With the arrival of President Trump in the White House it is difficult to feel positive about global prospects, and simultaneously in the UK we are facing all the uncertainties associated with the wrangling over Brexit. But it has already become apparent that the famed ‘checks and balances’ in the US are already placing limits on the power of the new President and it does seem that in addition to advancing the careers of cronies and family members, Trump has appointed two military advisors with both common sense and experience who have modified some of his wilder statements.
For myself, the most encouraging development is the ‘repoliticisation’ of the large segments of the population who have for many, many years been opting out in favour of more congenial pursuits. This renewal of a sense of responsibility has gone hand in hand with a sense of common cause, so that we can see that although we may individually be devoting most of our efforts to a particular campaign — peace, nuclear disarmament, the environment, human rights, anti-austerity, the NHS — we are offering a powerful alternative vision of a better world, and together we are even more powerful than before.
Years of street campaigning have shown me that most people who choose to ignore my attempts to engage them in unpleasant reality do not actually support most of the things being done in their name; they just feel a sense of helplessness which has often been falsely interpreted as apathy. I am also deeply saddened by the general state of public ignorance — a reliance on newspaper headlines and the political soundbites that pass for ‘news’ — fostered by the short attention-span of the media.
The Women’s March after Trump’s inauguration in January was memorable not only for the impressive numbers involved but also for the hugely various campaigns and causes that had brought the participants together. The message from the platform in Trafalgar Square was clear: it doesn’t matter how you choose to campaign for a better world, but don’t just stay at home feeling powerless and miserable — do something about it.
And don’t feel that you have to solve all the world’s problems overnight and single-handed; that is the route to even deeper depression. The Fête of the Earth is on May 13th. Be there!
As previously reported [November 2016 Newsletter], all-important ‘nuclear ban’ negotiations are due to take place at the UN headquarters in New York from 27–31 March and 15 June–7 July and the UK government has not yet indicated that it will be represented, despite its repeated claims to be in favour of multilateral disarmament. An organisational meeting has already been held in New York with Ambassador Elayne Whyte of Costa Rica confirmed as chair of the conference.
At the UN General Assembly’s First Committee 123 states voted in favour of the resolution that established the mandate for the negotiating conference, and some of the nations that voted against this resolution or abstained from voting have since indicated their intention to participate in the negotiations. The aim is to declare nuclear weapons illegal under international law — prohibiting a range of activities relating to nuclear weapons, including their use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention or transfer. (Provisions are likely to be similar to those found in the treaties banning biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines and cluster bombs.)
The first draft of the treaty will be based on discussions taking place in the March negotiations. It is envisaged that the nuclear weapon ban treaty will complement and reinforce the Non-Proliferation Treaty; the NPT requires all of its parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith for nuclear disarmament”.
Preparations for the negotiations can be followed on ICAN’s live blog: http://www.icanw.campaign-news/blog/
On Wednesday 8th March speakers from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade will be giving an update on their campaigns against “Arming Saudi”. They will be reporting on their High Court action which hopes to show that the UK government is acting unlawfully in permitting the export of UK-manufactured weapons used in violation of international humanitarian law during the bombardment of Yemen by Saudi-led forces.
7·45pm, Kingston Quaker Centre, Fairfield East KT1 2PT
On 30th January Edward Stourton interviewed veteran ‘Cold Warrior’ William Perry for the BBC Radio 4 Analysis series. After spending most of his adult life planning and building America’s war machine Perry now sees the world as possibly “sleep-walking to Armageddon” with the nuclear danger now greater than during the Cold War. Perry was technical advisor to Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis which was a defining moment for Perry himself (and for most of his generation). They knew enough about nuclear weapons to understand that nuclear war would lead to the end of civilisation and Kennedy had later judged that there had been a 1 in 3 chance of nuclear war — “and Kennedy was an optimist”.
Under President Carter, Perry was Under-Secretary of State where he strongly argued against battlefield nuclear weapons. Investment in alternative technologies created ‘stealth weapons’ (penetrating Soviet air defences) and ‘smart weapons’ (precision targetting) to offset the supposed Soviet advantage in troop numbers. During the Reagan years Perry left government and frequently travelled to the Soviet Union, meeting Russian academics. Reagan’s Star Wars ‘Strategic Defense Initiative’ he found deeply troubling because “a belief that it could work might lead to a mindset suggesting that nuclear weapons were okay”.
The Reagan/Gorbachev Reykjavik summit in 1986 foundered on the issue of Star Wars, but did achieve agreement to eliminate all intermediate range missiles. Perry described how events at Reykjavik started him thinking: why should we have to live with the nuclear danger? “For the first time I focussed on rethinking the issues more seriously.”
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union the threat of war between the superpowers seemed more remote and in 1993 Clinton appointed Perry as Secretary of State for Defense. Senators Sam Nunn (Democrat) and Richard Lugard (Republican) worked together to allow diversion of money from the defence budget to “tidy up the nuclear detritus of the Cold War”: in three years over 4,000 weapons were dismantled in the post-Soviet states and about 4,000 in America. “The whole crazy concept of nuclear deterrence” became clear to Perry as he watched two young Ukrainian officers perform a simulated launch on a target in the USA.
With the Bush administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq the ‘Nuclear Question’ went out of focus. “The Bush administration was so wrapped up in the Iraq war that they took their eye off the ball.” In Perry’s view the greatest dangers of today stem from the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, the possibilities of nuclear terrorism, or regional nuclear conflict (India/Pakistan).
Perry has maintained contact with North Korea even after leaving office. He doesn’t think that North Koreans are suicidal or that they are seeking martyrdom but they are a “risk-taking nation” and might be emboldened by the possession of nuclear weapons to take provocative action.
The last thing we need now is another nuclear arms race but recent statements from Trump and Putin suggest we might be heading in that direction. (Trident he dismissed as a “political judgement” rather than a matter of military significance.) At the age of 89, he continues to campaign, write, speak and teach about the nuclear threat. There would be no possibility of recall of missiles “launched on warning” in the case of false alarm. The decision to launch rests entirely with the American President and Perry said that he would be “particularly worried if the person making the decision does not have a calm and deliberate temperament”.
Based on notes by Alison Williams
Everyone should by now have the date of this year’s Fête in their diaries: May 13th. It is once again an afternoon event (2–5pm) in the hall and garden of St Mark’s (behind Wimbledon Library). We have already received many early promises of help, but we need lots more, including the all-important publicity and leafletting on the day. This year we hope to be able to advertise live musical entertainment and have interest from a small local choir. There is plenty of musical talent out there — what could you offer?
Please will everybody take every opportunity to drum up support for what is our major annual fund-raiser. Start thinking about what you can contribute to the stalls. Cakes, jams and home produce are lovely but if your talents do not lie in this direction (or time does not permit) how about donating a raffle or tombola prize?
In her introduction to this new briefing from CND, Kate Hudson says “The decision on whether or not to replace Trident should be taken on the basis of what will most contribute to the security of the British people. This report will argue that our nuclear weapons do not make us safe... [and] that the latest compelling arguments against replacement are firmly technologically based”.
Cyber-attack is an ever-increasing risk to all computer-controlled systems. “Common sense would suggest that the fact that Trident relies on various computers and networks means that there is at least a possibility of an adversary affecting the running of the system. Especially considering that it uses the very common, and therefore well-known and understood, Windows for Submarines software based on Windows XP.”
One of the big arguments advanced in favour of submarines as a platform for our nuclear weapons has been that they are undetectable under water. But as Paul Ingram of BASIC† says, “we are on the verge of the emergence of several key technologies including swarming drones in large quantities covering large areas of ocean, massive expansion in the capabilities of computers... that will sooner or later render the stealth of submarines inoperable. And when that happens the very worst place to put your nuclear weapons is in slow submarines in international waters... so the British commitment to putting all their warheads onto an extraordinarily expensive system could be the biggest white elephant possible, giving us an illusion of a nuclear deterrent that could be easily removed from the strategic equation.”
In simple terms, technology has moved on and our politicians need to understand this and make choices accordingly. The government’s National Security Strategy (Nov. 2015) analyses the most urgent threats currently facing the UK: “tier 1” threats are identified as climate change, terrorism, pandemics, cyber attacks and resource shortages with nuclear weapons downgraded to “level two” status. “If we look at the major threats to UK security, nuclear weapons are not just irrelevant and dangerous but they stop us addressing the real problems that are common not just to Britain but to the world as a whole” (Professor Paul Rogers). http://cnduk.org/images/stories/Security_not_Trident_report.pdf
† British American Security Information Council
A new Nuclear Information Service report was launched at a meeting in Portcullis House in Westminster on February 22nd. This report, which details over a hundred serious nuclear-related incidents and accidents in the UK, got coverage in both the Sun and the Mail on Sunday (perhaps alerted to the topicality of the theme by the then very recent revelation of the misfiring of a test Trident missile).
The report quotes “Normal Accident Theory” developed by Charles Perrow which postulates that accidents are inevitable in a complex and tightly linked system. And in the case of nuclear -related accidents the gravity of the potential consequences should make advocates of our ‘deterrent’ at least pause for thought.
I have been revisiting ‘Command and Control’, Eric Schlosser’s brilliant book of 2013 (subtitled “The Story of Nuclear Weapons and the Illusion of Safety”). This charts the story of a long-forgotten accident in the US when a dropped spanner brought a massive Titan missile (warhead yield 9 megatons: about three times the explosive force of all the bombs dropped during WWII) to the brink of disaster. John Lloyd, reviewing the UK edition in the Financial Times, said “It drives the vision of a world trembling on the edge of a fatal precipice deep into your mind...” All politicians should acquire a copy — and read it.