The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has a gift for striking phrases: the one above concluded his address at the opening of the COP27 summit held in Egypt, 7–18 November. As COP26 in Glasgow was about to open he coined another, much used since: he said the UN Environment Programme’s 2021 report was a Code Red for Humanity.
He began this address with reference to the imminent arrival of the 8 billionth human being on the planet. What would the grown-ups say when that baby was old enough to ask what they had done when they had the chance?
He acknowledged the dramatic impacts of the Ukraine war and other conflicts but climate change could not be put on the back-burner. It is the defining issue of our age; on a different timeline and a different scale. Today’s crises cannot be an excuse for backsliding or greenwashing.
Some progress has been made on Just Energy Transition Partnerships since 2020, and at COP27 he called for more: a Climate Solidarity Pact to end dependence on fossil fuels and provide universal, affordable and sustainable energy for all. He pointed to the “particular responsibility” of the United States and China, the two largest economies, and concluded: “humanity has a choice: cooperate or perish. It is either a Climate Solidarity Pact — or a Collective Suicide Pact.”
There’s a general consensus that the 1980s were CND’s heyday; even CND head office seemed to accept that, in all the media coverage around our loss of Bruce Kent in June. In the 80s massive street demonstrations and the Greenham Common camp got CND widely reported in the press and on TV. On a climate justice demonstration in November, I was again asked the long-familiar question, is CND still around?
Of course we are, and Kate Hudson had an impressive level of activity to report at the AGM. Members and supporters of CND number tens of thousands, although it’s impossible to give a single figure because the organisation has local, regional and national levels as well as specialist groups: Youth & Students, Labour, Christian and Green. Kate said they get very positive feedback on CND’s Peace Education resources and visits to schools. This has motivated a lot of young people to be active on the nuclear issue and others, without joining groups and paying subscriptions.
CND’s strategic objectives are listed on page 19 of the Conference Booklet. The first of six relates to the elimination of nuclear weapons from Britain and globally: https://cnduk.org/about/cnd-conference/cnd-conference-2022/. The constitution states that the ultimate aim is “general and complete disarmament as proposed by the United Nations…” Article VI of the NPT and other UN documents add “under strict and effective international control.”
Like the UN Charter, CND’s constitution has a wider objective: “to advance the welfare of the global community by working for international peace and disarmament and a world in which the vast resources devoted to militarism are redirected to the real needs of the planet.”
Late 2022 — with horrendous climatic events around the world and a devastating war in Europe which has at the time of writing only just avoided direct conflict between NATO and Russia — is a time for solidarity. CND supporters are on the streets nowadays calling for fair pay for nurses and Climate Justice; Green CND is matched by XR Peace. And with the Nuclear Ban treaty in force we have the best-ever opportunity to achieve our objective: a nuclear-free world.
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The evening was very interesting and attracted a full room at William Morris House. Christine Bickerstaff read a tribute to Sheila, listing her many contributions to the local community, in both a professional and voluntary capacity, and to WDC/CND. The audience included three elected local representatives, two of whom, Cllr Stephen Alambritis and Siobhan McDonagh MP, paid personal tribute to Sheila. A shame they had to leave early, as the message from the evening’s Raymond Briggs film, ‘When The Wind Blows’, could not have been more timely for all concerned.
For those like me familiar with Raymond Briggs’ 1980s film ‘The Snowman’, famously accompanied by the song of Aled Jones, this film was even more of a stark contrast. We followed the experience of an average British couple living in a rural cottage, from peacetime preparations for nuclear war to surviving in the days following the detonation of a nuclear bomb in England. Critics at the time accused the script of characterising Mr and Mrs Average as ignorant, but the elderly couple in their innocence and trust in the authorities to cope showed the reality of being caught unprepared for a catastrophe, for which none of us could ever really be ready.
On Saturday 19th November peace campaigners from Norfolk and all over the UK gathered at the Base to protest about the return of nuclear weapons there.
RAF Lakenheath previously hosted nuclear weapons from 1954–2008 and is set this time to receive the latest B61-12 guided nuclear bombs. Kate Hudson urges campaigners to keep up the protests and writes: “Within the next year US/NATO nuclear bases in Europe will also receive this new nuclear bomb. They are assigned to NATO and the return of US nuclear weapons to Britain — along with the upgrading of its nuclear weapons across Europe — constitutes a further undermining of prospects for global peace. This major increase in NATO’s capacity to wage nuclear war in Europe is dangerously destabilising. Their return will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war.”
That was the emphatic message of a CND webinar on November 2nd entitled “What are Tactical Nuclear Weapons and will they lead to Armageddon?” The first speaker, David Cullen, Director of the Nuclear Information Service, gave comparative figures for the American and Russian nuclear weapons, none of which are now restricted by Arms Control agreements. So-called tactical nuclear weapons range from 1 to 100 kilotons (the explosive force of the bombs which devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki were 15 and 20 kilotons respectively).
Rebecca Johnson emphasised the danger of the language used to discuss these matters. The notion of tactical or ‘sub-strategic’ weapons prevented the International Court of Justice from calling for an absolute ban on nuclear weapons in its 1996 Advisory Opinion. That opinion was helpful to our cause but could have been much more so. Americans have now said tactical weapons only kill hundreds of people, not thousands, and destroy correspondingly less land. Like Putin’s threats in 2022, this encourages belief that nuclear weapons can be used in war. Some people have suggested that the shock of using a tactical nuke could pave the way for global nuclear disarmament. Rebecca said what we need is a political shock, to convince the nuclear-armed states to ratify the Ban Treaty and with all due inspection and verification get rid of them all.
Paul Rogers recalled the suggestion of a German civil servant about 35 years ago that a nuclear ‘demonstration shot’ could be exploded at high altitude to show the Soviets we meant business, and said ‘lower yield’ weapons had been deployed with the Task Force the UK sent to the Falklands. From the 1990s Putin has relied upon thorough-going nuclear forces as back-up to Russia’s relatively weak conventional ones.
Paul concluded with the widely recognised danger of the present situation. After the really lucky escape from the Cuban missiles crisis and so many near-misses down the decades, the great majority of UN member states now want nuclear disarmament. NATO’s reaction to the apparent Russian strike on a Polish village on November 15th suggests the message may be getting through at last.
Once again, Alison Williams laid our wreath of red and white poppies on the Wimbledon War Memorial at the civic ceremony on 13th November. We are pleased that Merton Council and the Wimbledon Branch of the British Legion can accommodate our mix of poppies to remember the past and commit to working for a future without war.
After the official ceremony Kiloran Cavendish placed an additional tribute beside our wreath to remember all the animals killed in war, and a small group of our members gathered to hear Alison read the preamble to the United Nations Charter: “We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...”
New Zealand has a long and proud history of campaigning against nuclear weapons. In large part this was inspired by the nuclear tests carried out by the United States in the South Pacific on Bikini Atoll in the 1950s and the French testing in Moruroa from 1966 until 1995. France was forced to use underground testing from 1976 due to intense international pressure sparked by the New Zealand government of the time.
The sinking of the Rainbow Warrior (the Greenpeace ship active in anti-whaling, anti-sealing, anti-nuclear and anti-nuclear-waste dumping campaigns in the South Pacific) in 1985 in an act of state-sponsored terrorism by the French government only served to increase anti-nuclear sentiment in New Zealand.
This stance continues under Jacinda Ardern, the current Prime Minister of NZ. In a recent article she wrote:
“Over the more than 50 years since the inception of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty it’s played an important role in lowering the risk of these weapons abolishing us. In addition to the near 80% reduction in nuclear weapons, the treaty has also contributed to keeping a lid on the number of countries acquiring them. More countries have ratified the treaty than any other arms limitation and disarmament agreement.”
She called upon the nuclear weapons states — the US, Russia, China, France and the UK — to step back from the nuclear abyss, and provide that leadership by committing to negotiate a new multilateral nuclear disarmament framework.
She also pointed out that the majority of countries do not believe that nuclear weapons make the world a safer place but that indeed in the current situation with the war in Ukraine the possibility of nuclear weapons being used becomes even greater. In the UK, with successive prime ministers saying they are prepared to push the nuclear button, it is encouraging to hear from a country with an anti-nuclear policy that another approach is possible and that the nuclear powers are in the minority.
This was the banner under which CND marched on 5th November at the Britain is Broken protest organised by People’s Assembly. The march went from the Embankment through Parliament Square, and up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square.
Several members of our group were there, together with thousands of other supporters from a wide range of organisations, e.g. Stop the War, Refugees are Welcome Here, and Trade Unions including RMT and Unite.
Cut Profits not Jobs and Services was the message on the big banner behind the platform speakers, and there was a strong theme of working-class solidarity. The front banner called for a General Election Now.
John McDonnell, Mick Lynch, Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Hudson were among the speakers and were all on top form, stressing the need for unity and solidarity with workers and refugees at home and abroad and no tolerance for the ‘divide and rule’ approach.
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