It is difficult not to feel profoundly depressed as events unfold in the Middle East. Islamic State terrorists behave with barbarism and the UK parliament votes to endorse yet more bombing raids on Iraq. Here we go again, but at least the debate in the House of Commons avoided belligerent triumphalism: according to the Guardian (27/9/2014) ‘the overall tone of the seven-hour debate was questioning, wary and dubious’. And well it might be. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, having taken the decision that something must be done, bombing is the only ‘something’ that our politicians can think of.
This same issue of the Guardian carries an article by veteran former ambassador Oliver Miles (ex-head of the Foreign Office’s Near East and North Africa department). “We must beware — Isis wants the West to wage a Crusade: British bombs cannot do much. British diplomats, smartly deployed, could tip the region towards peace”. He writes that “it is depressing that the government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy... has been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.... Our first aim should be to look for ways to place the responsibility where it belongs — with the people of the region... what is needed is a political contribution from the heavyweights, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt”.
He makes four recommendations:
He concludes that only a fully inclusive Iraqi government can win back the loyalty of the Sunnis “whose despair has driven them into the hands of the men in black”.
Many of us went on the climate change march on September 21st, a youthful and good-humoured event on a gloriously sunny afternoon which received excellent media coverage much helped by the presence of Emma Thompson. It was encouraging to see so many young families (including many with babes in arms), giving one hope for the future.
Bruce Kent was there with a huge Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW) banner linking climate change, war and poverty. Military adventures waste vast amounts of non-renewable resources (manufacture of military equipment, fuel for fighter aircraft etc) and military research and development wastes the time and brainpower of a multitude of highly qualified scientists — never mind the destruction of the environment and the wanton waste of human life inevitable in any war. A country that puts its faith in the military will not be facing up to the realities of non-military threats to its security, and climate change is advancing rapidly as a threat to us all.
MAW has produced an excellent DVD and book: Conflict and Climate Change, linked to many areas of the National Curriculum and recommended by Christine Blower, MAW vice-president and General Secretary of the NUT. It can be ordered from the MAW website: http://www.abolishwar.org.uk (£9 plus P&P) or get in touch with Joanna (020 8543 0362) if you do not have access to the Internet.
Conference is in central London this year (Park Crescent Conference Centre, Great Portland Street) and all paid-up National CND members are entitled to attend. Joanna will be the WDC/CND group delegate but you can register as an individual up until 10th October via http://www.cnduk.org/conference or phone 020 7700 2393 for the necessary forms.
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We are sorry to report the death of long-standing WDC/CND member Margaret McAuley at the age of 92. We shall remember Margaret as a very lovely and talented folk singer, devoted to the music of her native Ireland and regularly contributing to our poetry and music events in the 1980s, often accompanied on the guitar by her son Brendan. We send condolences to Brendan, Helen and family.
This demonstration will highlight public spending cuts and will be a great opportunity for CND to raise the Scrap Trident issue with hundreds of thousands of potential sympathizers. There will be a big ‘Scrap Trident’ bloc and we shall be taking the Wimbledon banner (and will need strong people to help us carry it!) Meet us at Waterloo Station at 10·30am to march from the Embankment at 11am through Central London to a rally at Hyde Park.
This is the Merton UNA branch annual fundraiser and takes place on St Mary’s Church Field, Arthur Road, Wimbledon (the top of the hill) 9am–12·30pm, Saturday October 4th. Book with Alison Williams email@example.com or 020 8944 0574 if you want to bring a car (£10) and sell treasures from your attic. Is there anybody who would be prepared to take up a car load on behalf of WDC/CND?
The Galilee Quartet will be in concert and conversation in Sutton on Monday 6th October: three brothers and one sister from Palestine who will play both classical and Arabic music, followed by a Q&A session with viola player Omar Sa’ad. The concert takes place in the Drama Studio, Sutton Grammar School (entrance off Greyhound Road, SM1 4AN) and doors open at 7pm for a 7·30pm start.
There is no set advance ticket price but donations are requested on the night. For security reasons it is essential to reserve places in advance either by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by texting 07931 786134.
August Bank Holiday was the wettest in living memory but the Carshalton Environmental Fair went ahead and we had a WDC/CND stall, arranged at short notice in the absence of the Morden Fair where we have traditionally been present. We were grateful for the loan of a heavy-duty (and weatherproof) gazebo from Charles Barraball of Merton Cycling Campaign, and Charles deserves a medal for cycling 5 miles uphill in the pouring rain towing a trailer, and making the equally unpleasant return journey afterwards.
We had an impressive roster of volunteer helpers and although visitor numbers were seriously below normal expectations, we were pleasantly surprised to find we had taken £71 by the end of the day. Despite the rain, Christine was able to distribute several hundred of the neat little concertina’d Trident leaflets which proved reasonably weather-proof.
The fair organisers told us how grateful they were for our support (many other stallholders had pulled out) and one of the WDC/CND team was of the opinion that we had enjoyed the sort of ‘bonding experience’ for which big business pays good money. But we hope that the weather is kinder next year.
The annual MAW peace history conference takes place at the Imperial War Museum on Saturday October 11th, and the theme this year is ‘Alternative Voices of World War One: the courage of their convictions”. There is an impressive list of speakers, with topics including “Challenging the war machine: German peace activism during WWI”, “The Peace Movement reformed, 1914: the context and the origins of the Fellowship of Reconciliation” and “Communities of resistance: patterns of dissent in Britain during the First World War”. There will be a short drama based on original accounts by women who went to the Hague International Women’s Congress in 1915 and John Gittings will give a talk on ‘Interpreting World War One: a critical assessment of how it is being commemorated’ followed by discussion.
To register, send a £20 cheque payable to MAW to 11 Venetia Road, London N4 1EJ or book online at http://www.abolishwar.org.uk
As reported in the May Newsletter, on April 24th 2014 the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed unprecedented lawsuits in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “to hold the nuclear-armed states accountable for violations of international law with respect to their nuclear disarmament obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law”.
On September 24th I went to an interesting briefing session at Friends House where Professor Nicholas Grief (Counsel to the international legal team) gave us an update and overview of the case. He explained that for the Marshall Islands climate change and nuclear weapons are both very present threats. These islands rise only a couple of metres above sea level and the islanders continue to suffer the effects of the US atmospheric nuclear tests of the 1940s and 50s.
Of the known nuclear weapons states the UK is in the unique position of having both signed the NPT and accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and is therefore the subject of the main case, which alleges breaches of NPT Article VI and also exploits the links between the NPT and the ICJ 1996 Advisory Opinion, resting on a complaint that “a bargain has not been kept” — a fundamental legal and moral principle.
Court proceedings adhere to a strict timetable. The UK agent and legal team met with the ICJ president and registrar in mid-June and all written pleadings have to be with the court by the end of this year with written memorials on the jurisdiction, admissibility and merits of the case to be submitted by March 2015.
The Foreign Office legal advisors have indicated that they reserve the right to lodge ‘preliminary objections’ to both jurisdiction and admissibility, all based in fine points of law (e.g. they may argue that there is an absence of diplomatic correspondence proving that there is a dispute between the UK and the Marshall Islands or they may challenge the Marshall Islands’ voting record on nuclear disarmament). The UK aim will be to avoid the ICJ reaching any hearing on the ‘merit’ of the case. Much will depend on the actual composition of the new court. (You ‘have to know your judges’ said Nick Grief.)
Although we have to be realistic about the limitations of the law, the forty-page ‘Application Inviting Proceedings against the United Kingdom’ is already helping to raise awareness and is concentrating legal minds in the Foreign Office: it will remain the only publicly available document on the subject for a long time to come.
The great Aldermaston to Burghfield seven-mile peace scarf, rolled out between the two atomic weapons establishments in August, is taking on a new lease of life prior to being repurposed as woollen blankets for refugees. Some groups of course have already gone ahead with their blanket-making but Greater Manchester and District CND and Quakers for Peace used a large section of scarf for an impressive ‘Stick to Knitting’ demonstration outside the Labour Party Conference last month and plans are now well under way for a big ‘Wrap Up Trident’ demo in London after Christmas. The theme will be ‘people’s needs not nuclear insecurity’ with emphasis on the NHS, fuel poverty, warmth and security for the old, sick and homeless etc. Sections of scarf will weave around Parliament Square and extend along Whitehall towards the Ministry of Defence and we have undertaken to contribute our Wimbledon/Wandsworth/Kingston pinwheels. The proposed date is January 24th and initial publicity will be ready in time for the TUC march on October 18th. Please reserve this date in your diary.
It was reported at the end of September that the proposed new Hinkley Point nuclear power plant is to get EU state aid approval (i.e. approval for EDF and its Chinese partners to receive as much as £17·6 billion in public subsidy) but Dr Paul Dorfman of UCL’s Energy Institute writes that “The Commissioners have been rushed into this too quickly” and he has been advised there is plentiful scope for legal challenge on the grounds of unfair competition with other energy sectors, the Hinkley consortium having been guaranteed twice the current market price of electricity for 35 years. The (supposedly impartial) Reuters report on the current state of play makes amusing reading: “The UK argues that the project would not take place without subsidies and fears that if Hinkley does not go ahead it will destroy investor confidence.”