COMMENT by Geoffrey Smith

With the collapse of the Soviet Union many of us thought that at long last we would see an end to the nuclear weapons race. Instead we have seen a massive increase in smaller countries seeking ways of producing their own nuclear warheads. The war in Iraq was fought on the false premise that they had a nuclear facility and weapons of mass destruction. George W. Bush appeared hell bent on targeting Iran as another country wanting to produce warheads. North Korea, a small country which could not have been a threat, certainly not to the United States, was also targeted as being part of an axis of evil. Certainly in the case of Iraq it was totally untrue and it has now been proved that it was simply an extension of the United States brand of imperialism and their desire to ensure that they had access to the oil in the Middle East.

When we look at a country the size of North Korea without any major natural resources one wonders why they should be at all interested in having a nuclear strike facility. The answer is simple: it is because of the bullying tactics of the United States. Bullies usually are bigger and have more punch than the people they bully. So it follows that the only way smaller countries can compete against bullyboy tactics is to have the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb.

Since the election of Barack Obama and his inauguration comments that the United States will be a friend to all, our hope is that his opinions will be deeply held and his words not just political rhetoric; that he will ensure that his country does not again destabilise the world by making threats and attacking other countries. Everyone knows that Israel has a nuclear capability and this in itself threatens other Middle East countries, and President Obama’s major priority must be to bring peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis through negotiation. Israel must end the blockade and pull back from the territory that it has held since 1967. An independent Palestine and an independent Israel must become a reality. Israelis and Arabs can live peacefully side by side; it is politicians and their desire for power that creates the problem.

One would have thought that in the 21st century major countries would have moved away from tribal thinking. What they now do is use religion as their tribal base. Disaffected Muslim leaders inflame the passions of ordinary people by laying the blame on the Jews or the West. The West and the Jews in turn speak of the Muslim community as being terrorists. There is little wonder why young men and women from the Muslim and black communities in Britain feel that they are not part of the United Kingdom when they have an 80% chance of being stopped in the street and questioned under the terrorist laws by the police. Under New Labour we have seen greater restrictions on our liberty and this does nothing other than alienate a notable percentage of our population. Sadly, unless there is mass pressure for change, one cannot foresee any reinstatement of our freedom of movement.


All of us were very upset by the loss of life during the brutal Israeli bombing and invasion of Gaza and many of us were present at the demonstrations at the Israeli and Egyptian embassies and in Hyde Park. Wimbledon Vigil for Peace bore witness locally to our distress and desire for peace. Maisie Carter has sent us the following account of an initiative taken through her trade union:

Merton NUT, at its last meeting, passed a resolution strongly condemning the Israeli bombing of Palestine, calling for an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated peace. That resolution was soon out of date. The bombing had escalated to full scale invasion, the figure of 360 deaths mentioned in the resolution has risen to 1,400, a third of them children.

Such is the ferocity of the Israeli attacks that the United Nations has called for a probe into the “spectre of war crimes”; Amnesty International say they have evidence that the internationally condemned phosphorous bombs, which burst on contact with oxygen, have been used against civilians. Now there are alarming reports about the use of a DIME (dense inert metal explosive) weapon which is causing terrible unexplained injuries to Palestinian victims and may cause cancer to those who survive.

Merton NUT’s resolution was sent to the two Merton MPs, to Gordon Brown, the NUT Executive and Merton & Sutton Trades Union Council. We shall continue to press for a lasting ceasefire and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. Those interested in donating can contact Medical Aid for Palestine at

Essay Competition

The British Pugwash Group is running an essay competition in memory of founder member Joseph Rotblat with a £500 first prize. The competition is open to all UK residents under the age of 30 (at the date of submission) and the deadline is March 30th.

There are three alternative topics to choose from, two of which deal with rather technical aspects of nuclear disarmament, but the third option (“How do the social responsibilities of scientists differ from those of others?”) would be accessible to any intelligent student or sixth- former. So please pass this information on to friends and family and to any contacts you may have in schools and colleges.

Details from:

British Pugwash Group
Ground Floor Flat
63a Great Russell St
London WC1B 3BJ
020 7405 6661

‘The Strangest Dream’

Our monthly film showings continue on February 22nd with ‘The Strangest Dream’, a new Canadian film about Joseph Rotblat, the history of nuclear weapons and the efforts of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs — an international movement Rotblat co-founded — to halt nuclear proliferation.

“The story takes us from the site of the first nuclear test in New Mexico to Cairo, where contemporary Pugwash scientists meet under the cloud of nuclear proliferation, and to Hiroshima, where we see survivors of the first atomic attack. Featuring interviews with contemporaries of Rotblat, members of the Pugwash movement and passionate public figures including Senator Romeo Dallaire, ‘The Strangest Dream’ demonstrates the renewed threat represented by nuclear weapons, while encouraging hope through the example of morally engaged scientists and citizens.”

(National Film Board of Canada)

Sunday 22nd February, 4·30pm at Brigitte’s house: 28 Conway Rd SW20 (between Pepys Rd and Arterberry Rd: Raynes Park station or buses along Worple Road).

Barack Obama and banning the bomb

Barack Obama has announced that the development of new nuclear weapons in the United States will be stopped, in a break with previous plans for a new generation of warheads, and the new administration is to seek “dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material” while working with Russia to take the missiles of both sides off their current hair-trigger alert status. Obama will also accelerate existing programmes to secure nuclear stockpiles and return fissile material from former Soviet satellite states back to Russia in order to convert it into nuclear fuel which can then be consumed in reactors, and he intends to push for a global, verifiable ban on the further production of fissile material.

The new administration has announced its active intention to pursue the goal of “a nuclear-free world” in the long term with the aim of eliminating nuclear weapons via bilateral and multilateral disarmament, although the US reaffirms its wish to retain “a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist”. Technically it would still be possible for Obama to continue the “reliable replacement warhead” development programme to maintain the offensive power of the US nuclear arsenal, since such replacement warheads would not count as ‘new’; US Strategic Command wants better bombs and warned last month that as China and Russia were already upgrading their warheads “time is not on our side”. And there has as yet been no mention of any formal US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an issue featured in Obama’s election campaign; a lobby exists among US officials in favour of resumed nuclear testing.

Future international and diplomatic developments will prove whether Obama is serious about pushing through his avowed aim of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, or whether even a cautious approach may become mired in the inertia of vested interests and public opinion at home. His emphasis on proliferation issues is welcome and may represent a possible route to selling disarmament to the American populace while helping reassure states such as Iran. It may even focus renewed attention on our own government’s Trident replacement scheme, which threatens to breach the NPT. Cautious optimism is indicated but we will have to wait and see.

(The Guardian, 21.1.2009/22.1.2009)

Dates for your Diaries

Two very important advance dates:

Saturday May 9th
Fête of the Earth
Thursday June 4th
Bruce Kent and Kate Hudson will be speaking at a public meeting in Wimbledon

Doctor Atomic’ ENO, London Coliseum

February 25th sees the UK premiere of a new opera by John Adams (composer of ‘Nixon in China’) about the creation of the first atomic bomb and the human relationships behind it. According to English National Opera publicity, “Adams’ profoundly beautiful ‘Doctor Atomic’ focuses on the moral dilemmas of J. Robert Oppenheimer as he becomes ‘the destroyer of worlds’.”

Please get in touch with Joanna (8543 0362) as soon as possible if you would like to join a WDC/CND group trip. We shall be booking £16 balcony tickets and the performance starts at 7pm.

Taking Liberties: the Struggle for Britain’s Freedoms and Rights

February sees the final month of this impressive exhibition at the British Library, presenting inspiring artefacts from Magna Carta to the Human Rights Act. During half term (16–20th Feb) there will be free family drop-in sessions every day 10·30–11·30 and 14·30–15·30 with Sef Townsend telling stories and legends about people who struggled for freedom (suitable for children aged 7–14 years). The British Library is at 96 Euston Rd (Kings Cross/St Pancras or Euston stations). Our thanks go to Edwin for bringing this exhibition to general attention.

‘No to NATO’: 3–5 April, Strasbourg

As NATO leaders gather in Strasbourg to celebrate NATO’s 60th Anniversary, anti-war and anti-nuclear groups from around the world will be staging an ‘alternative conference’ demanding an end to NATO military aggression and further expansion. CND and the Stop the War Coalition are running coaches to Strasbourg leaving London on 3rd April at 9am and returning on Sunday 5th April. Seats cost £70 but we have decided to offer a substantial discount on this for any adventurous spirits prepared to take the WDC/CND banner to represent us at the demonstration. Please contact Joanna (020 8543 0362) if you are interested.

Campaign Against Depleted Uranium

Last December the UN General Assembly passed, by a huge majority, a resolution requesting its agencies (World Health Organisation, International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Environment Programme) to “update their positions” on the health and environmental effects of uranium weapons.

The campaigning group CADU (Campaign Against Depleted Uranium) suggests that this should go some way towards redressing the focus of research on the DU exposure of veterans rather than the civilian populations living in contaminated areas, and in any case the text reflects “increasing international concern over the long-term impact of uranium contamination in post-conflict environments and military ranges”. States are requested to submit reports and opinions on DU to the UN Secretary General and thus far 19 states have done so, many of them backing a ‘precautionary approach’.

The US, UK, France and Israel were the only countries voting against the December 2008 Resolution: there were 34 abstentions and 141 votes in favour. The UK government continues to claim that as “there is no definitive evidence that DU munitions have had a significant impact on local populations or veterans of conflicts in which these munitions have been used”, DU is a “legitimate weapon” and UK armed forces “only use DU munitions in strict accordance with International Humanitarian Law”. CADU suggests that DU does in fact breach a number of principles of Humanitarian Law and points out that as the December Resolution called for nothing more than the updating of the three UN agencies’ positions the absence of ‘definitive evidence’ of harm was no reason to oppose it. In fact, says CADU, “the UK effectively voted against scientific enquiry and can only have done so because it was afraid of what might be discovered.”

(CADU News Issue 30, Jan 2009)

Normal service resumed

Seen in Washington DC: “Dear World, We, your top-quality supplier of ideals of democracy, would like to apologise for your 2001–2008 interruption in service... the software responsible was replaced 4 November, and we expect it to be fully functional on 20 January. We look forward to resuming full service and hope to improve in years to come. Sincerely, The United States of America” (The Guardian, 28.1.2009)

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