Hiroshima Day, August 6th, the anniversary of the dropping of the world’s first atomic bomb and the destruction of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, is powerfully symbolic to our campaign: this is the reality of nuclear weapons. And of course the destructive capacity of the Hiroshima bomb with its 200,000 deaths is only a fraction of that of modern nuclear weapons. Modern UK nuclear warheads are more than six times as destructive as the Hiroshima bomb and one Trident submarine carries eight missiles, each with five nuclear warheads. In addition to the horrific aftermath of a nuclear explosion, recent research has suggested that major climate change across the whole of the Northern hemisphere could result from just one Trident submarine attack, leading to crop failure and mass starvation.
We are constantly told that UK nuclear weapons are our ‘deterrent’, but no weapon can act as a deterrent unless whoever is being deterred is sufficiently convinced that we are prepared to use it. One of the most surreal episodes in the recent General Election campaign was when Jeremy Corbyn was pressed to answer hostile questions about his willingness to launch a retaliatory nuclear attack. Loyalty to agreed Labour Party policy obliged him to reply indirectly, emphasising the importance of international diplomacy and strengthening alternatives to war, but the absurdity of the exchange was splendidly exposed by a subsequent questioner who said she couldn’t understand why all these men were so keen on talking about the destruction of millions of people.
What a pity that internal Labour Party politics prevented Corbyn from saying that having nuclear weapons only encourages the other side to strike first and has no defensive effect once an attack has been launched. A revenge attack would be pointless and only compound the radioactive destruction and human suffering.
Jeremy Corbyn’s personal opposition to nuclear weapons is well known and he remains Vice-President of CND. During the Election campaign he refused to say that he would “press the nuclear button”, and far from this being a vote-loser, a surge in support for the Labour Party lost Theresa May her parliamentary majority. Of course votes were responding to Corbyn’s much wider message of change and hope and all one can say is that his principled stand on nuclear weapons did him no harm: arguments about the Cold War and Britain’s status as a ‘top nation’ with unquestioned responsibility for weapons of mass destruction denied to lesser countries make little sense to a younger generation.
Jeremy Corbyn’s greatly increased authority as undisputed leader of the Labour Party opens up the debate about Trident within the party. As Kate Hudson (CND General Secretary) writes in the latest issue of Campaign, “over the past months the right wing of the Labour Party and a small but powerful section of the trade union movement have peddled the myth that Labour needs to look ‘strong on defence’ to win — and this means supporting Trident replacement. This is now shown to be the nonsense that it is.”
For many years we have held a traditional candle-floating ceremony at Rushmere on Wimbledon Common, a quietly dignified occasion which is much valued by us all, and we shall once again assemble there at 8·30pm on August 6th as it gets towards dusk. After several years when we have found ourselves struggling to light our candles in the face of a brisk breeze we are hoping to introduce paper lanterns this year in place of open floating boats, and this will require advance preparation. I plan to run a lantern-making workshop at 43 Wilton Grove on the afternoon of Sunday July 23rd.
The Wimbledon Vigil for Peace at 6–7pm on Friday August 4th will become a special Hiroshima Event, bringing details of our annual commemoration of Hiroshima Day to the general public and reminding passers-by (many of whom are hardly aware that we still have nuclear weapons) why we continue to campaign for ‘No More Hiroshimas’. Preparations will be coordinated by Alison Williams, who should be contacted with offers of help and suggestions of how we can increase the impact of our message. But just be there — whether for the whole or even only part of the time.
Alison Williams: 020 8944 0574 / email@example.com
Only about a dozen people came to our meeting in the William Morris Halls on June 15th but it was an informative and interesting evening. Carol Turner (author of the recently published book “Corbyn and Trident”) is currently Chair of London Region CND and in her rôle as Chair of Labour CND very much a Labour Party insider. Her book was published after Jeremy Corbyn’s successful second election campaign for the Labour Party leadership but before there was any indication of an early General Election. Carol gives a useful resumé of the historical background to nuclear debate within the Labour Party, interviews notable players including representatives of the pro-nuclear bloc, and most intriguingly includes many extracts from an interview with Jeremy Corbyn “as a humble backbencher” several years before he rose to national prominence.
As only a week had passed since the General Election there was much discussion of the campaign and its implications for the future. In Carol’s opinion the result was “fantastically good news” for CND, giving us “a lot of space to campaign” — first and foremost within the trade unions where inter-union rivalry has often formed an unspoken part of Labour Party politics. The Defence Review chaired by Emily Thornberry and commissioned when Jeremy Corbyn first became leader (shelved because of the referendum campaign) should now be published to form a basis for debate at the next Labour Party conference. Trade union fears about the loss of jobs must be taken seriously, with defence diversification becoming part of a national industrial strategy.
June 15th was the date when the UN ‘Nuclear Ban’ negotiations resumed in New York and Carol was asked about their chances of success. The limitations of any treaty boycotted by the nuclear weapons states themselves are obvious but “these negotiations are important from the propaganda point of view,” said Carol.
Anything that “cuts through the notion that nuclear weapons are essential to play an important rôle on the international stage” must be good: CND needs to work to get the Labour Party to adopt a clear policy of support for a Ban Treaty, which in the event of a Labour government would represent an extremely important global development.
Final discussions are taking place at the UN in New York with considerable optimism that agreement can be reached on the text of a Ban Treaty by July 7th. CND chair Dave Webb wrote from New York at the end of June that “There is no argument about the need for a treaty but there are different schools of thought on how much detail should be in it about steps for disarmament and verification if/when nuclear states come to sign it.... each state has its own range of nuclear weapons technologies and infrastructure.... so it would be difficult to specify a process that would cater for all.
“At this stage it does not look as if there are any major problems and hopefully by the end of July we will have a treaty that clearly states that the possession and development of nuclear weapons are to be unlawful. We will then encourage states to sign. Some 130 or so look as if they will be ready to do so; the big question will be how do we get the UK to join them. I am sure this will be a major topic at CND Conference in October.”
Such has been the claim of the UK government, and has served as its excuse for boycotting the Ban talks at the UN (along with all the other nuclear weapons states). The truth of this is examined in an interesting article by Sebastian Brixey-Williams, project leader at BASIC† and executive committee member of British Pugwash.
†British American Security Information Council
He concedes that “multiple simultaneous efforts at achieving nuclear disarmament could lead to forum shopping”, with non-nuclear states seeking to promote disarmament through the stronger Ban while nuclear-armed states press on with the NPT. “This could mean that more time is spent about what the approach to disarmament is and less time is spent on making much-needed, meaningful progress.” But diplomats in the Ban treaty negotiations have been adamant that the treaties should not conflict and “just to be on the safe side chair Elaine Whyte Gomez deliberately avoided last month’s NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in Vienna so as not to create a distraction.”
Brixey-Williams offers an alternative perspective: that the Ban treaty is more likely to resemble a big nuclear-weapon-free zone — a geographic area where no nuclear weapons are allowed. The world currently has five such treaties and it is generally accepted that they strengthen rather than threaten existing arms control régimes. It might help that the legal status of the Ban treaty mirrors that of the NWFZs: a subgroup of NPT states making a comprehensive and binding declaration about what kind of nuclear activities are not permitted inside their territories. The Ban treaty could be read as an informal unification of the five existing NWFZs, with an extension into new regions such as Europe (Austria, Cyprus, the Holy See, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, the Netherlands, San Marino, Sweden Switzerland). In fact, the language of the Ban treaty’s opening articles actually mirrors those found in NWFZs.
He concludes: “The interactions between the Ban treaty and the NPT will need to play out in their own time, but to me the potential harms appear to be overstated. Opposition to the Ban treaty can also be viewed as an expression of nuclear-armed states’ apprehension of the new, their unwillingness to accept illegitimacy in the eyes of the majority, and as a means (consciously or unconsciously) to find a scapegoat for the stalled disarmament and arms control agendas seen in recent years.”
The concert in Hinde Street Methodist Church on Friday 20th June by flautist Wissam Boustany, accompanied by pianist Aleksander Szram, ranged from crisply classical Hummel to Wissam’s own “Broken Child” lament, written during the Gaza bombing of 2014. “When will this savagery end?” said Wissam as he introduced his piece. “This is happening in so many parts of the world these days, not just in Gaza, and it is all wrong.”
Since its foundation in 1983 as MANA (Musicians Against Nuclear Arms), Musicians for Peace has raised more than £50,000 for organisations within the peace movement. Their President is guitarist John Williams, and a distinguished list of patrons includes conductor Sir Simon Rattle. Membership is open to anyone interested in music.
An art exhibition is being planned to coincide with the London Arms Fair on 11–15 September. The exhibition will gain publicity for opposition to this horrible commercialization of war, engage new audiences with the issue and also raise money to help stop future arms fairs.
How you can contribute:
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Once again this is an appeal to all car owners: we have booked stalls on July 16th (Morden Park, ‘Family Funday’) and August 19th (UNA Car Boot Sale, St Mary’s Field, Wimbledon Village) and we cannot do these events without transport. If we get plenty of volunteers, nobody will have to do more than make a single trip, so please consider if you can contribute in this way to our campaign even if you are not normally an ‘activist’.
Our Annual General Meeting will take place a few weeks later than usual owing to holiday commitments but it will take the usual form of a bring-and-share party in Joanna’s garden at 43 Wilton Grove (indoors if wet). We hope that as many members as possible will attend to review the past year’s activities, review our finances and plan for the future. Please get in touch if you want to put your name forward for the Steering Committee or if there are any issues which you feel should be put onto the agenda.
Sunday 20th August, 2·30pm, 43 Wilton Grove, London SW19 3QU.