The Open-Ended Working Group on nuclear disarmament (OEWG) ended its deliberations in Geneva with a clear recommendation for the commencement of negotiations in 2017 for a “legally-binding instrument” to ban nuclear weapons, as a first step towards their eventual elimination. A ban would short-cut the stalled processes of the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Conference on Disarmament (which has not even managed to agree on an agenda in twenty years). Unlike in the Security Council, with its veto for nuclear-armed P5 permanent members, these proposed new negotiations would be run along the lines of the OEWG — “open to all and blockable by none”.
“This is an impressive achievement for every state that genuinely supports nuclear disarmament,” writes Ray Acheson of WILPF†. “All African, Latin American, Southern Asian and Pacific states together with several in Europe have united behind a proposal for the UN General Assembly to convene a conference next year to prohibit nuclear weapons... Of course those countries that believe nuclear weapons provide them with security continue to reject the push to prohibit them, as this will have significant implications for their current policies and practices.
† Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
“The [OEWG] report notes that ‘other states did not agree with the recommendation for a prohibition treaty and instead recommended that any process on nuclear disarmament must address national, international and collective security concerns and support the pursuits of practical steps consisting of parallel and simultaneous effective legal and non-legal measures to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations’. These ‘other states’ did not make a recommendation on any particular process, other than staying on the same course that has been unable to advance for the past two decades.
“The scene looks different now. The collective opposition to the current state of affairs has found a united voice and a pathway to action.... we are as close as we have ever been to launching a concerted, credible challenge to nuclear weapons and we have the momentum and the moral authority to succeed.”
OEWG Report 19 August 2016 Vol 2 Nº 19, http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org
The mass “Stop Trident” lobby of Parliament on July 13th was followed a few days later by a debate and vote in the House of Commons — which decided to forge ahead with the replacement of Trident by a massive majority.
It was an enormous lobby of Parliament, supported by all the organisations that backed the Stop Trident demo in February, and attended by a lot of very well-informed people bringing detailed facts, figures and arguments to their MPs, and most importantly ICAN’s† newly-published report summarising progress at the UN in Geneva.
† International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons
Unfortunately Stephen Hammond was unavailable, but Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh kindly agreed to allow me to accompany her constituent Tom Killick, the two of us forming a Merton CND delegation. Tom concentrated on the projected costs of Trident replacement (now estimated at £205 billion) and I handed Siobhain a copy of the ICAN report on the exciting multilateral developments at the United Nations. She made it clear that she had already made up her mind on the subject of Trident but listened to us courteously enough. Siobhain had not previously known of the existence of the Geneva Open-Ended Working Group so Tom and I were able to feel that we had contributed to the education of at least one M.P.
The parliamentary debate the following week was a sorry affair, hastily convened in the aftermath of the EU referendum, one suspects for party political purposes — to unify the Conservative party and to exploit the divisions within Labour. The level of debate was abysmal, with the same old tired and discredited arguments being trotted out by politicians who had none of them bothered to think afresh about the realities of security and defence in the 21st century. Labour’s promised open and rigorous Defence Review had not yet been completed and the party is now in the midst of yet another damaging leadership election. A majority of Labour M.P.s is convinced that scrapping Trident would be a vote-loser, ignoring the fact that the SNP swept the board in Scotland at last year’s General Election on an anti-Trident platform. It was appalling to see such a profound moral and financial decision being taken in these circumstances — and passed off as democracy.
August 6th is a day of profound significance for all of us in the peace movement: the anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb which destroyed the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945, killing more than 100,000 people instantly with many more dying subsequently from radiation sickness.
The death of twelve-year-old Sadako Sasaki has become a poignant and enduring symbol of the suffering of her fellow citizens. As she lay in hospital, dying of radiation sickness, she set herself the task of folding 1000 paper cranes, which according to Japanese tradition brings long life and good luck. She achieved only 644 cranes before her death, but her friends completed the remainder and a statue in her honour stands today in the Peace Park in Hiroshima, garlanded with paper cranes from all over the world.
August 6th this year fell on a Saturday and we decided to feature paper cranes on our monthly stall outside Wimbledon Library while volunteers handed out leaflets publicising our traditional candle-floating ceremony in the evening. Origami paper in brilliant colours made for a colourful event and attracted the attention of a pleasing number of families with young children who were fascinated by the folding process and all wanted cranes to take home with them.
In the afternoon some of us made a spontaneous decision to meet in Cannizaro Park and use all the spare cranes to decorate the Hiroshima cherry tree planted last December, and the colourful birds dancing in the sunshine on threads of invisible (and biodegradable) black cotton looked absolutely lovely. Of course our activities received plenty of attention (and we gave away several more paper cranes to passing children) but no criticism, and the cranes stayed in place until Nagasaki Day on August 9th, even gaining an approving ‘tweet’ from the Friends of Cannizaro Park [see http://www.twitter.com/CannizaroPark/status/762578906721447936 for picture] Something to be repeated.
Candle floating on Rushmere in the evening attracted a goodly-sized crowd, a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar faces, and it was pleasing to speak to several people who were there because they had picked up our publicity leaflets.
Noel Hamel from Kingston spoke powerfully about the military context of the decision to drop the atom bomb and the publicity spin which has been given to these historical events. Guitarists Brendan McAuley and Dave Carrier led us in the singing of “Down by the Riverside” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” in tribute to CND stalwarts Muriel and her daughter Judith Wood who died within a few days of each other earlier this year, and Pastor Nigel introduced a few minutes’ quiet reflection before we lit and launched our candles on Rushmere.
Although it was a gloriously warm summer evening, there was rather too much wind for the comfort of our open boats, but the survivors of the little fleet made a brave showing with their lights reflected in the water as we all renewed our determination to continue working for a world where nuclear weapons have no place. For next year it was felt that we need to learn how to construct proper paper lanterns!
Report by Joanna
As the House of Commons prepared to vote on Trident renewal, Scientists for Global Responsibility organised an open letter to MPs from leading UK scientists and engineers, including Professors Sir Michael Atiyah, Stephen Hawking and Peter Higgs. This letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph and achieved a great deal of media interest with tens of thousands of people viewing it on social media, meaning that the arguments reached a wider audience than ever before.
“...we the undersigned British scientists and engineers call upon MPs to vote against retaining those weapons of mass destruction and support other actions to reduce the nuclear threat. We are deeply concerned about the continuing global threat from nuclear weapons.... All nine nuclear-armed nations are currently engaged in modernisation programmes, with international tensions, terrorist activity and cyber-security threats all exacerbating the risks posed by these weapons. Yet at the same time renewed multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts -- supported by most of the world’s countries through the United Nations -- are making important progress.... “As scientists and engineers -- professions which are central to the development and deployment of nuclear weapons -- we feel a particular responsibility to speak out. These weapons are uniquely dangerous and yet there is little urgency from the nuclear-armed nations to reduce the threat from the weapons they themselves deploy. This must change and the UK could, and we think should, take a leading role.”
See http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/security-and-disarmament for letter and list of signatories.
At the end of July I went to Kingston to see the temporary peace exhibition in the beautiful mediæval parish church, and was so impressed that I sent the following letter to the Leader of Merton Council:
I was enormously impressed by an exhibition currently on display in Kingston Parish Church (in the café area) and I understand from the organisers that it is available to be transferred elsewhere in London free of charge for the next few weeks.
The exhibition is a clear and thought-provoking analysis of the political factors that precipitated the slide towards war in 1914, the attempts to prevent this war, public attitudes to the war and the horrors of war. There is a list of all those residents of Kingston and the surrounding area who lost their lives. (A similar list could be prepared for Merton.) Subsequent panels examine a century of attempts by individuals and organisations to find alternatives to war, cleverly displayed against a parallel timeline which charts post-1918 warfare and weapons development.
The section of the exhibition which I found most moving displays research from a small town in the Black Forest, putting names, faces and families to the 1914-18 German ‘enemy’: ordinary young men all of them, doing their duty to their Heimat (homeland), obeying orders and only interested in personal survival and the prospect of return to civilian life.
This exhibition was funded by Quakers in the South-West and originated from Tavistock, Devon. It deserves to be very widely shown and I hope that it will be possible to seize the chance for Merton despite the short notice.
Would you grant it space in the Civic Centre?
I have as yet received no response but the exhibition (inspired by the centenary of the First World War) will remain relevant for some time yet, and perhaps Merton will eventually be able to take its turn. Next stop for the exhibition will be the Movement for the Abolition of War peace conference in Leeds this October, and in November Dr Rupert Gude (whose brainchild it was) will be speaking at a Kingston Peace Council/CND meeting.
This magnificent project is a superb example of what can be achieved by a small committed group of people, and I must confess a personal interest as Tavistock Peace Action Group was founded over thirty years ago by my late mother, Ray Hainton.
The Movement for the Abolition of War is staging a youth conference on militarism in British society and its promotion by government — and how to counteract it. It will take place on Saturday 8th October at the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) and is primarily aimed at 17–30-year-olds (although other people are not excluded!) Journeyman Theatre will perform their play “Over the Top” which addresses the issue of militarism in schools, and speakers include Ben Griffin (former SAS soldier, founder of Veterans for Peace UK) and writer David Gee of Forceswatch. Tickets are free but should be pre-booked at http://mawyconference.eventbrite.co.uk. This is an excellent initiative and deserves maxiumum publicity.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for an electronic flyer (or phone 020 8898 4850 for hard copy) and distribute as widely as possible. Do you have any contact with sixth forms, universities, colleges or youth organisations? Are there young people in your family who would find it stimulating to listen to top-class speakers and take part in lively group discussions? Remember — since 2011 the Government has spent more than £45 million on promoting educational initiatives with a ‘military ethos’ and earmarked a futher £50 million to be spent on expanding the number of cadet forces within state schools.
Thanks to the generosity of Merton UNA we were granted a free pitch at their car boot sale at St Mary’s Church Field on August 20th, but unfortunately the weather did not co-operate. We had taken only £26·15 before the forecast “occasional light rain” turned into a persistent downpour. We had a plentiful supply of polythene sheeting with us and managed to keep most of our stock reasonably dry, but the rest of the morning was spent waiting for the rain to ease off sufficiently for us to pack up and go home.
Our gratitude goes to the stoical WDC/CND team (Bob, Sue, Demos, Julie, Sue, William and myself) and to Alison for arranging everything (except the weather!)