“Peace comes through superior firepower,” said a man confidently as he handed back a leaflet for our Fete of the Earth. “Nobody has got that,” I replied to his back as he left.
What should we say when we’re distributing leaflets and get a response like that? How can we give a proper, complete and unbiased presentation when we’re campaigning?
I think the man’s comment is like a snapshot or shorthand for a quite common mindset. It reflects a vague feeling of peace and security undisturbed by knowledge or thought about the issues. I thought his comments made as much sense as saying “Road safety comes through bigger vehicles with more powerful engines”.
What exactly does he — or what do we — mean by the word peace? What does he mean by ‘superior firepower’ and how does he think peace results from it? Who does he think should have ‘superior firepower’?
I’ll conclude with a quote from Commander Robert Green who used to operate nuclear submarines: “Nuclear weapons are, in fact, a security problem, not a solution. This is because they undermine a possessor’s security by provoking the most likely and dangerous threat: proliferation to undeterrable extremists”.
“Security without Nuclear Deterrence”, Cmdr Robert Green RN (ret.), Spokesman Books 2010
Christian CND/CCND went on their annual Embassies Walk on the 12th of March. This year we visited embassies of NATO countries which are not nuclear-armed to ask them to consider signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty).
Of that group, only the Netherlands engaged in any way with the negotiations (they abstained on the final vote) and Spain, while having given a commitment last September to sign the treaty, has not yet done so.
It is possible for NATO states to sign and ratify the Ban Treaty. Being a member of NATO commits members to “separately and jointly…maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack”. But there is no mention of what capacities are needed to fulfil the obligation, and the North Atlantic Treaty — the foundation document of the alliance — makes no reference to nuclear weapons.
NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept (a political and not a legally binding text) allows NATO members to diverge regarding nuclear-related practices. Consequently Denmark, Norway and Spain “do not allow the deployment of nuclear weapons on their territory in peacetime” while Iceland and Lithuania do not allow “nuclear weapons to be deployed on their soil” even during conflicts. What NATO members would lose if they signed the Ban Treaty would be their status as ‘nuclear-umbrella’ states.
We made contact with 25 embassies in all, with groups of two or three members following one of six routes. Although attempts had been made to arrange appointments beforehand only one had been successful. The contact in most cases amounted to handing in a letter with the points we would like to have made and the questions we would have asked. Sometimes it was possible to post the letter through the embassy door or to hand it to a receptionist or other staff member. Where that was not possible, letters were posted.
The successful appointment was with Slovenia; successful in that it happened, although not, unfortunately, in agreement regarding the Ban Treaty. Slovenia thinks the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its commitment to achieve disarmament through Article VI is the way to go. They do not expect any NATO country to sign the Ban Treaty. They are strongly pro-peace and are usually represented at the NPT Preparatory Commission (Prep Com).
At the Netherlands embassy, one of us was recognised from last year’s visit and the group were given coffee and had a meaningful discussion of the issues, though the Netherlands still have reservations about the treaty.
CCND will be represented at the NPT Prep Com in April, continuing to press their case for getting rid of nuclear weapons. The NPT is the forum where both nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear weapons states work together, and for now campaigners for nuclear disarmament should focus more on the NPT and the UK government’s role as coordinator of the P5 process from May.
As the newsletter of a Disarmament Coalition this doesn’t focus exclusively on nuclear weapons as such. In 2019 climate change has become at least as great a threat to the future as they are; indeed for anyone born in the last thirty years it’s probably number one.
The most recent report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the world’s governments gave us twelve years to restrain global warming to 1·5°C. Failing that, swathes of this country and many more will echo the devastation now on our screens following Cyclone Idai over Mozambique and its neighbours.
Ignorance and complacency won’t help us deal with the growing emergency and neither will depression or panic. The Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg sparked off “Fridays for Future” school strikes internationally in protest against inaction on climate change. In an 11-minute TED talk easily available on YouTube, she spoke in no-nonsense terms for her generation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2QxFM9y0tY
Most of the talk on Climate Change stops at 2050, she says, at which time she should be half-way through her life. In 2078 she’ll be 75, perhaps with children and grandchildren asking why we hadn’t done anything when there was still time to act. They couldn’t undo what we have done or not done. She chose not to end on a note of hope like most speakers on the subject. “We’ve had thirty years of pep-talking and selling positive ideas and I’m sorry but it doesn’t work.” What we need is action “and then hope is everywhere”.
People who disapprove of the school strikes say she should be studying to be a climate scientist to ‘solve’ the climate crisis. But the crisis has been solved, she says; we already have the facts and solutions. 100 million barrels of oil are used every day with no rules to keep it in the ground. “So we can’t change the world by playing by the rules because the rules need to be changed. Everything needs to be changed.”
Another growing movement that has emerged from frustration over the lack of effective action is Extinction Rebellion. Founded last October by a group of academics and activists, it is in part inspired by the Committee of 100 in 1960 at the roots of CND. Supporters — predominantly of the younger generations — use nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience against the dangers of climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse.
A nine-year-old in Australia produced a poster for a climate demonstration at his school with a striking image: a globe resting on a large ice-cream cone with the ice-cream melting. “This is our Future”. But in 2019 we are told it doesn’t have to be — given the right changes NOW.
Members of WDC/CND and all those concerned with peace and justice will have been appalled by the terrorist attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where fifty people were killed and many, including women and children, were injured.
CND have issued a statement condemning the attacks and expressing deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims. The statement calls for solidarity with the Muslim community against racism and Islamophobia wherever it is found. It calls for unity against the rise of far-right terrorism and hate, emphasising that we must not allow their pernicious ideology to divide our communities.
CND members joined a vigil at Finsbury Park Mosque in solidarity with families and friends of the victims of the shootings. Jeremy Corbyn laid a wreath, which, after expressing deep condolences, included the message, “In their memory let us build a world of dignity and respect”. Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said, “Such awful news from New Zealand shows where far-right hatred of Muslims leads. The Nazis’ hatred of the Jews started in similar ways.” Nearer to home, members of Wimbledon Labour Party attended prayers at Wimbledon Mosque and Maisie took flowers and condolences from Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND.
Hopefully, our sympathy will be accompanied by a determination to take action and a special responsibility lies with the peace movement. We must redouble our efforts to build a world free from wars and hatred: a world of peace, justice, tolerance and respect, with nuclear weapons consigned to the dustbin of history.
The experts who gave their opinions at the conference held at SOAS on 23 February gave us plenty to think about: are nuclear weapons likely to be obsolete before new generations are operational? Is the Ban Treaty a distraction from the realistic path to Nuclear Disarmament? How does one argue with people who think nuclear weapons won WWII and the Cold War?
There were many references to the threats faced by the INF and New Start Treaties with Donald Trump in the White House and John Bolton as his National Security Advisor. Peter Jennings, a speaker who had shared a negotiating table with Bolton regarding Iran’s compliance on nuclear matters, said his instinct was always to rely on America’s military dominance. Bolton would have had the negotiation moved from the IAEA to the Security Council (and so to the possible use of force) had Jack Straw and European colleagues not blocked it.
After attending the Humanitarian Impact conferences, Heather Williams, lecturer in Defence Studies at Kings College London, believes that the Nuclear Ban Treaty is not a positive step towards disarmament but a distraction. This contradicts our basic CND convictions but it was her informed judgement. Her argument is that the nuclear weapons states (NWS) must be involved in any realistic disarmament process and that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conferences are where progress should be made. She thought a preparatory meeting of the P5 process of NWS in Beijing in January had potential but regrets the absence of the non-nuclear-weapons states from that group. Regarding the outlook for a successful NPT Review Conference next year, she says the “atmospherics” are dire. The NWS insist their weapons are essential to their security and all of them are modernising.
Another strong theme at the Pugwash conference was development in weapons technology, not only nuclear but also in the cyber and artificial intelligence fields. It was Peter Jenkins’ hope that some of us might live to see the latter replace nuclear weapons. Heather Williams says nuclear disarmament will come when something better comes along; in the meantime, as technologies and paradigms evolve, we should aim for stability. Peter found grounds for hope in a Nuclear Arms Control meeting in Moscow, also in January. He hopes the Russians will be true to their declaration not to be first to breach the terms of the INF treaty and that with European cooperation a broader security agreement including China might be achievable.
The third speaker at the opening session was Tim Street who recently completed a PhD on how to achieve nuclear disarmament. His conclusion was that the decision-making elites and institutions in the NWS are the principal barrier to nuclear disarmament and that effective pressure from principled democratic movements in those states is the way to achieve it. At the conference he spoke of the Labour Party’s follow-up to the earlier campaign to have a Ministry for Peace: the appointment of Fabian Hamilton as Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament. He emphasised the need for general public understanding of the issues involved to be not only wide but deep.
The conference left me with fresh hope for progress through the inclusive NPT review conference. CND will be represented at the NPT Prep Com at the UN in New York in May.
WDC/CND held a stall today, in spite of illness, holidays and fierce gale-force winds! Never let it be said that Peace-lovers are fainthearted!
We set up in good faith, posing the question about the need for Peace Movements, and sharing data about the global war zones and directly-associated deaths. Unfortunately, within twenty minutes the wind was so strong that we were compelled to take down the suspended display before the flying poles caused injury.
We spent another hour handing out leaflets, which was a challenge of its own. Some of the positive comments included a man who put all his loose change in the collection box because he “believed in peace”, and a woman who talked about the North Korean Peace talks. Several people felt the Brexit shambles made the UK a more dangerous place to live, and several were angry at the issues in Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia, and thought Trump was behind it all.
We look forward to the next stall, 6th April: a proper Spring stall, with brighter days and lots of energy! Everyone welcome to join us 11am–1pm near Wimbledon Library.