COMMENT by Edwin Cluer

The Happy Tortoise

Recently, a man passing our peace table said to me, “Trident has kept us safe for many years”. He didn’t stop to discuss anything more, and there seemed a cosy complacency to his mood. I thought afterwards of the story of the tortoise in one of my books, “Stop Nuclear War” by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton.

In the excellent chapter on psychology the book points out that if we are ever to turn things around and deal with the problem, we need to deal with the psychology that makes some of us rely on these weapons, that enables some of us to contemplate their use and that keeps most of us from thinking about it at all.

There are several out-of-date primitive ways of thinking described, one of which is more is better.

Dr Nicholas Humphrey, Professor of Animal Behaviour at Cambridge University, had a pet tortoise when he was a child. In the autumn the tortoise got under a pile of wood and branches being prepared for November 5th. The tortoise you can imagine felt it was a nice place to spend the winter sheltered from the weather. As more wood was piled up around him, he would have felt more protected and comfortable.

On November the 5th the tortoise probably felt differently. But not for long, as the fire burnt, tortoise included.

Dr Humphrey asks “Are there some of us who still believe that piling up weapon upon weapon adds to our security — that the dangers are nothing compared to the assurance they provide?” The book continues with, the answer is yes. Moreover those people are in control. The book also points out that nuclear weapons really are a new problem which doesn’t fit the old categories and ways of thought.

tortoise facing right tortoise facing left

Linocuts by Edwin Cluer

Fête of the Earth

The Fête of the Earth takes place on Saturday May 19th from 2–5pm. The location is St Mark’s Church Hall, just behind Wimbledon Library in Compton Road, and we hope that the weather is kind so that we can make maximum use of their lovely garden. An entertainment licence allows us to offer a feast of music (and it is still not too late to get in touch if you want to perform) and local environmental and human rights organisations will be bringing their stalls. There will be the usual impressive range of goods for sale in aid of WDC/CND funds: plants (bedding, herbaceous, vegetables including tomatoes, shrubs, grasses), books, bric-à-brac, homemade cakes, jams, marmalades and chutneys, fancy goods including jewellery, and hand-knitted baby clothes — and of course the raffle and tombola plus first-class refreshments from Aden, Janet and Brigitte.

Thank you to all who have already volunteered to help. The more people we have to load and unload at the beginning and end of the day, the quicker and easier it will be (9am at 43 Wilton Grove, please). Tables and chairs have to be shifted and the gazebo put up; access to the hall is from 11am.

Publicity is all-important. Please deliver leaflets in your road and hand them out to all your friends and at all events you are attending. Please put a leaflet on your community noticeboard. Please share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Street leafletting is still all-important and we aim to be outside the Centre Court shopping centre 11am–1pm every day during the week beginning May 14th as well as on May 19th itself. Can you help, even for half an hour or so?

And finally, an appeal for more goods, especially bric-à-brac, which relies on an infinite variety of no-longer-needed items to make astonishing amounts of money. Have a clear out and see what you can contribute — and for those of you with immaculately junk-free homes, perhaps you could bring a bottle for the raffle or a small prize for the tombola?

We look forward to seeing you on May 19th.

NPT Prep Com

April 23–May 4 in Geneva

The Preparatory Committee for the 2020 NPT Review Conference held its second session from 23rd April to 4th May at the United Nations Office in Geneva (there will be a third and final session next year). The Preparatory Committee, open to all States parties to the Treaty, is responsible for addressing “substantive and procedural issues” related to the Treaty and the forthcoming Review Conference.

In advance of this meeting, over 30 UK civil society organisations co-signed a letter to Boris Johnson challenging the government to take its disarmament responsibilities seriously and in particular to participate in the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW — the Ban Treaty). Constructive engagement with the TPNW could include a commitment to attend future meetings as an observer, perhaps offering expertise on subjects such as verification and environmental damage. The letter concludes: “Such an approach would send an important signal to the non-nuclear weapons states that the UK is taking seriously their legitimate concerns about the catastrophic humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the urgent need for disarmament which led to the negotiation of the TPNW.

“The UK cannot cherry-pick those forums for multilateralism that the government is most comfortable dealing with and ignore others.”

The US Ambassador’s Statement to the PrepCom took the form of a long (15 page) paean of praise to the occasion: “The Golden Anniversary of accession to the NPT becoming available to the countries of this world is one upon which it behoves us to look back and remember the long arc of our collective non-proliferation story” with a “renewed understanding of just how profoundly beneficial the global non-proliferation régime has been for all States Party”.

“The three great threats to the non-proliferation régime” he saw as North Korea, Iran and “those states that are expanding and modernising their nuclear stockpiles, threatening their neighbours like the Russian Government.... We also cannot ignore the deleterious impact on our collective security of the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria and the recent chemical weapons attack in Salisbury”.

The UK Ambassador was much briefer: “The backdrop is more difficult than for many years. The future is deeply uncertain. There is an increasingly clear line between States who uphold the international arms control framework and non-proliferation system and those who undermine it.... Other states continue to develop new nuclear capable missile systems that we assess will undermine strategic stability and there is a continuing risk of further proliferation of nuclear weapons. There is a risk that states might use their nuclear capability to threaten us or constrain our decision making in a crisis... so the UK will maintain its nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future.... We are a responsible nuclear weapons state”.

There could not be a greater contrast between this smug attitude and the trenchant comments from Iran, for example (speaking as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement): “We are deeply concerned that the objective of nuclear disarmament has not yet been realised and Article VI has not been implemented.... The continued failure of the nuclear weapons States to meet their legal obligations... has created a crisis of confidence in the capacity and ability of the Treaty to deliver its promise of nuclear disarmament and has put the Treaty under great stress.”

The ambassador went on to point out that most of the 13 practical steps and 22-point action plan agreed in the Final Documents of the 2000 and 2010 Review Conferences have not been implemented, and that the US 2018 Nuclear Posture Review contains massive plans for long-term nuclear expansion and modernization (“fully and fundamentally incompatible with that country’s Treaty commitments”).

“The final documents of the 2020 Review Conference should include a clear commitment by all nuclear weapons States to cease completely all plans aimed at upgrading and refurbishing their existing nuclear weapons and their means of delivery.”

NPT Prep Com Fringe events

Civil society was well represented in Geneva and Fabian Hamilton MP (Shadow minister for disarmament), addressing a meeting organised by CND, said: “the majority of Labour Party members would vote for the Nuclear Ban Treaty.... There is a duty to capture the view of the membership and put it into action”, and Parliamentary CND Chair Caroline Lucas MP said that “joining the TPNW will strengthen Britain’s defence and security”. Janet Felton of Scottish CND pointed out that the Scottish Parliament was opposed to Trident by a large majority.

Allison Pytlak (Reaching Critical Will — WILPF) wryly commented in a blog that although the PrepCom chair had compared this review cycle to running a marathon, “I can’t help but feel that it may be more accurate to compare the review cycle to an obstacle course”. Nuclear weapons states have blamed division and polarisation on support for TPNW, despite the wide welcome TPNW received from many of the non-nuclear NPT states who felt that it would complement and strengthen the NPT régime. She concludes that the TPNW has merely made existing divisions more apparent.

High Level Conference postponed

In view of the fundamental divisions in Geneva it is not surprising to learn that the UN High Level Conference on Nuclear Disarmament scheduled to take place in New York in May has been postponed. Alyn Ware, global co-ordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non Proliferation, writes: “High Level conferences are high-stakes events. They can accomplish a lot if successful but they are also very difficult to pull off. Civil Society and parliamentary support for the Non-Aligned Movement which initiated the proposal for a UN High Level conference could help ensure that the Conference proceeds at a later date and makes a significant contribution to reducing nuclear dangers and advancing nuclear disarmament.”

Film: A Bold Peace

The Movement for the Abolition of War will be showing the inspiring film “A Bold Peace” in Tuesday 15th May at 6·30pm in Mander Hall, Hamilton House, Mabledon Place WC1H 9BD. It tells the story of Costa Rica’s decision, 70 years ago, to give up its army. President Figueres decided that with limited resources, expenditure on health, welfare and education was more important than military spending and that for internal law and order a police force was enough. When asked how he could ensure his country’s security, he replied, “through international law”.

Not surprisingly, things haven’t been all plain sailing during the intervening decades and the film charts some of the challenges faced, together with ongoing threats. The writer, producer and director of the film, Matthew Eddy, will introduce the screening and answer questions afterwards.

Play It Safe

Ursula of Bromley & Beckenham CND wrote this poem during the snowstorms of March and read it beside the fence at Aldermaston on Easter Sunday.

In the wake, or rather
At the tail-end, of the
Long, drawn-out, on-going
Cold winter, there developed
A hint, and therefore a worry
Of the possibility of a cold war

Just like the old cold war
Which centred on demonizing the East;
So it’s nothing new
Again, there’s a lot of fake news

They use dangerous words
As they had done when war was on
They say “Beast from the East”
They’ve said it twice now!
I know it’s supposed to mean the weather
But does it?

Doesn’t it
Suggest subliminal messages
In saying “Beast from the East”
Implying the Best from the West?

How dangerous, how ambiguous
Where is the sense
Of diplomacy, responsibility!
Where are we going with this?

And where can we go now?
Greenham Common? House of Commons?
Let’s become peaceniks
In the nick of time
So let’s play it safe
Let’s not risk our lives and that of the earth
Stand up for peace!

Conscientious Objectors Day

The annual ceremony to remember past and present COs of all countries takes place on Tuesday May 15th at 12 noon in Tavistock Square. Guest speakers are Selaem Kidane (Eritrean Human Rights activist) and Hannah Brock (War Resisters International). Their speeches will be followed by songs led by Sue Gilmurray, a minute’s silence and the laying of flowers at the CO memorial stone.

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