Corbyn to receive accolade
Following hard on the heals of ICAN being awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize comes news that Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn has been awarded the MacBride Peace Prize.
The award ceremony (strange you won't have seen anything about in your daily newspaper!) took place on 8 December in Geneva.
The accolade is an annual award given to individuals or organisations who have demonstrated outstanding work for peace, disarmament or human rights.
Also awarded the prize this year are American academic and author Noam Chomsky and the All Okinawa Coalition to prevent Construction of a new US military base in Japan.
The award, which is made in cooperation with The World Democratic Forum and the City of Geneva, recognises Corbyn's 'sustained and powerful political work for disarmament and peace.'
The citation continues: 'as an active member, vice chair and now vice president of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the UK, he has for many years worked to further the political message of nuclear disarmament.
As an MP in the UK he has, for 34 years, taken that work for justice, peace and disarmament to the political arena both in and outside of Parliament.
'He has ceaselessly stood by his principals, which he has held for so long, to ensure true security and wellbeing for all - for his constituents, for the citizens of the UK and for the people of the world.'
Meanwhile, ICAN has also received its Nobel Peace Prize (see below) and has launched a 1000 day push for funds to campaign for countries to ratify the historic UN nuclear prohibition treaty, also passed this year and to increase the pressure on those states that remain outside the treaty. Once 50 states have ratified, the treaty will officially enter into force.
The 1000 Day Fund will be used to spur campaigns to sign and ratify the treaty. By creating a critical mass around the world, ICAN will have taken ambitious strides towards completely banning nuclear weapons.
Says ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn, "They said it wasn't possible. That a treaty to ban nuclear weapons would never work. But we proved them wrong on that, and now the treaty is a reality, we need to make enough countries join it to create a new international norm."
The treaty was negotiated at the United Nations headquarters in New York in March, June and July 2017, with the participation of more than 135 nations, as well as members of civil society. It opened for signature on 20 September 2017. It is permanent in nature, and will be legally binding on those nations that join it.
A nation that possesses nuclear weapons may join the treaty, so long as it agrees to destroy them in accordance with a legally binding, time-bound plan. Similarly, a nation that hosts another nation's nuclear weapons on its territory may join, so long as it agrees to remove them by a specified deadline.
Prior to the treaty's adoption, nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a comprehensive ban.
Government reports on the safety of the Trident missile system have been reclassified as 'secret' by the MoD, according to Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper.
Previously published reports have drawn attention to a lack of skilled staff being a principal threat to the delivery of nuclear safety.
Scottish CND said the secrecy suggested there was a lack of progress in tackling the problems.
The Trump administration is working on a nuclear weapons policy that is intended to mark a decisive end to the era of post-cold war disarmament, by bolstering the US arsenal and loosening the conditions under which it would be used.
A draft of the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was presented in September at a White House meeting between President Trump and his top national security advisers. Congress and US allies have been briefed on the progress of the new draft.
The document is still being debated with a target for completion by the end of this year or the beginning of next. Among the new elements under consideration are a low-yield warhead for a ballistic missile intended primarily to deter Russia's use of a small nuclear weapon in a war over the Baltic states; a sea-launched cruise missile; a change in language governing conditions in which the US would use nuclear weapons; and investments aimed at reducing the time it would take the US to prepare a nuclear test.
In February, it was reported that Russia had deployed a new ground-launched cruise missile that the US said violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed in 1987 with the aim of reversing the nuclear build up in Europe.
On the positive side, however, more and more Democratic members of Congress, as well as senior military staff have been looking into ways of frustrating the ability of the President to order a nuclear first strike on another nation.
The cost of decommissioning ten of the UK's ageing nuclear power stations has almost doubled for very little achievement
It is possibly Whitehall's biggest blunder. It certainly involves one of the biggest contracts ever let by government. And you will have shelled out hundreds of millions of pounds for very little in return.
The subject is the decommissioning of ten nuclear power stations and two research centres - now all past their sell-by dates - and all leaving the taxpayer with an almighty bill to detoxify them and make them safe.
The total bill to do this was meant to be £3.8 billion but it turned out to do it properly would cost £6.2 billion- making it possibly one of the biggest contracts ever let by Whitehall.
And what a mess Whitehall civil servants and their ministers made of it. The whole sorry story was revealed in a report by Parliament's financial watchdog, the National Audit Office, recently.
The £6.2 billion contract was approved by the Treasury because it promised to save taxpayers £904m by loading risks on the contractors. Instead it has only saved £255m and this has been partly wiped out by a botched tendering procurement that ended up with a rival consortia being able to sue the government for damages.
The company that won - an American led consortium Cavendish Fluor Partnership (CFP) based in Texas- was awarded the contract illegally.
We know this because its rivals Energy Solutions, which includes Bechtel, successfully sued the government in the High Court last year and the High Court ruled that Fluor should have been disqualified because the final contract was nothing like the one put out to tender. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Ministry has just settled the bill with Energy Solutions by agreeing to pay then £97.3m in compensation.
But the real bill was even more. The National Audit Office found that the full cost amounted to £122m. It spent £13.8 million on legal and external advisers. Of this, £3.2 million was spent on the competition and £8.6 million was spent on legal fees during the ensuing litigation. The National Decommissioning Authority estimates that in-house staff time has cost £10.8 million. This excludes the cost of staff time of senior central government officials who were heavily involved in decisions, particularly about the NDA's settlement and its decision to terminate the contract.
One reason for this debacle, believe it or not, is that officials did not know the state of some of the decommissioned power stations so had to revise their estimates as more problems came to light, changing the terms of the winning bidder's contract.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, has said: "The NDA's fundamental failures in the Magnox contract procurement raise serious questions about its understanding of procurement regulations; its ability to manage large, complex procurements; and why the errors detected by the High Court judgement were not identified earlier.
"In light of these issues, the Department must consider whether its governance and oversight arrangements surrounding the NDA are sufficiently clear and effective in providing the scrutiny and assurance it requires to meet the standards expected in managing public money."
There is now an inquiry going on under Steve Holliday, former chief executive of the National Grid. Its terms of reference include whether disciplinary action should be taken against the civil servants who made such a botched job and cost us even more money. It could mean heads should roll.
And it leaves the government another big problem because the contract with the present consortium will have to be terminated in 2019 - nine years before it was due to end.
And the axe is due to fall just as Brexit comes in - leaving more unfinished business just when Britain may well leave Euratom. What a mess.
(This is an edited version of an article written by investigative journalist David Hencke for Tribune - ED)
The number of British-made bombs and missiles sold to Saudi Arabia since the start of its bloody campaign in Yemen has risen by almost 500 percent, according to a report in The Independent during November.
More than £4.6bn of arms were sold in the first two years of bombings, with the Government granting increasing numbers of export licences despite mounting evidence of war crimes and massacres at hospitals, schools and weddings.
The United Nations says air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are the main cause of almost 5,295 civilian deaths and 8,873 casualties confirmed so far, warning that the real figure is "likely to be far higher".
It has condemned the "entirely man-made catastrophe" leaving millions more on the brink of famine and sparking the world's worst cholera epidemic, while blacklisting Saudi Arabia for killing and maiming children.
British-made bombs have been found at the scene of bombings that are deemed to violate international law. Nevertheless the UK has continued its political and material support for Riyadh's campaign. Figures from the Department for International Trade (DIT) show that in the two years leading up to the Yemen war £33m of ML4 licences covering bombs, missiles and countermeasures were approved. But in the two years since the start of Saudi bombing in March 2015, the figure increased by 457 per cent to £1.9bn, according to calculations by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Licences covering aircraft including Eurofighter jets have also risen by 70 per cent to £2.6bn in the same period.
Tom Barns, co-director of CAAT, said the Government has been accelerating sales of "equipment being used to commit atrocities in Yemen" as the pace of Saudi-led air strikes increases.
"At a time when the UK should at least be putting more consideration into what's being sold they are giving more and more of these licences."
The products being sold include Raytheon's Paveway IV bomb, which was found at the scene of an air strike that hit vital food stores in January last year, and the Brimstone, Storm Shadow, PGM 500 Hakim and Alarm missiles.
And who can forget that former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon who, prior to his resignation because of a sex scandal, complained to the House of Commons that continued criticism of Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen could make it more difficult for Britain to sell them even more weapons!
The High Court has ruled that arms exports to Saudi Arabia were legal because the available evidence did not prove "a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law", but CAAT is hoping to appeal the case.
The campaign group has launched a crowdfunding campaign to continue its legal battle, which has already cost it £40,000.
Kristine Beckerle, a Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said a "mountain of evidence" against Saudi Arabia had not been properly considered. Explaining that international law does not require the intent to kill civilians for a violation to have taken place, she added: "What more does the UK Government need to start exerting leverage over the Saudi-led coalition?"
The UK has pointed to Saudi Arabia's Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT), which investigates allegations of civilian casualties in bombings, but Human Rights Watch and other groups say its findings are not robust or credible.
Meanwhile, Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it was deeply concerned about attacks killing dozens of civilians, including children.
"International humanitarian law prohibits attacks against civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, and it obliges all parties to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects," he said, listing Saudi-led air strikes that destroyed a market, family home and public square alongside Houthi atrocities.
The Department for International Trade continues to claim that: "The UK government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world."
Helen John, the veteran peace campaigner and one of the founders of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, has died.
The former midwife passed away on November 5, aged 79.
It was in 1981 that she and three other women chained themselves to the fence surrounding the RAF base where Margaret Thatcher had allowed the United States military to store Cruise missiles.
Their actions would inspire hundreds of women to join them and to stay for 19 years until the missiles left and the base was returned to nature.
Ms John, who was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize in 2005, described the Cruise missiles as "the son of the Nazi V1 flying bombs".
Having spent a decade protesting at Greenham Ms John set up a second peace camp, at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, the US National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence gathering facility.
She was no stranger to being arrested for such actions as damaging the fence at Greenham or blocking traffic around Menwith Hill by setting up fake road signs and school 'lollipop' crossing patrols.
She was a strong advocate of direct action and protests so as to keep the media interested and tactics she employed included daubing graffiti on the Houses of Parliament (against depleted uranium weapons), the Scottish Parliament (against Trident), the Bank of England (against alleged collusion with Menwith Hill), GCHQ (against collaboration with the NSA), and the US Embassy.
In the field of politics she stood twice against Tony Blair in his Sedgefield constituency but was unable to attend the election count on either occasion because she was serving prison sentences for criminal damage and public order offences.
Ms John served as a CND vice-chair from 2001 to 2004.
One of her final direct action campaigns was opposing drones at RAF Waddington in 2013.
Veterans for Peace made an impressive show during this year's Remembrance Sunday parade and wreath laying at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Led by a banner reading Never Again (which by the way was the slogan printed on the original Haig red poppies until that was deemed politically incorrect) the veterans laid their own wreath of white poppies in memory of ALL victims of war.
The poem 'Suicide in the Trenches' by Siegfried Sasson was also read. Here it is:
I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.
In addition to our taxes going to pay for Britain's Trident nuclear missile system it seems we will in future also be subsidising nuclear armaments through our normal everyday energy costs.
The information has leaked out as the result of an exchange during October between MPs and a senior civil servant at the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The hearing was not into Trident but into the rapidly increasing costs and management of Britain's first new nuclear power station for decades at Hinkley Point.
The issue was first raised in a paper submitted to the Committee by the Sussex University Social Science Policy Research Unit from Prof Andy Stirling, Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and Dr Phil Johnstone.
Its key words were: "an undetermined part of the full costs of this expensive, controversial - but officially highly-prioritised - military infrastructure are in effect (without clear public acknowledgement or justification) being loaded into electricity prices. With costs of alternative large-scale domestic low-carbon energy resources like offshore wind power confirmed as significantly more favourable than Hinkley Point C it seems a hidden subsidy is being imposed on electricity consumers."
And the evidence continued: "If a UK withdrawal from civil nuclear power on grounds of uncompetitive economics were to leave these shared costs borne entirely on the military side, then UK military nuclear infrastructures would be significantly more expensive.
"If civil nuclear commitments are being maintained (despite adverse economics) in order to help cover these shared costs, then it is this that amounts to a cross-subsidy."
Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee, subsequently questioned Stephen Lovegrove, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Energy and Climate Change (DEEC), on the issue.
This is the exchange:
Hillier: "Mr Lovegrove, there has been an argument put forward by Sussex University that Hinkley is a great opportunity to maintain our nuclear skills base. With your hat on at the Ministry of Defence, are you having discussions with the Business Department about this?
Lovegrove: "We are, yes. In my last year at DECC I was in regular discussion with Jon Thompson, former Permanent Secretary at the MoD, to say that as a nation we are going into a fairly intense period of nuclear activity.... We are building the new SSBNs (nuclear armed nuclear submarines) and completing the Astutes (nuclear powered submarines).
"We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills.
"I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) fairly repeatedly about it, and have a number of forums in which we are doing that."
So it seems pretty clear that Hinkley Point C and Trident are linked. And with the cost of nuclear powered electricity at £92.50 per unit compared to £57 from other sources including renewable energy we are all going to pay substantially more.
One company that is publicly delighted by this is Rolls Royce. They are quoted saying that the "expansion of a nuclear-capable skilled workforce through a civil nuclear UK programme would relieve the Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability. This would free up valuable resources for other investments."
Well, Rolls Royce got £100m out of the submarine order and are happy for you to pay for the nuclear research.
The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo on 10 December. Here is an edited version of the speech made by Berit Reiss-Andersen, Chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee:
"Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Distinguished Representatives of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2017. On behalf of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, I take great pleasure in congratulating ICAN on this award. ICAN 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. ICAN's efforts have given new momentum to the process of abolishing nuclear weapons.
The devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has taught us that nuclear weapons are so dangerous, and inflict so much agony and death on civilian populations, that they must never, ever, be used again.
Today's nuclear weapons are tremendously more destructive than the bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945. A nuclear war could kill millions of people, dramatically alter the climate and the environment for much of the planet, and destabilise societies in a way never before seen by humanity. The notion of a limited nuclear war is an illusion.
ICAN arose as a protest against the established order. Nuclear weapon issues are not solely a question to be addressed by governments, nor a matter for experts or high-level politicians. Nuclear weapons concern everyone, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. ICAN has succeeded in generating fresh engagement among ordinary people in the campaign against nuclear weapons. The organisation's acronym is perhaps not a coincidence: I CAN.
ICAN's main message is that the world can never be safe as long as we have nuclear weapons. This message resonates with millions of people who perceive that the threat of nuclear war is greater than it has been for a long time, not least due to the situation in North Korea.
Another major concern of ICAN is that the current international legal order is inadequate to deal with the nuclear weapons problem. The entry into force of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970 was a historic breakthrough.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is no exaggeration to say that the nuclear-weapon states have only to a limited degree honoured the disarmament commitment they made in the NPT. Let me remind you that in 2000 the NPT's Review Conference stated that the treaty calls for "an unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear-weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament". From an international law perspective, the five legally recognized nuclear-weapon states and their allies have thus assumed a responsibility to help achieve disarmament and a world free of nuclear weapons. If the disarmament process had been carried out as intended, ICAN's struggle for a treaty-based ban on nuclear weapons would have been unneeded. It is the lack of progress towards nuclear disarmament that has made it necessary to supplement the Non-Proliferation Treaty with other international legal initiatives and commitments.
ICAN does not accept that the lack of progress towards nuclear disarmament is a realpolitik necessity. ICAN's premise is humanitarian, maintaining that any use of nuclear weapons will cause unacceptable human suffering. Binding international prohibitions have already been established for chemical weapons, biological weapons, land mines and cluster weapons, precisely because of the unacceptable harm and suffering that these weapons inflict on civilian populations. It defies common sense that nuclear weapons, which are far more dangerous, are not subject to a comparable ban under international law.
In awarding this year's Peace Prize to ICAN, the Norwegian Nobel Committee seeks to honour this remarkable endeavour to serve the interests of mankind.
presentation-speech.html at www.nobelprize.org
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND