Have politicians (and the media) lost all touch with nuclear reality? Scorn is heaped upon Jeremy Corbyn for equivocating about ‘pressing the nuclear button’ and having no glib answer to Andrew Marr’s question about writing ‘letters of last resort’ to Trident submarine commanders upon entering Downing Street. As we enter a General Election campaign nuclear issues become simultaneously both trivialised and politicised. Nowhere are we told that even a ‘small’ nuclear exchange (by accident or design) would generate unspeakable human suffering and endanger the future of the whole planet.
The detonation of the huge American MOAB (massive ordnance air blast) bomb in Afghanistan generated much excited media coverage but nowhere was it pointed out that the explosive yield of this ‘mother-of-all-bombs’ (11 tons of TNT) was less than 4% of the corresponding yield of the smallest nuclear weapon in the US arsenal. The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, cheerfully told Nick Robinson on the Today Programme that the Prime Minister would be prepared to launch a pre-emptive Trident nuclear weapon first strike, ignoring all scientific evidence that this would be national suicide.
The recent use of chemical weapons in the context of the Syrian civil war was rightly greeted with international condemnation, but nine of these same nations continue to base their defence policies upon nuclear weapons of mass destruction — and when offered the chance to take part in nuclear ban treaty negotiations backed by over 130 nations at the UN they chose to take part in a joint boycott.
These negotiations will reconvene on June 15th and I cannot do better than quote the Head of the Arms Unit of the International Red Cross who had a letter published in the Guardian on April 22nd: “A new treaty... would reinforce the stigma of [nuclear weapons] use and be a concrete step towards fulfilling existing commitments for nuclear disarmament... all nuclear states can show leadership by taking their place at the negotiating table”.
Nuclear weapons may have become a political football in the UK but the anti-nuclear campaign is a global one and we play our part by becoming better informed so we can hold our politicians relentlessly to account.
On Tuesday 7th March Alison took part in the now-traditional Christian CND ‘Embassies Walk’, and she writes “This year, we were divided into three routes, so many more embassies were visited. We began with a short service in St Martin-in-the-Fields and three people from the Indonesian Embassy came and spoke to us there. They welcomed the support of NGOs and Civil Society in their efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons. Asked how they feel about security generally, they said that ASEAN’s [Association of South-East Asian Nations] objective is to confront fear and provide security by engaging/cooperating with partners outside the region. They reduce the level of threat perception that way.”
Alison was assigned to Route One. At the Mexican Embassy and New Zealand High Commission they were able to leave letters at Reception. At the Nigerian High Commission Alison was one of those admitted and (“after a fairly long conversation between Reception and someone upstairs”) they were able to present their letter in person to the Chargé d’Affaires. At the South African High Commission security was tight but they eventually reached the High Commissioner (“in his large and well-appointed office”), a former Mayor of Durban looking forward to retirement. At the Australian High Commission the security guard had been briefed to receive their letter.
As in previous years it was apparent that all these diplomats had very little knowledge of nuclear policy and the history of nuclear disarmament measures. In Alison’s words: “Regarding the negotiations in New York and the NPT review in Vienna [this diplomat] had nothing in particular to say — I felt that we were attempting to inform him rather than receiving his informed view.”
This of course is the whole point of the Embassies Walks and also the whole point of our ongoing communication with our local MP.
We recently learned that the UK has quietly revoked the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice over issues relating to nuclear weapons. The implications of this “subtle and unilateral move” to limit international law are explored in an essay issued by BASIC [British American Security Information Council]. See http://bit.ly/2mITySm for full document.
The winter Newsletter of Scientists for Global Responsibility [Winter 2017 Issue 45] carries an interesting analysis by SGR Executive Director Dr Stuart Parkinson of UK nuclear policy, both military and civil.
The first parliamentary vote of the new session on July 2016 gave the government a large majority in favour of the next generation of nuclear submarines to carry the UK’s Trident weapons. The firepower of each vessel will be greater than all the bombs dropped in World War II and sufficient to cause a nuclear winter, and the total lifetime cost of the system (once annual running costs, new warheads and decommissioning are included) is estimated to be about £200 billion. Meanwhile, after a very short review completed in September, the government approved the contract with French energy corporation EDF to build the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Its planned capacity of 3.2 gigawatts would supply an estimated 8% of current UK electricity demand and the budgeted construction cost of £18bn could make it the most expensive object ever built.
“Questions are increasingly being asked about whether the two programmes are connected,” writes Dr Parkinson. “The UK government’s enthusiasm for nuclear power seems out of all proportion to the performance of the industry. Even when we look further afield this enthusiasm is mystifying. Internationally there are few signs of the long-promised ‘nuclear renaissance’... even in China, the nation with the world’s largest nuclear new-build programme, it is dwarfed by the expansion in other energy techniques. The most striking indication of the mismatch comes from leading financial analysts which shows that the worldwide investment in renewables was ten times greater than nuclear in 2015, even when large hydroelectric plants are excluded.”
A new study from Sussex University finds that between 2003 (when the Blair government published a white paper labelling nuclear power “unattractive”) and Blair’s 2006 speech announcing that nuclear power “was back on the agenda with a vengeance” there was intense activity by nuclear lobbyists — and crucially military nuclear lobbyists — supporting the case for a new civilian nuclear programme, designed to help head off a shortage in technical personnel. “Since Britain’s nuclear weapons are only carried on [nuclear-powered] submarines there was a fear that Britain could find itself pursuing nuclear disarmament by accident in the 2020s.” Thus the civilian nuclear programme will effectively provide a hidden subsidy for the extremely costly nuclear weapons programme.
In summary: “The UK government claims it needs a large programme of new nuclear power to improve energy security, reduce carbon pollution and keep energy bills low. But they continue to fail to make a convincing case — especially when there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary.”
Cox et al (2016) SPRU Working Paper Series, no. 2016-6. http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/documents/2016-16-swps-cox-et-al.pdf
A core group of play-readers assembled at Alison’s home on April 27th for a trial run-through of “Common Women”, a play about Greenham Common written by Jill Truman in 2003. Actors showed great versatility in adopting multiple roles (the highlight being extensive dialogue between two American and Welsh characters — both being performed by Zulema) but more volunteers are needed! Current plans are for a ‘family and friends’ readthrough (possibly in the William Morris Halls) in the summer, to be followed by a more polished public performance in the new ‘Arts Space’ at Wimbledon Library in the autumn.
Please get in touch with Alison on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. There is a large female cast but squaddies and policemen are needed too, so come on you men.
The Stop the War Coalition is presenting a season of classic anti-war films at Sands Film Studio in Rotherhithe: 82 St Marychurch St, SE16 4HZ. Admission is free but donations are requested. http://www.sandsfilms.co.uk
|3 May||19·30||“The Burmese Harp” (1956 Kon Ichikawa)|
|5 May||19·30||“Ivan’s Childhood” (1962 Andrei Tarkovsky)|
|7 May||18·00||“La Grande Illusion” (1937 Jean Renoir)|
|9 May||20·30||“Okraina” (1933 Boris Barnet)|
|11 May||19·30||“In the Year of the Pig” (1968 De Antonio)|
|16 May||20·30||“Ashani Sanket” (1973 Satyajit Ray)|
|18 May||19·30||“Sir! no Sir!” (2005 David Zeiger)|
We hope to see as many of you as possible at our annual fund-raising and social event, this year to be enlivened by local musicians. We shall be both outdoors and indoors and we go ahead whatever the weather — although obviously we are hoping for a glorious sunny day so that we can make the most of the St Mark’s garden.
The plant stall has a wide selection of summer bedding, herbaceous and shrubs, plus a selection of vegetables (French, runner and broad beans, kale, courgettes, cucumbers, Alicante, plum, cherry and yellow tomatoes etc.) Bric-à-brac has expanded to include a Fancy Goods stall where there will be a lovely selection of jewellery on offer. The home produce and book stalls are once again in experienced hands and, as usual, Naseem appeals for contributions of home-baked cakes, jams and chutneys. There will be a tombola as well as a raffle and Aden will serve his usual delicious Asian food.
We have CND merchandise on ‘sale or return’, so come and buy your CND T-shirt, pick up campaigning materials and sign our petition against Trident.
Donated goods can be delivered to 43 Wilton Grove up until the day before (Friday May 12th). We are grateful to all who have volunteeered to help and look forward to seeing you on May 13th.
It is essential that we advertise our event as widely as possible. Please display a poster if possible (or download the electronic version for distribution among your friends: http://www.wdc-cnd.org.uk/Feteposter.pdf). Tell everybody about the Fête and invite people to come. Join the leafletting teams outside Centre Court at 10·30am from 8–12 May — if you can leaflet your own street we can get the leaflets to you. The Fête will be a fun occasion and we need customers!
May 13th, St Mark’s Church Hall (behind Wimbledon Library), 2–5pm.
WDC/CND member Tony Papard has published a lively account of the CND office in the 1960s where he joined the staff as an enthusiastic young teenager. As well as documenting the political events of the time and bringing the personalities involved to vivid life, Tony provides us with a fascinating glimpse of a bygone era when tea for the office staff had to be collected from the dairy next door (and all empty cups had to be returned) and duplicators and stencils were the only way to produce publicity material: “very few stencils were ever discarded, they were carefully filed away for future use between sheets of greaseproof paper... on a hot day in that attic all the dried-up ink on those old stencils would become wet and sticky, as would the duplicator itself...” There was also a hand-operated machine (“antiquated” even in those days) called an addressograph, for which the stencils had to be soaked in water before being typed, and then cut out and gummed onto cardboard frames.
“Sometimes we used to have Christmas draws but this was more popular with the Youth Campaign. I remember one draw they had where the first prize was announced as a typewriter. The poor guy who won had to wait months for his prize because it had yet to be obtained by YCND from a cigarette coupon company... they all smoked like chimneys for months... until they finally had enough coupons.”
CND Chair Canon John Collins of St Paul’s Cathedral seems to have been a rather distant figure as far as the office staff were concerned, but he did make an annual visit to the office at Christmas with his wife (bringing with him a couple of bottles of wine) and Tony remembers Canon Collins and organising secretary Peggy Duff “leading the entire office staff in a vigorous rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ right through from beginning to end. It was magnificent, and the anthem was sung with more fervour and sincerity than it was by many comrades at the Labour Party’s annual Conference.”
Copies of Tony’s book, which costs £3, will be available at the Fête or can be obtained from Amazon. [“Campaign H.Q.” by Tony Papard: ISBN 97815 20648 880]