in the community. Please put the dates in your diaries now and keep an eye open for details nearer the time.

We were saddened during the summer by the news of Enid Barford’s death and send Norman our deepest sympathy.

Night Breath: new anti-war play

Written with the support of Medical Foundation and Amnesty International, Bryan Oliver’s anti-war play ‘Night Breath’ presented by the Action Point Theatre Company is a powerful journey into a real heart of darkness.

The play is based on real events, and although not set in a specific country, the three women’s experiences reflect war in such places as Bosnia, Rwanda, and the Congo. Through a night of confession and confrontation, three women uncover the truth about horrifying events that change their lives forever. Although the characters and audience are taken on a harrowing journey, there is hope and redemption at the end of the play.

‘Night Breath’ opens at the White Bear Theatre Club, 138 Kennington Park Rd, London SE11 on Tuesday 27 September and plays until 16 October. Tuesday–Saturday 7·30pm, Sunday 4pm, no performance Monday. Tickets £10/£7. Box Office 020 793 9193.

CND Return to Newsletter index