On Friday 3rd May, Westminster Abbey held a National Service of Thanksgiving to mark 50 years of the Continuous at Sea Deterrent (CASD) i.e. celebrating Trident and its predecessors. In response, CND organised a demonstration. WDC/CND was well represented among the hundreds of demonstrators who gathered opposite the Abbey to make clear not only their opposition to nuclear weapons but also their anger that the Abbey had agreed to the service. As the congregation left the Abbey the demonstrators shouted their disapproval (although sadly this was rather drowned out by the bells) and held a die-in on the pavement surrounded by many CND placards, lots of journalists and some rather bewildered tourists. The whole event was well covered by the media.
The service was held despite the fact that the Church of England has a policy to “work tirelessly” for a world free of nuclear weapons and public condemnation of the service by 200 Anglican clerics. Bruce Kent, CND vice-president and former Catholic priest, said he thought that these clerics were right and that “the Abbey has got it very wrong”.
The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, gave an address. He acknowledged that he had received many letters and emails asking him to abandon the service especially in view of the Church’s policy. He said that the 2018 Synod had not called for unilateral nuclear disarmament but asked Her Majesty’s Government to respond positively to the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and to reiterate its obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He said that “we cannot celebrate the deterrent but that we owe a debt of gratitude to all those countless men and women who in the past 50 years have maintained the deterrent”.
It seems to me that the Dean is being quite disingenuous. There is no mention of nuclear weapons in the title of his address, the British Government has failed miserably to live up to its obligations under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and indeed has decided to spend billions of pounds replacing Trident, hardly an act of non-proliferation; it has not signed the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; and attempting to separate the celebration of the lives of the service personnel from the destructive weapons they are in charge of is like praising teachers or nurses but not the hospitals or schools that they work in.
At a time of increasing international tensions and the Doomsday Clock set at 2 minutes to midnight, indicating that the chance of a nuclear war or accident is extremely close, the Dean’s decision to press ahead with this service was unforgivable.
On Thursday 25th April Musicians for Peace and Disarmament (MPD), formerly MANA, held a concert at St James Piccadilly. It was a programme of chamber music by Mozart and conducted by MPD Patron Jane Glover CBE. As always the musicians did not charge for their time and all the proceeds were donated to organisations within the peace movement.
Bruce Kent, Vice President of CND, spoke during the interval wearing a rather snazzy blue jumper with red CND symbols around the bottom that he had been given by a supporter. He talked of the generosity of MPD over the years and the pleasure of being given the opportunity to sit and enjoy some wonderful music.
He also reminded the audience of the continuing dangers of nuclear weapons and the fact that on several occasions nuclear war had only been avoided by chance. He spoke particularly of Stanislav Petrov a Russian lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces. When alarms went off indicating that the USSR was being attacked by US missiles, instead of immediately informing his superiors, which could have resulted in retaliatory action against the US, Petrov waited. His misgivings about the reliability of the alarms proved well founded as they were probably set off by a Soviet satellite mistaking the sun’s reflection off the tops of high-altitude clouds for a missile launch.
The MPD concerts are not only a pleasure to attend but also bring CND and the peace movement in general to a wider audience. The person sitting next to me had simply come for the music and had never heard of Bruce Kent and it was good to have the opportunity to tell her about CND.
The next MPD Concert is a recital by Viv McLean (piano) on Friday 12 July, 7pm at Hinde Street Methodist Church, 19 Thayer Street, London, W1U 2QJ.
A new TV drama series about the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is currently showing on Sky Atlantic. The BBC’s Arts editor Will Gompertz has said about the series, “this is TV that doesn’t just get you thinking, it stops you sleeping.” (We would welcome reviews from any of our members who subscribe to Sky and are able to watch the series).
It’s important we learn the lessons of the Chernobyl disaster. The 2011 Fukushima disaster showed that the world has been slow to catch up. Unfortunately, many governmental and nuclear industry bodies continue to downplay and minimize the consequences of Chernobyl.
A link to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) web-site supplements the fictional retelling of the disaster with factual information to put the story in context and show its ongoing relevance. It can be viewed at: https://www.nirs.org/chernobyl-resource-page/
The key reasons for the crisis in Yemen are far wider than often presented; I believe they are the oil in the region (especially in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia & other Gulf states), the importance of the Red Sea/the Gulf of Aden/the Suez Canal to the passage of maritime trade, and the presence of external countries with arms industries keen to sell arms to the region.
These have dominated the Middle East for a very long time; initially the British & the French (starting before the First World War) carved up the region between them, getting more interested later as oil was discovered. The US & USSR became involved in a series of wars & other actions aimed at controlling oil and their own American & Russian interests. In recent decades, these outsiders, especially the US, have taken advantage of regional religious rivalries, and by their actions have generally exacerbated them.
If you only look at very recent history, then, yes, you do see a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran & Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. You do see that Saudi Arabia & allies in the Gulf Arab states — backers of Yemen President Hadi — have accused Iran of supporting Houthis (which Iran denies). But Saudi Arabia has been emboldened by support from the Trump administration.
However, I see it all still essentially part of a wider struggle by the US keen to maintain its global dominance. It is amazing that I can remember when US culture had practically won the world, when practically the whole youth of the world, wherever it was, aspired to Coca Cola, the Yankee dollar & US pop music. In the last few decades the US-led interventions & wars have been entirely counterproductive and have encouraged (sometimes on purpose, but mostly accidentally) extremist religious views to develop.
Iran has oil & the US wanted to maintain control of it — installing the Shah, who was then toppled in 1979. This Islamic revolution created a theocratic state in region with an explicit goal of exporting this model of government. Saudi Arabia, a monarchy & birthplace of Islam, sees this as a direct threat to itself as leader of the Muslim world. Iraq has even finer oil & the US wanted to maintain control of it — the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab who had been a major Iranian adversary removing the military counterweight to Iran.
Contrary to some, the widespread uprisings across the Arab world in 2011 did not cause political instability throughout the region. Weaknesses and instabilities were there beforehand. Have we forgotten their colonial pasts entirely?
Iran & Saudi Arabia exploited these upheavals, but strategic rivalry is increasing because Iran appears to be winning the regional struggle. In Syria, Iranian (& Russian) support for President Bashar al-Assad has largely routed rebel group groups backed by Saudi Arabia. It seems possible that Saudi Arabia is considering Lebanon as the next proxy battlefield. This could draw in Israel in opposition to Hezbollah & a third Israel-Lebanon war.
We must not forget that the UK literally built most of the Saudi airforce, not only providing aircraft & missiles, but building the airfields & training the pilots. Although Britain is not a part of the Saudi-led coalition against Yemen, the fact is that British — & US — military hardware is sustaining the Saudi campaign. Since 2015 the UK ‘has authorised licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia worth £4.6 billion’ (Amnesty International, Spring 2019).
Christine Bickerstaff, May 2019
A discussion programme hosted by Anne McElroy on Radio 4 — “Across the Red Line” — invites two people of opposite views on a subject to listen to each other carefully enough to convince their opposite number that they fully understand the basis and aims of their position. It could be interesting to hear a pair discussing Nuclear Deterrence and Nuclear Disarmament as alternative paths to peace.
Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with the basic global framework for Nuclear Disarmament — the UN-linked Conference on Disarmament which meets in Geneva, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its 5-yearly Review Conferences. The American Assistant Secretary of State told the Conference on Disarmament in March this year that in the years following the Cold War the American nuclear arsenal was down to 12% of its peak: an 88% reduction.
We know that Article VI of the NPT commits parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith” to achieve “the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and... nuclear disarmament”. That treaty entered into force as far back as March 1970.
Negotiations have been going on and we may assume that those involved in them are acting in good faith. In 2008 the UK Secretary for Defence suggested the five Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) recognised by the NPT meet as a group to discuss their obligations. They have met annually since 2009, but a background briefing from BASIC in 2015, issued ahead of that year’s NPT Review Conference, reported that “progress has been achieved in deepening relationships and mutual understanding, but on the whole it has been disappointing.”
Christopher Ford, the US Assistant Secretary of State referred to above, was proposing yet another forum — Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament (CEND) — to “address the security challenges that motivate” the acquisition and retention of nuclear weapons. His 13-minute speech to the Conference on Disarmament is available on video from an article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for April 2019, which is worth reading for the insightful critique there of that proposal: https://thebulletin.org/2019/04/sidetrack-or-kickstart-how-to-respond-to-the-us-proposal-on-nuclear-disarmament/.
The Bulletin gives credit for the wish to overcome the obstacles to nuclear disarmament, “not least political will”, but insists that to avoid CEND degenerating into “a short-lived blame game” the US would need to address the argument of Ban Treaty supporters that delegitimizing nuclear weapons “is part and parcel of the process for creating the environment for nuclear disarmament.” This is far from Dr Ford’s thinking; in the House of Lords last December he “vehemently denied that disarmament is a co-equal element of the NPT”.
The nuclear weapons states and states under their umbrella see nuclear weapons as legitimate means to safeguard their security, to be disposed of when conditions are right, and the Ban Treaty supporters see the existence of the weapons as a threat to global security and nuclear disarmament as essential for getting conditions right — the familiar status quo. But the crossing of that Red Line and further potential breakthroughs may be closer than we think.
In November ICAN launched a new Cities Appeal and already the capitals of two nuclear weapons states have joined up: Washington DC (in March) and Paris (in May). They have urged their governments to support the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. How long before we can persuade London to do the same?
From “Abolish War”, Issue 48, May 2019, reproduced with kind permission of the Editor.
Our President Emeritus, Bruce Kent is having a busy Spring — out and about as usual, promoting peace but also receiving well-deserved recognition for his many years of activism. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The nomination says: “Widely recognised as the foremost public champion of peace in the UK over the last five decades, he is to this day and in his 90th year still working — tirelessly, consistently, effectively and with a clear broad vision — to establish and promote a culture of peace and to bring about the abolition of war.
“Although an extremely well-known individual voice for peace, the bulk of his work has been devoted to strengthening organisations and building movements. His energetic and persuasive leadership in a whole variety of bodies has been simply remarkable.”