I have been to a number of CND events over the years thanks to my wife Megan, who introduced me to the CND movement many years ago. We have usually taken part in marches and outdoor events at Aldermaston and Parliament Square.
But with the massive changes in technology over the years the threat from nuclear weapons has changed as has the world order. So the New Approaches to Foreign Policy Conference provided a great opportunity to hear some high level speakers explaining where we are now and what is likely to happen next.
The venue at the School of Oriental and African Studies was excellent. I have read it is a hotbed of various extremist groups so approached with a little trepidation but it was very friendly and pleasant, with a good café and nice food in the student canteen.
Looking around the hall I saw Joanna busy taking notes so I will leave her to go into the detail of what was said. The first speakers were students and I was particularly impressed by Haleigh from Peace Action at Tufts University in the USA. Taking on the nuclear lobby in the USA must be a very daunting task and she has done well, forming a series of groups across Massachusetts. Nobu from the SOAS CND Society gave a powerful and eloquent speech. He was very determined to ensure that the lessons of the Hiroshima bomb were communicated to young people.
It was a shame though that there were not that many young people in the audience. The ones there heard a sequence of very knowledgeable and dedicated speakers. The speeches became a bit depressing in that the threats are more complex and new technologies appear to be allowing weapons to be getting out of human control. But the UN vote on a global ban on nuclear weapons was an uplifting piece of news and will keep discussions on nuclear weapons on the agenda at a high level.
SOAS CND and London Region had assembled an impressive platform of speakers for this excellent and informative (and sometimes sobering) conference and it was good to see young people there, even if not in huge numbers. It was certainly a more lively event than the usual annual trip to Conway Hall.
Nobu Ono of SOAS CND was born in Hiroshima and spoke of how the anti-nuclear campaign has personally important resonance for him; the “grotesque double standards” and the “smack of racism”.
Haleigh Copley (Peace Action USA) brilliantly conveyed the urgency of student opposition to President Trump, a rapidly growing movement on college campuses.
Larry Sanders (Green Party) spoke about the lasting impact of his brother Bernie’s presidential campaign. Education has become a major political tool, empowering students to take action and rally against essentially unqualified Trump appointees. These are “dark times” but “because of this, people from all parts of the US are being mobilised, with the sustainability, social justice and anti-nuclear campaigns all working together.”
Ambassador Manual Hassassian (Palestine Mission UK) spoke at length about his frustration with previous US administrations and speculated about the probable impact of President Trump — but “we must draw lessons from history, analyse the present and never anticipate the future”. He reminded us that it was the British Balfour Declaration of 1917 that led to the loss of Palestine: UK colonial policy, European antisemitism (and subsequent Holocaust guilt) have nothing to do with the US.
Cornerstones of US policy in the Middle East include access to oil, cheap labour and markets, and the containment of communism and Islamic fundamentalism, all combined with unequivocal support for the state of Israel. Sectarian conflict in the Middle East is a new phenomenon. Current regional conflicts represent the culmination of ‘divide and rule’ US policies.
The crux of Middle Eastern stability lies in finding a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The “Two State” concept had become a delusion. The choice now lies between “crisis management of occupation” or a “One State” solution. “There will never be peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians have the right of self-determination.”
Keith Bennett (former editor of Asian Times) gave a sobering analysis of the emerging power-struggle between China, the US and Russia with “freedom of navigation” having become the excuse for new US involvement in the South China Sea dispute and the potential for major military confrontation between three major nuclear powers: several experts are making direct comparison with the Cuban missile crisis. Trump has consistently shown hostility to China but has however indicated that he is willing to consider negotiations for political ends (e.g. for China to put pressure on North Korea). “Trump is crude and vulgar but not stupid.” It is simply that he is “obsessed by the idea that the US is being ripped off by foreigners”.
The session on New and Emerging Weapons featured Chris Cole (Drone Wars UK) and David Leal (standing in for Professor Steven Rose) and was sobering in the extreme; how little most of us know about what is going on. The advent of drones has given politicians a means of “rehabilitating war”: the “glorious heroic war doctrine” had become increasingly threadbare but here was the means of “simply and cleanly taking out the bad guys”. But the reality is very different.
The very absence of political risk is creating more war. Much is officially denied (e.g. the direct connections between UK ‘RAF’ bases and the US) or smoothed over by propaganda such as the renaming of Predator drones as “Protector drones”. Investigations by military analysts have conclusively proved that the use of drones does not eliminate civilian casualties; in Afghanistan it has been shown that drones killed ten times more civilians than manned aircraft. And these are not just ‘accidents’, because drones are authorised even when it is known that there will be ‘collateral damage’ (up to ten civilians per strike is considered permissible). Assassination used to be publicly condemned but now ‘extra-judicial killing’ is almost acceptable, even if there is not enough evidence to put the victim in court. In short, “drones are lowering the threshold for the use of force” for both policy makers and the military.
David Leal spoke about the increasing military significance of IT, with civilian technologies (software) being adapted for military purposes where operators are often less concerned about ‘mistakes’. For example driverless cars are subject to exhaustive testing whereas the Russians are already exporting driverless tanks with guns mounted on them. Once again we see the development of cheap and expendable weapons which are lowering the threshold to warfare. Cyber weapons pose a whole new threat because of the complex interlinking of civilian computer infrastructures; the cities of industrialised societies are especially vulnerable to cyber attack. (In many ways, Third World cities are far more resilient.) All autonomous weapons are amoral — no inconvenient human qualms. Lockheed Martin already says that the F-35, announced five years ago, will be its last manned fighter plane and all future weapons systems will be autonomous.
The final speakers were Kelvin Hopkins MP, vice-chair of Parliamentary CND (and a member of CND for nearly 60 years) and CND’s Kate Hudson whose message was that “there has to be a better way of doing things”. Societies are not based on killing and the UN Charter does not have to be a utopian fantasy; this is a vision shared by the overwhelming majority of people globally.
There is increasing evidence that nuclear weapons pose overwhelming humanitarian dangers (human rights, climate change etc.) and far from waiting for nuclear disarmament until “that time that the world comes to its senses” (to quote President Trump) we need to continue to point out that only nine countries have nuclear weapons and the others never lost their senses. The forthcoming Global Ban conference at the UN presents us with very real possibilities.
Ann Feltham (CAAT) concluded by talking about the rôle of the arms trade: “a government-backed enterprise which benefits the arms trade and nobody else”. CAAT has obtained a judicial review in the High Court to challenge UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia (whose bombing in the Yemen has led to consistent reports of major breaches of humanitarian law). The case will be heard on 7–9th February and presents the best opportunity in years to raise the issue of the arms trade with MPs and the general public. Ask why 130 government staff are employed by the Defence and Security Organisation (while all other UK industries have been left to go to the wall) and why are export licences being granted against both UK and international humanitarian criteria? The government is clearly worried, because they have retained their top lawyer, while a Conservative MP is on record as saying that if the government is shown to have been breaking the law, then the law should be changed!
Much of this is scary stuff but we need to know what is being done in our name.
Report by Joanna
I represented WDC/CND at London Region’s Annual General Meeting on January 14th and gave a report on our activities for the year. There are several other very active London groups and it is useful to compare notes. We work closely with neighbouring Kingston but have little contact with those in North and Southeast London.
Nobu Ono from SOAS is working hard to build up a student network based on SOAS and now has an email list of 260, recognising that there is little appetite for the structures of a formal group among the younger generation. Attendance at SOAS CND events has varied from 2 to 50 participants (apart from the December ‘Rave’, which was massively more popular!)
Chair Carol Turner delivered an upbeat report on last year’s campaigning and explained the thinking behind various proposed constitutional changes, and the appointment of three vice chairs for the coming year (to spread the administrative load in the absence of any member willing to stand as secretary): Kingston’s Rosemary Addington is one of these new appointees.
Treasurer Phil Sedler does a sterling job in keeping the accounts in good order and is prepared to continue for another year but “hopes that there is somebody out there with the requisite skills to take over from this Treasurer in decline”. I wonder if any of our members might volunteer to shadow the rôle for a year? For anyone with a suitable background it might be a much more congenial way of making an invaluable contribution to the campaign than more public activities. London Region made a loss last year, largely as the result of taking on a part-time employee to organise new student activities, but still has a healthy bank balance, having received three legacies the previous year.
Bruce Kent spoke vigorously about campaigning: don’t get hung up on details, stick to basics.
Pat McManus’ poem is very relevant to the forthcoming sixth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster:
Three Mile Island
We are delighted that this excellent peace exhibition [see Newsletter September 2016] is now on display in Merton Civic Centre, in the Library‘s Heritage Centre (2nd floor). We hope to be given permission for a small display of literature. Please publicise as widely as you can!
The exhibition will run from 20th January–18th March and is open Mon–Sat from 9·30am to 5pm. Admission is free. http://cis.photoarchive.merton.gov.uk/news/2017/01/the-road-to-peace