COMMENT by James Arnold

Obama and Disarmament

In September Obama received copious praise for his role in securing the UN Security Council resolution on nuclear disarmament. The language of the resolution is certainly laudable (though it is perhaps worth stressing that it is a non-binding statement). However, there are signs that the present US administration’s commitment to the “common global good” isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

What are we to make, for example, of the less than laudable stance the US has taken on the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)? As critically reported by Amnesty International and Oxfam, the US is planning to amend the agreement process on the treaty, so that rather than a majority it would have to be accepted by consensus. This of course gives governments a veto power, which will result in a considerably weaker treaty.

To be sure, conventional weapons kill vastly greater numbers than WMD - about 2,000 people die per day as a direct result of armed violence, and many more suffer and die from the indirect effect of such weapons, but it is WMD which have the unique potential to bring about a doomsday scenario, and here there is a serious question to address: namely, is the US strategy consistent with the praiseworthy anti-proliferation ideals espoused by Obama?

Iran has been the focus of American concern, despite the fact that there is no conclusive proof that they are developing nuclear weapons. A far more significant threat comes from the only three countries not to have signed on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT): India, Pakistan, and Israel. All three countries are known to have nuclear arsenals, and all have developed them with the involvement of the US. What is the Obama administration’s stance on this much more grave threat? Turning first to Israel, we can note the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution calling on Israel to accede to the NPT. The resolution  passed, despite strong opposition from the US and Europe, with the US ambassador calling the resolution “redundant” and “highly politicized”. Israel refused to cooperate, protesting that the resolution singled it out - unfair, apparently, despite Israel’s singular status in the Middle East as both the only nuclear power, and the only country not signed on to the NPT. (The IAEA resolution seems to have gone virtually unreported by major US and UK newspapers.)

Another inconvenient fact is India’s announcement just a few days after the UN Security Council resolution that it can now build nuclear weapons with the same destructive capacity as the world’s most advanced arsenals, with yields up to 200 kilotons. However, as reported by The Economic Times (India’s major financial daily), the Obama administration has assured the Indian government that the Indo-US nuclear deal is not endangered by the disarmament resolution; a fact that should cause consternation in those seriously committed to bringing about nuclear disarmament, but was quietly passed over by the Western media.

The US relation to Pakistan’s nuclear program is less clear, but it is not implausible that part of the billions of dollars in US aid to Pakistan will be diverted to building up its nuclear infrastructure, the expansion of which was confirmed by Admiral Mike Mullen (chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) earlier this year. US officials have said that none of the assistance provided to Pakistan is specifically directed at expanding its nuclear facilities, but have acknowledged that “the billions in new proposed American aid ... could free other money for Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, at a time when Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program is facing a budget crunch for the first time”. It’s worth highlighting the judgement of the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, that “of course, with enough pressure, all this could be preventable” — pressure, we can add, that Obama has been unwilling to apply.

The US is at present deeply embroiled in the proliferation of nuclear weapons and insulation of the arms trade from meaningful regulation. In this situation, talk of Obama’s “sense of the common global good” can only be a barrier to understanding, and must be avoided by those seriously concerned by the existential threat posed by both conventional and nuclear weapons. 

Any Old Badges?

CND is now selling old badges as ‘collector’s items’ at £3·50 each and this is proving a profitable fund-raising venture. Please have a look at your own old collections and see if you have anything to contribute to the CND stock.

New Year Resolutions

Before allowing Christmas to take over your lives for the next few weeks, please take a few moments to take three practical actions for peace.

  1. Renew your subscription (renewal forms sent last month but a covering note will be fine). Rates are unchanged at £4/£2 and should be sent to Treasurer Julie Higgins, 129 Chestnut Road, London SW12 8JH. Cheques payable to WDC/CND — extra donations very welcome!
  2. Sign the enclosed postcard and send to the Foreign Secretary. We must demonstrate maximum possible grassroots support for a Nuclear Weapons Convention and profound opposition to Trident replacement. If you can use extra cards for friends and relations please ask.
  3. Put the date of our Barn Dance on March 12th into your 2010 diary and take every opportunity to publicise this fun and fundraising evening. We have 80 tickets to sell: send your orders to Joanna (8543 0362 or

Merton Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Since its formation earlier this year, Merton Palestine Solidarity Campaign has grown from strength to strength, the hard work of the group members winning widespread support from individuals and organisations, including Merton & Sutton TUC and Merton NUT.

The recent Benefit evening attracted an audience of 150 and raised apprioximately £2000 towards the cost of the ambulance that Nicci, a local and National member, will be co-driving to Gaza in December. The ambulance is part of a convoy of aid organised by the Palestine Solidarity Convoy Coordinating team and will be delivering medical and humanitarian aid to those suffering from the Israeli occupation. It is dedicated to Dr. Ehab Alshair, killed in the fighting in Gaza, and will be decorated with the Merton Palestine Solidarity logo.

Donations from supporters, including £50 from Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND, continue to flow in and now amount to over £4000. The ambulance has been purchased and volunteers are now busy filling it with medical supplies, etc.

Plymouth demo: Stop the Nuclear Dump

It was a long way to Plymouth at the end of October, but we felt that it was important to support our colleagues in the southwest who are fighting the nuclear menace in the centre of their city, Tony Staunton of Plymouth CND having made a powerful appeal at the CND conference.

The new Vanguard class of Trident nuclear submarines is overhauled and refuelled at the Devonport dockyard, with resulting discharges of radioactive waste into the River Tamar. Tritium, in particular, has been linked to cancers and birth defects, but as a ‘low energy beta emitter’, is classified as ‘safe’, under the government-set ‘safe limits model for human exposure’ (challenged by a number of eminent scientists, led by Dr. Chris Busby). Additionally, Plymouth faces the prospect of becoming the UK nuclear scrapyard for redundant nuclear-powered submarines. Several are laid-up already, and the whole fleet will be retired in the next ten to fifteen years. The private corporation that runs the dockyard (Babcock Marine) is pressing for permission to cut up the nuclear reactor components on the spot, and store the resulting waste at the dockyards: obviously a more attractive immediate commercial prospect than the alternative option of removing the reactors intact, storing to allow radioactive decay, and consigning to a deep underground repository (as yet unbuilt).

Campaigning in Plymouth has historically been hard work, because of the huge importance of the dockyards to employment, but Plymouth CND reports a great increase in local support. ‘Green jobs’ using the engineering resources of the dockyard to exploit the unrivalled wind and wave power of the southwest would provide Plymouth with a safer, cleaner, more sustainable future.

Visit the website for some spectacular photos, and a personal account by member Jill Beauchamp:

London CND Conference

All are invited to the London Region AGM (Sunday 17th January 2010 10am–5pm: Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn) which provides us with our annual opportunity to network with other London activists. This year we are promised two inspirational speakers: Ken Livingstone (12 noon) and Bruce Kent (1·50pm). The morning will be devoted to business and elections and the remainder of the afternoon to workshops.

Guns and Global Warming

Our ‘War, Poverty and the Environment’ meeting on November 10th was very poorly attended (disappointing in view of the highly topical subject matter) but those who came were rewarded by excellent speakers and wide-ranging discussion; no easy solutions but lots of stimulating new thoughts.

We had chosen the date of the meeting deliberately, in view of the declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2001 that 6th November each year should be the ‘International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict’, and with Armistice Day on November 11th focussing our thoughts on the human horrors of the Great War in Europe.

Frank Jackson of the World Disarmament Campaign spoke about military expenditure and conflict in the context of climate change: the roots of conflict often lying in environmental factors, the environmental impact of conflict (local and global effects, direct and indirect) and the massive diversion of resources, expertise and money in the direction of military ‘solutions’ to local and global problems; resources which could be so much more constructively used in tackling the inescapable challenge of climate change.

Frank offered some interesting statistics, e.g. the US military is the largest single corporate consumer of fossil fuels with the war in Iraq 2003-7 responsible for 141 million metric tonnes CO2 (similar to a smallish country like Peru, or equivalent to 25 million cars on the road). He reminded us that military emissions abroad are not included in the national figures when governments are declaring their ‘carbon footprint’ and that (absurdly) the post-war repair of destruction is counted as ‘economic growth’!

The phrase ‘military industrial complex’, coined by US president Eisenhower in the 1950s is in Frank’s view even truer today, with the US economy now a permanent ‘war economy’: a massive misuse of scientific and technological resources.

Global investments in renewable energy total less than expenditure on the Iraq war. Unfortunately, the promised speaker from War on Want was ill and unable to spell out the connection between war and poverty, particularly in the Third World, but Dave Cullen, of the Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, spoke about DU as “a particular niche of warfare that impacts on the environment”, clearly explaining the general scientific background and updating us on the current status of the DU campaign. This works on the ‘precautionary principle’: it is hard to be certain of the causes of increased rates of cancers and birth defects in the absence of large-scale health studies in conflict zones, but DU certainly has the potential to cause these ill-effects, and remains a prime suspect in Gulf War Syndrome. DU has a four and a half billion year half-life, and “this material does not want to be in the environment!”

There is a definite feeling that the DU campaign is moving towards success. The European Parliament has this year formally rejected uranium weapons, and the UN General Assembly has called for an update from its monitoring bodies (WHO, IAEA and the UN Environment Programme). Dave was asked about DU testing in Scotland. This takes place against hessian targets in the Solway Firth. Of course, DU is valued by the military for its penetration of hard targets, and it is penetration of hard targets that creates radioactive dust. So by avoiding hard targets in testing, the MoD is in effect acknowledging a great deal. Despite MoD precautions, one can safely assume that DU testing is playing its part in making the Irish Sea the most radioactive sea in the world.

Esperanto: the international language

UNA colleague Annice Szrajbman has long been a passionate advocate of Esperanto, used in at least 120 countries, opening up a world of international understanding on the basis of equality and respect for all nations and cultures. “Across the world you can use Esperanto on an equal footing with other people: an alternative to globalised cultural domination that discriminates against speakers of less-populous, former colonial or minority languages.” It is also much easier to learn — estimated as six times easier than French, for example! As a guide, it takes only 10–12 lessons to cover the total grammar of Esperanto, whereas for other languages after 12 lessons you will only just have started.

Annice is trying to set up a ‘school’ at her house in Mitcham and suggests that an initial course of six lessons might be geared to vocabulary related to peace and disarmament. Please contact Annice if you are interested: 020 8648 3939 or a.szrajbman@btinternet.c....

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