COMMENT by Christine Bickerstaff

‘Bread and circuses’ the modern way

When I thought to write this article, I was moved by the increasing encroachment of artificial intelligence in social media on our lives. AI can be taken to cover many technologies and applied to many aspects of modern life for good and for ill. Some of the progress in medical science, for example, is really marvellous. Of course, I am more than concerned about the use of military drones and especially the ‘mistakes’ that can be made with them.

However, it is very important that we recognise how much AI is being used in moulding individuals and whole societies, particularly in the USA, which greatly influences all the English-speaking world, and China.

You might have thought that the ‘green revolution’ was at least partly underway and maybe David Attenborough and young people — brilliant and not so brilliant — might be able to move all of us to ‘save the planet’. Unfortunately, enormous investments continue being put into more subtle use of AI technology to feed the people ‘what they want’ in the way of consumerism and prejudices by way of social media. Large numbers of people are being persuaded to think they want everything ‘immediately and free’. It is hard to avoid being complicit in using the Earth’s resources to enrich very powerful and barely accountable corporations (some of which clearly express their ambitions to control our lives). Our democratic institutions are being weakened, as individuals and groups of individuals are being robbed of coherent thought. The modern version of ‘bread and circuses’ indeed!

Being an inveterate optimist, I am glad that we have Wimbledon Disarmament Coalition/CND and national CND to help us keep thinking and engaging with others. Please do encourage others to join both this local WDC/CND group and CND nationally:

NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) Conference 2022

The 10th Review Conference of the Parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, scheduled to take place at the UN in 2020, was postponed to January this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In view of the latest developments the conference has been further postponed, possibly until August.

“The UK works within the NPT to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, promote cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and advance nuclear disarmament” (UK Government website). It’s hard to see how this can be reconciled with their refusal to engage with the Ban Treaty, and their announcement in 2021 of a proposed increase of 40% in the UK’s nuclear arsenal, contravening their own longstanding commitment (reiterated as recently as 2019) to reduce the warhead stockpile “to no more than 180 by the mid-2020s”. They also plan to suppress information on how many missiles and warheads are actively deployed, again in contravention of past claims that “our transparency about our arsenal and declaratory policy all contribute to the UK being a responsible nuclear-weapon state”; according to their own declaration, this is irresponsible behaviour.

In arguing that the UK requires additional nuclear weapons because of changed security concerns, the Government has effectively opened the door not only for all nuclear weapon states to increase their stockpiles arbitrarily, a grave weakening of the NPT, but for non-nuclear states to consider acquiring their own nuclear weapons as “the ultimate insurance policy” against “hostile states”. These actions are not only inciting proliferation in a manner quite incompatible with our obligations under the NPT, but undermining the treaty itself.

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Loving Earth Project

“A celebration and a warning”: this was the message picked up from the Loving Earth exhibition in the Scottish Maritime Museum by the reviewer from The List, who nominated it as one of the best cultural events in Scotland for COP26. Over 200 textile panels were exhibited in six different venues around Glasgow, and they included a variety made by Merton residents, including two by WDC/CND members, illustrating links between war and environmental damage. War and preparations for war account for 10% of greenhouse gases, not to mention killing people, animals, plants, destroying whole ecosystems, and fuelling mass migrations and disease.

The textile panels exhibited are very personal celebrations of what people love, reminders of all that is at risk from the environmental crisis. Alongside this warning and fear, though, are signs of hope. People are willing to do great things for the sake of what they love — and more and more of us are starting to make changes in our lives. But much more is needed. The message I took away from Glasgow was that it really is up to us all. Only if the politicians believe that voters want change will they change their policies, tax systems, building and trade regulations etc to bring about the necessary structural changes. We all need to learn much more about environmental issue, the science and the economics, and take them into account in our everyday decisions as far as possible. Each of us starts in a different place, so we need to go where our energy is — do what we can, not what we can’t.

The Loving Earth project can help foster more such conversations over the next year or two as the panels continue to go on tour. We will be developing further online resources to help groups and individuals to get involved. We hope to have a large exhibition in London, perhaps late in 2022 or in 2023, if an organising group can be put together. More information about the project, including an online gallery are on the website: If you’d like to keep in touch, please join the mailing list by emailing .

STOP PRESS: if you happen to be visiting Cambridge 1–28 February, visit Michaelhouse Café Art Gallery, Trinity Street, where 50 Loving Earth panels will be on display.

Linda Murgatroyd

Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (Ban Treaty)

The first anniversary of the Ban Treaty’s entry into force was marked by groups across the world on 22nd January. What has happened in the past year? By December 2021, 59 states had ratified or acceded to the Treaty, with Peru the most recent. In addition, many towns and cities around the world — including Washington, Paris and Manchester — are bypassing their governments’ opposition and becoming Nuclear Ban Communities as they sign up in support.

And what of our government? Shamefully it has refused to even participate in the treaty talks and even now it refuses to engage with this piece of international law. The states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will meet for the first time in Vienna from 22nd to 24th March 2022. As a non-signatory, the UK can attend as an observer, but it is refusing to do so.

We as a group, and individually, can help to put pressure on the Foreign Secretary to commit to attending, like other NATO states, Germany and Norway. CND has launched a campaign ‘Talks Not Bombs’ which includes a digital toolkit for campaigning, accessible at

Alternatively, you can write to the Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP at the House of Commons, SW1A OAA, and also to your own MP at the same address. There will be an online event with guest speakers on 9th February (see Diary for full details).

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

There was some good news after the House of Lords debate on this Bill on the 17th January, as they voted to reject controversial changes to the ways in which protests are policed.

Of particular note was the defeat of one of the most high-profile proposals, which would have made it illegal for protestors to cause serious disruption by locking themselves to things. Another very contentious clause giving the police new powers to stop protests in England and Wales if they are deemed to be too noisy and disruptive was also defeated.

The Bill will now go back and forth between the Commons and the Lords until agreement is reached, so the fight is by no means over.

Actions not Words from Nuclear Weapons States

In the January edition of CND’s Campaign magazine, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson responded to the following joint statement recently issued by the leaders of the world’s largest nuclear weapons states: “WE AFFIRM that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”.

“At this time of increasing global tensions, it’s a welcome reaffirmation of the position that Reagan and Gorbachev took at their 1985 summit at the height of the cold war. At that time, those powerful words led to radical action: the remcndukoval of a whole class of nuclear weapons from Europe through the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty — the very outcome that we, in the mass peace movements, had been demanding. Reagan and Gorbachev employed actions as well as words.”

Kate Hudson continues: “Dialogue is good, but we want concrete outcomes — real steps towards disarmament, not the nuclear weapons modernisation programmes that all these countries are undertaking.

“Many of the assertions in the statement are not borne out by reality: that they are committed to preserving and complying with disarmament and non-proliferation treaties — yet the US under President Trump trashed numerous key treaties that have not been reinstated under President Biden; that they are committed to the NPT’s Article VI — this requires good faith measures towards nuclear disarmament, ridden roughshod over by all nuclear weapons states modernising or increasing their arsenals; and underpinning this is the continued false notion that nuclear weapons ‘serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war’ [....] We also need their engagement with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, freely negotiated by the global majority.” Visit to read the whole article.

Note: since the article was published, we’ve had the stark reminder on 20th January that “the world remains stuck in an extremely dangerous moment” (quote from the 75th annual bulletin of the Atomic Scientists). They set the Doomsday Clock at just 100 seconds to midnight for the third year in a row. It is hard to re-kindle the optimism of 1985!

Ukraine — On the Brink between the Nuclear Superpowers

At the time of writing (mid-January) the Ukraine is back in the headlines with a wave of diplomatic activity seeking to reduce tensions. The worst possible outcome would be a proxy war between the US and Russia fought in that region and even the slightest possibility means the situation must be taken seriously.

Russia has an estimated 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. The Ukraine is appealing for military support to defend itself. Their Ambassador to London is tired of explaining that war in the region is not ‘imminent’, it has been under way for years now, and soldiers and civilians in the eastern Donbas region are losing their lives every day.

A glance at the map showing NATO’s expansion since 1997 explains Putin’s position: a broad band of 13 NATO new members from north to south with the Ukraine eager to join them. Just remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, and imagine how the US would respond to a similar situation. Russia’s Red Line is the Ukraine getting NATO membership, while NATO maintains the ambiguous position of refusing to say that its denial is permanent.

In 2014–15 two agreements were reached in Minsk between parties seeking to end the fighting in the Russian-occupied Donbas region. The second was brokered by Angela Merkel, the leaders of France and Germany being involved as mediators. Minsk II calls for a ceasefire and for some measure of political autonomy to be given to the Donbas with its large population of Russian-speakers. Ceasefires come and go and the autonomy measures have not been implemented but some think the Minsk process still offers the best route to stability and peace.

NATO does not want military conflict over the Ukraine. The US, the UK and Germany all hope that a combination of financial, economic and political sanctions will deter Russia from the mass invasion for which it appears to be preparing. Russia says it plans no such invasion but is ready to defend itself. The Chatham House website offers informed and up-to-date analysis of the on-going story:

Alison Williams
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