A few weeks ago I was at a ‘Wild West’ themed evening in the very elegant Society Café. I got chatting to a young man. He played the trombone. His playing had been resumed whilst at university reading ‘War Studies’. He had intended to join the army after graduating. Early into his reading, he realised that the military was not for him. This awareness came out of conversations with various army personnel that his father had introduced to him. Also, during the course of his studies ex-army veterans had been wheeled in (quite literally). These war-wounded gave very graphic accounts of real-life battles.
Their accounts gave this trombone-playing young man an insight into the effects of military/trained violence. He was particularly struck with the knowledge that if you could not cope with the experience of being shot at and witnessing your army mates taking bullets whilst flying helicopters, then the military was not for you! The young man decided that he would not be able to cope with the probability of these events. So, however interesting the theory of combat might be, picking up, polishing and playing your trombone would be more stimulating and fruitful than heading towards target practice and taking orders.
He now earns a living tromboning around the world. I am much encouraged by this story.
The sudden death of Rev. Andrew Wakefield from a heart attack has come as a massive shock to the whole of Merton. He was involved in a legion of community and interfaith initiatives, often a thorn in the flesh of bureaucratic officialdom but universally respected as a warm-hearted, plain-spoken and honest advocate of many sections of the community extending far beyond his Church of England parish. We shall remember him for his support for the Peace Movement and his rejection of nuclear weapons. He stood with us on the Wimbledon Vigil for Peace (always very apologetic that he was not able to do so more often). He helped plant our Hiroshima cherry tree in Cannizaro and he regularly attended our annual Hiroshima Day commemoration, the candle-floating ceremony on Rushmere. He normally spoke on these occasions but this year (with uncharacteristic modesty) he declined, saying that it was someone else’s turn — and now I am sorry.
Brendan O’Hara MP (SNP Defence spokesman) was enormously impressive when I heard him speaking at a London Region CND meeting in Portcullis House on October 11th. His constituency of Argyll and Bute includes both Faslane and Coulport; he won 56% of the vote in a five-way contest last year. That there is no military and no economic case for Trident is the consensus of Scottish public opinion — churches, trade unions and all political parties. Scotland has been anti-nuclear ever since Polaris first arrived in Holy Loch (a fact of which Macmillan was well aware when he advised Eisenhower that basing Polaris on the Clyde would make it unsaleable in Scotland).
The original Trident decision was taken in the days of massive superpower blocs, but today’s world is very different, more complex and nuanced. It is impossible to defend the UK against terrorism, climate change etc. using Cold War weaponry. Trident has become a political rather than a military weapon, with Tony Blair openly admitting in his autobiography that the deciding factor against the cancellation of Trident was that it would “downgrade our status as a nation”. In Parliament, Brendan O’Hara sees his job as making the ‘pro-defence case’ against Trident, effectively reframing the debate. (“Just because you are anti-nuclear doesn’t make you ‘soft on defence’.”)
The debate in Parliament so far has been a logic-free zone. Tory MPs have not been challenged with the raw fact that every penny spent on Trident comes out of the defence procurement budget: the UK cannot afford both conventional and nuclear defence. Rapid developments in technology all indicate that by the time the new vessels come into service (“160,000 tons of slow-moving submarine”) it is highly unlikely that they will still be undetectable. This is a new line on the immorality of nuclear weapons: Trident is a waste of money because the money comes out of the budget to defend and protect the UK and it is of no military use at all.
“We are leaving ourselves undefended to pay for a system that can’t defend us.... If I can be elected as MP for Faslane and Coulport on a platform of outright opposition to Trident how can pundits continue to claim that [this] is a vote-loser?”
Report by Joanna
Things are moving fast in New York by UN standards. This Newsletter has kept readers up to date with humanitarian initiatives (Oslo, Mexico and Vienna conferences) and the Open Ended Working Group in Geneva. The great non-nuclear majority in the UN General Assembly has taken the initiative after more than forty years of failure by the nuclear weapons states to fulfil their Article VI obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The recommendation by the OEWG to the United Nations First Committee (with the backing of a large majority) strongly supported a conference in 2017 to negotiate a Nuclear Ban Treaty, open to all states and stoppable by none. The resolution now adopted by the First Committee will proceed to the General Assembly, enabling all states supporting it to refuse all nuclear weapons states activity in their countries or waters, including uranium mining or transportation. A stigma will be attached to the persistence of nuclear weapons states, arguably an even greater embarrassment than any new practical problems in military agreements and joint exercises.
Naturally there has been fierce opposition from the nuclear weapons states (and their client countries, the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella states’), with most of the pressure taking place behind closed doors. But despite the arm-twisting, a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons was adopted on October 27th by a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors of the resolution, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting it. 123 nations voted in favour and 38 against, with 16 abstaining.
The UN vote came just a few hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on the subject — 415 in favour, 124 against, and 74 abstentions — inviting EU member states to “participate constructively” in next year’s negotiations.
Christine Beerli, Vice President of the International Red Cross, made a powerful statement at the UN in support of a nuclear ban treaty, addressing the First Committee on October 12th.
“States have a unique opportunity to make this 71st session of the UN General Assembly a turning point for progress towards prohibiting and completely eliminating the most destructive weapon ever invented.... The international community now has before it overwhelming evidence of the horrific long-term and irreversible effects of these weapons on health, the environment, climate and food production — that is, everything on which human life depends.... Having recognised the consequences, States now have a responsibility to take decisive action. And they have an unprecedented opportunity to do so.”
The Resolution: L.41
After 19 pages of background-setting introduction, Resolution L.41 adopted on October 27th agrees to convene a United Nations Conference in 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. It “encourages” all Member States to participate in this conference. It “calls upon” States participating in the conference to make their best endeavours to conclude as soon as possible a legally-binding instrument, and it “decides” that the conference shall submit a report on its progress to the General Assembly at its 72nd session which will assess the progress made at the negotiations and decide the way forward: sub-item in the provisional agenda to be entitled “Taking forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations”.
Resolution L.41 was adopted by a clear majority but the voting pattern is worth analysis. Strongest opposition came from the nuclear weapons states (and their clients) but although the US, UK, Russia, France and Israel voted against the Resolution, China, Pakistan and India all abstained while North Korea voted in favour. NATO members voted against the Resolution, joined by all would-be NATO nations in Europe, but the following countries voted in favour: Austria, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Sweden and Turkmenistan, and the following countries abstained: Belarus, Finland, Kyrgyzstan, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Uzbekistan.
The most vocal opponent of the Resolution outside the ‘nuclear club’ was Australia, much to the disgust of Australian Professor Tilman Ruff, founding chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear Weapons, who said that Australia should reverse its opposition and “get on the right side of humanity”. “Australia is doing dirty work for Washington, and is willing for US nuclear weapons to be used on its behalf, and potentially with its assistance.... It is inconceivable that Australia would not eventually sign up to a treaty prohibiting the last [weapons of mass destruction] to be banned and worst. We’ve signed every other treaty banning an unacceptable weapon and on some, like chemical weapons, we were a leader.”
Much the same could be said of the rôle of the UK, whose Disarmament Ambassador, Matthew Rowland, made an “extraordinarily aggressive and offensive statement” in the First Committee during an off-the-record segment of the proceedings. Tim Wright from ICAN Australia, who was present, was so enraged that he fired off a magnificent article which can be read on http://www.icanw.org/campaign-news/do-no-harm-ban-nuclear-weapons/
The Ambassador “feigned concern that a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons would weaken the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We should abide by the principle of ‘do no harm’”. Then — in one of the more blatant displays of hypocrisy during this year’s session — he boasted that Britain’s “democratically-elected parliament had voted in July to renew its fleet of nuclear-armed submarines. How can a state that wields weapons of mass destruction... preach to others about doing no harm?... The British ambassador who accused Ban Treaty supporters of ‘fooling themselves’ in believing such a treaty would have a positive effect for nuclear disarmament seemed only to be fooling himself in believing that an intervention of this nature would be compelling to states determined to outlaw weapons that threaten everyone’s security.”
As a final insult to the non-nuclear majority the Ambassador was seen to ‘fist bump’ the US Ambassador at the conclusion of his speech. British delegates refused to release the text of his statement (ICAN has applied for a copy under Freedom of Information) so we have to conclude that public scrutiny is unwelcome. How can UK politicians and their allies in the media continue to claim that they are in favour of ‘multilateral disarmament’ when the most encouraging UN initiative for decades is treated with such scorn by our international representative?
This conference, an initiative of London Region CND, is intended as a major stepping stone to getting up a London-wide Student CND and enthusing young people to carry on CND’s vital work into the future. Confirmed speakers include the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, Tariq Ali, and Kate Hudson (with more to be announced soon) and the venue is Student Central, Malet Street. Please spread the word wherever you can. Youth & Student CND, email@example.com
The civic ceremony starts at 10·40am, and afterwards we shall hold a small and dignified ceremony of our own with poetry and a reading from the United Nations Charter as we rededicate ourselves to work for a better world. White poppies are available on the Peace Table and at the Vigil, or you can send an SAE to Joanna (contact details at the top of the Diary page). Please wear your white poppy with pride!
All are invited to enjoy “a Lebanese-Palestinian feast with Special Guest Bruce Kent” on Friday 9th December at 7pm, Hiba Express, 113 High Holborn WC1V 6JJ. Fixed price £17 per person (soft drinks only, but you can bring your own bottle). Additional attractions include a raffle, memorabilia sale, and a Lucky Dip. Places must be reserved in advance: cheques (payable to London Region CND) to Treasurer Phil Sedler, 6 Headlam Street E1 5RT.