The Leader column in Tuesday’s Guardian says it all: Defence Minister Philip Hammond has made a unilateral decision to commission Trident submarine parts at a cost of £350 million, ignoring his LibDem colleagues, ignoring the terms of the Coalition agreement and anticipating the findings of a cross-party investigative panel which has not yet completed its report.
He has presumably taken this decision in the full knowledge that the more money spent on this insane project, the (politically) harder it will be to cancel it, according to conventional wisdom. This wisdom is similar logic to that exploited by the big stores at sales time — “Save money” they shriek — ignoring the fact that customers probably had no original intention of spending any money at all, so ‘savings’ are purely illusory. “Good money after bad” is a classic gambler’s delusion too. Is it too much to hope that when the final decision about a new generation Trident nuclear weapons system is taken in 2016, members of the House of Commons will see that spending millions of pounds in 2012 is no reason for committing billions of pounds in the future on something which is militarily useless?
We are not talking about defence here: it is pure party politics. In the same issue of the Guardian Polly Toynbee does her best to put some spunk into Ed Miliband’s Labour Party, still traumatised by the effectiveness with which the Conservatives managed to turn ‘unilateralism’ into a dirty word during the Cold War. The myth that abandoning Trident will leave us defenceless dies hard. We still come up against it while street campaigning, so effective has been the propaganda that the nuclear ‘deterrent’ keeps this country “safe” without any clear understanding of the realities of a strategic nuclear system designed to destroy Moscow and useless as a threat unless we have a clear intention of using it. (These same people who ask “What about Iran?” are rarely aware how few countries in the world do have nuclear weapons.)
The ultimate absurdity in the ‘renew Trident’ lobby is the suggestion that an important argument against a ‘lesser’ nuclear deterrence is that designing such a system would make it available to aspirant nuclear powers in the Third World! [“There might be a cheap option but if the UK designed one, that would cause terrifying proliferation among all the world’s small wannabe nuclear countries”: Polly Toynbee reporting a conversation with somebody “alarmingly close to Labour decision-making”]. This is a political argument, not a military argument writes Polly Toynbee. “Probably noone in the Labour Party actually believes we need a Trident replacement for national defence — only for political defence of Labour.”
We must continue to inform and educate a public for whom the carefully crafted vocabulary of ‘defence’, ‘deterrence’ and ‘security’ is reassuring. Politicians know that they only have to push these political buttons to win votes and winning votes is what they are in business for. The horrors of nuclear reality are outside their imaginations and the risks of nuclear accident are less important to them than any political risks they will be taking.
The Peace Pledge Union has been distributing white poppies since 1934, a response to the rising international tensions and the renewed threat of war, inspired by a generation of women bereaved in the Great War. White poppies commemorate the victims of all wars: “the best way to honour the dead is to work for a world in which war has no place” is their simple message and many of us wear red and white poppies combined. Poppies are available from 43 Wilton Grove SW19 3QU (send donation and stamp) or from the Vigil or Peace Table. We hope also that the Co-op/Britannia bank in Wimbledon Broadway will agree to display them.
If you are a national CND member please fill in the form enclosed with this Newsletter and post it off to CND. The only financial commitment is a nominal contribution of £1 if CND were to go bust, as required by company law, and company membership determines the number of votes we get at conference. For a large and active group we have very few ‘company members’ and so we are at present only allocated 2 votes. It is slightly embarrassing to see other delegates displaying fists full of voting cards just because their groups are better organised in this matter. We may all have better things to do, but honestly this will only take a moment — and if you are not a member of National CND perhaps now is the time to consider giving them your support? (http://www.cnduk.org or 020 7700 2393 for details)
The second of our successful lunchtime discussions took place on October 26th. The audience was not as large as for “Just War” in September but it was still a lively and interesting occasion. The subject of “Global Equality/Inequality” (chosen for One World Week) was possibly too broad and we failed to move much beyond the generalities, but it was good to hear from the chair of local UNA that “an hour was too short” as we continued the discussion at their AGM that same evening. Councillor Miles Windsor stood in for M.P. Stephen Hammond at short notice (ministerial duties prevented Mr Hammond’s attendance) and proved an interesting and committed speaker. Both Cllr Windsor and the Rev. Andrew Wakefield stressed the importance of discussion, education and campaigning (we shouldn’t ever just accept that injustice is “unresolvable”) and that the churches should be more involved.
On November 15th our guest speakers are Bruce Kent and Sam Walton and the topic will be “The Militarisation of Society”. Subjects we may explore include the extent to which armed force is accepted as a legitimate means to influence the affairs of other countries, the status attached to military heroism (as opposed to the bravery of police, firefighters, lifeboatmen etc.), the use of military ceremonial on national occasions, recruiting campaigns by the armed forces in schools, the growth of military-related charities, the relationship between politicians and the military. This is even before we touch on violent video games and the societal acceptance of war toys, so once again an hour will be much too short.
Please help to publicise the event and make every effort to attend, as we have two superb speakers. Although Sam is now in charge of Quaker Peace and Social Witness at Friends House, he is a former member of our Peace Vigil, and Bruce Kent needs no introduction.
Note that November 15th is a Thursday (previous events have been on a Friday) and that we start slightly later to fit in with church requirements: 1·30–2·30pm Thursday November 15th, Holy Trinity Church, Wimbledon Broadway SW19 1SB. Bring sandwiches from 1 o’clock: tea and coffee provided.
We were well-represented at the TUC anti-austerity demonstration on October 20th and there are lots of colourful pictures on Facebook and on our website (http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Photos/Oct20/) with the Wimbledon banner showing up very well. You wouldn’t know it from the inadequate media coverage, but this was an impressive achievement by the TUC: gathering over 100,000 people together for the march from Embankment to Hyde Park representing so many different walks of life. There were a lot of white-collar unions there as well as traditional stalwarts such as the RMT (glorious brass band) and plenty of students. I don’t ever previously remember seeing aircraft controllers, local government officers, midwives, physiotherapists and radiographers on demonstrations.
We marched with the Stop the War Coalition in the ‘Cut Trident’ bloc and the CND placards for the day had a ‘speech bubble’ on the reverse so that they could be personalised with chosen alternative ways of spending the money the government has earmarked for Trident. “Spend it on cake” and “Spend it on giving me a holiday in the Caribbean” were student contributions, but of course there were plenty of serious pleas for education and the NHS as well.
Subscriptions pay for the production and distribution costs of this Newsletter. We don’t want to subsidise the Newsletter from our campaigning funds so please make the effort to fill in that form! Please pay promptly — cheques payable to WDC/CND will ensure the delivery of your newsletter for the next 12 months. Subscription rates are £5 or £3 concessions: send to Julie Higgins (Treasurer) at 129 Chestnut Grove, SW12 8JH.
The former Armed Forces minister Nick Harvey spoke out this autumn on the question of defence-related jobs: “The idea that you should produce weapons of mass destruction in order to keep 1,500 jobs going in the Barrow shipyard is palpably ludicrous. We could give them all a couple of million quid and send them to the Bahamas for the rest of their lives, and the world would be a much better place, and we would have saved a lot of money.”
CND is to be congratulated on the success of this event on October 13th, timed to support the Helsinki conference on a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone sponsored by the UN and facilitated by Finland. The 2010 NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] Review Conference included a call for this conference as an important first step in tackling nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East, and if all the states of the region can be persuaded to participate alongside the NPT nuclear weapons states, this will in itself be a major diplomatic achievement.
As always with the UN, civil society (us!) has a rôle to play, and a report of this CND conference will be sent to Helsinki. It is to CND’s credit that international speakers of such calibre accepted the invitation to be present. How often does one have the privilege of hearing experts from the Middle East in person?
The Finnish Ambassador introduced the proceedings by revealing that the Finnish foreign minister always wears the CND logo on his lapel, and has done for 40 years. The Finns have set modest objectives, and the Ambassador stressed that the Helsinki conference in no way replaces negotiations on other ‘unresolved issues’ in the Middle East: the way forward can only be decided by the participants themselves. Reaffirmation of a shared Nuclear Free goal and “identifying areas of work to achieve that goal” would constitute major success in the context of a Middle East riven by mutual suspicion.
Panel discussion covered the open secret of Israeli nuclear weapons and the current anxiety about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Are the Israelis copying the nuclear weapons states’ arguments about deterrence and security? Is Iran concerned about ‘power projection’ for national identity or perhaps taking lessons from North Korea? The Cold War mindset that nuclear technology confers power dies hard, and the nuclear weapons states are giving out contradictory messages.
Dr Ahmed Sa’ada (Egypt) is a medical doctor building a disarmament movement among a younger generation informed via the new social media. “Anti-nuclear campaigning is a life-saving cause” and physicians naturally inspire trust, he said. A recent Cairo conference with Japanese Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) was oversubscribed. The ICAN [International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons] message points to the “correct way to be a powerful country” and the “correct way to spend money” (healthcare, access to education etc.) and resonates among the young.
All speakers picked up the importance of the new focus on humanitarian and environmental issues, and Rebecca Johnson went as far as describing the NPT as “part of the problem” as an arms control rather than abolition treaty. Next year’s Oslo conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the significance of this new approach was explored further in an afternoon workshop led by Arielle Denis (ICAN campaigns director in Geneva)
The NPT was signed in 1968. A nuclear-free Middle East was first proposed in 1974. The conference on Disarmament in Geneva is still unable to agree on an agenda after 15 years. It is time to “bypass this glacially slow process” and the humanitarian approach can break the paralysis. Even a limited nuclear explosion would cause global humanitarian disaster.
In 2011 the Red Cross and Red Crescent issued the declaration that has led to the proposed Oslo conference, appealing to a new generation that thinks globally and cares about the planet. “We worry about climate change,” said Arielle, “but nuclear weapons could destroy the whole thing in a click”. “Universal humanitarian security” involves people who would not usually be interested in arms control, and gives us a chance to reframe the debate.
Nuclear weapons are political. We have forgotten what the reality is all about, and at Oslo the Red Cross and the UN agencies will spell out reality. The nuclear weapons states “addicted to status” will no longer dominate the proceedings. We have an important duty to educate the general public. People have been encouraged to think that nuclear weapons are “virtual” and we “need to take people down to earth” and to remind them of the danger of nuclear accident.
The Helsinki conference should be seen as part of a decades-long process attempting to bring peace and justice to the Middle East. Success at Helsinki could open the door for serious debate. Early Day Motion 273 [Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone] urges the Government “to do its utmost to ensure a conference takes place in 2012 and is supported and attended by all States of the region”. Make sure your MP knows all about it.