Kingston Peace News - July 2011

A fair result?

Stall at Ham Fair

Maggie Rees and her loyal band of helpers have been busy raising funds for the KPC/CND group. Maggie held garage sales on the two May bank holidays, raising £291.25, and organised a stall selling bric-a-brac and books, as well as giving out information about our campaign, at the Ham Fair on Saturday 11 June (pictured here).

This made a splendid profit of £251. The weather was very kind to us, in spite of a poor forecast, and an enjoyable time was had by those who spent their day on the stall. Money raised at these events is essential for our campaigning, and our thanks and congratulations go to all who helped at one or all of them, particularly those who assisted with transporting the goods and clearing away afterwards. We shall be having stalls at New Malden Fortnight Fair on July 9th and Carshalton Environmental Fair on August 29th, so if you can help with either of these, or have good quality bric-a-brac or books to donate, please 'phone Maggie on 020 8549 0086.

Cost of Trident to double as ministers signal replacement plans

Ministers are set to give the go-ahead to the next stage of the replacement of Britain's Trident nuclear weapons system, yet figures released to an MP show that rather than the original estimate of £11-14bn, the bill for new submarines is expected to come in at around £26bn.

The new figures were revealed in a response to Katy Clark MP, when Defence Equipment Minister Peter Luff described the costs of the two planning phases expected before a final decision ('main gate') is taken in 2016: "The combined cost of the Concept Phase, totalling approximately £900m, and the Assessment Phase, totalling approximately £3bn at outturn prices, is consistent with the departmental guidance that programmes should spend approximately 15% of the total costs before Main Gate," wrote the minister.

If the combined cost of the Concept and Assessment phases - £3.9bn - is 15% of the total, that would give an outturn cost for the submarines of £26bn. The original MoD cost estimate, using prices as they were in 2006 was of £11-14bn being required for the submarines. Inflation as felt by the general economy would only be expected to have added £1-2bn to costs in that time.

Ministers have also stated they will not release the growth in costs required by the decision to go ahead with a new untested reactor design (PWR3) after having ruled out using the existing reactor or an upgraded variant of it (PWR2 and PWR2b). Campaigners have consistently called for greater transparency and in this case there can be no question of security or commercial reasons for ministers telling MPs "We will provide a description and revised cost estimate of the selected design in the initial gate parliamentary report, but not for those designs that have been rejected."


George Miller responds to Harry Davis’ article Just War in the June edition of Kingston Peace News

I share H.D.’s scepticism about “just war”. It is surely a contradiction in terms. The idea of justice is to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. In war the innocent perish. Even if you assume that the population who elect an aggressive leader share in his guilt, this extension cannot apply to children, infants and babes in the womb. As soon as one of these dies the war is not just. Wars are always “justified”, by those who wage them, but never just.

In theory a war could be described as just if the only casualties were consenting adult military personnel. This is the notion of war which supports the bearing of arms as an honourable and heroic profession, a “service” to the nation. In this framework war is an enlargement of battle, or a series of battles, in which a dispute is settled by a trial of strength. The issue thus determined, peace ensues, although (since might is not right) not necessarily a just and lasting peace. The early peace movement sought to replace war by arbitration, but as war is a virus which constantly mutates, events overtook it.

The First World War was largely an affair of battles, differing from former wars in the sheer numbers killed but in which the overwhelming preponderance of casualties were still military. There were great battles in WW2 but its outstanding characteristic was the exponential rise in civilian deaths resulting from aerial bombing, conventional and nuclear, and genocide. The horrified reaction to the scale of suffering inflicted on the innocent resulted in the founding of the United Nations and a new initiative to end “the scourge of war”. This was predicated on the supposition that war was the consequence of aggression, and that by making aggression an international crime and instituting credible sanctions against it, war, at least on the scale and intensity it had reached, could in future be prevented.

Cavalry charge to atom bomb

WW1 was proclaimed the war to end all wars, but it only ended the old concept of war as battle. WW2 marked a mutation. It was as if the military mind realised that given the extent of advancement in the technology of killing, from the cavalry charge to the atom bomb, there was no sense in armed forces of advanced industrial nations fighting each other. Neither side would win, or indeed survive. It made far more sense for armies to kill civilians. The notion of asymmetric war was born. Hitler described his violence against the Jews as a “war”, justified by alleged betrayal and terrorist acts against the German people, the great majority of whom supported him. The ideology, methodology and even some of the personnel of Hitler’s genocide migrated to the United States via Operation Paperclip.

The UN Charter recognised self-defence as a justification for taking arms. The US War Department became the Department of Defense and in Britain the War Ministry became the Ministry of Defence, and the definition of Defence, however spelt, became highly flexible. It was not simply a question of defending your territory, but your country’s “interests”. Also the possibility that another country might at some future time become an aggressor “in an unstable world”, or acquire the means to attack you, justified unlimited killing of its civilians. This killing was not aggression because it was not intentional, i.e. “collateral damage”. Without territorial occupation millions were killed in the mis-named Cold War through proxy wars and client dictators. Putting troops on the ground was a temporary intervention to “restore order” and “promote democracy”. The introduction of drones (“Reaper”, “Predator” – the names tell the story) and space-based laser weapons in the pipeline, greatly increase the potential for no hands, long range, non-aggressive, unintentional mass killing.

But to justify any warlike activity you need an enemy. The collapse of the Soviet empire left only small fry and there was alarming talk of a “peace dividend.” Even the disciplining of renegades like Saddam was wholly insufficient to feed the appetite of a now vastly inflated war machine. What followed was a stroke of genius. An enemy was created that could never be finally defeated: invisible, ubiquitous, not restricted to a physical group or location, beyond reason and reconciliation, indeed so alien as to be beyond the pale of human rights and the protection of the Geneva Conventions, and whose on-going elimination justified any amount of collateral damage.

What began on 9/11/2001 was in fact the Third World War. It may not have great battles or epic campaigns but it has already lasted longer than the other two together, replicating some of the horrors of Fascism (Fallujah, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib etc.) and in probability already claiming millions of lives across the world. If the First World War was the war to end all wars, the “War on Terror” is the war to end all peace.

War is a smart virus. It is not enough for us to have our hearts in the right place. We will need to be a whole lot smarter ourselves to end it.

George Miller, of Oswestry Coalition for Peace, is the author of ‘The Buzzards of Zinn: a Story of War and Peace’  Medlar 2010

Just when you thought …

… the US military could not come up with an even more irresponsible weapons system they have now unveiled the latest ‘boy’s toy’: the unmanned stealth bomber.

February this year witnessed the first test flight of the X-47B, deigned by Northrop Grumman for the US Navy. Officials are reported as saying that the aircraft will form part of a new generation of unmanned drones and it works like a small version of the B2 Stealth bomber. As such it would be very different from the US military’s current fleet of remote controlled planes like the Predator and Reaper that continue to see action especially on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The X-47B would be invisible to radar and fly much faster than its propeller driven predecessors. It is intended that it will operate from aircraft carriers. Vice-president of Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems Janis Pamilians enthused at the test flight: “We are indeed honoured to have given wings to the Navy's vision for exploring unmanned carrier aviation," she said. Such enthusiasm was undoubtedly also affected by the contract, worth £395 million, for building the bomber.

This new generation of drone further enhances the US capability for fighting wars from the comfort and safety of their command and control centres, whether in naval taskforces an ocean away of even an airforce base in Nevada thereby increasing the disconnect between the ‘pilot’ and the destruction of life and property on the ground. This in turn makes warfare more acceptable to politicians who need no longer concern themselves with the US public’s reaction to flag-draped coffins being returned for burial in Arlington.

Phillip Cooper

It’s only money …

The United States’ defence budget for the fiscal year 2010 is more than $500 billion, with another $130 billion to bolster the ‘War on Terrorism’ and a further $33 billion in supplemental spending on top of that.

The Thorium debate hots up

Martin Birdseye responds to articles in previous editions on the Energy Policy of the Future

Thorium - a chance for a broader view? No, this does not mean I am happy with thorium fuelled nuclear reactors. But yes, it is a chance to think about ideology and objectives.

Jasper Tomlinson's article promoting the merits of molten salt nuclear reactors and their significance for global energy justice (May KPN), and John Johnson's robust rebuttal of this prospect (June KPN) should both be commended for setting us thinking.

A molten salt reactor is one of several different approaches*1 to using thorium in nuclear reactors and it is not difficult to find articles dramatically expounding their advantages and disadvantages. I must admit that when I first heard about accelerator excited sub-critical thorium reactors I was rather fascinated. Thorium is a heavy element like uranium, but not quite so unstable, and there is three or four times more of it available. On its own it can't sustain a chain reaction and therefore is not much use for weapons, but there are various ways for it to split into other elements, releasing a great deal of energy, if it is hit by high energy particles. If this is achieved by an accelerator, firing a stream of protons into a thorium fuelled nuclear reactor, then we have the possibility of a system that is intrinsically safer in at least one respect - turn off the accelerator and the reaction stops. Additionally there are benefits claimed in terms of waste products (which are not quite so nasty or so enduring) and in terms of proliferation of weapons technology.

Think clearly

Of course it is not that simple.*2 Uranium 233 is produced during the process, allowing a possible route to weapons manufacture. Waste is still going to be a big problem; half-lives of hundreds rather than thousands of years may be a great improvement but that still seems hopelessly long and impractical. The engineering requirements for a useful energy producing system seem frightening - to start with you need a massive cyclotron accelerator and an exotic high temperature coolant.

Did I hear a collective sigh of relief? Thorium is nuclear. Nuclear is bad. No more thinking to do on that one ? But we do have to think clearly about these issues.

For sixty years nuclear power and nuclear weapons have been inextricably linked; by science, technology, material transfer and economics; and therefore at a practical policy level it makes sense for peace activists to oppose nuclear power. However, most of us will also be deeply concerned about finding a just and sustainable future for our planet. The potential links between war and the consequences of climate change are undeniable. What if the power technology could be decoupled from weapons technology? How do we feel when some hope of this is held out to us? Are we glad or sad to hear of such potential improvements? Might we even feel a tiny bit glad when we hear of set-backs and disasters to nuclear power stations?

Somehow, we have to be discerning where the nuclear industry has at times been obfuscatory.

There have been some devastating failures of nuclear energy plants but they, at least, are designed to be useful and safe. In the UK, and even more so in places like France and Japan, we all share in the energy they provide. It seems less and less likely, but in principle they might eventually be part of the solution of human energy needs.

But nuclear weapons are designed to kill, to wreak unimaginable pain and destruction. They threaten life itself. They are used for projecting naked political power. Their only truly defensive mode of use is as a deterrent, but this is by making hostages of entire, innocent populations. Some day everyone will see that all these aspects are morally untenable.

At every step then, we must be clear about the different reasons for opposing nuclear weapons and nuclear power. To be otherwise is to be less efficient in campaigning and is probably damaging to our reputation and credibility.

Separate from all this is the debate about nuclear energy as opposed to other types of energy generation. Is it green or is it a highly toxic blind alley? Is it going to help the poor and vulnerable or is it just extending the global reach of corporate greed? My own view is much closer to John Johnson's than to Jasper Tomlinson's. Seeking justice for the poor and dispossessed should be a top priority for peacemakers, but we should be very careful about prescribing over‑capitalised western solutions. In any case we must refute the irrational assumption that growth is intrinsically good. Whatever happens we must cut back on our own profligate use of energy and support the development of locally applicable sustainable energy sources. And we all have a lot to learn.

Martin Birdseye

Useful links:



Although the presentation for KPC/CND’s Expressions of Peace competition was made in April we just had to get this picture in at some point. It shows the winners, from years 2 and 4 at St Mary’s CofE Primary School, Chessington, who were rewarded for their poetry with a certificate each plus a bookmark. The school received a cheque for £50 and framed print of Picasso’s picture ‘Child with Dove’, or, as one of the children rechristened it, ‘Kid with Duck!’ Wonderful!

Pakistan nuclear security worries

A recent Taliban assault on a Pakistani military base left the authorities as embarrassed as they were in the wake of US Special Forces flying in, killing Osama Bin Laden, and flying out again. But the attack on the Naval Air Station at Mehran in Karachi has created more than just discomfort. It has opened up the question of just how securely guarded is Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A recent article by the BBC’s defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the country is believed to have between 70 and 90 nuclear warheads and is busy modernising its delivery systems.

Little is known about their whereabouts but they are thought to be stored unassembled with the nuclear cores separate from the rest of the weapons system, including the mobile transporters from which they would be fired. Although both the Pakistani and US authorities express their great confidence in the security arrangements, there are, said Marcus, reasons to worry.

Most of the nuclear sites are close to or in areas where the Taliban is active, so as to keep them away from the Indian border. Also, analysts believe, there have already been attacks on nuclear facilities and that the personnel screening programmes may be insufficient to guard against infiltration. Also, a Wikileaks cable suggested that the French have already decided against supplying Pakistan with nuclear technology because of concerns over the security issue, given that the weapons are regularly moved around.

This is a Pakistani ballistic nuclear missile and its transporter. The country has been able to acquire this technology thanks to several US Tomahawk cruise missiles crashing in Pakistan en route to Taliban targets in Afghanistan!

Questions to Vince Cable on the UK’s arms sales obsession

Jim McCluskey has been in correspondence with Vince Cable’s department on the question of arms sales and export licenses. Here is the text of his letter. The next edition of KP News will look at the response he received and his comment on those answers.

1. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute identified 15 countries as locations of major armed conflict in 2008 (16 in 2009). The UK government has authorised the sale of arms to 11 of them. (12 in 2009)

2. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s most recent Human Rights Annual Report identified 21 “major countries of human rights concern”. (26 countries identified in new report published in March 2011) The UK government approved arms export licences to 10 of them - including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Russia and Israel.

3. In a Democracy Index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Saudi Arabia was ranked as almost the worst of authoritarian regimes. It was number 161 out of the 167 countries listed.

British government authorised the sale of more arms to Saudi Arabia than any other state.

4. Saudi Arabia is considered almost the worst authoritarian regime in the world.

Yet the British government has 210 people working, within government, full-time on behalf of the arms manufacturing companies and the Saudi Arabian government. These people are working to support arms contracts with the Saudi Arabian government.

5. In the Democracy Index Libya was listed as one of the worst countries in the world, only two places above Saudi Arabia. Yet we have only just stopped authorising the sale of arms to Libya.

6. Other buyers of UK arms in the Democracy Index list of authoritarian regimes include Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Nigeria and Turkmenistan. We have authorised the sale of arms to all these states.

7. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index Libya is listed as one of the 50 most corrupt regimes on the planet. In Sept. 2009 a Libyan delegation was invited to the biggest UK arms fair. UKTI-DSO exhibited at the Libyan Aviation Exhibition the following month.

8. One of the world’s most authoritarian regimes is Algeria. The government has granted export licences to Algeria.

9. The British government, through UKTI-DSO, is supporting and supervising the sale of weapons to a total of 52 countries. How is this justified?

10. 56% of UKTI’s industry-specific staff, work on behalf of the arms manufacturers. The other 44% work for all the other export industries put together. How is this justified?

11. The government says by promoting the arms industry it is just creating jobs. Only 0.2 % of the UK workforce is engaged in the arms industry.

12. The government says it is justified in engaging this 56% of civil servants (see item 10 above) because they are promoting exports. But only a mere 1.5% of UK exports are arms.

13. The UK government works for other arms companies and not just the British ones.

Seven of its ‘Key Accounts’ are with foreign companies including the US (Lockhead Martin and General Dynamics, France (Thales) and Italy (Finmeccanica)

How is spending UK taxpayers money in this way justified?

Yours sincerely,

Jim McCluskey

Israeli government spin targets friend and ‘foe’ alike

What is the likelihood that a former head of Israel’s feared intelligence organisation Mossad and western journalists would have much in common? Well, it emerges that they are both prime targets for the Israeli government’s disinformation machine.

More Bad News from Israel is an updated version of a book co-authored by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group ( that uncovers the degree of pressure under which western journalists operate when attempting to report on events involving Israel and the Palestinians. The new edition covers recent developments including the Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza and the aid flotilla.

The book, first published in 2004 following the Second Palestinian Intifada, looks at the impact on the public’s understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the language used in media reports and the lengths to which the Israeli authorities go in order to control that language. A number of journalists, especially from the BBC, contacted the researchers following the book’s initial publication to describe the intense pressure they had been put under to limit criticism of Israeli actions. They spoke of "waiting in fear for the phone call from the Israelis" (meaning the embassy or higher), and of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau having been "leant on by the Americans". Just one example is to suggest that it is Hamas being attacked, rather than the Palestinian people.

So what of Meir Dagan, the retired director of Mossad who after a glowing career heading up the highly effective intelligence agency has spoken from retirement of his fears of an Israeli attack on Iran? As someone who for many years was on the inside track of the state’s security apparatus he could be expected to have impeccable credentials but this has not prevented the current Israeli government and a number of journalists from publicly vilifying him for warning of the foolhardy and catastrophic nature of any such military adventurism.

To his defence has ridden Gideon Levy, a columnist in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz who wrote last month: “There is no clearer symptom of the sickly state of public discourse in Israel than efforts at silencing Dagan, as well as the smears now directed at him. As Mossad head, he managed to stop this adventurism, and now when he has retired and left the decision-making arena to the prime minister and defence minister, whom he views as dangerous, he has decided to break his silence.”

Given what Dagan knows, wrote Levy, he fears a second Yom Kippur War, and the columnist goes on: “It is understandable, if not acceptable, when politicians attempt to silence public debate so they can do with the country and the army as they please. But when an army of commentators and reporters behaves this way, something is fundamentally amiss in the concept of the role of the media in a free society.”

Phillip Cooper

Newsletter Editor for this issue was Phil Cooper.

Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.