I was recently introduced to two German visitors to London, intelligent women with a lively interest in current affairs. We exchanged views on the EU, border controls and the refugee crisis and I learned something about the complexities of the German party political system. I was surprised to discover that the German ‘Greens’ have strong Conservative tendencies, unlike their left-leaning counterparts in the UK, until it was pointed out that Greens are in the business of (environmental) conservation after all. We talked about the arms trade and ‘swords into ploughshares’ conversion schemes. As a native of the Saarland one of my new acquaintances had experienced at first hand the decline of traditional heavy industry and the effect of unemployment upon a whole generation, and emphasised that industrial conversion (making things that everybody needs — washing machines, vacuum cleaners) requires government support and massive investment in infrastructure and training.
From the economic possibilities of new renewable energy technologies, the conversation touched upon nuclear power (which to the German mind is both dangerous and redundant in the context of their increasingly green and sustainable energy economy) and hence to nuclear weapons. Neither of these well-educated and politically-aware women knew that the UK still possessed nuclear weapons, let alone that £100 billion was shortly to be allocated to their long-term upgrading and renewal. Why did we need nuclear weapons? What were they for? Why was it such an important debate in the UK?
It is very difficult to stand back and see one’s own country through the eyes of the rest of the world and it takes an encounter like this to put our domestic affairs into some sort of perspective. Because of course the debate about Trident is essentially a debate about domestic party politics, about public and media perception of ‘strength’ and ‘weakness’, about access to the ‘top table’ and Britain’s position in the world. National defence and security have nothing to do with it and to outsiders it is all incomprehensible.
The Marshall Islands were the site of sixty-seven US nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958 — the equivalent of 1·7 Hiroshima-sized bombs daily for twelve years — leaving the Marshallese people with a legacy of birth defects and other radiation-related health issues.
The Marshall Islands contend that each of the nuclear armed states is in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to end the nuclear arms race and to engage in negotiations on nuclear disarmament (or in breach under customary international law in the case of NPT non-signatories India, Pakistan and North Korea). However, of the nine nuclear weapons states only the UK, India and Pakistan accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ: the USA has not accepted the complete ICJ jurisdiction and cannot be obliged to respond to the Marshall Islands challenge. (An invitation to respond on a voluntary basis was ignored.)
Preliminary hearings at the Hague were held from March 7–16 and were confined to establishing the jurisdiction of the court. Both the UK and India claimed that as they have strong records of support for nuclear disarmament there is no dispute for the Court to adjudicate. The Marshall Islands countered with the UK’s consistent record of voting against nuclear disarmament resolutions at the UN General Assembly and its plans to replace its Trident nuclear weapons system. The UK and India also argued that the cases cannot proceed in the absence of the other nuclear weapons states and that various exceptions to their declarations when accepting the jurisdiction of the Court apply.
Pakistan similarly fell back on finer points of law, arguing that when Pakistan signed the ICJ declaration in 1960 it included the proviso that Pakistan will not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ on “disputes arising under a multilateral treaty unless all parties to the treaty affected by the decision are also parties to the case before the Court”.
The Court now begins its deliberations and judgment on “the preliminary objections to its jurisdiction” will be delivered at a public sitting, the date of which will be announced in due course.
“The United Kingdom requests the Court to adjudge and declare that (i) it lacks jurisdiction over the claim brought against the United Kingdom by the Marshall Islands and/or (ii) the claim brought against the United Kingdom by the Marshall Islands is inadmissible.”
General information about the cases is available at nuclearzero.org and videos from the pleadings are posted at http://www.icj-cij.org/multimedia
The article which follows has been submitted to LASER, the journal of the London and SE Region of the United Nations Association, and covers material which has already been published in this Newsletter, but I thought it might provide WDC/CND members with a useful summary.
In the UK, debate about nuclear disarmament centres on the Trident nuclear weapons system: four Vanguard class submarines armed with long-range nuclear missiles which provide ‘continous at-sea deterrence’ against unspecified threat. With the prospect of a vote in Parliament later this year confirming the Government’s intention to commission a successor generation of Trident submarines ensuring that Britain remains a nuclear power for the next fifty years, passions are running high in domestic political circles.
What is less well known are the significant moves towards global nuclear disarmament currently taking place through the United Nations. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty came into force in 1970, committing the five then existing nuclear weapons states (the P5 members of the UN Security Council) to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament...” and the Opinion handed down by the International Court of Justice in 1996 clarified that the “threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to international law” and that “there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control”.
Since that time successive NPT Review Conferences have come and gone with no substantive progress whatsoever. A groundswell of frustration amongst the non-nuclear weapons NPT signatories has resulted in some creative diplomatic thinking, and in 2013 the Norwegian Government hosted the first ever intergovernmental Conference to examine the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supported by 128 states. A second HINW conference in Mexico in February 2014 was followed by a third in Vienna in December and the landmark “Austrian Pledge” to “stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons”. On the 7th December 2015 the UN General Assembly formally adopted the Pledge (122 formal state endorsements and a further 27 voting in favour) and also voted to set up a new UN body, the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) that will develop “legal measures, legal provisions and norms” for achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world.
This new Working Group opened proceedings on Monday February 22nd with remarks from former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who denounced absence of progress in existing forums and acknowledged the right of non-nuclear weapons states to question whether the “existing architecture” was sufficient to bring about nuclear disarmament. “The [working group] should aim to galvanize international public opinion and, I sincerely hope, break through the paralysis which has characterized and stymied the debate on nuclear disarmament in recent decades,” said Annan.
As discussions got underway it became clear that most excitement was being generated by proposals for a new legal instrument that prohibits nuclear weapons even without the participation of the nuclear weapons states — the so-called nuclear “ban treaty” along the lines of recent treaties against cluster bombs and landmines, “open to all and blockable by none”. The use of nuclear weapons would thus be outlawed under existing humanitarian law, within the framework of a far more complex Nuclear Weapons Convention and the verified elimination of all nuclear stockpiles which remains the ultimate aim.
A minority of states (primarily those who are members of military alliances with the nuclear weapons states) argued in favour of more modest “confidence building measures”, fearful of further isolating the nuclear weapons states. The OEWG will reconvene in May to pursue the different legal measures in more detail. The agenda will be announced in April by the Chair of the OEWG, Ambassador Thani Thongphakdi of Thailand.
In common with all other nuclear weapons states, the UK has boycotted the OEWG, despite our government’s professed support for “multilateral nuclear disarmament”.
Thanks to all those who have already contributed towards the Fête. Please help with publicity (flyer enclosed) and in any way you can. N.B This year’s Fête will take place in the afternoon, from 2–5pm.
Merton and Sutton TUC recently held an open meeting to discuss Trident and Jobs. After a very interesting and thoughtful discussion, we all agreed that it is of first importance that the Labour Movement produces a detailed policy document on Defence Diversification, and that CND takes the concerns of those employed in the defence industry more seriously. It is not good enough to point out that it would be cheaper to pay large sums of money to every worker in the Barrow shipyards than to continue with a £100 billion programme of Trident renewal. These people have pride in their history, culture and technical skills. They see their whole way of life under threat.
Arms trade workers, here’s an early warning
You might wake up tomorrow morning
And find that this is the glorious day
When all your jobs will just melt away
Because the people of the world are going to make sure
There’ll be no more, no more, no more war
So now’s the time to switch your occupation
From dealing in death and desolation
Don’t hang around now you’ve been told
The international murder trade’s about to fold
You won’t have to maim, you won’t have to kill,
You can use your brain and use your skill.
Peace needs workers of all kinds—
Make artificial limbs instead of landmines.
Tricycles instead of tridents,
Violins instead of violence,
Lifeboats, hospitals, medicine, drains,
Food and toys and buses and trains—
Come on, there’s plenty of work to be done
If we’re going to make peace for everyone.
At London Region’s meeting on March 2nd CND General Secretary Kate Hudson spoke about her delight at the success of the London demo a few days earlier: “It was good to be on [the demo], meeting people we know and all that kind of thing... but it was also politically significant — indicating where the anti-Trident debate is at.” The presence of so many party leaders, M.P.s, trade unionists and religious leaders revealed a new consensus about nuclear weapons, but this had not just been an anti-nuclear mobilisation but a ‘societal surge’ representing something much bigger, because CND had been joined by the anti-austerity movement: working broadly, building alliances and making links is definitely the way forward.
All were encouraged to engage with the Labour Party Defence Review (http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/defencereview — deadline for submissions 30th April) whether members of the Labour Party or not, and CND accepts that the “jobs question” must be addressed and will produce a new report, clarifying figures and supplying the factual information that campaigners in the defence industry need. CND will also be lobbying to encourage the Labour Party to start work immediately on their defence diversification policy as the most effective way of demonstrating to the trade unions that workers’ concerns are being taken seriously: a shadow Defence Diversification Agency could be set up, for example.
The changing security environment, the radically different threats in a post-Cold War world, the waste of public money in the context of government ‘austerity’ and the multilateral perspective (UK boycott of UN talks at Geneva): all this needs to be fed into the Labour party defence review but also into the wider public debate. At every opportunity we must stress the rational argument and ask the obvious question: “What does Trident actually do to make us safer?”
Musicians for Peace and Disarmament (formerly MANA) is delighted that Judith Weir, Master of the Queen’s Music, has agreed to become an MPD Patron. She is interviewed in the MPD Spring Newsletter and says: “Music is an outstanding example of something that can be shared both internationally and at a personal level. Put several musicians with wildly varying origin and languages in a room together... and on the whole they become absorbed in their task and generously communicate with each other. If the whole world operated on this basis, it would certainly be a more peaceful place.”
The next Concert for Peace will be a piano recital by Beethoven specialist and international soloist Julian Jacobson on April 16th. The venue is opposite Waterloo Station and extremely easy to get to from Wimbledon: meet at the main entrance to Wimbledon Station at 6·30pm if you want to go as a group.