International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.
This news, coming so soon after the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty. was so amazing that the ICAN team, when 'phoned to tell them, were certain it was a spoof call. Once they realised it was genuine they were of course delighted.
Here is a comment (edited) by David Swanson, of World Beyond War, an excellent American organisation well worth investigating, (www.worldbeyondwar.org )
"The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has a solid grounding in Alfred Nobel’s Will. The Will specifies three different criteria for awarding the Peace Prize: the promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. Recent winners have included a militarist president of Columbia for negotiating a peace treaty (but with his partners in that treaty left out), a group that organized a nonviolent revolution in Tunisia, the second-biggest war-makers and weapons dealers on earth in the form of the European Union, and a U.S. President (Obama), who bombed 8 countries and developed drone warfare to the point that the UN declared war, rather than peace, to have become the norm. Even Malala and Al Gore (recent prize-winners) were not directly involved in working towards the above three criteria."
And this comment about the negative media attitude from Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and TFF Associate
"One reads with consternation the cynical, flippant, and condescending response of The Economist: “This year’s Nobel peace prize rewards a nice but pointless idea.” Such a choice of words, ‘nice,’ ‘pointless’ tells it all.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The organization is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.
We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time. Some states are modernizing their nuclear arsenals, and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea. Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and all life on earth. Through binding international agreements, the international community has previously adopted prohibitions against land mines, cluster munitions and biological and chemical weapons. Nuclear weapons are even more destructive, but have not yet been made the object of a similar international legal prohibition.
Through its work, ICAN has helped to fill this legal gap. An important argument in the rationale for prohibiting nuclear weapons is the unacceptable human suffering that a nuclear war will cause. ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organizations from around 100 different countries around the globe. The coalition has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world’s nations to pledge to cooperate with all relevant stakeholders in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. To date, 108 states have made such a commitment, known as the Humanitarian Pledge.
Furthermore, ICAN has been the leading civil society actor in the endeavour to achieve a prohibition of nuclear weapons under international law. On 7 July 2017, 122 of the UN member states acceded to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As soon as the treaty has been ratified by 50 states, the ban on nuclear weapons will enter into force and will be binding under international law for all the countries that are party to the treaty.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee is aware that an international legal prohibition will not in itself eliminate a single nuclear weapon, and that so far neither the states that already have nuclear weapons nor their closest allies support the nuclear weapon ban treaty. The Committee wishes to emphasize that the next steps towards attaining a world free of nuclear weapons must involve the nuclear-armed states. This year’s Peace Prize is therefore also a call upon these states to initiate serious negotiations with a view to the gradual, balanced and carefully monitored elimination of the almost 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world. Five of the states that currently have nuclear weapons – the USA, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China – have already committed to this objective through their accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970. The Non-Proliferation Treaty will remain the primary international legal instrument for promoting nuclear disarmament and preventing the further spread of such weapons.
It is now 71 years since the UN General Assembly, in its very first resolution, advocated the importance of nuclear disarmament and a nuclear weapon-free world. With this year’s award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to pay tribute to ICAN for giving new momentum to the efforts to achieve this goal.
The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017 to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has a solid grounding in Alfred Nobel’s Will. The Will specifies three different criteria for awarding the Peace Prize: the promotion of fraternity between nations, the advancement of disarmament and arms control and the holding and promotion of peace congresses. ICAN works vigorously to achieve nuclear disarmament. ICAN and a majority of UN member states have contributed to fraternity between nations by supporting the Humanitarian Pledge. And through its inspiring and innovative support for the UN negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, ICAN has played a major part in bringing about what in our day and age is equivalent to an international peace congress.
It is the firm conviction of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that ICAN, more than anyone else, has in the past year given the efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons a new direction and new vigour.
Oslo, 6 October 2017
A Message From Kate Hudson after attending the Labour Party Conference in Brighton (written before the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize)
In my years with CND I’ve been to numerous party conferences –across the political spectrum. Sometimes they are very much business as usual, and sometimes there are great hopes and expectations. The biggest challenge we have faced over the past years is to change Labour and Conservative policies on Trident and this year was no different. There was a great atmosphere at the conference and there have been big changes in the Labour Party but this has not yet worked through into policy on Trident. Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of newly joined Labour members oppose Trident replacement, the leadership is still supporting it and once again contemporary motions on Trident were ruled out of order.
I was dismayed to hear shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry speak proudly of Britain under Labour playing a strong leadership role in NATO. That will be a major block on a future Labour government developing a new role for Britain in the world, based on values of peace and justice.
Of course many Labour party members will be working to change party policy – it’s urgently needed if Labour is to save £205 billion to spend on our health service, jobs and education. We will work together to help bring about that essential change and bring an end to austerity. It was great to hear CND vice-president Jeremy Corbyn urging a negotiated solution to the crisis in the Korean peninsula. The Prime Minister would do well to heed this advice.
Anti-war and anti-nuclear sentiment was strong amongst the delegates and we had a great turn out for our fringe meeting, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott speaking as well as shadow minister for peace and disarmament Fabian Hamilton. Our cause has much support within the Labour Party and it’s time for it to break with Tory pro-Trident policies and false notions of what our real security is based on. We know it can happen.
NB. I was also at the Labour Party Conference, not as a delegate but helping on the stall of Labour Action for Peace and Uniting for Peace. I can certainly confirm it was a great atmosphere, many delegates and visitors coming up to our stall.
The conference took place a few days after the UN Global Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty had opened for signing. Unsurprisingly very few of the visitors to the stall had heard of it, due to minimal publicity in all mainstream media, including the BBC. So our work was cut out to publicise this, and Labour Action for Peace had a petition headed "The Threat of Nuclear War" with five points:-
1. Welcoming the agreement;
2. Deploring the UK Government's boycott of those negotiations, and its statement that 'we do not intend to sign or ratify or ever become party to this treaty';
3. Condemning the threats of mutual nuclear destruction by President Trump and Kim Jong Un;
4. Supporting the recent UN Security Council's call for the resumption of talks aimed at the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula;
5. Urging the Labour Opposition in Parliament to continue to pressure the government to fulfil its commitment to work for a nuclear weapons free world.
This petition attracted 319 signatures.
But more work will be needed if progress is to be made within the Labour Party. There are many powerful MPs who represent constituencies where workers in the defence industries live. If these MPs and their constituents are to be persuaded against Trident renewal, and indeed to push for Labour to encourage the Government to sign up to the UN Global ban treaty, they need to be confident equally good jobs will be created for them. So it is excellent news that the TUC Congress has passed a motion to support the idea of a Diversification Agency to work to ensure this. Ed.
In case you don't know, the TUC passed a motion (below) on Tuesday 12 September calling for a shadow Defence Diversification Agency to be set up. A lot of people worked to achieve this, but major credit should go to Newcastle TUC which drove the motion through the Northern Area TUC and the National Trades Councils Congress, before being selected for debate at the national TUC. Crucially, it received backing from Unite.
Congress welcomes the ‘Lucas Plan’ 40th Anniversary Conference held in Birmingham in November 2016 and agrees that the Plan was an idea from which we can learn much today.
The Plan was a pioneering effort by workers at arms company Lucas Aerospace to retain jobs by proposing alternative, socially useful applications of the company’s technology and their own skills. Forty years afterwards, we are facing a convergence of crises – militarism and nuclear weapons, climate chaos, and the destruction of jobs by automation – which mean that we have to start thinking about technology as political, as the Lucas Aerospace workers did.
However, in the four decades since the Plan was drawn up Britain’s manufacturing industry has shrunk from 25 per cent to 14 per cent of GDP, with the ‘defence’ industry now representing 10 per cent of all manufacturing. Britain cannot afford to lose any more manufacturing skills and capacity, and ‘defence’ workers are rightly concerned about the potential loss of jobs, for example if Trident replacement is cancelled.
In line with the outcomes of the Lucas Plan Conference, Congress therefore calls on trade unions and the TUC to lobby the Labour Party to establish before the next general election a ‘shadow’ Defence Diversification Agency, to work closely with the Shadow Department for Industry in developing an overall national industrial strategy including the possibility of conversion of ‘defence’ capacity. The first task of this Agency would be to engage with plant representatives, trades unions representing workers in the ‘defence’ industry, and local authorities, to discuss their needs and capacities, and to listen to their ideas, so that practical plans can be drawn up for arms conversion while protecting skilled employment and pay levels. A key means for developing the national industrial strategy would be the National Investment Bank proposed by the Shadow Chancellor.
Congress also urges trades union councils, trade unions and the General Council of the TUC to assist the work of such a ‘shadow’ Agency if set up.
A fascinating and packed meeting was held on 17 October in Portcullis House. It was billed as "A conversation between Mark and Caroline", and as such was very informal, with plenty of audience participation.
Mark ranged very widely around the subject, managing to make links with free trade (which is not fair trade) the NHS (where not nearly enough focus is put onto the prevention of disease - a doctor friend had told him, they had only one day's training in nutrition during their studies!), the ethical foreign policy (anything but ethical), and he spoke about the 1916 Military Service Act, the spirit of which is being undermined due to the increasingly technological aspect of war-fighting.
He also stressed the importance of hope - nothing has ever been achieved quickly.
Caroline focussed on the Global Ban Treaty - the nine nuclear powers so scathing of the whole idea they didn't even bother to come to observe. She also spoke of the 'mystery' of the government's obsession with nuclear power and the uneconomic building of Hinckley C power station, when off-shore wind power is already cheaper - could this be to do with keeping a supply of fuel for weapons secured into the future? (Later, 20 Oct, Tribune raises the possibility that this is linked to the Ministry of Defence desire to maintain skills required for work on Britain's nuclear 'deterrent'. see www.tribunemagazine.org )
The question and answer part of the meeting ranged widely around Arms Fairs and arms trading, how to bring about diversification, which must have the support of workers and unions, and the massive financial support given to arms industry jobs. The idea of a Ministry of Peace was discussed, (or perhaps calling it the Ministry for the Prevention of Conflict might be more acceptable to the public.) Our failure to own up to our own past mistakes which now impact upon us in ways such as an increase in terrorism was referred to by many, and the work of Paul Rogers at the University of Bradford Peace Studies Department was praised.
Here is a statement by Sir Mark Rylance (edited) from the Conscience website www.conscienceonline.org.uk
Last year, a day after parliament voted to renew the Trident nuclear weapons programme, Ruth Cadbury MP raised the uncomfortable truth that everyone who pays for war is complicit in it, especially when most violence is achieved technologically rather than by soldiers on a battlefield. She proposed a solution – the “taxes for peace” bill, recognising that those who are compelled by thought, conscience or religion to refuse to kill are also compelled on the same basis to refuse to pay for others to kill on their behalf.
This would enable people who identify as conscientious objectors to redirect the military portion of their taxes to peaceful means of conflict resolution. Money is manpower on the modern battlefield. We as taxpayers are conscripted to fight it. With this new conscription must come a new right to conscientious objection. Today mass conscript armies have been replaced by technological weaponry. In this new technological age of warfare a law is needed to maintain the right so nobly granted to us in 1916 by the Military Service Act. And how much is this costing us? On average, I am told we each pay £500 a year in tax towards the £35bn budget for war and preparations for war. Not to mention an additional estimated £420m in annual subsidy to promote the British arms trade and an additional indirect subsidy of £570m through government funding of weapons development costs. Donald Trump is also insisting that we pay more.
If you are a member of our armed forces then I have paid you an awful lot of money to kill and develop new ways to kill on my behalf. And apparently, many of those dying will be civilians. I am told 90% of casualties in warfare are now civilian – due, I imagine, to the increased use of long-range technology. Depleted uranium will cause birth defects among children in Iraq for 50,000 years. That’s some range. My income tax enables these technological weapons of murder. I am arguably more responsible than a soldier on the battlefield.
In our relationships, our families, our jobs, our towns and cities, we don’t tolerate violence as a method of resolving conflict. Even our police forces are still predominantly unarmed. Why do we actively promote it in our international relations?
This is not about a personal preference but about upholding a legally and internationally recognised right of individuals to practise non-violence. A bill would simply maintain that given right in new circumstances of technological war.
Also, we are not the first. We follow recent government moves to hypothecate taxes for beneficial purposes, as they have done with the tampon tax and the sugar tax. If we can hypothecate, quite rightly, for women’s sanitary products and to reduce obesity, why not for conscience about murder?
Millions of British citizens have made clear their aversion to war. Millions marched to stop the war in Iraq. Conscientious objection is not a niche cause. I am deeply disturbed about my forced collusion in technological violence, especially against civilians, even if accidental. To get by, I find myself looking away, turning off the news and ignoring the quiet voice of my own conscience. This can’t be good. My conscience, like an immune system of my mental health, is suppressed.
I am a supporter of 'Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War', which has campaigned since 1979 for the right to allow individuals to redirect the military portions of their taxes towards peaceful forms of conflict resolution. Look at conscienceonline.org.uk for more information.
NB There was a just such a Peace Tax Bill introduced by Ruth Cadbury in July 2016. Unfortunately it came up for debate in Parliament one day after the terrorist atrocity on Westminster Bridge, and as a result the discussion was shortened and the Bill fell. Conscience will not give up on this though. Ed
David Polden of CND has reported that in August two Israeli Conscientious Objectors, Hadas Tal (18) and Noa Gur Golan (19) were jailed for twenty days for refusing to do their 2 year military service, and on 30 August another thirty days for again refusing. Brave young women!
Report by James Tweedie in Morning Star, 13 Oct.
Fatah and Hamas parties signed a deal in Cairo yesterday to bring the occupied West Bank and beseiged Gaza Strip under one authority.
This breakthrough comes after 10 years of schism, months of diplomacy and 2 days of talks in Cairo. It reactivates the unity peace deal signed there in May 2011 that was fiercely opposed by Israel. Fatah negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said "we must close the page of division for ever to unite the efforts of the Palestinian people with all its forces, especially Fatah and Hamas, so that we can confront the occupation in order to realise the Palestinian dream of ending the occupation and establishing our sovereign State with Jerusalem as its capital."
A Talk by David McDowall, 9 October at the Kingston Quaker Centre.
Thanks to Joanna Bazeley for this report.
Author and historian David McDowall, who has lived and worked in the region for many years, delivered a lucid and dispassionate analysis of the origins of the current unhappy and complex situation in the Middle East. He offered no easy answers but helped us gain a far deeper understanding.
His starting premise was that the post-World War 1 settlement was catastrophic for the entire region and that ' the UK government is still not prepared to acknowledge its terrible part in it' - but that the Arab world had (and still has) additional fundamental problems of its own.
Social and economic life of the pre-WW1 Ottoman Empire fell into 3 broad categories:
Sunni Muslims constituted the majority of the population. Shia formed a smaller portion (largely in the South) and religious dissidents (Alawites, Maronite Christians, Druze) were largely confined to the mountains. Arabs were by far the largest ethnic group, only outnumbered by Kurds and Armenians in the North.
With the fall of the Ottoman Empire in sight 'imperial appetites' were awakened. Documents emerged during the Russian Revolution showing that Czarist Russia had nursed ambitions to take Constantinople. Britain had deep suspicions of the French ('who would have liked to turn the Mediterranean into a French Lake') while British ambitions largely centred on access to their Indian Empire (ie both protecting occupied Egypt and the Suez Canal and maintaining an alternative 'land bridge').
Economic appetites played an equal part: the French silk industry was concentrated on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean , the UK's Manchester cotton industry relied on processing raw materials from the East (all but destroying indigenous textile markets) and of course there was the nascent oil industry.
The mutual distrust between all three Imperial powers lay behind a trail of broken promises to the region's inhabitants.
To give one example, the Hejaz region (now subsumed into Saudi Arabia) had been effectively autonomous under Sharif Hussein of Mecca but Ottoman power over such dissidents increased with the coming of the railways.
Sharif Hussein wrote to the British High Commissioner in Cairo offering help against the Ottomans in exchange for postwar independence and the Arab Revolt of 1916 (TE Lawrence) facilitated the British advance into Palestine. At this stage a degree of Arab independence was probably a British 'broad intention' but the Sykes/Picot agreement of 1918 establishing the British and French Mandates (imperial zones of influence) effectively double-crossed the Arab nationalists of the day.
In this speakers view, 'ethnic national identity' is a catastrophe unleashed on the Middle East by Europe, the concept of an Arab national identity (based on language not religion) only emerging among Arab intellectuals in the 1890s.
Post 1918 both the British and French pursued policies of 'divide and rule (playing on all the divisions they could)' resulting in the fragmented national borders of today.
We were shown graphs tracking religious and ethnic population shifts in the major cities of the region, making it very clear how the origins of all the smaller Middle Eastern nation states were largely a matter of imperial expediency. 'The UK government of today needs to admit that the Arabs were cheated out of the independence that they had been promised and of the unity of the Arab peoples of which they had dreamed' said David McDowall.
Thus the 1917 Balfour Declaration can best be understood in the context of the imperial history of the region. As late as 1915, Asquith was describing tentative ambitions for a Jewish state as a 'harebrained Zionist scheme' with his principal objection being that letting the 'holy places' pass into the possession of 'agnostic, atheistic France' would be 'an outrage' and US President Woodrow Wilson predicted disaster ('We know that the Palestinians do not want to be colonised by Jews'). As there was only a minority Jewish population in almost all the major cities of the region, Palestinian loss of land becomes a 'classic story of imperial domination' and Israel is seen as just the most recent of all the Middle Eastern nation states created by external imperial powers for their own ends.
David concluded by saying that the past is now history and 'these people now have to live together productively- Jews, Palestinians, Christians and Arabs. Flag waving doesn't do it'. The religious identities of the Middle East are much older than the 'very lightweight' modern national identities of the region and may turn out to have greater endurance.
A collection was made for the Mandala Trust which helps provide schools for young Syrian refugees in Jordan: 1 million refugees have fled to Jordan since 2011 of which only 20% live in camps supported by the UN and aid agencies.
Author - Jonathon Parry
Lecturer in Global Ethics in the Philosophy Department, University of Birmingham
When you think of child soldiers, it might conjure up images of young children far away, taken from their homes and forced to take part in war and fighting, often held against their will.
It may surprise you then to learn the UK employs child soldiers – about 23% of army personnel were recruited before their 18th birthday. By recruiting 16-year-olds, the UK is in company with Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe. No other member of the EU or NATO, or permanent member of the UN Security Council, recruits so young.
This policy has earned criticism from humanitarian organisations – including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. And the UK public seems to agree – nearly 80% think the age of enlistment should be at least 18.
And yet this is something the UK government arguably wants to see more of. A recently published government report on military recruitment, by the MP Mark Francois, warns of a serious staffing shortfall, especially in the army.
Given that the number of children signing up has declined over the last two decades, three of the report’s 20 recommendations implore the government to increase efforts to promote military service to young people.
This includes teaching children about the armed forces as part of the national curriculum and expanding cadet units in schools.
Also there is £90m pledged since 2012 for school projects that promote a “military ethos”.
Objections to child military recruitment typically focus on the physical hazards of the job. Since the majority of junior recruits are channelled into frontline infantry roles, they are at higher risk of becoming casualties during deployment. During the British campaign in Afghanistan, those who joined at 16 were roughly twice as likely to be killed or injured than those who signed up as adults. Rates of psychological trauma are also higher among younger recruits.
The mandatory educational training offered by the army is also extremely basic. Recruits are exempt from the 2008 Education and Skills Act – which requires all under-18s to participate in appropriate full-time education or training. And the “functional skills” qualifications offered by the military are far below the standards of GCSEs and A-Levels.
This provision is especially concerning given that many recruits have not had successful school careers. In 2015 the majority of entrants to the Army Foundation College were assessed as having a reading age of 11 or below, with some as low as five. This leads to worries that 15 and 16-year-olds lack the psychological maturity and full information required to genuinely consent to the terms of service. Questions have been raised as to whether junior recruits have the literacy skills needed to fully understand the enlistment documents they sign.
But as well as the risk of death and injury, I think we should pay attention to a less obvious risk that is imposed on these soldiers – and that is the moral risk of engaging in serious wrongdoing. As General Sir Michael Rose puts it:
No other group in society is required either to kill other human beings, or expressly sacrifice themselves for the nation.
So we should worry about the risks of young people becoming killers, and not just the risk of being killed.
Many philosophers argue that killing in war should be subject to the same ethical standards as killing in other areas of life. Thus there is nothing morally special about war, and fighting in unjustified wars typically involves grave moral wrongdoing.
If these philosophers are right, we should be especially concerned about the moral risks of military service, and the question of who in society should bear those risks.
The government report is correct in that much more effort should be put into educating children about military service. But by doing so simply as part of a recruitment drive, we would be engaging in what my colleagues at The Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict Michael Robillard and Bradley J. Strawser (themselves veterans) call “moral exploitation”. This involves “unfairly offloading or outsourcing moral burdens onto those who are vulnerable”.
Instead, if we really are to prepare children for the risks of service they need proper ethical education, not just sanitised promotional materials that focus on “big guns” and “awesome armour”.
Why not contact your MP about this issue?
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Rosemary Addington
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND