Trident and defence review underway
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is edging closer towards unilateral nuclear disarmament following the recent mini shadow cabinet reshuffle, but the process will be one that causes seismic ructions within the Opposition.
Corbyn moved his pro-Trident shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle to take over culture, media and sport and replaced her with anti-Trident Emily Thornberry. She heads up a detailed review of Britain’s defence strategy together with anti-nuclear former London Mayor Ken Livingstone.
Plenty of Labour MPs, however, are still wedded to the idea of Britain’s nuclear so-called deterrent and parts of the trade union movement, especially the GMB, are equally vociferously opposed to scrapping Trident claiming it will cost thousands of jobs. This conveniently overlooks the fact that Corbyn has stated quite clearly that those currently employed looking after the UK’s WMDs would be found alternative jobs, probably enhancing the country’s technological expertise in the field of non-fossil fuel energy production.
The Tories are of course relishing the prospect of depicting Labour as a party that is risking Britain’s security and this will be enthusiastically echoed by the right-wing media.
Hopefully, Corbyn’s stance will promote a comprehensive debate on the nature of nuclear weapons and the concept of deterrence for a population that is now too far removed from the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the ever-present fear of incineration that pervaded the Cold War years to comprehend the utter pointlessness and yet massive threat posed by Trident.
We need a mature discussion of the fact that the greatest security threat facing the UK is that posed by an enemy against whom nuclear weapons are useless, namely jihadi terrorists; that the possession of nuclear weapons makes Britain a sure-fire target for nuclear attack; and that we are basing our national defence on a weapons system whose use would amount to a monumental war crime. We should also throw in the fact that our ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ is not independent of the Americans.
The pretence of successive post-war governments that nuclear war was survivable with a few rudimentary precautions -the ‘protect and survive’, ‘duck and cover’ fictions - were eventually abandoned once people were no longer taken in by them. People can be persuaded that Trident offers no protection, but the process will be a very difficult one.
Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident and the Illusion of Safety
This is an amazing and shocking story of the creation of nuclear weapons in America, their development, and deployment and control.
The atmospheric background of the investigation is the horrifying event in 1980 of the accidentally damaged Titan II missile ( pictured, left) exploding on a Damascus, Arkansas launch pad. The missile had three times the power of all the bombs dropped in WWll—1 missile with 9 megatons of death.
Miraculously the “payload” did not explode.
Mr. Schlosser brings one face to face with minute- by-minute drama of the accident…like a play—a nightmare—in page-turning detail.
Supporting his investigations he has 110 pages of references. A list of mind-boggling accidents are gleaned from government records. The 70-year history of the struggle to command and control the incredibly engineered weapons is frightening.
The bare bone conclusions are:
1. Nuclear weapons are very complicated systems.
2. These systems can fail in a myriad of ways.
3. Human beings are prone to error.
Those with intimate knowledge of the American programs cannot work out why there have not been catastrophes. And I might add neither can the reader.
I hope I am not spoiling things to quote from his last paragraph.
“Right now thousands of missiles are hidden away, literally out of sight topped with warheads and ready to go, awaiting the right electrical signal. They are a collective death wish, barely suppressed. Everyone of them is an accident waiting to happen, a potential act of mass murder.”
Command and Control was written after six years of tedious research by a previously uninformed neutral. Thank you Eric Schlosser
Looking forward rather than looking back on Remembrance Day
Paul Rogers is professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and was guest speaker at last November’s Remembrance Sunday peace lecture hosted annually at London’s Imperial War Museum. The thought-provoking event was organised by the Movement for the Abolition of War.
Taking his theme as Future Wars and How to Prevent Them Prof Rogers listed three worldwide issues which, he said, would determine future conflicts over the next 30 years. These were social-economic inequality, climate change, and our approach to security.
On inequality he quoted a recent Oxfam statistic that the 60 or 70 wealthiest families in the world are wealthier than a whole cluster of states, that the wealthiest 1% is equivalent in wealth to about 50% of the poorest worldwide. More particularly the richest 20%, have 85% of the world household income. That is a trend, he said, which is still developing and it’s leading to more and more resentment.
“The point about this is, with huge improvements in literacy, communication, and even the spread of the Internet, people are much more aware of the nature of the world they live in in the broadest sense, both in the country and transnationally,” he said. “In other words people are much more aware of their own marginalisation and we're talking about the majority margins. It is an odd concept, you assume margins to be a minority, we talk about the majority in terms of a fair share of the development of the world as a whole.”
Unfulfilled or frustrated expectations are now leading to considerable violence. The second of his global issues was summed up in the phrase ‘War Causes Climate Change, Climate Change Causes War’. “We are for the first time in human history finally facing up to the environmental limitations dictated by the entire planetary system, the biosphere or the global ecosystem, call it what you will,” he told the audience. And although the world had successfully acknowledged, and acted to deal with, the reduction of the ozone layer caused by CFCs the issue of carbon pollution and the rise in global temperatures causing climate disruption was far more complex to deal with because it affected the whole way that we lived and worked industrially.
“The key thing to all of this is that what it does as climate change takes root, is that it undermines the ecological carrying capacity of huge areas of croplands to produce food at the level they do at present, and this is at a time when the population is still growing worldwide.”
This led to his third global issue, namely, the way in which security is viewed. When push comes to shove, he said, the more powerful, more well off, more comfortable parts of the world will, if they see themselves threatened, use force to prevent that threat. If climate change continues to develop as it is developing now and moves into pretty wholescale climate disruption, the richest countries will more or less be able to cope, at least for two or three decades. If it gets completely out of control then nobody will be really in a very good position to do very much, but the richer countries would be better placed. But those countries experiencing the biggest changes, also the poorest countries by and large, will have huge difficulty. The world would move into an era of very considerable anger and resistance and resentment not just against their own states but other states that are part and parcel of a system which is seen as deeply unfair. There would be huge pressures of movements of population. One major study done by a migration research centre reckons that if climate change was to really develop along predicted paths, within 20 years the numbers of people wanting to move would not be the 20 to 30 million we have now, but more like 400 million, and people would be desperate to move, but such movement would be constrained. Those are the conditions in which you get much more violent movements.
He concluded: “if we're really going to face the problems of a divided and constrained world, if we think we can maintain the status quo for maybe a fifth of the world's population, it will not work.”
View full lecture at www.abolishwar.org.uk
Former Pentagon chief warns that things are more dangerous now than during the Cold WarAt this point in the paper version of the newsletter is an abridged copy of an article which appeared in The Guardian on 7 January 2016. Readers online can read the original article at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/07/nuclear-weapons-risk-greater-than-in-cold-war-says-ex-pentagon-chief
Bill to go before Parliament
One hundred years ago on 2 March 1916 the Military Service Act came into force, bringing compulsory military service while at the same time allowing for possible exemption for ‘men who conscientiously object to combatant service’. A century on, we are forced into supporting military activity through the taxation system: financial conscription with no right of refusal.
In the centenary year of the 1916 Military Service Act, thanks to the campaigning organisation Conscience: TAXES FOR PEACE NOT WAR, the Taxes for Peace Bill 2016 will go before parliament. This aims to allow those who have a moral, ethical or religious objection to war the right to re-direct that portion of their income tax (about 6%) at present destined for military use to go instead to a fund designated for non-military security and non-violent conflict prevention and resolution work.
Some would argue that such a concession could open the floodgates to, for example, people who pay for private healthcare or education demanding their right to opt out of that part of the taxation system. The right to refuse to kill is, though, of a completely different order and constitutes a well-recognised valid objection to military service. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “everyone has the right to freedom of thought , conscience and religion”, though unfortunately doesn’t explicitly refer to the right to refuse to kill. (Sean McBride, former Assistant Secretary General of the UN and Nobel Peace Laureate 1974 advocated in his Nobel acceptance speech an additional Human Right: ‘The Right to Refuse to Kill’.)
More tricky perhaps is the inflexibility of the opt-completely-one-way-or-the-other nature of the Bill. For pacifists the choice is clear but there are many others within the peace movement who would not necessarily object to all military spending. This latter group of peace campaigners and supporters believe in pursuing better, more civilized ways of resolving conflict than by military means, through the channels now available: well-established international institutions, laws, agreements, and tried and tested non-violent methods of conflict avoidance and resolution. There could, they believe, conceivably be genuinely last-resort situations where armed force might be unavoidable (self defence? UN peacekeeping?). In objecting to military service it is possible to object to one war but support another. (Bertrand Russell was a vociferous opponent of World War I, imprisoned for his beliefs, but accepted reluctantly the need for World War II.). It’s a bit more difficult to envisage a tax system which could adequately and acceptably incorporate such choices.
However, we in the peace movement are united in trying to change cultural perceptions of the need for military force and, hopefully, we can all agree that the principle of this right of objection should be recognised. Once such a right is enshrined in law, adjustments could be incorporated over time to accommodate the non-absolutists.
Enclosed with hard copies of this newsletter is a replica of the form which conscientious objectors had to complete to apply for exemption from military service.
It can be accessed online at www.conscienceonline.org.uk/register-yourself-as-a-conscientious-objector/.
Conscience is asking supporters to state why they object to paying for war. Please send completed forms to Conscience, FREEPOST LON 18505, London N19 5BR for inclusion in a volume of personal testimony in support of the Taxes for Peace Bill 2016.
All are invited to a reception to launch the Bill, hosted by Ruth Cadbury MP, on the centenary of the Military Service Act, Wednesday 2 March 2016 from 7pm to 9pm in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Westminster. It would be helpful to Conscience to know if you plan to attend: please let them know at http://www.conscienceonline.org.uk/contact-us/ or 020 3515 9132.
Veterans discard their medals in Downing Street protest
2015 was a year of extraordinary activism for the UK anti-war movement. But one set of protests was so spectacular, so radical and so eloquent that the media was obliged to sit up and take notice. In July and again in December, members of Veterans for Peace UK staged demonstrations that challenged the deep-seated belief that military service was an honourable profession that had turned them all into heroes.
On Friday 10 July, three former soldiers, all members of VfPUK, walked from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street where they lined up, faced the police barricades and declared:
‘We are members of Veterans For Peace UK, an ex-services organisation of men and women who have served this country in every conflict since the Second World War. We exist in the hope of convincing you that war is not the solution to the problems of the 21st century. We have come here today to hand back things, given to us as soldiers, that we no longer require or want.’
The men took turns to make brief statements before dropping their ‘things’ on the ground. They did this three times: first with their Oaths of Allegiance, then their army hats and finally their medals. It was this last gesture that was so powerful.
VfPUK member John Boulton said:
‘These are the medals given to me for the sick dichotomy of keeping the peace and waging war. They are trinkets, pseudo payments. But really all they represent is the self interest of those in there, who hold power.’
Kieran Devlin said:
‘These are my medals, these were given to me as a reward for invading other peoples’ countries and murdering their civilians. I’m now handing them back’.
VfPUK founder Ben Griffin, who is well known to members of Kingston Peace Council/CND, said:
'I was given these medals for service on operations with the British Army. This particular medal here, was given to me for my part in the occupation of Iraq. Whilst I was over there, I attacked civilians in their homes and took away their men, off to be tortured in prison. I no longer want these despicable things.’
Following the vote in the House of Commons to sanction RAF air strikes in Syria, three more members, Daniel Lenham, Kirk Sollitt and Phil Mace joined Ben Griffin in a return to Downing Street. As a group they explained:
‘We are here today in protest at the decision to bomb in Syria and to return medals given to us for our participation in previous attacks on the Middle East.’
Phil Mace explained in a particularly heartfelt way what it meant for him to reject the use of violence as a means to solve political problems:
‘I don’t understand what these medals are for or what they are supposed to mean. I joined the army as a teenager hoping to better myself and I believe I did that whilst on operations in Afghanistan. One day whilst out on patrol I was asked to blow a hole in a building, not knowing what was on the other side. I thought to myself What if? What if it is a baby? What if it’s with its mother? What if it’s there with the whole family? I would much rather live my life not having to deal with the consequences of What if. That is why I throw these medals back. What if every soldier past and present did this?’
The protest outside Downing Street in December can be viewed at http://veteransforpeace.org.uk/2015/veterans-discard-medals-in-protest/
Kingston Peace Council/CND’s AGM will be held on Wednesday 10th February Kingston Quaker Centre, Fairfield East, KT1 2PT. 7.45pm
If you would like to volunteer for the committee, or nominate someone (with their consent), or if you wish to submit a resolution, please contact Noel Hamel (see contact details on the Contacts page)
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND