“Military chiefs question Trident replacement”, “The plan for Trident: lock the warheads in cupboard”: all of a sudden the media latched on to the Trident debate as a result of former armed forces minister Sir Nick Harvey’s address to a fringe meeting at the LibDem conference.
“Believe you me,” he said, “there are very senior figures of all three services who are highly aware of the perfect storm of [forthcoming] costs, who don’t believe the Treasury is going suddenly to ride to their rescue with a cheque and who are asking ‘is the opportunity cost of having another generation of nuclear weapons too high, in terms of what it would prevent us doing on other fronts’.”
Past policy on Trident had been dictated by the 1980s view that the only deterrent to a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union was the belief that the UK could ‘flatten Moscow’ in retaliation. “If you can just break yourself out of that frankly almost lunatic mindset for a second all sorts of alternatives start to look possible, indeed credible.” http://nuclearinfo.org/nuclear-information-service-newsletter
This is a very significant development because Sir Nick Harvey was until very recently a government minister and had all this knowledge and all these thoughts during his time in office. It is only since he lost his job that he feels free to speak out. Before that the straitjacket of ‘collective responsibility’ would have obliged him to restrict any remarks he made at the LibDem annual conference to agreed Coalition ‘deterrence’ platitudes. One wonders how many other politicians are up there thinking one thing in private and saying another in public.
We now know from Tony Blair’s memoirs that he hesitated over the 2007 renewal of Trident (“There was a case either way”). He was swayed by the politics of power at the UN where giving up nuclear weapons would mark a ‘downgrading’ of the UK, and in the end he renewed. “Imagine standing up in the House of Commons and saying I’ve decided to scrap it,” writes Mr Blair. “Caution, costly as it was, won the day.”
If Tony Blair had been honest and shared any of his private doubts with his colleagues there is no way that the 2007 vote in the House of Commons would have been won. Instead the government agreement for the renewal of Trident was made using ‘facts’ which were palpably false — the importance of deterrence in a dangerous world, the irresponsibility of taking risks with national security etc. To their credit, a large number of MPs voted against Trident renewal on that occasion but it does not seem to have occurred to Tony Blair that he was blatantly misleading the House of Commons. Sadly this relaxed attitude to the truth is still a stock in trade for professional politicians and it is alarming to say the least when we have given them powers that include a capacity to blow up the world three times over.
Our series of lunchtime discussion meetings at Holy Trinity Church (1–2pm, bring sandwiches from 12·30pm) continues with our contribution to One World Week on October 26th. Our speakers will be Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond and the vicar of St. Andrew’s in Herbert Road, the Rev. Andrew Wakefield. Mr Hammond is a former banker and Andrew Wakefield is chairman of Merton Chamber of Commerce in addition to his parochial duties, so both are well qualified to tackle the problem under discussion: how can we contribute to an equitable future for all — is global equality an impossible dream?
The Occupy demonstrations of last year prompted much media debate about fairness and inequality from both a national and global perspective, and since then we have experienced even more savage cuts to domestic spending (while the white elephant of Trident remains untouched). Climate change is a consequence of economic development in wealthy parts of the world but its effects are hitting the poorest countries first. Despite the Jubilee debt campaign, poor countries are still indebted to rich countries. The scramble for diminishing resources presents an ever-present threat of military conflict.
Come and contribute to the debate. Holy Trinity church is near the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon Broadway (57, 93, 131 and 219 bus or a 10-minute walk from Wimbledon (main line/District) or South Wimbledon (Northern line) stations.
One World Week was founded in 1978 by the World Development Movement “out of a desire that for one week in every year the churches should draw the attention of their communities to the fact that the world consists of one human race sharing one planet”.
This was the inaugural meeting in our lunchtime discussion series with two distinguished speakers. Brian Wicker of Pax Christi introduced the background to what he described as a “large, difficult and contentious question” — “Can war be ‘just’ in the 21st century?”
He explained that the tradition that under certain conditions war (i.e. military force in response to an attack) can be ‘just’ is not an exclusively Christian concept but for the present purposes he was going to focus on the history of Christian thought. The doctrine of St Augustine (it was better to be killed than to kill) had been replaced during the Christian Roman Empire of Constantine by the principles of Just War: Just cause, Proportionate force, Proper intention, i.e. re-establishing peace and order (not acquiring territory), Genuine authority, Reasonable prospect of success in achieving a just objective, and Last resort. And the conduct of war had its own set of principles: Not attacking the innocent and Proportionality.
Brian Wicker then examined whether it is possible to abide by these criteria in the 21st century and whether they are in fact observed, rapidly coming to the conclusion that the UK strategy of ‘nuclear deterrence’ is itself unjust.
He recalled many debates with the late Sir Michael Quinlan (Permanent Secretary at the MoD for many years), a powerful intellectual seen as the architect of the UK nuclear weapons policy. Sir Michael was a master of complex philosophical reasoning, maintaining that although if you use a nuclear weapon you are bound to kill civilians, if this ‘double effect’ is not your primary aim you are still operating within the laws of war. How we get out of the policies into which we are entrapped as a result of Cold War thinking is “up for debate” and “may take a long time”.
Jim McCluskey congratulated Brian Wicker on his summary of theory and academic views and said that it was now time to ask basic questions like “how many people are you personally willing to incinerate to save your own life?” Even under ‘just war’ thinking all US-led recent wars are unjust acts of aggression.
The evils of war have been put into words innumerable times. Jim quoted Leo Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, J.F.Kennedy (“Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind”) and Victor Gollancz (nuclear weapons as the ultimate evil — the Devil’s Repertoire). He pointed out that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other: normal citizens do not want wars. But politicians have a different agenda from ordinary people. Politicians want power. They want their feet under the top table. ‘Nuclear deterrence’ gives them international political clout and it is in their interest to discourage people from thinking about what nuclear weapons actually entail.
The media are in collusion with the government by continuing to use bland-sounding terms that people outside the club don’t understand, such as ‘deterrent’, ‘extraordinary rendition’, ‘quantitative easing’ and all the rest. This sort of language leads to the normalisation of the morally unacceptable. Most people don’t know what is going on and so it becomes normal not to worry about such things. We need to educate ourselves, find out what is going on and get the message across.
General discussion followed these two speakers and it ranged widely, touching on the Arab Spring (passive resistance), the UN rôle in Rwanda and ‘responsibility to protect’, drones, the arms trade, ‘war as business’ and professional soldiers. In conclusion it was questioned whether the very institution of the sovereign state is appropriate to the modern world. It is always salutary to question whether good can ever come from something intrinsically bad. Perhaps atrocities of war which arise during the course of an apparently just intervention are inevitable. Even if ‘deterrence’ were to be proven as a way of preventing war it still corrupts by assuming a willingness to massacre the innocent: you have to be willing to use your nuclear weapons otherwise the deterrent ceases to be a deterrent.
We covered a lot of ground in one hour and it was good to see such a large and varied audience. Please spread the word about the next Holy Trinity lunchtimes on October 26th (Stephen Hammond MP and Rev. Andrew Wakefield) and November 15th (Bruce Kent and Sam Walton). Let me know if you can put a notice up, hand out flyers or e-mail details electronically to your contact list.
Report by Joanna
This was Merton’s official civic celebration of peace and unity, marking the London Week of Peace. The programme was put together at short notice but included contributions from convener Rev. Andrew Wakefield, the Mayor of Merton and representatives of ten local faith and community groups. This year’s theme was kindness and it was striking to hear passionate pleas for peace expressed through the religious texts of so many of the major world religions. If only such aspirations could be put into global practice!
The representative of the British Humanist Association reminded us that morality was not a religious preserve, a young speaker from the Merton Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender Forum made a plea for social tolerance and Tom Walsh of Sustainable Merton described how the pressures of climate change could so easily result in resource wars. “Act locally” was his message: find ways of using less, use fewer resources. It was left to Alison Williams of UNA and myself to supply what Andrew Wakefield called the “international dimension” and wider world perspective to the evening.
Alison reminded the audience that the UN was set up to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” which could be interpreted as doing something ‘kind’ for everyone, but she chose to focus on one of the very many UN activities that go un-reported: the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is this year celebrating its 16th anniversary. She described the Ring the Bell campaign in India which has been responsible for radical change in legal and social attitudes to domestic violence: “What was once acceptable has become unacceptable”.
I opened my remarks by stating firmly “I am a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and we absolutely reject using or threatening to use weapons of mass destruction to wage war or keep the peace”. Of course I could have gone on to point out that nuclear weapons are in themselves the ultimate in ‘unkindness’, but I have found that people tend to switch off from a recital of the medical horrors of Hiroshima so I focussed on the actions of one individual, the Japanese Methodist minister Mr Kiyoshi Tanimoto who survived to tell his story to the American journalist John Hersey. The personal heroism of Mr Tanimoto who re-entered the city after the bomb to search for his wife and child and spent 5 days tending the wounded and dying in the Asano Park was told to John Hersey with immense dignity, and the fact that one of the people he comforted on his deathbed was a once-powerful individual who had suggested that the Western-educated Mr Tanimoto was an American spy provided me with an obvious ‘kindness’ reference in keeping with the theme of the evening.
Those present in the Civic Centre were all community leaders and it was an opportunity to get our message across to a wider audience than usual. It was good to be asked.
There will be a big public demonstration in London on October 20th, with thousands of trade unionists marching against cuts in public spending and calling for a “Future that Works”. CND will be pointing to the mindless waste of public money on Trident — a Cold War weapons system that doesn’t help anyone and which is costing us £5 million a day.
There are plans to place an advertisement in the Guardian on October 20th.It will cost about £10,000, and CND is calling for donations (which must be received by October 15th if you want your name to appear in print) so please give what you can via http://www.cnduk.org/newspaper or 162 Holloway Rd, London N7 8BR.
The WDC/CND banner will be there on October 20th as part of a ‘Cut Trident’ bloc assembling at 11am opposite HMS President on Victoria Embankment (downriver from Embankment tube). Bring your placards about the threats to St Helier Hospital!
We were incredibly lucky that Saturday September 8th was a day of unbroken sunshine — almost too hot in fact, but after the weather earlier in the summer nobody was complaining. WDC/CND did Abolition 2000 proud and raised almost £400 for this small organisation which adds an international dimension to the UK anti-nuclear campaign, working with colleagues throughout the world to achieve a globally binding United Nations Nuclear Weapons Convention. People were very generous, paying £5 to attend and then cheerfully bidding over the odds at auction with 27 donated items contributing £195 to the grand total for the afternoon. Bruce Kent sent us a note of appreciation: “Thank you for yesterday — a wonderful event much enjoyed by all.”
See our gallery of pictures from the party!