We shall shortly know the result of the coming General Election and the nature of our government for the next four or five years. There are exciting possibilities, including the election of the UK’s first Green M.P. (Caroline Lucas stands a very real chance in Brighton) and a sufficiently strong Lib Dem vote to force the pace of parliamentary and electoral reform. But we shall see.
Even if it proves to be business as usual after the election, during the campaign our politicians have been forced to address the issue of UK nuclear weapons and Trident replacement, and have sounded very unconvincing in doing so. Gordon Brown said that we needed Trident in case Iran acquired a nuclear capability. The Lib Dem spokesman interviewed on Radio 4 tied himself in knots explaining that although “like for like” replacement of Trident was not their party policy, they wouldn’t be leaving the UK without a “nuclear deterrent” and would be looking at “cheaper alternatives”.
The interviewer made the obvious point that even a cheaper alternative would have to be paid for and that it was unlikely that going down a completely different route at this stage would result in very great savings. Their discussion became quite surreal as they entirely lost sight of the fact that they were talking about weapons of mass destruction. They might as well have been talking about best bargains in a weekly supermarket shop.
There is an unchallenged consensus amongst politicians competing for the electoral middle ground that anything smacking of ‘unilateral nuclear disarmament’ is electoral death, and I, for one, find it pathetic to listen to the Lib Dems wriggling as they deny all charges of threatening to leave Britain without a nuclear deterrent. Nevertheless in the wider world there is a welcome indication that the obligations of the nuclear weapons states under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to move towards nuclear disarmament are at last being taken seriously.
After a year of negotiations the US and Russia have formally agreed to a 30% reduction in their deployed nuclear warheads, and serious international discussions have been taking place in New York at President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in preparation for the review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the United Nations (May 3rd–28th). Writing in the Times, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbottom, General Sir Hugh Beach and Major General Patrick Cordingley said that there was a “growing consensus that rapid cuts in nuclear forces... is the way to achieve international security.” (Times, 21/4/2010)
Regardless of which party forms the next government, there will be a post-election Defence Review, but we have already been told that the question of Trident replacement will be off-limits. We must continue to force our domestic politicians to take their huge responsibilities seriously. The rest of the world is unlikely to care very much about the political makeup of the next UK parliament, but it will sit up and take notice if there is any indication that the UK is taking steps to support President Obama in his ultimate goal of a nuclear-free world.
The majority of our domestic politicians have grown comfortable with a Cold War mindset and seem to assume that the nuclear status quo in the UK can continue indefinitely. Well, under international law, it can’t. There will be a lot of new M.P.s in the next House of Commons, and they will have a lot of learning to do.
This is our major annual fundraiser and we need support from everybody. We need plants, books, cakes, bric-à-brac and raffle prizes. We need help with transport, help with leafletting and help on stalls. And we need lots of customers, so please pass on the enclosed flyer to a friend or neighbour, or display on your gate or in your window. See you there!
On Sunday April 18th we enjoyed a fascinating visit from veteran peace campaigner Pat Allen of London Region CND, whose fluency in French has given him access to documents published by the French peace movement and not available elsewhere.
CND celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2008 and its history is pretty well known, but most people know little about earlier international anti-nuclear initiatives. the upswelling of revulsion in the immediate aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs that crystallised into a French-led movement against all nuclear weapons. Prominent figures from the French Resistance were typically involved, still politically active and concerned about the shape of the post-war world. “We must make sure that nothing like this ever happens again” was the unifying theme.
Their organisation ‘Defenders of the Peace’ under the leadership of Marie Curie’s communist son-in-law Frédéric Joliot-Curie organised a conference in Poland attended by some very eminent cultural figures and scientists of the time, including Pablo Neruda and Paul Robeson. Pablo Picasso, who had spent most of WWII in Paris and after the Liberation joined the Communist party, lent his support and drew the iconic ‘peace dove’. The decision was taken to launch a worldwide anti-nuclear movement, emphasising that people in all parts of the world were at risk. Because the World Council of Peace was communist-sponsored it was regarded with deep suspicion by the West during the Cold War and Frédéric Joliot-Curie (who had shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry with his wife in 1935) was dismissed from his post as French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy because of his political activities.
The international petition against all nuclear weapons — the Stockholm Appeal launched in 1949 — was widely denounced by a hostile press as a communist plot, but nevertheless more than half a million people signed in the UK, and about 14 million in France where there was considerable local government support. Peace activists were encouraged to start national movements in their own countries — and the rest you know. An interesting footnote is that despite his earlier ‘disgrace’ Frédéric Joliot-Curie was given a state funeral by the Gaullist government in 1958.
The National Film Theatre has selected the intelligent and compelling film “Seven Days to Noon”, made by the Boulting Brothers in 1950, to show at 2pm on Thursday 3rd June as part of its regular monthly “Seniors’ Free Matinee” series. On its original release this picture was praised as “the most intelligent film so far to touch upon... the problems confronting an atomic age”, and the NFT programme comments that its relevance “remains undiminished today”.
The story centres around the crisis of conscience of a middle-aged nuclear scientist driven to suicidal despair by what he perceives as the misuse of his work, who decides to take matters into his own hands in an attempt to compel Britain to disarm; when I first saw this on television, years ago, I was astonished to discover ideas like these being aired (even if not ultimately endorsed) in the mainstream as early as 1950. In addition to its challenging stance on the ethics of the nuclear deterrent, the film also features footage of the long-gone landscapes of postwar London (and some very recognisable landmarks!) in its many amazing location shots, and is a gripping count-down thriller in its own right.
An introductory talk will precede the film and there will be an opportunity for “post-screening discussion”; possibly a chance to raise the issue of the morality of nuclear weapons both post-war and in the modern world?
The National Film Theatre is located on the South Bank a short walk from Waterloo station, and bookings can be made in person or over the telephone on 020 7928 3232. It is advisable to reserve places for this event in advance, but tickets will be free for all those over 60: otherwise the cost is £6·40 for non-members. As a member of the NFT I am entitled to reserve up to four ‘guest’ tickets at the reduced price of £5, so anyone under retirement age wishing to attend should contact me as soon as possible.
Guest speaker Dr Ian Fairlie is speaking on May 20th at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, to promote an important CND briefing on a German government-sponsored study revealing links between infant leukæmias and nuclear power stations: the meeting starts at 8pm. All welcome.
Alison Williams of Merton UNA hosted a stimulating discussion evening on April 22nd. We brainstormed both individually and collectively and came up with a concept of ‘security’ far removed from its usage by governments and the media (along with ‘defence’) to justify aggressive attacks.
If you can have sustainable development, why not sustainable security? Sustainability implies a lasting state of affairs, and is self-perpetuating. It doesn’t need special ‘help’. A virtuous circle in fact. Security implies mutual trust and freedom from worries, with a confidence in safety in one’s own home and own commmunity. Economic security covers access to food, medicine and shelter. Environmental security requires the continued stewardship of a habitable planet. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights “just about covers the lot”, as Karl remarked.
It was fascinating to find that in this ‘association of ideas’ exercise not one of us spontaneously came up with the military connotations of the word at all. In fact we agreed that the sight of heavily-armed troops surrounding Heathrow (intended to provide an illusion of security in the face of threatened terrorist attack) had precisely the opposite effect to that intended by the government, making us feel stomach-churningly insecure.
We went on to discuss the talk given by Sir Richard Jolly (former President of UNA UK and now based at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex) at the Movement for the Abolition of War’s Peace History conference the previous weekend.
Sir Richard contrasted the “highly operational proposals” of the UN Charter with the soaring rhetoric of the Preamble (“we the peoples” etc.) His thesis was that the Charter was designed to be “realistic”, avoiding rejection (or withdrawal) by member states, and he felt that the pragmatism of those who drafted the Charter had been proved right: the current UN has already lasted three times as long as the League of Nations.
Although there is therefore, in one sense, no such thing as a “UN vision of world peace”, successive Secretaries-General have interpreted their role creatively so that it has gradually evolved to cover issues that are not in the Charter at all. The UN Secretary General as mediator is one of the UN’s great ideas (“preventive diplomacy”) and UN discussions on disarmament and development and human security have been Secretary General inspired and led.
The UN provides an ideal forum for international (multilateral) agreement, and this can work in a very practical way. For example, the 1990s produced agreed reductions in military spending by all countries (greatly benefiting the US economy which achieved a major reduction in its deficit and reduced interest rates; unfortunately military spending is now back up to Cold War levels, largely due to the rejection of the UN by ex-President G.W.Bush).
The various initiatives of US President Obama have “breathed life” into the UN Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (30% reductions with Russia, No First Use, IAEA inspections — all confidence-building measures) and Sir Richard believes that “forward movement” is now possible, after years of stalemate. (He asked provocatively what the UK was going to do in this context and pointed out that a decision to renew Trident at the present time was hardly helpful.)
The concept of ‘Human Security’ developed by Kofi Annan represented a total shift in traditional thinking about security, and raises fundamental questions about threats (and priorities in the allocation of government resources). Governments should be encouraged to shift spending towards areas that would make their populations feel more secure: “a more balanced, equitable and human-rights-focused programme of actions”, i.e. not heavily armed dictatorships please!
Newly emerging ideas include a “Responsibility to Protect” in response to the global failure to prevent the atrocities in Rwanda, and international peace keeping, although neither function is envisaged in the UN Charter. Sir Richard’s conclusion was that the UN should be praised for what it has done, and supported in doing much more. He quoted words of wisdom from possibly the greatest Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld: “The UN is not there to take us to heaven but to save us from hell”. The UN has undoubtedly made the world “a little less hellish”.
The following items of Palestinian produce are now available to purchase from Christine Bickerstaff:
|250g Medjoul dates||£3·00|
|750g Zaytoun First Cold Press|
extra-virgin olive oil
Contact Christine on 020 8946 2016 to place an order.