The UK government and its fellow nuclear weapons states may be behaving as if the General Assembly vote last July in favour of a global ban on nuclear weapons was an aberration that can safely be belittled and ignored, but the rest of the world has other ideas. After twenty years of inaction, the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva has reconvened, and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres used the occasion to announce a new initiative for nuclear disarmament.
“There are currently around 15,000 nuclear weapons worldwide and the arms trade is flourishing... Taboos on nuclear tests and chemical weapons usage are under threat, while talk of tactical nuclear weapons is leading in an extremely dangerous direction.
“In response to these concerns, I am preparing in support of Member States a new initiative... aimed at restoring the rôle of disarmament as an integral component of our work to maintain international peace and security. At the global level we must work towards forging a new momentum on eliminating nuclear weapons.”
Alyn Ware (Global Co-ordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament: http://www.pnnd.org) was cautiously optimistic that the Guterres proposal with its emphasis on alternative approaches to security might have greater success than that of Ban Ki-moon in 2008 which gained a lot of support from civil society and parliaments but failed to influence the members of ‘the nuclear club’. However, says Alyn Ware, “the Secretary General’s initiative will also have to address the vested interests that the nuclear weapons corporations have in maintaining the nuclear arms race.”
A new global campaign has been launched with this in mind: Move the Nuclear Weapons Money (http://www.pnnd.org/article/time-move-nuclear-weapons-money). On May 14–16th the UN General Assembly will hold a High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament. Baroness Sue Miller (Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament), speaking in the House of Lords on February 20th, said: “this conference could make all the difference. It could set the scene for moving the agenda on to longer-term issues of a phased programme to reduce nuclear stockpiles”, and hoped that the UK might play a constructive part in the conference. (The official line is that the UK has not yet made up its mind on whether to attend — no doubt waiting advice from the United States.)
The nuclear club might wish otherwise, but there is no doubt that things are happening.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Dorner (Sue Miller), a Lib Dem peer, initiated this debate “To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the outcome of the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, leading to the Total Elimination”, the first substantive debate on nuclear issues since 2013, since when “The nuclear weapons landscape has changed significantly and there is a growing consensus that luck is running out”.
Lady Miller was supported by her Lib Dem colleague Baroness Walmsley: “The conference will be held in a climate of increasing possibility of a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the United States, or India and Pakistan, or Russia and NATO. There is no better time for world leaders to come together.”
Lord Browne of Ladyton (former Labour Secretary of Defence): “For those of us who live in the Euro-Atlantic spaces where over 90% of the world’s nuclear arms are deployed some minutes from use, these risks are compounded by heightened tensions between NATO and Russia, dangerous rhetoric and brinkmanship from nuclear armed states and the growing risks of cyber threats to nuclear command and control systems, which we grossly underestimate.”
Lord Judd (Labour): “The NPT itself will unravel unless common ground can be built using processes such as the High Level Conference. We must recognise that non-nuclear states are setting up these additional processes only because of the failure of the UK and other P5 states to honour their Article 6 commitments.”
And perhaps most powerfully of all from Rt. Rev. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, who said: “I want to say simply that nuclear weapons are immoral, that they are a lethal extravagance and that we must find another way. [They] provide the illusion of security while actually making the world less secure than ever.... The world needs to find another way and to do this the world needs to work together.... There is to be a United Nations High-Level Conference on disarmament in May. My simple question to the Minister is: will we be there, and, if not, why not?”
The Government line was defended by the Conservatives’ Lord Patten (“the disinvention of knowledge is just as difficult as the abolition of sin or crime.... The UN treaty is extremely well-meaning naivety on extremely high stilts”) and Baroness Goldie (“Challenges include a more aggressive Russia and a more capable North Korea. That is why the Government will retain our independent and credible minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes it necessary.... This Government assess that the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons represents a significant backward step that threatens the consensus and progress achieved by the non-proliferation treaty”).
All these are established positions. Perhaps more interesting was the intervention of Lord West of Spithead, former First Sea Lord (Labour), who said: “Although I disapprove of the UN [Ban] Treaty I am strongly of the view that the leaders and nuclear strategists of the nuclear powers need to start focusing on what is without a doubt the greatest existential threat facing all our nations and indeed the globe: they have taken their eyes off the ball.... Reduction in number of warheads, removal of whole types of systems and better links and understanding of the need for more dialogue will make us all safer and put no country at risk. The risks should things go accidentally wrong and we do not make some progress are too dreadful to contemplate. Bearing in mind the worrying proposals in the US nuclear posture review, has our Prime Minister discussed in any depth with the US President ways forward on this nuclear issue?”
On 9th February an article by the Bishop of Chelmsford (“Break the Silence on Nuclear Weapons”) appeared in the Church Times under a hard-hitting cartoon drawing attention to the fact that the Church of England now stands out as a lonely minority among other UK Christian churches in its refusal to condemn nuclear weapons. Catholics, Quakers, Methodists, United Reformed, Baptists and the Scottish churches have all endorsed a statement supporting the latest nuclear disarmament initiatives. In the cartoon the Archbishop of Canterbury stands aside from a placard-wielding crowd (“Unite to Stop the Bomb”, “Ban all Nukes”, “Stop Nuclear Madness” etc.) with a banner of his own: “Watch This Space”.
But the good news is that the Archbishop attended a General Synod fringe meeting hosted by Stephen Cottrell and has promised a full debate on the subject at York in six months’ time. It must be difficult being an Established Church.
On 17th Feb 1958 thousands gathered in Central Hall, Westminster, and “CND exploded onto the political scene with its now iconic symbol and its ground-breaking first Aldermaston march. In the following months and years, hundreds of thousands flocked to the banner as CND became a byword for protest and radicalism, shaping three generations and inspiring mass movements for peace across the globe.” http://www.cnduk.org/CNDat60
60 Faces of CND (http://www.cnduk.org/60faces) is a new online exhibition which tells the stories of 60 people who have campaigned over the decades. The Easter gathering at Aldermaston will feature speeches, music, memories and an interfaith vigil, while a specially commissioned huge CND symbol is touring the country visiting iconic locations such as the Clifton suspension bridge, the Angel of the North and the White Cliffs of Dover — a series of wonderful photo-opportunities.
The WDC/CND gazebo needs to be replaced, having been damaged by high winds at Mitcham Carnival last year and finally collapsing at the Morden Family Funday. Before we spend money on a replacement we are asking if anybody has an unused gazebo lurking in their garage.
We are exploring the possibility of assembling some of our own memories and archive for a local 60th Anniversary Exhibition in the autumn. National CND has offered to help us launch such an event with an informal evening or reception with guest speakers as part of our Groups Challenge award [see February Newsletter]. There is a considerable archive covering the last thirty years in my loft but others have memories and memorabilia going back much further. Please get in touch if you have material you could contribute and if you would like to give a hand. (That 30-year archive needs sorting!)
A workshop on a subject of our own choosing is also part of our Groups Challenge prize. After discussing various options we decided that we could all do with a ‘back to basics nuclear know-how’ refresher course, realising that we are all a little rusty in this area and need to be able to explain to people just why nuclear weapons are not simply bigger bombs. We asked if CND could send us a convener ‘with the facts at his fingertips’ and were enormously gratified when we were offered Professor Dave Webb who is of course an eminent scientist as well as CND Chair.
(The date has yet to be fixed.)
On 14th February the Mirror published a sympathetic interview with Bruce Kent: “The mild-mannered priest who led the campaign for nuclear disarmament — and got called a Communist for his troubles.... Not that it ever bothered Bruce Kent. He knew his cause — the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament — was just. And he still believes it with equal passion today.”
Asked what he thinks CND has achieved, Bruce replies: “We kept it on the agenda and achieved quite a lot internationally. In July 2017 122 countries passed a resolution at the United Nations calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. It took 40 years to get votes for women, the ending of slavery took something like 50 years so the fact that things take a long time doesn’t deter me.... We made a difference or they wouldn’t have been so hostile. We made a difference to public opinion.”
Bruce said he had been given fresh hope by Corbyn’s leadership. He still gives talks in school but what keeps driving him?
“I’m partly indignant this stupidity goes on. How can you use a nuclear weapon without triggering hundreds of other ones and polluting the planet for another 50 to 100 years? It’s not a weapon, it’s an instrument of omnicide.” Tabloid journalism at its best.
A reminder that both performers and non-performers are invited to an informal read-through of Jill Truman’s Greenham play “Common Women” on Friday March 9th: 7·30pm at 267 The Broadway. This is not a rehearsed performance but, who knows, it may eventually lead to something more ambitious....
Downloadable scripts are available and limited numbers in hard copy. Further details from firstname.lastname@example.org
At the beginning of February we showed a film made by a Japanese director about the seven-year vigil of Brian Haw in Parliament Square. We follow this up with the chance to see a film by the same director charting the personal story of Setsuko Kida who was forced from her home by the Fukushima nuclear disaster and subsequently stood as a candidate for political election: “the confrontation between a woman moved to speak out and the structure of a Japanese society which has continued to support nuclear power.”
Alison Williams hosts this event in the Common Room of Wilberforce House, 119 Worple Road: 6·30pm for 7·00 (bring a snack).
Please don’t forget this important annual fundraiser and social, 2–5pm at St Mark’s Hall, Compton Road (behind Wimbledon Library). Please start collecting goods for sale which can be delivered in advance to 43 Wilton Grove (020 8543 0362 to arrange a time). We are very pleased to have been contacted by a new community choir (Pulse Choir) whose repertoire includes songs from around the world (“folk to jazz, gospel to pop”) from many different cultures and faiths. Let us know if you have any other ideas for musical entertainments or sideshows. Above all, keep the date free!