In March Ann Strauss observed two of the Defence Committee hearings on the replacement of Trident and found it on the whole a depressing experience, largely because the terms of the enquiry had been so narrowly circumscribed in advance.
On each occasion the committee interviewed a panel of witnesses, asking each in turn to respond to very specific questions. Subjects explored included the nature of deterrence ("What would be a credible minimum deterrent?"), the nature of the threat, the impact of UK decisions on the rest of the world, and the timetable for decision-making. The general substance of the argument from the military academics and other 'establishment' witnesses was "we don't know what the future will bring and we have already done a lot to reduce our nuclear capability" ("This deterrent offers an extra option for the government and doesn't have to be used") and that any decisions made by the UK would be unlikely to make any difference internationally.
Especially dispiriting was the dry and academic examination of technicalities by the manager from Devonport and others. The moral immensities of the whole nuclear weapons debate were being relentlessly trivialised. Questions were being asked about "alert status", the "sub-strategic side", the "tactical side" and the like. "Why no land-based systems?" (Easy: the public wouldn't like it and besides they would have to be developed from scratch.)
Rebecca Johnson (ACRONYM) and Dan Plesch (BASIC) did manage to put some forceful points across, saying that people haven't yet fully understood and absorbed the implications of the post-Cold War world: there was no credible deterrent against terrorists and indeed our present actions could provoke future threats. Rebecca suggested an analogy between deterrence and voodoo medicine ("If you believe in it you feel safe")! Although we can't assume that other states would automatically disarm just because the UK decided not to replace Trident, this would be an opportunity for the UK to give the lead.
(The Defence Committee will eventually publish a report with recommendations, with evidence appearing in the appendices.)
The MoD is being very tight-lipped about the whole process of nuclear decision-taking, and one gets the impression that the House of Commons and its Select Committee may well be marginalised. I quote from a recent letter from an MoD civil servant: "I believe it is true to say that the Government is meeting its undertaking to keep the decision-making process as open as possible" "We have sent an initial memorandum to the Defence Committee... [and] we are considering how best we might assist the Defence Committee in their future consideration of this topic" "It is true to say that officials have now started the process of preparing for decisions on the future of the nuclear deterrent. However this work is at an early stage and Ministers have not yet engaged in the process in any detail.... It is for this reason that it would be premature for us to consider publishing additional information on the issue at this stage".
Open debate it is not.
An ambitious project to blockade the Faslane Trident submarine base every day for a year will be launched on September 9th at St Augustine's United Church in Edinburgh. We have signed the following statement of support:
Like all weapons of mass destruction Trident is illegal under international law and is a complete betrayal of our humanity. In the absence of any genuine intention by the state to undertake disarmament this organisation applauds and supports those who respond to this gross evil by peaceful actions of civil resistance, including the nonviolent disruption of the Trident submarine base at Faslane by blockading.
The organisers are hoping to gain support from as large a number and wide a range of organisations and individuals as possible, so please send in your personal endorsement (and approach any other groups you may be involved with for support). Send signed endorsements to
Cromer, Norfolk NR27 9PN
The World Court Project: working to publicise and have implemented the 8 July 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons.
Most WDC/CND members will be aware of the ground-breaking citizens' campaign (Declaration of Public Conscience) which culminated in the International Court of Justice (World Court) being asked to adjudicate on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The 1996 Advisory Opinion contained the unambiguous statement that "There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control", a basic Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligation on all nuclear weapons states.
Despite the 1996 ruling, the nuclear weapons states (including the UK) continue to argue that they could in certain circumstances use nuclear weapons lawfully, and are developing plans to update and retain their arsenals indefinitely. Government ministers have even developed the dishonest habit (never challenged by the media) of implying that NPT recognition of the UK as a "nuclear weapons state" confers a legal entitlement to possess nuclear weapons indefinitely.
In fact the NPT has nothing whatsoever to say about legal entitlement to nuclear weapons; it simply defines "for the purposes of this treaty" nuclear weapons states as those that tested such weapons prior to 1 January 1967 (Article IX 3). World Court Project UK, working with European anti-nuclear groups, is marking the tenth anniversary of the World Court Opinion with a major conference in Brussels preparatory to a renewed approach to the Court, this time to ask the judges what exactly is meant by "good faith" and whether this obligation is being breached by the nuclear weapons states.
George Farebrother (WCP/UK) writes "You may not be able to travel to Brussels for this ground-breaking conference. However you could support it financially. We had expected funding from a European source but unfortunately we have received news that this will be less than we had expected. We therefore need to raise about £5,000 to cover the costs." Cheques (payable to World Court Project UK) should be sent to 67 Summerheath Rd, Hailsham, Sussex, BN27 3DR. http://www.gn.apc.org/wcp
On 4th May MSPs will debate the following motion (tabled by the Green Group) which has attracted extensive preliminary cross-party support:
That the Parliament believes that the United Kingdom should not seek to replace the Trident nuclear missile system; notes that in 2005 the UK Government reaffirmed its commitment to all its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1967 (NPT), including its legally binding obligation to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith; agrees with the legal opinion of Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin of Matrix Chambers on 19 December 2005 that any replacement of the Trident system would constitute a material breach of Article VI of the NPT, and calls on the Scottish Executive to seek an early assurance from the UK Government that it will fully comply with our legal obligations in respect of the NPT and that it will not seek to replace the Trident nuclear missile system with another weapon system of mass destruction.
When Eirwen Harbottle spoke at the rededication of our Hiroshima cherry tree last autumn, she told us something about the Ministry of Peace campaign founded by Diana Basterfield. A new "citizens peace initiative" has now been launched in response to the threatening situation over Iran. "We want this campaign to be the 2006 version of Make Poverty History, using the Internet to spread the message around the world that we, the citizens, demand that our government use proven non-violent conflict transformation methods to resolve this and all future international conflicts."
A new website has been created containing a statement (which can be printed off and sent to MPs, local papers etc.), an on-line petition and practical information about successful conflict prevention. There is also a Persian (Farsi) section in order to reach out to Iranians as widely as possible both within and outside Iran. (http://www.negotiatepeace.org)
Kim Howell (Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) delivered an interesting statement to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on 23rd March, the first time a British Minister has addressed the deadlocked conference in a number of years.
"There is a lot of talk today about the non-proliferation régime being in crisis, the NPT being on the verge of collapse and the UN disarmament machinery in disarray due to a lack of political will amongst its member states. I want to emphasise that whilst there are real grounds for concern... these should spur us into action, not cause us to sink into pessimism."
"The NPT Review Conference last year was a disappointment. Regrettably, some participants... seemed from the outset to want to work against, rather than for, a substantive outcome. Even though the vast majority of States present in New York wanted to achieve real advances, a small minority made this unattainable....
"The disappointments in May... gave us an added incentive to get strong and meaningful commitments on non-proliferation and disarmament agreed at the Millennium Review Summit in September. With that in mind we worked tirelessly with the EU and with the group of 7 countries brought together by the then Norwegian Foreign Minister to propose a text that we hoped could find agreement across the whole UN membership. We were extremely disappointed that in the end no language on non-proliferation or disarmament was able to be agreed...."
What he does not say is that principal amongst the "small minority" of NPT saboteurs at New York was the United States. And is there significance in the fact that the UK subsequently signed up to an EU and Norwegian-led initiative in preparation for the Millennium Summit? We have asked Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond to question the Minister further on the subject.
Current estimates for US military spending in Iraq now stand at close to 250 billion dollars. The costofwar website records a running total and shows what the money could have bought in helping to solve world hunger, the AIDS epidemic or poverty in the US itself (http://costofwar.com/index.html). In the UK the cost of Iraq has doubled from the original estimate and is now expected to reach £6 billion by the end of 2006. We are constantly told that NHS trusts must make cuts to balance their budgets and that expensive drugs must be rationed. Yet when it comes to weaponry there seem to be no financial constraints whatsoever. The estimated cost of replacing Trident is up to £25 billion. MPs need to be reminded where our priorities lie. Please send off the enclosed postcard!
The RAF officer sentenced to 8 months' imprisonment for refusing to serve in Iraq is currently being held in HMP Chelmsford. Messages of support can be sent to
200 Springfield Rd
Essex CM2 6LQ
Lexmark X73 colour printer/copier/scanner with manual, colour cartridge, receipt and CD-ROMs with driver. Bought in 2002 for £168·15 and used until recently as a scanner, but colour copying and printing functions proved incompatible with other software on the owner's computer. Offers invited.
Thank you to all who have offered to help and already given donations. We still need plants, books, bric-à-brac and items for the tombola. Above all, please come along on the day and bring your friends. It is always a happy social occasion with good food and good company.
Note for gardeners: bedding plants on sale will include Lobelia, Alyssum, Cosmos, Antirrhinum, Nicotiana, Mimulus, Aster, French marigold, "cherry pie" (Heliotrope) and sweet peas.