I attended the CND preview of the new documentary “Beating the Bomb” at the Prince Charles Cinema near Leicester Square on April 24th, and having been active in the peace movement since 1961, I found this history of CND and where it is going very interesting.
If I have one minor criticism it is that the early days of CND were rather skimmed over after the first Aldermaston March in 1958. It was the 1960s when I became active, and indeed worked at CND Head Office for six years from 1962–1968. These were crucial times for the movement, and many lessons from that period need to be remembered today.
First there was the split between the direct actionists and those who believed in using only legal means of protest. CND fell into the latter category at that time, so CND’s first and only President, the philosopher and humanist Bertrand Russell, resigned and helped form the direct action Committee of 100 with Canon L. John Collins continuing as Chair of CND.
None of this was mentioned in the film, but it is important as CND itself has now adopted direct action. It was huge direct actions and civil disobedience demonstrations, such as the massive sit-down involving thousands of protesters (including myself) in Trafalgar Square in September 1961, which, with the Aldermaston March and other protests, had enormous publicity and impact at the time.
My first demo was the Committee of 100’s first demonstration in February 1961 when I heard Bertrand Russell speak from the plinth in Trafalgar Square, then lead a march down Whitehall to the Ministry of Defence, pin a notice of protest to the door and lead a sit-down protest outside, while the Empire Loyalists (forerunners of the National Front and British National Party) heckled the protesters from a loudspeaker van.
The Cuba Missile Crisis of the following year, 1962, received prominence in the film, quite rightly, but the important lesson often overlooked here is that nuclear weapons caused the crisis. Many people thought incorrectly that it proved the deterrent had worked, while in fact it just proved how the presence of nuclear weapons can trigger a crisis which could easily result in nuclear exchange. It was US nuclear weapons in Turkey targeting Moscow which encouraged the Soviets to deploy them in Cuba on America’s doorstep.
Then came the Partial Nuclear Test Ban in 1963 and the election of the first Labour government in 13 years, with Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. These two events had enormous, negative impact on CND. Virtually the whole of my local CND group, who were nearly all Labour Party members, became inactive overnight. They assured everybody that CND was no longer needed, Harold Wilson, with pressure from the unilateralist wing of the Party, would get rid of our nuclear weapons. Also, now nuclear tests in the atmosphere were not being conducted it was thought we had virtually won the argument.
How wrong they were, and then the Vietnam War took over as the main focus of protests. Now this is what worries me about the current situation, since all major CND demonstrations in London recently have been co-organized by the Stop the War Coalition and have focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, with Trident replacement and the nuclear weapons issue becoming obscured. This is exactly what happened in the 1960s with Vietnam, and it led to the decline of CND for almost two decades.
It was not until the end of the 1960s when nuclear-armed Cruise missiles were deployed at Greenham Common and Molesworth under the Thatcher government that CND came to the fore again. Indeed all periods of great CND activism have coincided with Conservative governments, and declined when Labour was in power. Yet no Labour government has been committed to nuclear disarmament by Britain.
Presently the wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to be the main focus of the big demonstrations by the peace movement. My feeling is that mass national demonstrations in London need to focus solely on nuclear disarmament. The anti-nuclear-weapons message gets completely lost and the media only refer to these demos as against the wars in the Middle East, rarely if ever mentioning the crucial issue of Trident replacement.
So a good film very useful in campaigning, but the lessons of the 1960s (unfortunately not mentioned at all in the film) need to be learned: by all means let CND support Stop the War demos, and let them support CND demos, but keep the two issues separate. Otherwise, like during the Vietnam War, CND could be in decline and its message lost at this time when it is most needed as Trident replacement becomes a hot political issue.
The Fête of the Earth on May 15th was one of our best ever — helped by glorious weather, which always seems to make people feel like coming and spending money. Our Treasurer Julie Higgins is still finalising the accounts, but total takings were in excess of £1800 with provisional net profits of £1520, including some very generous donations. Particularly pleasing was the increase in numbers through the door: 270 paying customers this year, which provides a measure of our effective publicity and leafletting. We must thank our leafletting team (pride of place going to Edwin and Sharmila) and poster people (Gerry and Joanna). Janet, Aden and Harriet, in the kitchen, kept people fed and happy (and especial thanks to Aden’s wife who spent most of the day washing up) and the main stalls all exceeded expectations.
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WDC/CND members rose to the occasion by supplying goods for sale, helping with transport, manning stalls and doing the unglamorous clearing-up. It was a magnificent team effort.
It is obvious from comments from some of our regulars that the Fête of the Earth has become a local institution among the non-CND general public who just like “a good old-fashioned fête” with bargains and a feel-good atmosphere, so we can congratulate ourselves on an excellent public relations exercise as well.
The NPT Review Conference opened in New York on 3rd May and there have been some positive signs. For example, procedural matters were agreed on within the first few days, whereas in the past, weeks have been spent in wrangling over the agenda. “There is a constructive atmosphere at the meeting, in contrast with the last conference five years ago when George Bush was US President” wrote Anne Penketh of BASIC† (6th May)
The nuclear weapons states issued a pragmatic joint document which spoke of the five nuclear powers’ “continuing responsibility to take concrete and credible steps towards irreversible disarmament” (but with no reference to a time frame). The US has agreed for the first time to reveal the size of its nuclear stockpile (5113 deployable nuclear warheads in September 2009) and has promised a $50 million subsidy for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s new ‘peaceful uses initiative’ intended to help countries develop infrastructure for safe use of nuclear power. Indonesia announced that it would be ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is now only eight short of the number of ratifications needed for entry into force.
But according to an interim report in the UNA-UK journal New World (Summer 2010) “the gulf has widened between the 110 non-aligned countries lending support to a Nuclear Weapons Convention and the five permanent members of the Security Council who do not.” An emerging key issue is how best to engage with countries in the Middle East in setting up a nuclear-weapons-free zone, and complex negotiations have been taking places throughout the conference, generally behind closed doors. Egypt proposed an international conference including both Israel and Iran, but the chances of this being adopted seem slim, particularly in the face of revelations about nuclear collusion between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa (Guardian 24/5/2010 — “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa the bomb”).
The issue of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe has also been discussed, with ten EU states backing their “irreversible reduction and elimination” (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia and Sweden).
By Day 20, Anne Penketh was writing “The Review Conference at this stage in the negotiations has gone underground. The real work is being done at lunches and dinners...”
In conclusion, New World reports “With very few successes or breakthroughs coming out of the 2000 and 2005 Review Conferences, the focus this time round will be on laying the groundwork for discussions on key issues. The final goal has thus changed from ‘ultimate consensus’ to the construction of the first steps on the road towards zero.”
Lady (Pauline) Neville-Jones is one of the junior ministers appointed by the new Coalition Government and has an interesting background in the Diplomatic Service. Her title is Home Office Minister of State for Security, but her knowledge and understanding of security extends into the international field, and one hopes and assumes that she will be sharing her expertise with colleagues at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence.
In January Lady Neville-Jones delivered a speech at the Royal United Services Institute’s Future Defence Review Conference, in which she explained Conservative Party thinking: “we no longer believe a straightforward Defence Review will be sufficient. Recent experience has shown that the next review should go much wider than the role of just defence or the armed forces alone.
“Labour Government policy was guided by the 1998 Strategic Defence Review which can be seen with hindsight as a tactical rather than strategic document. Defence came to usurp the place of foreign policy. In many ways this reflects Labour’s interpretation of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ as a justification — if not a call — for the early resort to the use of force, rather than using force as the last instrument. Defence was no longer a tool of government or a means to a strategic end, but became the first port of call.”
She criticised the absence of an embedded ‘Comprehensive Approach’ from the 1998 Review, resulting in different interpretations of concepts such as ‘conflict prevention’, ‘stabilisation’, ‘reconstruction’ and ‘counter-insurgency’ by different government Departments. “Common language and understanding of concepts is an important precursor to strategy,” as she put it mildly. “In the end the Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy was developed... through a bottom-up process, based on what has been termed [euphemistically?] ‘transformation in contact’ or learning on the ground.... It is... important to have... a clear and cross-Governmental sense of what you want to achieve before deploying your instruments of national security...
“The next Defence Review should allow for ‘hybrid conflict’ (i.e. not just state actors and their conventional military capabilities) and perhaps also consider the increasing risks posed by ‘natural hazards’. The concept of ‘hybrid threats... could help all across government to identify the interconnections between different risks. For example, between terrorism, insurgents and organised criminals.... Or the different actions that need to be taken to tackle climate change, reduce our energy insecurity and ensure adequate food supplies.
“While a capacity for responsive action must be maintained, a Conservative Government would shift priorities to focus on conflict prevention... an analysis of emerging risk and instability is a sophisticated task, which requires keen cultural and political understanding.”
This is sophisticated reasoning aimed at a sophisticated audience, and it is encouraging that Lady Neville-Jones has been awarded a ministerial post. The forthcoming Defence Review will not consider the future of Trident (which does rather imply that UK nuclear weapons are irrelevent when it comes to the realities of national security), but a special Commons Scrutiny Committee wil ensure the renewal of Trident gives “value for money” — a sop to the Liberal Democrats.
Nuclear Information Service has filmed a new video blog, “All You Need to Know about the New Government, Trident, and Nuclear Weapons”, to help us understand the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat government’s position on nuclear issues. The video gives all the news and analysis about the new coalition government’s position on Trident and the prospects for nuclear disarmament under the new government. You can watch it online at the NIS website: http://bit.ly/bALzMx
This demonstration against Trident replacement and against all nuclear weapons will take place on the first Tuesday of each month between 5 and 7pm, and will continue at least until the end of the year: leaflets and placards provided. Just turn up!
Some imaginative protesters visited the West Berkshire Council offices earlier this year dressed as Romans and bearing gifts of radioactive waste (appropriately-labelled black bins), making the point that we might feel very differently about the Romans if they had bequeathed us their unwanted radioactive wastes instead of their fascinating historical sites. (Waste from Roman-era nuclear power stations would still present an insoluble disposal problem today.)