Doug Weir spoke to a small but attentive audience at the Community Centre on April 8th and helped clarify some of the misconceptions about the contentious issue of Depleted Uranium. As UK coordinating officer of the international campaign against DU he was able to give us an authoritative overview of the scientific and political context, and with quiet realism he conveyed his belief that this is a very winnable campaign.
DU is used by the military because it makes very effective anti-tank shells, as it is 1·7 times as dense as lead and penetrates hard armour. The fact that it is also pyrophoric means that intense heat is generated on impact, creating vast clouds of dust and smoke and distributing long-lived particles over the whole environment which are both radioactive and chemically toxic. It has been claimed that the level of radioactivity from DU particles is insignificant, but there is growing evidence that damage from particles inhaled or ingested and lodged within the body is much greater than that sustained from surface contamination.
There is in fact much that we don’t know. DU was first used on a large scale in Iraq in 1991. It was widely used there in 2003 (a lot of it in urban areas) and has probably been used in Afghanistan, but the US has repeatedly refused to release precise locations.
There is a good deal of evidence from animal studies and test-tube studies that the alpha particles emitted by DU are an extremely damaging form of ionising radiation. (It is estimated that chromosome damage from alpha particles is about 100 times greater than that caused by an equivalent amount of other radiation.) Ionising radiation is a human carcinogen at every dose level, not just at high doses. There is no threshold dose and any alpha particle can cause irreparable genetic damage. So, it is not surprising that DU has been linked with leukæmia, lymphoma, birth defects and a host of other health problems. But as there is no epidemiological proof that these links are conclusively those of cause and effect, politicians such as Gordon Brown are able to stand up in the House of Commons and claim that “there is no scientific evidence that DU is harmful”!
Research continues, and WDC/CND made a donation last year to the ‘tooth project’ which is collecting Iraqi children’s milk teeth for analysis, but while Iraq continues to be so unstable and dangerous it is extremely unlikely that definitive epidemiological data will be forthcoming. Meanwhile the campaign against DU must be carried forward using the ‘precautionary principle’: DU is a complex subject, there is little fresh data, and ill-health may be caused by other environmental factors, but we don’t know what the long term effects will be and given existing laboratory evidence it seems foolhardy to continue to allow battlefield use of DU. It is not necessary to make exaggerated claims and Doug Weir felt that these can actually be damaging to the campaign.
It was encouraging to hear that the “bottom has dropped out of the overseas sales market” for DU (because of NGO pressure) and a salutary reminder that although 20 states possess DU, only two use it in a big way — the US and Britain. As with our campaign against nuclear weapons, it is important to be aware of the international context when listening to the claims of our own government about the needs of national security.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has launched an ambitious new project called “US Leadership for a Nuclear Weapons-Free World; An Appeal to the Next President of the United States”, hoping to collect one million signatures to send to the next president in January 2009. The Appeal reads “I call upon the next President of the United States to make a world free of nuclear weapons an urgent priority and to assure US leadership to realise this goal...” Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama have already signed, and anyone can add their name online at http://www.wagingpeace.org/appeal
Campaigning against nuclear weapons in the United States is a thankless task, with no national campaign comparable with CND, and an even louder ‘might is right’ philosophy than that of our own government. We have signed the Appeal on behalf of WDC/CND and suggest that members do what they can to publicise the initiative. For further details see http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Campaign/President.html
“... the misfortune is that in their hurry to go to war, men begin with blows, and then when a reverse comes upon them, have recourse to words.”
Thucydides, Book 1
The London Borough of Merton has sponsored an imaginative “pilot” peace project with two participating schools, Dundonald (primary) and Ricards Lodge (secondary), led by Marianne Zeck, a performance artist from St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.
“The scene is a garden filled with flowers, trees, butterflies and other animals. Birds of conflict strut into the garden.... The animals are afraid of the birds. The Rainbow Bird of Peace enters the garden and offers protection to the animals. The birds and animals are reconciled and are able to sit alongside each other.” The younger children enjoyed making their paper flowers and butterflies and learning how to create the rhythms on the African drums which accompanied the performance. The teenage girls from Ricards Lodge High School were given the opportunity to explore the complex issues behind conflict resolution and read aloud some of their own creative writing that the project had inspired. Merton Council is to be congratulated on its initiative which we hope will be extended in future years to involve all schools.
St Ethelburga’s is one of the oldest mediæval churches in the City, surviving both the Great Fire and the Blitz, but in April 1993 it was devastated by the Bishopsgate IRA bomb. After being completely rebuilt, it reopened in 2002 as the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, hosting public workshops, seminars, exhibitions and cultural events, all devoted to exploring the relationship between faith and conflict, and offering training in peacemaking skills. Visit http://www.stethelburgas.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7496 1610 for further information.
We hope to see as many of you as possible at the Community Centre on Saturday May 17th, both as helpers and as customers. Please encourage friends and neighbours to come along. Pass on the enclosed flyer to someone else, or display it on your front gate. Make a cake or ask around for donations of plants, books and bric-à-brac (it would be a great help if these could be delivered to 43 Wilton Grove by May 10th so they can be sorted: let us know if you need transport). This is our major fund-raiser of the year and it depends on the goodwill of the entire membership to make it a success.
On May 18th CND is organising a protest at Lakenheath, the largest US air base in Europe. This houses up to 110 US nuclear bombs, is involved in the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan — with cluster bombs — and has been suggested as a possible base to house interceptor missiles for the US National Missile Defence project.
The event starts at 1pm and includes a bus tour of the base, speakers, entertainment, a symbolic blockade and a teas and cake stall. People are invited to bring dolls, ribbons, cardboard cut-outs and banners to decorate the fence.
To support this event, London Region CND is organising transport from London. This will depart from the Embankment (near Embankment tube) at 10am and from the CND office, 162 Holloway Road N7 (near Holloway Road tube) at 10·30am. The transport will leave Lakenheath at 4pm to return. Fares will be £12 or £7 unwaged if tickets are purchased by May 9th; after that £14 or £9 unwaged.
To book, send a cheque made out to “LRCND” for the tickets required to David Polden, LRCND, 162 Holloway Road, N7 8DQ, giving your address and phone number and specifying whether you intend to pick up the transport at Embankment or the CND office — please book early to avoid disappointment. For info contact 020 7607 2302.
Many WDC/CND members must feel a degree of frustration with the limitations of the United Nations as presently constituted, and perhaps may be interested in joining this small but vigorous campaign for United Nations institutional reform. An effective and credible UN is our best hope for international peace and security, and for fulfilling the aspirations of the Charter (“saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war”).
Action for UN Renewal’s next public meeting will be in Oxford on Wednesday May 14th in the Town Hall (St Aldate’s), 6·30pm, with speakers Tony Benn and the Lord Mayor of Oxford: “Five years of war in Iraq: what rôle can the United Nations play in building peace and security?”
For further information and membership details contact Vijay Mehta on 020 7377 2111 or visit http://www.action-for-un-renewal.org/
This exhibition has been put together to mark the 50th Anniversary of the founding of CND in 1958, using material from the CND collections at LSE Archives. On Tuesday May 6th there will be a special round-table discussion and private viewing for CND members organised by History Today magazine and LSE. (Book by contacting Pinar Sevinclidir at History Today on 020 7534 8000: tickets £10.)
Plans are underway for the exhibition to tour different UK venues to bring the history of CND to a new audience, and we shall be exploring the possibility of bringing it to Wimbledon. The text of the exhibition together with a selection of images is available online at http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/archive/projects/cnd_project.htm
Nuclear weapons are the symptom of power which treats human beings as disposable pawns in a political contest. To abolish nuclear weapons we must use the tools we, as a species, have developed to permit our living together and our very survival. One of these tools is ‘good faith’. Between individuals this means making promises which we intend to keep, and dealing with people honestly without secret agendas.
Good faith has a vital rôle in international relations. In 1996 the International Court of Justice confirmed that all states are legally obliged to negotiate nuclear disarmament in good faith. Scrapping nuclear weapons and the human and technological infrastructure which supports them isn’t just a good idea. It’s a legal duty.
How are the nuclear-armed states measuring up to the good faith obligation? Not very well it seems. They are renewing their nuclear weapons and expanding their rôle in war fighting. Disarmament negotiations haven’t even started.
The framework for a nuclear-free world is already in place. In 1997 Costa Rica submitted a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention to the United Nations, which has recently been updated. The ICJ can bring more legal pressure to bear on the minority of nuclear weapons states to work seriously for a Nuclear Weapons Convention. Support the World Court Coalition by signing the Affirmation of Freedom from Nuclear Weapons at http://www.abolition2000europe.org
George Farebrother, Campaign Spring 2008
The victory of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade against BAE and the Government in the High Court (see April newsletter) was a truly momentous achievement on the part of a very small organisation. The government acted unlawfully when they halted the corruption investigation into BAE’s Al Yamamah arms deals with Saudi Arabia: “No one is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice” was the uncompromising conclusion of the judges. For news on the Government’s appeal, see the CAAT website: http://www.caat.org.uk/ A full report of the judgement, the Government response and CAAT’s next steps will be included in the next edition of CAATnews. If you would like to receive a copy of this bi-monthly magazine contact Joanna (8543 0362) to reserve one of the WDC/CND allocation, or sign up directly by visiting http://www.caat.org.uk/caatnews/subscription
This is a one-day workshop at Wandsworth Quaker Meeting House (59 Wandsworth High Street, SW18) led by Marian Liebmann, an expert in restorative justice, and WDC/CND member Linda Murgatroyd, of the Art and Spirituality Network. They write “This workshop offers an opportunity to use art to explore how conflict can arise unintentionally through differences of expectations, experience, culture and interpretation”. Although the workshop will not be addressing specific conflicts “the insights gained may help us understand how conflicts arise and so help us respond better in future”.
All materials are provided and no prior experience is needed. The cost of a place is £25 but please contact the organisers if money is an obstacle. For further information and bookings see http://www.artandspirituality.net or contact Linda on 020 8946 8365.
A large print version of the Newsletter is always available — contact Joanna on 8543 0362 to arrange.