Catalogue of problems revealed
Dozens of safety failures during nuclear weapons convoys are a “disaster waiting to happen,” CND has claimed and demanded the Ministry of Defence answer for the risks confronting the public.
Campaigners have hit out at the MoD after reports showed 40 lapses in safety while nuclear and radioactive materials were being transported across the country over the past five years. The facts were revealed following a Freedom of Information request covering what are described as ‘operational and engineering’ issues on convoys carrying bombs and hazardous materials.
The incidents involved issues identified with brakes on convoy vehicles and included burning smells during transportation. On other occasions convoy vehicles were forced to stop, and road lanes closed, after suffering flat tyres.
Among other engineering faults listed were warnings of overheating convoy vehicles. Multiple “operational” issues also disrupted transportation of dangerous materials.
These incidents covered road blocks that were needed to manoeuvre the convoy through busy, congested routes across the UK, causing delays in the journey.
CND general secretary Kate Hudson said: “Nuclear bombs carried on our roads are a disaster waiting to happen.
“This report shows that ‘poor maintenance’ is a factor in these safety lapses. The MoD must be brought to book for this disgraceful failure and our new government must end this cargo of death through our communities.”
Britain's nuclear weapons are still based in Scotland and those north of the border have said it is time to rid themselves of the apocalyptic threats.
Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell led a debate on the topic last year.
He said: “Like many I’d like to see an end to the housing of nuclear weapons in Scotland, but while they are still here it’s not unreasonable to expect the highest standards of safety to apply to their movement.
“People will be shocked at the thought of nuclear convoys travelling on public roads.
"In Stirling the convoys even park up overnight behind a chain-link fence across the road from a Nando’s and a Vue Cinema. This is an absurd situation that must come to an end.”
The SNP, which uncovered the issues, has warned that MoD complacency while transporting nuclear bombs could be catastrophic.
SNP MSP Bill Kidd, whose Glasgow constituency is just 25 miles from the nuclear base at Faslane, said: “It is bad enough that Scotland is forced to house these weapons of mass destruction.
“But these safety incidents are deeply worrying. There must be absolutely no complacency when it comes to handling nuclear weapons.
“The MoD has a history of secrecy, complacency and reluctance to report its faults. Safety lapses such as these simply cannot be swept under the rug.
“It remains the case that the only way to fully guarantee public safety is to remove these immoral, strategically useless weapons once and for all.”
Despite the criticisms, the ministry maintains that the public was not put at risk as a result of any of the reported issues since 2014.
An MoD spokesperson added: “Public safety is our absolute priority and robust arrangements are in place to ensure the safety and security of all convoys.”
Reported in The Morning Star, December 30, 2019
Military budget overruns are hitting the headlines as the New Year dawns together with UK government worries over the ‘reliability’ of its US ally. Meanwhile, arms manufacturers have been cashing in on the tense situation between America and Iran following the assassination of Iranian military leader General Qasem Soleimani.
The BBC reported on the MoD’s poor management of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme after it was revealed that rising costs and lengthy delays had meant the building of the UK’s next generation of nuclear-armed submarines was currently running £1.3 billion over budget.
The project, based at Barrow-in-Furness plus other sites in Derby and Burghfield in Berkshire, and being undertaken by BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) was initially priced at £2.5 billion and covered the construction of the infrastructure to build and equip the Trident replacement vessels.
The National Audit Office has disclosed that the infrastructure project is currently facing delays of between one and six years. Nearly half of the £1.3bn in increased costs is due to construction starting too early and then having to be revised.
The NAO also criticised what it called "poor contracts", with the MoD taking all the risks and with the work being carried out by "monopolistic" suppliers. BAE Systems, meanwhile, actually earned an extra £10m in management fees as a direct result of cost increases. The company also has no liability for costs and damages relating to non- performance.
AWE also received additional fees when work was deferred.
The report said it was disappointing to see the MoD making similar mistakes to ones it made 30 years ago. Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said that "MoD's failure to mitigate commercial and delivery risks early on has led to project delays and cost increases as well as impacting its wider work".
The cost of renewing the Trident system, not including the latest overspend, has been put at more than £205 billion.
This latest waste of money comes on top of more general criticisms of Britain’s hopelessly inefficient and ludicrously costly purchase, construction and maintenance of its military as it struggles, unrealistically, to shore up its world power status.
In December, journalist Richard Norton-Taylor, commented: “During the 15 or so years I covered defence for The Guardian, I have calculated that, on the basis of official figures and independent analysis, as much as £280bn was wasted on disastrous equipment decisions. The decisions were in large measure responsible for the failure and enormous expense of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the avoidable loss of British lives there.”
Within the same Guardian article Norton-Taylor was forthright. “The Ministry of Defence is not fit for purpose,” he wrote, citing the ongoing heated arguments between the heads of the Army, Navy and RAF as to who gets what and when.
He cited the construction of the Navy’s twin aircraft carriers, currently both sitting at Portsmouth, with no aircraft and each vessel bearing a price tag of over £3bn.
“In conversations with me,” wrote Norton-Taylor, “many senior military figures have been critical of the aircraft carriers. David Richards, the former chief of the defence staff, described them as “unaffordable, vulnerable metal cans”. They will be especially vulnerable to the extremely fast long-range missiles being developed by Russia and China.
The carriers will need to be protected by surface ships and at least one submarine. Yet only three of the navy’s six Type 45 destroyers– which cost £1bn apiece – are in service. The navy’s new fleet of seven Astute-class submarines will be further delayed adding to already large cost overruns, according to figures collected by the independent Nuclear Information Service.
He goes on to berate the Army that, he says, is facing an existential crisis with numbers falling steadily. The failure of the Army’s recruitment campaign has been blamed by ministers on both the outsourcing company, Capita, hired by the MoD to run it, and Army chiefs.
This ongoing shambles, he concludes, will be music to the ears of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who has been widely reported as wishing to tackle the way in which military costs and projects are handled.
As if wastage and inefficiency, based on totally outmoded concepts of Britain’s role and place in the world were not enough, the new Conservative Government seems to have got the wind up over the ever more eccentric – or deranged – musings and activities of President Donald Trump.
A Guardian article last month was headlined: “Britain must prepare to fight wars without US help, says Defence Secretary.” Without stopping to question why Britain should be fighting any wars in the second decade of the 21st century Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said that the increasing withdrawal of America from international leadership under Donald Trump meant Britain needed to rethink the assumptions underpinning its defence planning for the past decade. He told The Sunday Times that the prospect of the US stepping back from its international role “keeps me awake at night”.
He went on to say that Britain should use a forthcoming defence review to “acquire new capabilities” making it less dependent on the US in “future conflicts”. Given what we already know about delays, mismanagement and cost overruns and the unrealistic strategic and foreign policy decisions that have plagued Britain since the end of the Second World War, such thinking is worrying in the extreme.
What is certain is that the arms manufacturers will certainly be rubbing their hands at both the prospects articulated by the Defence Secretary, and also at the ramped up US belligerence aimed at Iran.
The ‘i’ newspaper reported in January that arms manufacturers were already enjoying a multi-billion boost in value from the Iran crisis. An investigation by the newspaper showed that in the 24 hours following the assassination of General Soleimani the stock market worth of the world’s nine largest arms companies rose by £10 billion. Biggest gainer was Lockheed Martin, which has the lion’s share of world arms sales, but the UK’s BAE Systems, the sixth biggest arms dealer in the world, did handsomely as well netting an increase in value worth £256 million in a few hours.
A City defence analyst was reported as saying: “This is not about profiting from misery. It’s about having the ability to deter and prevent wider conflict.”
And he went on with what appeared to be uncontrolled glee: “You have got the world’s superpowers squaring up to each other and an arms race for conflicts which no one really knows what they will look like. It’s a good time to be in bombs, bullets and bugs.”
When has it ever not been?
By Phillip Cooper
A group of Creative Media students from Kingston College (above) has chosen, for their final assessment project, the climate crisis, with particular emphasis on the need for system change.
Director Neha Sunda and Production Managers Jack Pauley and Era Birka, together with their team, were out filming at the XR protest in London last October when they spotted Kingston Peace Council and Movement for the Abolition of War banners at the XR Peace site near the Ministry of Defence. They were intrigued to hear our particular message concerning the connection between militarism and climate change and decided to include it in their 24-minute filmed magazine show – devoting four minutes to a specialist interview.
We have been to their studio in Kingston for practice sessions, with the final filming scheduled for 16 January. This is an exciting project and it has been enjoyable and eye-opening to see how such a studio operates and to work with such a charming, focussed and professional team. The magazine show ‘Changing London’ features footage of the XR action plus pre-recorded interviews with Richmond Councillor Martin Elengorn and with a group of allotment holders, then live filming including KPC’s Mary Holmes participating in a debate on system change and I was being interviewed on the significance of military-related greenhouse gas emissions.
It has been a delight working with the group. We wish them well with their project and hope their important message will spread far and wide!
Part four of the essay on the history of protest against nuclear weapons
by our Australian correspondent and life-member Harry Davis.
In addition to local CND groups all over Britain, there exist other grass-roots anti-nuclear organisations. We will here briefly mention two, one involving physicians, another scientists. At different times both groups have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
IPPNW was founded in 1980 by two leading cardiologists, Bernard Lown of the Harvard School of Public Health and Yevgeny Chazov of the USSR. IPPNW is today a federation of national groups representing 145,000 physicians and medical students working to prevent nuclear war, in line with the professional commitment of doctors to preserve life and health. Its focus is restricted to nuclear war prevention, and members are pledged to advocate certain courses of action without aligning to any particular government, circulating the same factual information on nuclear war globally. The doctors’ message was that nuclear war would be the final epidemic; that there would be no cure and no meaningful medical response. In the words of former New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange, “IPPNW made medical reality a part of political reality.” IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1985.
On 9 July 1955 Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein issued a manifesto at a congress of eminent scientists which called for the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:
“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”
The manifesto explained the purpose of the call for what became the Pugwash conferences: “In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss a resolution in the spirit of the appended draft.
“We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt. The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.
“. . . We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.
“We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?
“Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war? People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.”
With the aim of setting up the proposed conferences, a year later (6th July 1956) Einstein wrote a letter to nuclear physicist Joseph Rotblat suggesting that the invitees must be “scientists of the highest integrity who are widely representative of different political and other opinions. A proper balance in this respect appears to be of central importance.” The scientists “should meet in conference to appraise the perils associated with the development of weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss a resolution urging governments to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters in dispute between them.”
The Pugwash conferences were so named as the first conference was held in the village of Pugwash, Nova Scotia, Canada, at the invitation of an American philanthropist Cyrus Eaton.
The Conferences, which are held annually, are attended by 150 to 250 people; the more frequent topical workshops and symposia typically involve 30 to 50 participants. A basic rule is that participation is always by individuals in their private capacity (not as representatives of governments or organizations).
The Nobel Peace Prize for 1995 was shared by Pugwash and Professor Joseph Rotblat, the only scientist to resign from the Manhattan Project before the atom bombs were dropped.
In the next edition we’ll look at ICAN and an international ban on nuclear weapons, another recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Movement for the Abolition of War’s eye-catching banner caused an international stir in December when it travelled to Madrid to take its message to the UN Climate Conference COP 25. It was seen and photographed by thousands of delegates and visitors entering the conference centre, and by many more on the Friday evening climate march through Madrid – led by Greta Thunberg and reputedly 500,000 strong.
Scientists for Global Responsibility’s estimate that 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions result from military-related activity was at the core of our (seemingly unique) message. Astonishingly, we could find no mention of this aspect in the conference programme, nor at the public events and displays in the Green Zone, nor at the complementary ‘Social Summit’ held across town at the University. But perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising since the precedent was set at Kyoto in 1997 that there would be no obligation on countries to count these emissions or include them in reduction targets. And since our delegates are government officials, can we rely on them to address the subject of climate change and militarism when this may risk jeopardising lucrative arms and military aid contracts?
Disappointingly, the paper prepared by David Collins (of MAW and Veterans for Peace UK) on the topic got no further than the waiting list for a slot at one of the official side events.
Nevertheless, our visible presence was worthwhile as we had many useful conversations and made good contacts with whom we will keep in touch. We now have a clearer idea of how the conference was organised so will be better prepared for more effective participation later this year at Glasgow’s COP 26. David’s paper has since been translated into Italian and published in the progressive Catholic journal Adista, while here The Guardian published our letter – see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/16/the-climate-emergency-military-emissions-and-greta-thunberg
Rosemary Addington concludes the report from our previous newsletter
I attended the afternoon session of the CND Conference International Day, held in the amazing hall at St. Thomas's Hospital, Waterloo. I was especially impressed by two of the speakers, Philip Jennings, former General Secretary, UNI Global Union, and Reiner Braun from the International Peace Bureau.
Philip explained that UNI Global Union has 207 million members in 163 countries. Peace and democracy are key elements of their work. They stress the importance of building a different future - we all need a safe operating space. They are strong supporters of the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, and are campaigning for a similar treaty on Universal Workers Rights. Of course they have many members in nuclear and fossil fuel industries and are striving to find a way forward here.
Reiner Braun is the retiring President of the IPB which is dedicated to the vision of a world without war. They have 300 member organisations in 70 countries and individual members also. He identified the three main threats we all face: war, especially nuclear war, climate change and inequality. We need an International United Peace movement, and the Global Ban Treaty is helping towards that. We must face the truth that the capitalist system historically calls for war and must explain and oppose this. We must strongly campaign against Nato, the world's biggest nuclear alliance. Reiner is very heartened by the huge youth climate campaign – he said the military must be included in this - it is the biggest polluter.
Towards the end of World War Two the Americans, backed by the British and other nationalities, created a special unit charged with hunting down and salvaging the irreplaceable art treasures looted by the Nazis as they swept across Europe.
The exploits of this group of museum directors, curators, art historians and artists were immortalised in literature and on film as The Monuments Men. Their story was a testament to the fact that the Western allies could be recognised as cultured and civilised nations in stark contrast to the greed exhibited by the Nazi fascist barbarians.
Fast forward to today when a US president has specifically threatened to destroy some of the World’s greatest cultural treasures because they are located in a country, Iran, with whom he is in open conflict for domestic electoral reasons. There are 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Middle Eastern country.
Although, at the time of writing, Trump appears to have pulled back from direct action, this naming of cultural sites marks the latest stage in the decline of the United States to a level that, if these threats were carried out, would mark it as no better than the Taliban who deliberately blew up the buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan, or ISIS with its wanton destruction of ancient sites at Palmyra, Syria.
The threats that, if carried out, would amount to a war crime – together with Trump’s promise that any retaliation against Iran would be ‘disproportionate’ - have only brought the mildest rebuke from a hapless Johnson-led British Government.
This Government, only in office for a matter of weeks, now has to choose: does it finally stand up for the rule of international law and civilised behaviour or ignore such issues so as to keep in the ‘good’ books of the narcissistic bully currently occupying the White House in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal that, in any event, will be to America’s advantage, not ours?
Two well-known former publications from the anti-nuclear movement that featured in the exhibition Writing in Times of Conflict that ended just before Christmas at the Senate House Library, University of London.
A truly varied and fascinating collection of documents, tracts and posters showcased the power of words to promote peace and reconciliation over the last century. Many of the exhibits were original and unique documents, and were drawn from the Library’s extensive archives. Authors were Hemingway, Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf among others.
Wednesday 12 February 2020 at 7.45pm
The AGM of Kingston Peace Council/CND will take place at Kingston Quaker Centre, 16, Fairfield East, Kingston KT1 2PT.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND