The cost of the failure to ban the bomb
Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the treasury, is head of a review, yet to be published, (the other reviewers are Cameron, Clegg and Osborne) on possible alternatives to the present Trident situation, where four submarines make up the fleet, with one always at sea on patrol. Alternatives will be presented which challenge the need to replace Trident with a ‘like for like’ updated system, one designed, in Clegg’s words, ‘with the sole purpose of flattening Moscow at the touch of a button’.
What is the present situation? A government factsheet (Fact sheet 10: Trident value for money review) describes how it is responding to the lowered threat after the Cold War by reducing the number of warheads from 48 to 40, and the new subs are to be fitted with only 8 operational missile tubes rather than the existing 12 – in other words, reducing from one absurd figure to another. The same factsheet gives a guarantee that Britain will not destroy other signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the wording is carefully vague, and leaves open the threat of nuclear destruction to nations that develop and seem threatening to use chemical or biological weapons. It also states that nukes are there to defend Britain ‘or its vital interests’, a chilling ex-colonial threat to justify a nuclear attack on commercial grounds: admittedly an impossible scenario; the use of nukes as a blackmailing threat is hardly credible.
At first sight, the new review seems a heartening attempt to reconsider the whole question of Britain’s nuclear weapon, but it is nothing of the kind. The reviewers are fully committed to keeping nuclear weapons, and are only looking for cutting costs. Alexander is careful to state that ‘I am not a unilateralist’, in practice code for keeping the Bomb. Clegg dislikes nuclear weapons, but even if he goes so far as to vote against Trident renewal when the issue comes to parliament in 2016, other Lib Dems will not do so, the whole of the Conservatives will vote to renew Trident, as will possibly a majority of Labour MPs.
Unfortunately, the great debate in parliament is likely to be mainly concerned with money: how can we safely cut the cost, whilst maintaining what they will insist on calling ‘Britain’s deterrent’. As always, the ‘usual suspects’ will explain why they will vote against renewal, and will use more basic arguments on why Britain should join the great majority of nations that do not have, or want, nuclear weapons. But the ‘usual suspects’ will be in a small minority.
Apropos, I remember the Easter march from Aldermaston to Trafalgar Square, long ago. Admitted, it was fun, but that was not why the marchers were there. The march took four days, and during that time the reasons for renouncing Britain’s nuclear weapon were occasionally discussed, though of course the marchers mostly chatted on other subjects, or sang “I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside’, or ‘When the saints come marching in’. The point is, whenever the Bomb came up for discussion, the cost of Britain’s nukes was never mentioned, as irrelevant as a discussion of costs in heroin addiction. These people had given up their Easter break to protest about the immorality of their country’s becoming a nuclear weapon nation. The Cold War, with its threats, had been stoked up, and even possibly caused, by nuclear weapons. After a brief, failed attempt at a cooperative solution (the Baruch plan), the solution to the problem posed by the invention of the Bomb had been to make bigger bombs and more of them. Since then the possession of nuclear weapons has spread (to 8 nations now, and rising).
There had to be a better way than living under the permanent threat of annihilation. There had been a potentially disastrous failure of leadership worldwide which has caused the present perilous situation, and we were being asked to trust these failed legislators to get it right in the future by hanging on to, and upgrading, our weapon of mass destruction.
Judging from past debates, these larger reasons for banning the bomb will not be much aired in parliament in 2016. Getting rid of Trident will have to come from pressure from below.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum
At the April monthly meeting we decided not to discuss the death of Margaret Thatcher, partly out of a feeling that one should not speak ill of the dead, and partly because there were urgent current events to organise.
So those of us who remembered her hectoring heyday, at the height of the cold war, her rapport with president Reagan in his ‘evil empire’ days, her declaration that nuclear weapons were ‘good value for money’, had to bite our tongues. Especially worrying was the ‘Falklands factor’, which boosted her election prospects in 1982. There was an alternative, via the UN, which was ignored. People love a good war (see Freud’s analysis below). The Falklands war made it easier for a later leader to drag Britain into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If it's Easter it must be Aldermaston. So there we were - 6 (at least) members from KPC/CND starting early in the biting easterly to wind to join the London Region CND coach (one of 3 from London) to arrive at Aldermaston for the traditional Demonstration.
Different regions were allocated to different gates - London were at the Home Office gate, where we joined others from Wimbledon, Bromley, Croydon etc. to hang our banners on the fence and decorate it with ribbons and postcards carrying our messages. David Polden set up the London Region stall where he remained for the 2 - 3 hours we were there in spite of the challenging wind and extreme cold. Others I'm afraid sloped off round the corner to Tadley gate which was more sheltered, and also benefitted from a refreshment gazebo set up by Oxford CND. This was the faith gate, so there was also a religious service there and some very nice singing.
Other intrepid folks set off to walk around the base - a distance of about 5 miles. What a large area of our green and pleasant land to be dedicated solely to the manufacture of death and destruction! Many women also congregated at the Citadel (Women's) Gate, where there was a brew-up over a camp fire.
Back at Home Office Gate we jumped around, chanted and sang to keep out the cold and ward off the evil spirits emanating from within the base. Two sets of speakers toured around the various gates to remind us all why we were there.
Well, why were we there on a Bank Holiday with no workers present? Partly for ourselves in solidarity, but also Kate Hudson tells me there was good coverage of the event on the BBC website (if not broadcast - we're not sure- tell us if you heard or saw it), and the next day there was a very nice photo of her in the Metro newspaper. There were apparently about 2000 participants. And of course lots of tweets and twitters went round to friends and family members. So how could we NOT have gone there?
If you want to do more please contact any of our Officers (back page) to join one of our early morning "Meet the Workers" visits. Or if you have pink wool and can knit, look at www.woolagainstweapons.co.uk and help to make the 8 mile long pink scarf which will eventually link up Burghfield and Aldermaston.
Pantomime villains are an obligatory ingredient of every war, conflict, act of state brutality or aggression - some more pantomime than others. Saddam Hussein, the women and children of Hiroshima, the Jews of the Third Reich, Iran, Afghanistan, Kim Jong Un....
Osama Bin Laden was the CIA chief gun runner to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan’s Russian occupation. His later rhetoric inspired young Egyptians and Saudis to crash planes into US buildings and suddenly everyone was a ‘son-of-Bin Laden’. The “War-on-Terror” was unleashed and Islamophobia was everywhere.
How to expose the demented indiscriminate state barbarities that followed? Victoria Brittain has sidestepped usual castigation of official bellicosity, absurdity, illegality, brutality and blind vindictiveness. Her exposé takes us inside the lives and households of victims, showing us that many caught up by arbitrary “security” and ‘anti-terrorism’ are in fact amongst the kindest, most innocent and harmless people on the planet. And her message is more powerful for it, reminding us that behind all the official callous bombast there are real people who are pitilessly crushed and persecuted for something they would be first in the queue to condemn – the destruction of the World Trade Centre.
In her Introduction she skilfully and succinctly explains the duplicitous global realpolitiking which is the backdrop to the families’ agonising torment. Their treatment is the exact reversal of western values of freedom, justice, fairness and human rights which politicians espouse and which the innocent victims of post 9/11 persecution cherish, perhaps more so than many of us who grew up with them and take them for granted.
Demonizing dupes, innocent or not, is an old populist trick to mould public opinion and enhance personal standing. Some dupes invite it, others don’t and, like Victoria’s defenceless victims, are easy prey, skewered like fish in a barrel. The cruel Kafkaesque mean-mindedness exposed in this book serves no one. Anyone interested in justice, peace, humanity and human rights should read this book which shames the propaganda peddlers; and others for crude unenlightened assumptions. A timely reminder that the lives of ordinary people, not so very different to our own, are central to any campaign for peace and justice.
“SHADOW LIVES, the forgotten women of the War On Terror”; Victoria Brittain. ISBN 978-D-7453-3326-7
Noel Hamel April 2013
Did you get around to sorting and clearing those drawers and cupboards you have been meaning to for years? A few people have and some of the contents have already raised enough money to pay the hiring charge for one meeting at our very comfortable new premises in Surbiton Hill Methodist Church.
We have two garage sales in May and three more during the year. We do not have enough bric-a-brac to sell so please help. I am happy to collect so get sorting and ring me on 020 8549 0086.
Would you like to help sell at our fairs and sales? Please get in touch as just an hour will help. Garage sales in May are on 6th and 27th in the garage at rear of 289 Richmond Road, KT2 in Lower Ham Road near the Hawker Centre.
HAM FAIR is on Saturday June 8th - it is a very pleasant occasion and we would be grateful to anyone who is able to help on KPC's stall. Just one hour or the whole day - please get in touch with Maggie 8549 0086
Will an independent Scotland be allowed in?
If Scotland votes for independence in next year’s referendum, First Minister Alex Salmond is keen that the new nation joins the military alliance, Nato. Nato has made it clear that the Scots will not automatically be members, but will have to reapply, and there is a problem. Will the nation that kicked out Trident, England’s nuclear weapon, be allowed in to the nuclear military alliance? Especially as Scotland’s leaders have specifically repudiated nuclear weapons as illegal?
Former Nato chief Lord Robertson insists that a newly independent Scotland will have to accept principle of a ‘nuclear umbrella’. There are worries that Scotland’s anti-nuclear stance might undermine Nato’s nuclear strategy. Scotland’s membership might turn on this matter of ideology.
If the Scots are kept out of Nato, what is the worst case scenario? The Scots’ nearest neighbours are obviously the clear and present danger. Norway has a history of sending lusty Vikings across the narrow stretch of water, to rape and pillage. Nor can nearby Iceland be ruled out as a potential source of trouble. And it should not be forgotten that Russia, a powerful nuclear-armed nation, might well send an invasion fleet, skirting Nato countries by way of the Baltic. Finally, and this is something that has happened before, there is the possibility of an invasion from the south, as the Sassenachs cast their greedy eyes on Scotland’s oil fields in the North Sea.
If the Scots are kept out of Nato, they will save a lot of money, as Nato membership requires upgrading and coordinating weaponry, but should they put their security at risk?
A History of the World in 100 Objects. Neil MacGregor, Penguin books.
In this book Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, embarks on a history of mankind’s world over the last 11,000 years, as suggested by objects chosen from the museum’s collection. He describes each object as a work of art, but also its meaning for the society of its time. The history that emerges is a consistent one of conquest, empire building, consolidation, until finally the peace is broken by another marauding Genghis Khan. The civilisations which produced each object have all endured for a time, flourished sometimes for 1000 years, but then have crumbled, sometimes leaving only a vegetation-smothered wrack behind.
From earliest times, life was seen as hard and uncertain, ruled by unseen gods who had to be appeased. The Greeks had their gods, with the oracles as the man/god intermediaries, the Mayans sacrificed their children and slaves to their cruel gods in the hope of good harvests. With the coming of the major religions of more recent times the sacrifices increased on a massive scale. As Tom Paine remarked, all religions have a mild and moral teaching: however leaders, declaring God is with them, have embarked on bloody conquests. ‘. . . across the whole of Europe the church was an essential part of any state’s war machine. The story of the Crusades to the holy Land and the role that the Church played in them is well known, but at the same time there was also a northern crusade, led by the Teutonic knights, which conquered and Christianised parts of eastern Europe’ (page 339). In the 30 Years War in Europe, catholic and protestant Christians murdered each other for being of the wrong kind.
Given mankind’s troubled, violent history, MacGregor’s book brings the problems facing the modern world into sharp relief. Recent times have seen the decline of one empire on which, for a time, the sun never set, and the ascendancy of superpowers whose strength has been based upon weapons of indescribable power. It is hard to imagine the militarily-mighty United States of America ever losing its grip as the dominant power in the world, even given that the US has held its position for a mere few decades so far.
For the 100th object MacGregor chooses a solar powered light, but wonders which object a 22nd century compiler would have chosen, with the benefit of a century’s hindsight. My guess would be a CND symbol. One imagines the future compiler justifying his choice thus:
History so far had been a record of power and conquest, as another Napoleon or Alexander set out to expand the boundaries of their territory, but with the invention of the H-bomb a new situation had arisen. For the first time in our history, an international movement arose from the people, an antiwar movement in time of peace, with the objective of compelling leaders to forgo dreams of conquest and arrange among themselves a system of collective security so as to abolish war. Technology had caused war to become dangerously out of date – another major war could well end the history of our wonderfully clever species. The 20th century had been the bloodiest on record, and the 21st had not started out well, but it is due to the success of the antiwar movement that this history of our species continues.
What if military spending were cut?
Originally the brainchild of Colin Archer of the International Peace Bureau, the third annual GDAMS was supported in London by a coalition of groups led by Movement for the Abolition of War and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
A small street action at 9am in Old Palace Yard, opposite the Houses of Parliament, drew attention to the $1.7 trillion a year global military bill (£39 billion in the UK). Noel’s new banner was on display and is now accompanying Bruce Kent on his nationwide Cut Trident tour. There is a larger picture of Noel's banner on the Bruce Kent visit photos page.
At 5pm over 80 people packed into a parliamentary committee room for a public meeting, chaired by Bruce, to consider some of the social justice possibilities of redirecting military spending and to watch Pax Christi’s new 10-minute film Give Peace a Budget (which can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBGeBlsiSMU).
The different speakers looked at the matter from their own particular angles.
Kate Hudson of CND: a majority of the population in this country, including several senior military figures, do not believe we should be spending £3billion a year maintaining our current nuclear weapons system, nor should we be contemplating their replacement at a cost of around £100billion.
Anne-Marie O’Reilly of CAAT: the UK is one of the top four military spenders in the world, even as we are closing down hospitals and other socially useful institutions. She drew attention to the report Guns, Debt and Corruption, http://www.tni.org/briefing/guns-debt-corruption recently released in The Netherlands, which shows the part played by military spending in the Euro debt crisis. BAE Systems has been paying for 3 years to advertise on the largest billboard at Westminster Station: the best way we, with an alternative opinion, can get our message across is by making good use of the powerful social media.
Caroline Lucas MP: massive military spending is making us less rather than more safe. What is really needed is investment in renewable energy. Global climate change is the real threat – the weapon of mass destruction bringing droughts, floods and food shortages – even the Pentagon is recognising this. Maintaining and renewing our nuclear weapons also contravenes our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have increased the risk on the streets of Britain. She commended the example of Lucas Aerospace in the 1970s, where plans were drawn up to divert to socially useful manufacturing such as an artificial limb control system.
John Hilary of War on Want: The report Guns Debt and Corruption concludes that we should never acquire systems that we aren’t going to use, but war is a business and the military-industrial complex encourages us to lavish money on things we don’t need. In recent years it has become easier in two ways to wage war. Firstly, increasing privatisation (with the Foreign Office having spent £250 million on private mercenary armies in Iraq and Afghanistan) means less accountability. And in Syria, private companies are escalating the war. Secondly, the increasingly high-tech nature of warfare has meant a move away from the traditional idea of feet on the ground. Britain is greatly expanding its fleet of unmanned aircraft (drones). Not only could this encourage a ‘play station’ mentality among operatives, it does nothing to minimise civilian casualties: in Afghanistan the use of drones has led to an estimated 700 civilian deaths for every 14 Al-Qaeda suspects killed. Thus, the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, where the human cost to ‘our troops’ saps the public appetite for war, is reduced.
The ubiquitous and indefatigable Jeremy Corbyn MP put in an appearance and made a few wise and supportive comments.
A questioner from Conscience: taxes for peace not war, drew attention to the Conflict Pool – a fund within the MoD earmarked for the non-violent resolution of conflict. He lamented the fact that it is not being used effectively and that many projects are discontinued without being properly evaluated. John Hilary agreed and pointed also to the creeping use of aid, possibly up to one third, to back up military activity.
The Discussion of Einstein and Freud on how to stop war (continued from March issue).
Freud took his brief as explaining ‘how this question of preventing wars strikes a psychologist’. He saw the job of war prevention as ‘a matter of practical politics, the statesman’s proper study’, nevertheless he proceeded to analyse the causes of war in a way useful to those in power.
‘You begin with the relations between might and right, and this is assuredly the proper starting point for our enquiry.’ Freud prefers the word ‘violence’ to ‘might’, and notes that ‘conflicts between man and man are resolved, in principle, by recourse to violence.’ Man, however, is a superior animal, capable of reason, ‘touching, on occasion, the loftiest peaks of abstract thought, which seem to call for settlement [of disputes] by quite another method. This refinement, however, is a late development.’
Historically, ‘group force . . . decided points of ownership’, but ‘with the coming of weapons, superior brains began to oust brute force’, though the desired end result remained the same, killing the opponent. Killing both settled the dispute and ‘gratifies an instinctive craving’, an important instinct he later explains as a useful recruiting factor when wars are contemplated by rulers.
There has been a gradual evolution from brute violence towards law. For the reign of law, ‘the union of the people must be permanent and well organised’. ‘The kernel of the matter [is] the suppression of brute force by the transfer of power to a larger combination’. ‘There is but one way of ending war, and that is the establishment, by common consent, of a central control which shall have the last word in every conflict of interests. For this, two things are needed: first, the creations of such a supreme court of judicature; secondly, its investment with adequate executive force. . . The League of Nations, acting as a supreme court, fulfils the first condition; it does not fulfil the second. It has no force at its disposal, and can only get it if the members of the new body, its constituent nations, furnish it.’ Freud believed that force was essential to maintain law. ‘Our logic is at fault if we ignore the fact that right is founded on brute force, and even today needs violence to maintain it.’
This grand idea of a collaboration of nations to prevent war was new, and hopeful. But unfortunately ‘it is all too clear that nationalistic ideas, paramount today in every country, operate in quite a contrary direction’.
Why can the people be so readily recruited for war? ‘. . . you surmise that man has in him an active instinct for hatred and destruction, amenable to such stimulation. I entirely agree with you.’ ‘We [psychologists] assume that human instincts are of two kinds: those that conserve and unify, which we call ‘erotic’ (in the meaning Plato gives to Eros in his Symposium), … and secondly, the instincts that destroy or kill, which we assimilate as the aggressive or destructive instincts. These are . . . the well known opposites, Love and Hate.’ In any situation, these instincts are always blended. ‘Thus the instinct of self-preservation is certainly of an erotic nature, but to gain its end this very instinct necessitates aggressive action.’ The lust for aggression can be stimulated by appeals to idealism (e.g., patriotism?). ‘Musing on the atrocities recorded on History’s page, we feel that the ideal motive has often served as a camouflage for the dust of destruction.’ He appears to agree with Einstein that eminent men of proven integrity should have an input into decision-taking. The ‘vast majority . . . need a high command to make decisions for them’, a view that appears anti-democratic. He realises that ‘such a hope [of intellectuals taking command] is utterly utopian’. Slower, indirect methods (e.g., gradual awareness that war is too dangerous to permit) are more feasible, but we may run out of time. ‘They conjure up an ugly picture of mills that grind so slowly that, before the flour is ready, men are dead of hunger.’
He asks, ‘Why do we, you and I and many another, protest so vehemently against war, instead of just accepting it as just another of life’s importunities?’ He then lists the horrors of war, where men are forced to kill strangers, and finally says, ‘This is so true, so obvious, that we can but wonder why the conduct of war is not banned by general consent.’ He asks, ‘How long have we to wait before the rest of men turn pacifist?’
Next month, a summary of what these two 20th century intellectual giants agreed upon as the way forward towards a saner, war-free world, and how far their hopes have been realised 80 years later.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Harry Davis
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND