One of the final films to be shown in this year’s London Film festival was an intriguing independent American feature entitled simply “Drones”. Unlike the campaigning documentary shown by Chris Cole of Drones UK in our WDC/CND meeting last year, this picture uses the issue of remote-controlled killing as the basis for a purely fictional drama featuring characters with conflicts of their own, and was shown to the general public as part of the ‘Thrill’ strand of the festival, alongside classics such as “Gaslight”.
Almost every scene in “Drones” takes place between the same two characters in a single location — a cramped windowless bunker on a military base in Nevada. At first it appears to be an exploration of social conflict, with the drama centring around the inexperienced (and female) officer placed in nominal mission command over an uncouth but far more experienced co-pilot: there is the usual testing of boundaries between the pair, idealism and ambition versus pragmatic reality, and the fact that their mission involves the mind-numbing tedium of surveillance over a remote location in Afghanistan is all but irrelevant.
But the tension is cranked up as Sue, the general’s daughter, is abruptly faced with giving the command to kill her first terrorist suspect, despite orders not to fire unless she is absolutely certain of the man’s identity. She is determined to do this ethically and take out the right target without harming his family: but it turns out to be much more complicated then she had expected. The twists and turns of the plot evolve to the limits of credibility (and arguably beyond; even if she is the daughter of a five-star general, it’s hard to imagine any army tolerating rank insubordination for so long) into a nail-biting climax, with the tables turned first one way and then the other.
After the screening, there was a short discussion with the director, during which a quick show of hands revealed that about half the audience believed that the ‘terrorist’ was innocent and half were unsure: very few were convinced of his guilt, which was apparently not the anticipated reaction! Rosenthal ascribed this to the difference between American and English viewers; I have a feeling that most of those interested in the subject arrived already prejudiced against drones, so it may have been a self-selecting audience...
There is increasingly furious public debate about the HS2 high-speed rail project, with accusations flying about inflated egos and wasted public money. It has taken a long time for the media to recognise the parallels with Trident — due at £100 billion to cost the country about double the price of HS2 — but on October 30th the Guardian newspaper at last put it into words. After discussing the uncertainties behind calculations based on future passenger growth and travel patterns the leading article (30/10/2013) goes on to say “The one safe bet is that with HS2, Britain... will be better connected by less crowded trains. That has some real value, unlike that of another similarly costly 20-year project that Labour meekly endorses — renewal of Trident missiles, a comparison worth mulling. If the opposition wants to knock down a ‘political trophy project justified on flimsy evidence’, in Lord Mandelson’s phrase about HS2, this might be a much better place to start.”
What is it about nuclear weapons that renders politicians so incapable of rational analysis?
I attended this course last Friday with seven others from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. It was held at London Metropolitan University on the Holloway Road. The course aimed to provide us with the tools to plan and deliver talks and workshops and also with the ability to promote them in schools in our local areas.
Lisa Ronholt Bounds the Peace Education Development Coordinator for CND ran the course and it was excellent. Lisa very much practiced what she preached and we were very quickly divided up into groups for a variety of activities. The idea is to raise the issues around nuclear weapons, but not to campaign for CND. The day passed very quickly and I went home tired but feeling much more confident and knowledgeable about becoming a Peace Education School Speaker.
The next step of course is to start contacting some local schools. I have some contacts in Wandsworth schools but if anybody knows a school that would like a talk or a workshop please let me know.
On UN Day, October 24th, we enjoyed a stimulating and uplifting talk from Karl Miller, chair of Merton UNA branch. It is rare indeed to be able to celebrate the story of how ideas developed by world civil society (NGOs) entered the statute book a mere twenty years later.
“The originality of the Arms Trade Treaty idea was that — for the first time in history — states would have to consider international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as international criminal law, as a basis on which to decide whether an arms transfer across borders should go ahead”: Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s Head of Arms Control and Human Rights.
In other words, all arms exporters are now legally bound to consider what their weapons are to be used for: the global arms industry now has a ‘level playing field’. Each government is responsible for the weaponry of its own army and police force, with any transfer of arms becoming a criminal offence.
Historically arms dealers have profited from conflict, often supplying deadly weapons to both sides. After the 1991 Gulf War it emerged that Saddam Hussein’s army had been supplied with arms by all the Permanent Five members of the UN Security Council, and many of them had also armed Iran during its 8-year war with Iraq in the previous decade. The weapons pouring into the conflict zone of Africa are responsible for 9·2 million deaths in 10 years, 70% of them civilian — and not a single arms dealer has been prosecuted.
Amnesty International claims credit for the first germ of the idea of a legally binding arms trade treaty, but Amnesty was soon joined by other NGOs (Saferworld, the World Development Movement, the British-American Security Information Council) and then Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias of Costa Rica who invited fellow Peace Laureates to attend a “State of the World Forum” in San Francisco in 1996. Years of lobbying followed, culminating in a very professionally organised NGO-led consultation (feedback to the UN) which helped inform the final UN General Assembly debates.
The UK can be proud to have been one of the earliest states to back the draft treaty, and Britain was one of the seven nations (Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the UK) which sponsored the “Towards an Arms Trade Treaty” resolution in the General Assembly in 2006. There are obvious weaknesses in the new treaty (how can it possibly apply in a chaotic conflict situation such as Syria, for example, and why have drones been excluded?) but this must be the first time that any part of the arms trade has been outlawed, which must be a step in the right direction.
The meeting concluded with a collection for CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and we were able to send them a cheque for £35·50.
August 2014 sees the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. The government has allocated more the £50m to mark it. Cameron says that we should have “big outdoor commemorations that will unite the country in national pride” and “capture the British spirit”.
What is an appropriate way to commemorate the slaughter of the First World War and what events are in the pipeline for doing so? London CND is holding a public meeting at 8pm on Wednesday 6th November in Conway Hall, WC1, with Valerie Flessati, Vice-President of Pax Christi. Come to the meeting and join in the discussion.
Thank you to all who have paid promptly and donated generously. Reminders are attached to this Newsletter for those who may have mislaid their original slips. (Apologies if your cheque is already on its way.)
We are delighted that Wimbledon’s MP Stephen Hammond has agreed to share a platform with Rebecca Johnson, CND Vice-President and Co-Chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) at a public meeting in the New Year. Rebecca is on a campaigning tour of the UK, speaking about the need to “break through defeatism and political cynicism and intensify disarmament pressure on all fronts”. She is personally convinced that anti-nuclear campaigners have won the argument against replacing Trident, a view with which Stephen Hammond as a Government minister cannot be expected to agree. We look forward to a lively meeting on a date to be confirmed very shortly, almost certainly on a Thursday towards the end of January.
The 68th Session of the UN General Assembly opened at the end of September with a High-Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament, largely ignored by MPs and the British media.
“In deciding to hold a High-Level Meeting Member States emphasized the importance of seeking a safer world for all and achieving peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons. Convinced that nuclear disarmament and the complete elimination of nuclear weapons are essential to remove the danger of nuclear war, the General Assembly recalled the resolve by Heads of State and Government... to strive for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons....” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded the meeting that “In its very first resolution in 1946 the General Assembly identified nuclear disarmament as a leading goal of this Organisation. Decades later the objective of ‘general and complete disarmament’ remains a top priority: this combines both the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the regulation of conventional arms.
“Some might complain that nuclear disarmament is little more than a dream. But that ignores the very tangible benefits disarmament would bring for all humankind. Its success would strengthen international peace and security. It would free up vast and much needed resources for social and economic development. It would advance the rule of law. It would spare the environment and help keep nuclear materials from terrorist or extremist groups. And it would remove a layer of fear that clouds all of human existence.
“The nuclear weapons States have a special responsibility to intensify their efforts. Let us remember that nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing.” And he concluded by thanking “members of civil society [us!] for all they have done to promote disarmament efforts and advance disarmament and non-proliferation education”.
A joint statement signed by 124 member states was delivered to the General Assembly by New Zealand “expressing deep concern for the catastrophic consequences that any use of nuclear weapons would entail as well as their uncontrollable destructive capability and indiscriminate nature”.
This was the first High Level Meeting on nuclear disarmament to be convened by the General Assembly, and it went ahead despite resistance from the nuclear weapons states. There was a strong focus on humanitarian consequences in many individual statements and the Vatican directly challenged the sincerity of the nuclear powers’ disarmament efforts (“Can we say there is ‘good faith’ when modernisation programmes of the nuclear weapons state continue?”)
Mexico announced that it will host a conference to continue the discussion on the humanitarian impact in February 2014. The Oslo conference on humanitarian aspects last March was boycotted by all the nuclear weapons states (an unholy alliance between the USA, UK, France, Israel, Russia, China and North Korea) but it is encouraging that the non-nuclear signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty — the great majority of states — are increasingly taking the initiative and rejecting the official disarmament measures which have stalled for so long. Perhaps we can hope for a parallel to the process which resulted in the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty?
The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013 will be presented to Jeremy Corbyn MP on 26th November “in recognition of his consistent efforts over a 30-year Parliamentary career to uphold the Gandhian values of social justice and non-violence”. A well-deserved tribute. The formal presentation by Bruce Kent will be followed by question and discussion. All are welcome but organisers would appreciate advance notice from those planning to attend.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org: Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House, 7–9pm 26th November.
We have still received no reply to our response for a mixed red and white peace wreath to be part of the civic ceremony on November 10th but we shall be at the War Memorial in Wimbledon Village (10·40am) and will hold our own ceremony after the official one is over before placing the red and white wreath on behalf of the Friday Vigil for Peace.