How I’ve longed to write those words for the past 50 years or so, since I first heard about CND and its ‘Ban The Bomb’ campaign. Now, at long last, there is a US President, Barack Obama, who seriously seems to want to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
The process of reducing the vast nuclear stockpiles of the USA and USSR was given a boost by the end of the Cold War, which really occurred before the tragic collapse of the Soviet Union, during the Gorbachov years of perestroika and glasnost. But it has stalled since, and even seemed to go into reverse with the last Bush administration.
Not only do the USA and Russia need to bilaterally reduce their nuclear stockpiles, and eliminate them altogether as soon as possible, but the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty needs to be implemented in full. This means all countries renouncing nuclear weapons, and those that already have acquired them getting rid of them. Any countries willing to give them up unilaterally should do so as soon as possible.
The facts are, as Obama and all military men know, nuclear weapons are militarily useless. At the height of the Cold War the stand-off between East and West was known appropriately as MAD — Mutually Assured Destruction. In fact the USA and USSR could have destroyed each other, and the rest of the world, many times over. But these clinical sounding acronyms disguise the horror of blowing to atomic dust, burning alive and causing lingering deaths by cancers of millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children, not to mention animal and plant life. People are still suffering and dying from the effects of the two small atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years ago this August, and babies were being born deformed for years afterwards.
Nuclear weapons are little more than dangerous status symbols which did not prevent America losing the Vietnam war, did not help the Soviet Union in its Afghanistan escapade, did not stop Argentina from reclaiming the Malvinas, nor assist Britain to grab them back and rename them the Falkland Islands. They certainly did not prevent 9/11, and the very presence of nuclear weapons technology and material makes the possibility of terrorists getting hold of a crude nuclear device a very real possibility.
Obama wants to lock all this material and technology away, and start the nuclear disarmament process worldwide. That the DPRK (North Korea) chose the same day as Obama announced his plans to launch a space satellite playing jolly revolutionary tunes into orbit (press reports say the attempt failed and that the rocket landed in the Pacific Ocean) was seen by some as a provocation. In 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the military implications were immediately picked up by the world; if they could put a satellite in orbit, they could deliver a nuclear missile anywhere on the globe.
But the DPRK is not about to send nuclear missiles raining down on Hawaii or Alaska, even if it could. This latest launch may genuinely be an attempt to put the musical praises of the departed Great Leader Kim Il-Sung and his ailing son Kim Jong-Il into space, though feeding the people of the Democratic People’s Republic would seem to be a much higher priority. The real problem is not the rockets, but the warheads which might be put on them, and this applies to all countries.
In CND we had a song called ‘The Bug-Eyed Martian’. It told of a Martian visitor to our planet who discovered we were putting satellites into orbit, came down to Earth to investigate, but went back to his home planet reassured everything was OK because ‘all those great big rocket-ships are loaded up with atom bombs, they’ll never make it alive’ said he.
Whether interplanetary/interdimensional civilizations are watching to see whether we destroy ourselves or not, it is high time we grew up and stopped playing with fire. Time the boys put away their dangerous toys forever. Thank goodness we at last have a US President who realizes this, and who is determined, as he has said, to make other nations follow suit, including the UK which is one of the few nuclear powers which has actually increased its nuclear stockpiles since the year 2000. As the US has complete control over the Trident missile technology, they can force us to scrap our so-called ‘independent nuclear deterrent’.
All nuclear weapons ever did was bring us very close to a nuclear holocaust on at least two occasions; the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuba crisis the next year. The Obama presidency is the best chance we have of getting rid of these weapons for good.
Professor Mark Almond (Lecturer in Modern History, Oriel College Oxford) who was the final speaker of the day, delivered a brief and punchy address entitled “Sixty years on, is NATO making the world safer?” The short answer to the question posed was of course ‘No’, but Professor Almond explored the whole changing military and diplomatic role of NATO since the disappearance of its original raison d‘être with the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact.
The internal politics of NATO are very far removed from its public face, and these internal political considerations bear almost no relationship to military ones. With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO bureaucrats and planners were forced to invent a new justification for their continued existence (a parallel dissolution of NATO sadly never having been given serious consideration).
In Professor Almond’s view, the carefully fostered public concept of NATO as an “alliance of democracies” is fundamentally misleading. Western defence and foreign policy are the final areas of ‘Realpolitik’ with all decision-making determined by the inflexible professional core personnel with elected politicians “simply floating on top” and simulating a degree of control which they do not in fact possess.
Russia has a long history of perceiving threat from the West, and the expansion of NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries is in danger of transforming an era of ideological competition into a far more dangerous conflict situation. There is now considerable anti-western feeling among the ordinary people of the Eastern bloc: ordinary Russians who had hoped that the defeat of the Communists would lead to re-integration with the outside world have become disillusioned, and this plays into the hands of a leadership which wants to assert Russian power for their own political ends.
Modern Russia is never going to be a military threat to the West: the scale of combined NATO/US military power sees to that. However, NATO exercises coordinated from Brussels, plus eastward NATO interventions are perceived by Russia as being directed at them.
The NATO arsenal is a sophisticated military machine originally designed to fight a new World War, and its continued existence creates an ever-present temptation to put it into use, including — potentially — NATO nuclear fire-power. (“The arguments used to justify maintaining such a huge arsenal are reminiscent of the Imperial Age”.) We are told that there are new dangers arising from irrational, unstable opponents who cannot be “deterred”. In effect, this stands the whole justification for deterrence on its head, greatly increasing the chance of reactive nuclear attack.
The current world financial crisis is centred in the US and UK and raises questions about the sustainability of Western military dominance (“The apparent dominance of the US is based on a very narrow economic pillar”).
Professionalisation of the army in itself brings new dangers to democracy because such an army becomes “easier to use” by a political class who might be more wary of involving a conscripted force. The only positive thing to come out of the Iraq War may be that carnage and chaos have caused planners to be more cautious in relation to Iran. We should also remember the impact on the US health system of the large number of wounded US army personnel: medical progress means that survival rates for wounded US soldiers are considerably higher than during Vietnam.
We are living at a dangerous moment in history. Economic crisis can offer governments the temptation to unite their peoples against a ‘common threat’. Relations with Russia are becoming strained in the Arctic where the US and Canada are competing with Russia for resources which are becoming more accessible because of the loss of Arctic ice. The US has chosen to put military aid into Georgia following the clash in the Caucasus in summer 2008. There are problems of instability in the Balkans where substantial Russian minority populations are denied voting rights.
The “death of neutrality” is now almost complete in Europe (“if you are not with us you are against us”) and this is leading NATO towards the risk of military — and possibly nuclear — conflict. Sooner or later we may discover that NATO expansion represents a powder keg and that we have sleepwalked into war: a somewhat bleak conclusion, made all the more plausible by a general Western lack of public involvement and interest in NATO and a lack of awareness amongst politicians which challenges the whole of democracy.
Report by Joanna Bazley
CND National Chair Kate Hudson writes:
“We are now launching the next phase of the No Trident Replacement campaign. This is timed to coincide with the lead up to the MoD’s first progress report on the replacement process (known as the Initial Gate), due in September 2009. It is at this point that the government will decide to move onto the next stage of the submarine replacement process. We would like to use this milestone as an opportunity to further raise public awareness about Trident Replacement and the need for nuclear disarmament and to put pressure on the government to discuss the Initial Gate report in Parliament, thus revisiting the decision to rearm.”
Excellent new campaigning materials have been produced by CND. Visit the CND stall at the Fête of the Earth to collect leaflets for friends, neighbours and trade union colleagues. Britain is in the middle of an appalling economic crisis. It is difficult to find anybody who thinks that wasting up to £76 billion on replacing Britain’s nuclear weapons system is money well spent. The political climate has changed since the parliamentary vote of March 2007 and increasing numbers of senior political and military figures are making the case for global nuclear abolition. We are pushing at an open door when we argue that the UK cannot simultaneously proceed with replacing Trident, ensuring that Britain is nuclear armed to 2050 and beyond. You will find a postcard for your M.P. enclosed with this Newsletter. Please send it — even if you do nothing else.
After the vote on Trident replacement in March 2007, Parliament was told they would have further chances to debate the development of the new nuclear weapons system. The “Initial Gate” decision will be taken in the autumn after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has published its first progress report in September and we need to lobby for a full Parliamentary debate. There are indications that the Government may be planning to bypass Parliament by proceeding to the next phase during the summer recess and this must be strenuously resisted: ask your M.P. to sign Early Day Motion 660 http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Campaign/Replacement.html which asks for the Initial Gate decision to be delayed until Parliament is in session and can be presented with the MoD’s report for scrutiny. A decision by ministers behind closed doors is not acceptable.