Members of Kingston Peace Council/CND joined friends from throughout the anti-nuclear movement in a 60th anniversary protest march to Aldermaston on Sunday 1st April.
The event commemorated the first march to the Berkshire-based Atomic Weapons Research Establishment that took place at Easter 1958, shortly after the founding of CND.
Back then, several thousand people marched for four days from Trafalgar Square to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear weapons. That first march was organised by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. From the following year CND took over the organising and the march reversed direction so as to culminate in central London, close to the seat of Government and those responsible for the country’s nuclear policy.
Among those marching or speaking at the Trafalgar Square rallies in those early days were co-founders of CND Bertrand Russell and Canon John Collins, Bishop of London Mervyn Stockwood and Labour MPs including Michael Foot.
It was not unusual for contingents from across the world to join in and a BBC report on one of the early annual marches found demonstrators from Pakistan, Sweden, India, Cyprus, Iraq, Malta, South Africa, France, Ghana and Nigeria in addition to religious groups representing Quakers, Unitarians, Methodists and Roman Catholics.
Needless to say other media outlets were more jaundiced in their reporting. The Daily Mail (who else?) likened those on the 1958 march to 'columns of displaced persons who struggled across Europe in 1945 or perhaps the enchanted followers of some Orwellian pied piper'.
It had clearly escaped the Mail editors’ thought process that the displaced persons in Europe in 1945 were there because of a war and the purpose of CND was to prevent an even more terrible one.
Anti-nuclear campaigners have condemned the announcement that the cost of the Trident submarines has risen by more than half a billion pounds. It is now £580 million above the government's much disputed £31 billion budget.
Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said:
"This £580 million overrun on the cost of the Trident submarines is alarming, particularly at this early stage of the build. We should remember there are four submarines to deliver by 2032, and the government has indicated that work has begun on only the first of these. The £10 billion contingency fund will run out very quickly.
"We welcome the report by the National Audit Office, but it's clear now that the government needs to provide detailed answers to the question it raises. If the cost of the submarines is set to smash the £31 billion budget, what about the estimated £142 billion for in-service costs and the £4 billion on replacement warheads? The costs of all components of the Trident replacement scheme need to be accounted for by the government. The existing approach of writing a blank cheque for Trident while budgets are slashed for schools and hospitals is completely unacceptable."
Senior Lib Dem answers members’ questions on a range of topics
Kingston and Surbiton’s Liberal Democrat MP Sir Edward Davey spoke to a meeting of KPC/CND in mid March. He began by telling those present that in matters of nuclear disarmament he is a multilateralist but of the ‘active variety’. It was pointed out to him that the new UN nuclear ban treaty is a multilateralist treaty and that Lib Dems had pledged in their 2017 manifesto to ‘work to lead international nuclear disarmament efforts’. Sir Ed believes it’s good that UN countries have come together to negotiate this treaty and their approach should be welcomed. He agreed that this country should engage with international conferences on nuclear disarmament, perhaps with observer status, including the forthcoming UN High Level Conference due to take place this May. He seemed to feel it would be no bad thing that once the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been ratified, nuclear-armed countries would feel increasingly pressurised and stigmatised into starting to consider their own disarmament. He reminded us of Lib Dem policy in relation to replacement of Trident – that it should be replaced by a smaller, less expensive system which would still be a ‘deterrent’.
He couldn’t really say how any replacement fits in with our obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but believes in the concept of ‘deterrence’, even though that depends on ultimate willingness to incinerate millions at the touch of a button and is subject to mistakes and misjudgements too. It is, he feels, important to pursue genuine progress towards disarmament but negotiations are always very slow and challenging [they certainly are – nearly 50 years since the NPT was signed and still no end in sight on that route!]. A lot of work could usefully be done on ‘de-alerting’ – agreements to take missiles of high-alert status. Sir Ed suggested we look at the Lib Dem Policy Paper ‘Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons’ https://www.libdems.org.uk/conference-spring-17-f11-nuclear-weapons# for further information.
This topic was introduced by Paul Tippell who quoted Andrew Mitchell MP saying that as ‘pen holder’ at the UN Security Council the UK has a responsibility to put forward a new resolution aimed at initiating peace talks and bringing all parties to the conflict to the negotiating table. Mitchell has said we desperately need a resolution to replace 2216, agreed in 2015, which called for the Houthis to withdraw and give up their weapons. He says this is an unrealistic suggestion and that the people of Yemen desperately need a ceasefire and for the UN to initiate a peace process. The war is unwinnable by either side and front lines have hardly moved.
Mitchell says “The requirement is to have a negotiation that has three rings to it: the negotiation between the Saudis and the Houthis; the negotiations with all the militias and other forces; and the bottom up negotiation with all the different parts of civil society. The aim currently of everybody should be to move from fighting into what will be a very long, very messy, very difficult negotiation about the future of Yemen.”
Mitchell makes the key point that the UK must use its position at the Security Council to introduce a new resolution aimed at bringing the parties to the conflict to the negotiating table without preconditions and that we should use our relationship with the Saudis to urge them to accept.
Paul advocates cross-party pressure to put forward a resolution and asked if the Lib Dems would support this? Sir Ed agreed to discuss this with his parliamentary colleagues, particularly Jo Swinson, the party’s spokesperson on Foreign Affairs.
Sir Ed admitted that he doesn’t think that Hinkley C will ever be built, pointing to the problems faced by similar projects in Finland and France which are running way over budget and over time. He said he had to think hard before finally giving Hinkley C the go ahead when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in the coalition government but felt that drastic steps needed to be taken to tackle climate change and this was thought to be the low carbon option.
He said, however, that he did insist that the true cost should be taken into account – i.e. that it should include costs of decommissioning and waste disposal etc. As Secretary of State he commissioned more renewable energy projects than any politician in history and believes this is where the future now lies. He mentioned that the Siemens wind turbines being made in Hull have regenerated Hull’s economy. He is particularly keen on tidal lagoon power – the most efficient and environmentally acceptable of the three types of tidal power generation. These would provide 24 hour electricity if sited in bays all up the west coast.
Introduced by Katia Chornik. Katia expressed the deep concern she has felt for some time over the way in which the cadets programme is marketed at Kingston Grammar (her daughter’s school) and feels the marketing is becoming more and more aggressive. One of the last letters sent to parents explicitly says that they are teaching children to shoot. Sir Ed Davey said it was the first time during his time as MP that this issue had been raised with him. He said he recognises the benefits of discipline, co-operation etc offered by cadet training but cited his own school experience where students were given the choice of cadets, drama, scouting or community service – all activities accorded equal status.
Unfortunately, time had run out and this topic couldn’t be fully pursued but members will be interested to know that, recently, Katia asked for a meeting, involving the officer in charge of cadets and staff in charge of curriculum development and external relations, to discuss ways of balancing the information provided to children, including teaching them about non-violent ways to resolve conflicts, and about the substantially higher risks of joining the Army before 18. To date the school hasn’t agreed to a meeting. Katia has written again and asked the following:
It’s now 70 years since the Nakba in 1948 when some 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes in Palestine; homes their families had lived in for generations. So 2018 is an important year for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. I certainly left their AGM and conference at the end of February feeling there was lots to do. Here I’ll say a little about two of the speakers, but we also had a moving Skype link with Ahed Tamimi’s father, entertainment from Mark Thomas and two Palestinian colleagues, and quite a bit of discussion of the various resolutions.
Omar Barghouti spoke via Skype from Palestine. It was a forceful message saying that now was the time for non-violent resistance and support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Last year we’d seen massive protests in July involving thousands in the defence of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We should be standing firm, he felt, not looking for illusory solutions which have led nowhere.
Omar thought the tide of public opinion was turning in favour of the Palestinians, across the world and even in the USA. Last year, 2017, with the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, had made people, especially in the UK, think about how our country had betrayed the promise:
‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil or religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.
There was a widespread feeling at the PSC conference that activists from across the country were experiencing a much more sympathetic response when they put the case for Palestine.
Certainly this is borne out locally, where two major events in Richmond, organised by Richmond and Kingston PSC, have seen audiences of around 200 people and no disruptive protests. Similarly at local stalls we’ve had interest in, and support and sympathy for, the Palestinian cause.
A second influential talk was given by Nadia Hijab, a Palestinian academic based in the USA. She stressed how important it was for activists to be clear about what they were against and what they were for. She herself felt that we should concentrate on the campaign against Israeli apartheid in the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel, and wherever they lived. Apartheid was defined as a crime in 1973 and those implementing an apartheid system are also committing crimes. Concentrating on Israeli apartheid would give us a clear focus.
Nadia also wanted us to be much more positive about campaigning for freedom, for justice, and for equality for the Palestinians. We shouldn’t just concentrate on what we were against.
She emphasised that for too long Israel has been allowed to dominate the narrative in the West. We needed to think out how we could produce a clear compelling narrative about Palestine.
How the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal has come to the aid of the Tories, Labour rebels and cold war warriors
The synthetic rage that greeted Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s measured response to the nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury was unsurprising, given the apparent predilection of many Tory MPs plus some on the Labour benches for supporting armed conflict and the stoking up of international tensions whenever possible.
Similarly, Theresa May’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats which, as sure as night follows day, was certain to bring a tit-for-tat response from the Kremlin was also an action taken for domestic consumption with both eyes fixed firmly on the May local elections.
As for Boris Johnson’s comments (egged on by rabid anti-Corbyn Labour MP Ian Austin) likening ‘Putin’s World Cup’ to Hitler’s 1936 Olympics, our buffoonish Foreign Secretary is beneath contempt, managing in one phrase to insult every Russian family whose loved ones were among the 20plus million who perished in the Second World (or Great Patriotic) War while creating a hostile and possibly dangerous climate for British soccer fans who are heading to Russia for the football tournament.
It has, however, been heartening to hear the occasional voices of common sense rise above the clamour of jingoistic nonsense with so many brainless MPs, rabid right-wing commentators and virulent newspaper editors attempting to out-hate one another. It has also been interesting to note from where these common sense voices have originated.
Peter Hitchens, no less, writing in the Mail on Sunday, commented: ‘Mr Corbyn has earned the right to be listened to, and those who try to smear him are not just doing something morally wrong. They are hurting the country. Look at our repeated rushes into conflict in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan. All have done us damage.’
A New York Times journalist was sceptical about the nature of May’s response. ‘The government,’ he opined, ‘ is reportedly considering tougher measures including seizing the UK-based assets of Kremlin-connected oligarchs. Don’t bet on it. “We’re going to get very, very cross” was what one rueful Tory Member of Parliament told me of what he expects of his government.’
The Washington Post, meanwhile, was entirely dismissive of the PM’s actions to date, saying she doesn’t understand the profundity of the problem – that the Russian government treats Britain with disdain because it thinks it has bought the British elite. Worse than that, it may be right.’
Flashback to Corbyn pointing out the massive level of donations that Russian oligarchs have made to the Tory Party (some £820,000 at least). Then we heard, care of The Guardian, that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (who commented on Putin that “tyrants need to be stood up to”) is the director of a Somerset-based finance company that has £60million invested in Russia’s main bank.
Respected journalist Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent about Johnson’s Hitler Olympics jibe also posed a number of questions that reporters in all other news media have failed to ask about the nerve agent incident. ‘Why are Russian exiles only murdered in the UK? Why wasn’t Moscow given access to the poison details from the start? Why no photographs of Sergei Skripal and Yulia in hospital (as there were of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko when he was actually dying of poison in a British hospital in 2006)? Why were British scientists walking around in space-suit protection clothes in Salisbury within metres of totally unprotected UK citizens?’
These are, he says, good questions for which there must be excellent replies. But such replies are not forthcoming.
Back to The Guardian and probably the most comprehensive discussion of the current Britain-Russia row has come from columnist Simon Jenkins.
‘Do we really want war with Russia? Do we want to risk one, even a tiny one?’ he wrote. “The prospect has certainly taken British minds off Brexit. It has exhilarated the press. It has given Theresa May an immense boost and helped the defence lobby in its campaign for more money. There is nothing democracy seems to enjoy so much as contemplating war, to unite it and raise its spirits. It is never unpopular – beforehand.’
He admits it is hard not to treat Moscow as guilty until proven innocent and describes the Government’s embassy expulsions as part of the ‘traditional diplomatic ballet.’ But he goes on:
‘History warns us to distinguish the banality of a single incident from its wider contribution to an emerging crisis. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914, the killer was not a state agent but a terrorist with a gun. It could have been settled by a mediating conference. Instead, a continent roused to war fever craved escalation.’
‘But even if the Skripal poisoning was “state sponsored”, it was clearly a specific act against an individual, like the Litvinenko killing. Why elevate it, as May did this week, to the “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK?”’
He then takes aim at some of the more ludicrous speeches from both sides of the Commons chamber. ‘The Tories’ Tom Tugendhat said the poisoning “if not an act of war, was certainly a warlike act”. Labour’s Chris Leslie and John Woodcock (both Corbyn haters – Ed) worked themselves into a lather over “our country under attack” and “the gravity of the threat Russia poses to this nation”.
He characterises these comments as ‘bidding wars of exaggeration’ before moving on to a more profound resume of the recent history which has underpinned the current sorry state of relations between Russia and the West.
He writes: ‘Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the West has revelled in the humiliation of Russia. Every act of the EU and Nato after 1989 was to the same destructive end. Russia’s neighbours were welcomed into the EU. Nato extended its defensive border to the edge of the Russian Federation, despite then president Boris Yeltsin (and to an extent Germany) pleading with the West “not to play with fire”.
As Yeltsin plunged into his botched privatisations in the 1990s, London egged them on by opening its banks to handle Russia’s stolen billions. Britain was complicit in creating the world’s greatest kleptocracy, brazenly and for a quarter of a century. Even this week, the prime minister lacked the guts to face down the City of London and call a halt to Russian money laundering.’
The emergence of Putin, Jenkins contends, was a heaven sent opportunity for Nato and the West.
‘Putin was a cynical autocrat of the old school. He was eager to liberate his country from the stain of cold war defeat. He wanted to reassert tsarist supremacy over Russia’s “space”, its Russian-speaking neighbours in parts of Georgia, Ukraine and possibly the Baltics. Nato had a recognisable enemy.
‘Putin duly feasted on an image created for him by the West, of a Russia rising alone above a sea of misunderstanding, encirclement and ostracism, a country with little to be proud of but pride itself. His every misbehaviour seemed to invite an over-response. The West kept them coming – as if wanting to strengthen him.’
Putin, he suggests, is riddled by what Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.” Nothing, he says, could be more calculated to exacerbate them as western confrontation, denying contact and engagement with Russia and its people.
‘May is thus playing Putin’s game by exploiting each incident as a statist threat – as she does threats from Isis and “world terrorism”. It is the oldest trick in the populist book. It “nationalises” a crime. It summons patriotism to the suppression of reason. It gets in the way of proportionality. It raises the risk of mistakes.”
And he wrote this before Boris Johnson opened his mouth!
A report has been produced by the organization PAX, which is a member of the Nobel Peace Prize winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and is the only account to date detailing the global investments by financial institutions in companies producing nuclear weapons.
329 investors made $525 Billion available to nuclear weapon producing companies between January 2014 and October 2017. They assisted with share and bond issues, owned or managed shares and bonds or outstanding loans or made credit facilities. This is a decrease in the number of investors, but an $81 billion increase in the total amount invested.
Most investors are from the US, and $110 billion came from just three US financial institutions: Blackrock, Vanguard and Capital Group,
ICAN executive director Beatrice Fihn commented: “If you have been wondering who benefits from Donald Trump’s threats of nuclear war, this report has that answer. These are the companies that stand to profit from indiscriminate mass murder of civilians. We grow less safe while they cash in on chaos by banking on Armageddon.”
However, more and more financial institutions have policies in place not to invest in nuclear weapon producers. Those with the most comprehensive policies are listed in the report’s Hall of Fame, while others with policies needing improvement can be found in the Runners-up list.
In addition, Dutch pension fund ABP, the fifth largest pension fund in the world, announced in January 2018 that it will divest from all nuclear weapon producers. And Norway’s Government Pension Fund, the second largest fund in the world, recently also confirmed the exclusion of more nuclear weapon producers. The UK’s single entry in the Hall of Fame to date is the Co-operative Bank.
Since the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 30 financial institutions have ceased investing in nuclear weapon producers.
There is a clear parallel with international developments regarding nuclear weapons. The small group of countries that have nuclear weapons are modernising and even expanding their arsenals. President Trump announced a new US nuclear policy earlier this year that lowers the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons, and president Putin announced only recently that Russia has tested new nuclear ballistic missiles.
At the same time, a large majority of countries around the world are calling for an end to this new nuclear arms race.
Author of the report Susi Snyder said: “The Nuclear Ban Treaty has sparked momentum towards divestment, shown by 10% fewer investors in nuclear weapon producers, and an increase in financial institutions comprehensively prohibiting any investment. Investments are not neutral, these companies should be congratulated for standing on the side of humanity.”
Palestine became the latest state to ratify the UN Nuclear Ban Treaty on March 22. Others who have so far ratified it are the Vatican Holy See, Mexico, Guyana, Cuba, and Thailand. A further 51 have signed the treaty as the first stage of ratification.
To view the Don’t Bank on The Bomb report 2018 go to: https://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/2018-report/
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND