COMMENT by Alison Williams

Fresh Hope for Soft Power

It was impossible to rejoice with a fresh memory of seeing teenage victims of an incendiary bomb coming about a week after the “red line” chemical weapon attack on people in Damascus. Nevertheless, the refusal of our parliament to sanction a military response to those atrocities lifted my spirits and gave me fresh hope.

It was clear from the 29th August debate that everyone condemned the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Syria for so long, and felt deep compassion for its victims. The Prime Minister acknowledged there could be no certainty as to the perpetrators, it had to be a matter of judgement based on the evidence available. A heinous crime on an exceptional scale had been committed and must not go unpunished and unchallenged.

The word “heinous” was used by the Leader of the Opposition and others on both sides of the argument. Very wicked it is to inflict such suffering, and one may hope that the individuals responsible will one day be held accountable at the International Criminal Court. That is what it is for.

It is of course the responsibility of the UN Security Council to deal with threats to international peace and to sanction the use of force “as a last resort”; a responsibility it frequently fails to act on for lack of consensus among the five permanent members. Many in politics and the media write off even the possibility of the P5 having a united voice on any significant issue and discount any positive role for the United Nations in consequence.

On the 27th September we therefore find surprise approaching disbelief at the news that the Security Council has indeed agreed to a resolution to find and destroy all of Syria’s chemical weapons, including reference to possible action under Chapter VII of the Charter. That includes the clause allowing military action as a last resort in case enforcement measures are called for.

As Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and the Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, has been telling all parties for over a year, there can be no military solution to this conflict; it must be political. But as long as each side thinks it can win, and supporters keep the weapons coming, the fighting will go on.

From the British parliament’s vote to hold off on military intervention, developments have been increasingly encouraging on the diplomatic and political fronts. Regarding Syria, the Russians and the Americans have talked long enough to reach agreement on how to deal with the chemical weapons issue — a start. And the General Assembly opening at the end of the month has enabled a breakthrough on another of the Middle East’s potential eruptions: Iran’s nuclear programme and the American response to it. President Rouhani of Iran came speaking in generally moderate terms except that he called for comprehensive nuclear disarmament. And Secretary-of-State Kerry, known for his “iron butt” which allows him to sit for many hours listening to people in order to understand them, said Rouhani’s timetable for a nuclear deal within 3–6 months was in principle do-able.

For now, no one is talking about military intervention, even when promised to be “limited and narrow”; perhaps “all over in two days”. (And people say those of us who call for nuclear-free security are naïve!) We can now look forward with reasonably grounded hope to a Peace Conference of all the main parties in Geneva. Concerning Syria, we have the opportunity to achieve a solid consensus that “enough is enough”. The parties must come and negotiate, the flow of arms must end and the fighting cease. Punishment must be left to the appropriate courts, and all doors must be open for humanitarian relief and reconstruction. To coin a phrase, “I have a dream.”

United Nations Day October 24th — Joint UNA/WDC meeting

Please publicise our meeting on October 24th (7·30pm, Mansel Road Centre) as widely as you can, and do your best to attend. The speaker will be Karl Miller, branch chair of Merton UNA, and his subject — “The Arms Trade Treaty 2013 and what can be achieved when governments and civil society work together through the United Nations” — concerns us all.

After outlining salient points of the treaty, Karl will introduce discussion on the specific issues (what can we expect of the treaty to regulate the arms trade?) and the wider ones (how do we understand ‘security’, and what is the best way to achieve it?)

Letter to the M.P.

I recently wrote to Wimbledon M.P. Stephen Hammond as follows, and await his reply with interest:

Dear Mr Hammond,

It is some time since we last corresponded on the subject of nuclear weapons but I am prompted to raise the issue with you again after attending an interesting seminar on nuclear proliferation at UCL, sponsored by the Pugwash organisation. I was very struck by the measured tone adopted in this context, with expert speakers and an educated audience. The principal speaker was Peter Jenkins, former UK Ambassador to the IAEA and now involved in teaching negotiating skills to the current generation of IAEA inspectors.

After analysing developments in Iraq, Iran and North Korea and other states which might be held to have nuclear ambitions, he concluded that the NPT Treaty is ‘standing up well’ and remains a very effective bulwark against nuclear proliferation. Thus the UK would be better advised to invest in political support for the NPT, rather than renewing Trident. Any threats to the UK are most likely to arise from non-state actors, against whom intercontinental nuclear missiles would be useless. We should recognise that the non nuclear signatories to the NPT do have very real grievances, chief amongst which is the ‘snail’s pace’ of progress towards nuclear abolition but also the failure to put pressure on nuclear armed non-signatories India, Pakistan and Israel.

Sashank Joshi, Research Fellow at RUSI, played devil’s advocate in painting a worst-case scenario of developments in North Korea and Iran but neither speaker concluded that there was any conceivable threat to the UK from either of these countries.

You may be aware of a new book by Eric Schlosser, ‘Command and Control’ , a meticulously researched account of the many accidents of the nuclear age. He concludes that only pure chance has prevented an accidental Hiroshima or Nagasaki taking place on US (or UK) soil. ‘Our ability to create dangerous things exceeds our ability to control them’ and tellingly, ‘the people who are most afraid ....are the ones who know most about it’. And this does not include the majority of British politicians.

An excellent Correspondence Support Network has been set up by INLAP/World Court Project UK on

Joanna Bazley

“This £100bn Armageddon weapon won’t make us safer”

Readers of the Guardian will have noted this splendid article by Simon Jenkins published on 25th September. It is hard-hitting and brilliantly written, provoked by the absence of any mention of Trident (“the most expensive project on the Treasury’s books”) at the Labour Party conference.

“It must rank as the daftest, costliest question in British politics. How many Trident submarines does Britain need? Medieval schoolmen sharpened their brains by counting angels on pin-heads. British policymakers sharpen theirs by counting warheads on missiles.”

“Debates on defence are a miasma of fear, ignorance and fantasy. The cry of the defence lobby that ‘you can’t put a price on security’ is rubbish.”

“Nuclear deterrence is rooted in a balance of terror established briefly during the cold war.... The idea that Britain is made one jot safer by a £100bn Armageddon weapon floating in the Atlantic is absurd. Yet not absurd to everyone. The idea is the mental construct of a powerful lobby, the British navy, its clever leaders and its suppliers, with their hands on stupefying amounts of public money and an ability to scare politicians into pandering to their interest. It is that interest not Great Britain that they are defending so vigorously.”

The full article is available at or from 43 Wilton Grove SW19 3QU.

White Poppies

Many WDC/CND members will already be planning to add a white poppy to their red poppy next month, believing that it is important to remember all the victims of all wars, not just British military dead, and to express our determination to work towards a society where war is unacceptable: the best way to honour the dead is to say “never again”. The three organisations responsible for the Wimbledon Vigil for Peace (CND, UNA and the Quakers) have this year made a joint request for our red and white ‘peace’ wreath to be admitted to Merton’s formal civic ceremony on November 10th.

White poppies are available from 43 Wilton Grove SW19 3QU, 020 8543 0362 (1st class stamp, please).

The DSEi Arms Fair

At the beginning of September the arms dealers of the world once again gathered in the ExCeL complex in Docklands to display their lethal wares and seal deals worth large sums of money. The incongruity of it all in the context of the raging wars and misery in the Middle East was this year especially grotesque. (Arms dealers like wars as this enables them to market their wares as battle-tested.)

Our government maintains the pretence that ‘responsible governments’ are entitled to make arms purchases and that arms dealers are entitled to make money, but this ignores the fact that it is virtually impossible to guarantee that political upheaval anywhere in the world will not result in weaponry falling into the hands of less desirable régimes. And it is also an unpalatable fact that all weaponry has a habit of trickling out of the control of the original purchaser. For example, we are told that arms delivered to Libya as part of last year’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ to support Libyan rebels against Gadafi are now surfacing in sub-Saharan Africa.

The tragedy of the recent shopping mall massacre in Kenya is the consequence of a dogma-driven hatred which justifies any degree of violence in the warped minds of the perpetrators. We can do little to influence the unbalanced thinking behind such atrocities but we can ask some searching questions about how these hate-ridden people are able to acquire such an effective arsenal of weapons. Every gun and explosive device anywhere in the world was manufactured and sold by someone.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade was able to coordinate a very effective campaign throughout the whole week of the London Arms Fair, generating far more media publicity than usual and provoking the public debate that is so badly needed. CAAT actions took multiple forms and several of us made the journey from Wimbledon. I went to the candlelit vigil organised by Pax Christi and the Quakers and found it hugely impressive. Between one and two hundred of us stood in total silence for an hour as the staff were leaving the building at the end of the day. Unfortunately we shall never know whether we caused any of them to question their activities but we all felt the need to be ‘bearing witness’ for an alternative world.

Joanna Bazley

Knitting for Peace: September 21st

Our public display of pink knitting on the International Day of Peace was a resounding success. Harriet, Joanna, Daphne, Sheila and Alison knitted away outside Wimbledon Library for the whole afternoon, significantly adding to the length of the great Aldermaston–Burghfield Peace Scarf being coordinated by Stroud campaigner Jaine Rose (see September Newsletter and, phone 01453-751604). Even more importantly they helped spread the news of the project among the inhabitants of Wimbledon. Many people are unaware the the UK has two atomic weapons establishments and this imaginative project is a very effective method of inviting questions.

We saw this on September 21st when we found that we were engaging with a completely different cross-section of the general public from usual. Women who would not normally think of themselves as ‘protesters’ came to admire what we were doing and several of them stopped to add a few rows (including Alice, aged five, who had her first knitting lesson). Ten women took away knitting details with promises to start knitting at home, and to pass on our leaflet to other family members. There are some excellent pictures on our website:

Do not feel that you have to knit a full 1 metre × 60cm panel single-handed. We are piecing together a WDC/CND patchwork, and contributions of any size are welcome — as long as they are in any shade of pink (or its approximation).

Can anybody suggest an indoor venue we can use to repeat this exercise? WDC/CND can supply all materials, leaflets etc. and our stall would fit into a Christmas Fair, social or similar.

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