Elections are looming and national and local politicians are all of a sudden interested in what we have to say; we must make the most of it. Local councillors and parliamentary candidates will be knocking at the door and will be obliged to listen to your point of view. You are unlikely to change their party policy (which is centrally determined these days) but doorstep opinion does get fed back. Most importantly, this is your opportunity to educate the politicians who will be ‘representing’ us for the next 5 years.
Sadly, there is very little knowledge and understanding of matters relating to nuclear weapons amongst the current generation of local or national politicians, beyond a vague folk memory that ‘unilateral’ nuclear disarmament was a political kiss of death for the pre-Blair Labour Party and hence mustn’t be touched with a barge pole.
I suggest that you keep it simple. Most countries do not have nuclear weapons, so why should UK security be uniquely dependent on Trident? How can we justify retaining our nuclear weapons, while telling other would-be important countries (e.g. Iran) that they can’t have them? How can the Government justify the prospect of spending billions of pounds on a Trident replacement given the state of the country’s finances? (Current estimates of the cost of Trident replacement are over £76 billion and we are constantly told about the need for Government cut-backs.) Mention Trident every time you are told that “the money has to come from somewhere” and if anyone talks about “national security” play Devil’s advocate and suggest that with the money saved from Trident we could supply the army with all the equipment they need.
Above all, stress that nuclear disarmament is a global not national issue and make sure the politician lobbying for your vote is aware of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference taking place in May at the UN in New York concurrently with the expected date of the General Election — and of infinitely greater international significance. All politicians and would-be politicians need to be reminded of the bargain struck with the non-nuclear weapons states under the NPT over forty years ago, and the unanimous World Court ruling of July 1996: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
It is encouraging that nuclear matters are once again receiving press coverage. Politicians must be held to account for decisions of this magnitude, and a general level of public ignorance on the subject mediates against effective challenge.
There has been recent debate amongst the service chiefs over resources, ahead of the impending strategic defence review, each of the three services jostling for a larger share of the cake. Hence General Sir Richard Dannatt (former head of the army) was reported (Guardian 24/2/2010) as saying that “Britain might no longer need a nuclear deterrent in 5 or 10 years”.
The previous day the Guardian reported: “Five Nato states to urge removal of US nuclear arms in Europe... a move intended to spur global disarmament” (Guardian 23/2/2010). This refers to the so-called tactical nuclear weapons stockpiled at US bases in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey — militarily obsolete but symbolic of America’s ‘nuclear umbrella’. (For many years there was a similar cache of free-fall US bombs at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, but these have now almost certainly been withdrawn — with minimal public comment.)
The Guardian ran an editorial “In praise of a nuclear-free Europe” (Guardian 24/2/2010) chiding George Robertson (former secretary general of Nato and leading member of the parliamentary group for multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation) for his warning of the consequence of “decoupling the security of Europe from that of the US”. The Guardian leader writer pointed out that “it is always best to start a long journey with small steps, and getting rid of between 150 and 240 useless weapons must rank as one of these... making any cuts conditional on parity with Russia is a recipe for stalemate.”
Kate Hudson (Chair of National CND) had a letter published (Guardian 26/2/2010) pointing out that remaining US nuclear weapons in Europe “are the remnants of an illegal Cold War policy of nuclear weapons sharing [illegal under the terms of the NPT] which should have been swept away a generation ago” and that “a rather major problem stands in the way of a nuclear-free Europe” in the shape of “British and French nukes which remain on patrol 24 hours a day, 365 days a year”.
5 am on February 15th — a bitterly cold (but mercifully dry) winter’s morning. A few birds were singing, suggesting that dawn was not far away, but the expedition did feel a little mad. A fast train from Wimbledon whisked us to Surbiton, to be greeted at the top of the stairs by the friendly face of Rosemary Addington from Kingston Peace Council/CND, our ‘lift’ to Aldermaston, and the three of us from WDC/CND joined the two from Croydon and eight from KPC/CND.
When we arrived at AWE Aldermaston shortly after 7 o’clock, we found the gates onto the site already effectively blocked by determined demonstrators sitting in the road (many of them locked and chained together to make their removal by the police more difficult) and a massive traffic jam building up along the access roads. It all began to feel more real.
Everybody should visit Aldermaston from time to time. The scale of the new developments there needs to be seen to be believed. The latest planning application (‘Pegasus’) for a building bigger than Heathrow’s Terminal 5 (a new “Enriched Uranium Handling Facility”) was recently passed by the West Berkshire Council despite over 1,400 objections, A “defence exempt environmental appraisal” was submitted by AWE with its planning application, rather than a full environmental impact assessment report (nothing about the risks, processes and wastes that would normally be considered by councillors making planning decisions). It does seem a ridiculous charade that decisions of national importance are taken under the figleaf of the local democratic process.
The local council obviously feels on firmer ground when taking more parochial environmental decisions, and it was touching to see that numerous young native woodland saplings have been planted alongside the bleak chainlink fence surrounding the AWE site. It improves things, but not much. AWE is still a disgraceful blot on the Berkshire countryside.
Trident Ploughshares and CND had done an excellent organisational job, allocating geographical and special-interest groups to the different access points to the AWE site and providing some essential facilities for demonstrators (hot drinks and loos!) We attached the Wimbledon banner to the fence at the Main Gate and displayed the hand-painted sheet from the Vigil (“Build peace not war — cancel Trident”) alongside the road where it could be seen by all the circulating traffic. There was considerable press interest and our sheet was much photographed.
The blockaders at Main Gate were primarily the ‘international’ team who had arrived from all over Europe in a coach organised by WILF. Many of these protesters were young people, and they warmed themselves up after spells lying in the road by some energetic dancing, ‘lock on’ tubes and all. It is salutary for us in CND to see our national campaign through the eyes of the wider world, and it might do a few politicians good as well. We spoke to a woman from Vienna who told us that she had had no idea that there was a large bomb-making factory in southern England — and how appalled she was. She will now return home and tell her friends in Vienna all about the Aldermaston blockade. This is people power!
We also paid a visit to Tadley Gate (assigned to religious groups) where the Quakers had held an all-night vigil. Impressive dedication.
After four hours we decided that we had had enough and we returned to London, enjoying a well-earned stop in a motorway café along the way. We were home by lunchtime to find that life in Wimbledon was proceeding as normal. A strange experience but infinitely worthwhile.
Report by Joanna
This opera by minimalist composer Philip Glass returns to the London Coliseum for a further nine performances (25th February - 26th March): “a mesmerising and hauntingly beautiful musical meditation upon Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, and his spiritual progress towards non-violent protest.” The production is visually spectacular and has enjoyed huge success at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. Tickets can be booked directly via http://www.eno.org (0871 911 0200) or get in touch with Joanna 8543 0362 if you would be interested in a group outing.
A note in the Guardian Diary (10/2/2010) alerted us to a Parliamentary answer on Trident spending given by defence secretary Bob Ainsworth. Between April 2007 and December 2009 £380 million was spent on bringing us to the ‘Initial Gate’ period of the Trident replacement process, i.e. the end of the concept phase and the start of assessment and initial design.
Meanwhile (having spent all those millions of pounds) the Government is still hesitating about making a final commitment to go ahead. Perhaps they are aware of the consistent majority in recent opinion polls against Trident replacement in the current economic climate? The danger is of course that having spent all that money, this will in itself become the justification for yet more spending.
The latest issue of CADU News (Jan 2010) reveals that the US Military is seeking alternatives to depleted uranium and is arranging for a $2 million ‘clean-up’ programme on one of its test-firing ranges. These developments have been uncovered by researcher Dave Cullen, who spoke in Wimbledon last November, and the implications are profound. “The choice by the most vociferous user of uranium weapons to switch to alternative materials shows that claims of the unique penetrating power of uranium are overblown,” he writes.
The reasons for the policy change are not clear, but US government procurement agency Maneuver Ammunition Systems has indicated that “environmental considerations were a factor”. Meanwhile, a tribunal in Rome has ruled that the Italian Defence Ministry “failed to adequately protect its troops” from the hazards posed by exposure to depleted uranium munitions in Kosovo. Following Belgium’s decision to ban DU weapons in June 2009, similar bills are under consideration in Costa Rica, New Zealand and Ireland, and on 24th November 2009 the Dutch parliament voted in favour of a moratorium motion — a temporary suspension of the military use of weapons systems that contain DU and heavy metals.
The unfortunate people of Iraq are suffering the effects of the 232 tonnes of uranium fired in the 1991 Gulf War but this is a campaign that we are winning.
Please come to our fund-raising social on March 12th: it would be helpful if you phone in advance (8543 0362) to book a ticket but there will probably still be tickets avalable at the door on the night.
At £8 per ticket (£4 for children) including soft drinks and a baked potato supper, the evening offers fantastic value for money, and you are welcome to bring your own bottle.
The Knock-kneed Bumble Bees is a long-established band and their ‘caller’ will provide expert guidance on the moves of the dances. But if you don’t want to dance, just come along for the food, the music and the company. Dundonald School is a detached Victorian building on the edge of Dundonald Park/Recreation Ground and is easily reached from Wimbledon Town Centre via Hartfield Road and Hartfield Crescent, or from the Kingston Road via Wilton Crescent and Fairlawn Road. It is only a few hundred yards from Dundonald Road tram stop.
‘Peace Direct’ was set up by Scilla Elworthy (Oxford Research Group founder). It is as yet only a small organisation, but is already making an impact with its innovative approach to peacemaking, directly funding local peacebuilders in ‘hot’ conflict zones and promoting their work to those in power: “We trust local people in conflict areas to find peaceful solutions for their own communities. After all, they have the biggest stake in bringing violence to an end.” The essential message that there are effective alternatives to the use of force is one that we all wish could be adopted on a global scale but supporting this charity seems to be a small and constructive step in the right direction.
We have been able to supply David Polden (London Region CND) with a nice parcel of old badges (“collectors’ items”) which he can sell to raise funds at £3·50 each. Please have a look at your own old collections and see if you have any more to contribute.
Christine Bickerstaff holds stocks of Palestinian produce for sale (olive oil, dates etc.) and can be contacted on 8946 2016.