Kingston Peace News - June 2020

The newsletter of Kingston Peace Council / Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Global ceasefire fiasco

US and China scupper plans to stop the killing

Poster: Cut war not healthcare, Stop the War Coalition

The international community's attempts to forge a global ceasefire to help curb the spread of the coronavirus have been a "catastrophic failure", says Oxfam International in a new report published last month. Oxfam said fighting continues across many conflict-torn countries despite a March appeal from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for warring sides to lay down their weapons. The problem was compounded by a diplomatic failure at the UN Security Council, years of weak investment in peace-building efforts and arms continuing to flow into conflict zones, Oxfam said in the report: Conflict in the time of Coronavirus.

Selling arms

"We expected leadership from the Council as well as many of those countries who say they support a ceasefire, but who nevertheless remain active participants in conflicts around the world, conducting military operations, selling arms and supporting third parties," said Oxfam Interim Executive Director Jose Vera.

A UN resolution for a global ceasefire had been drawn up by France and Tunisia. It was supported by the UK but then the US, China and Russia started to engage in superpower politics and this scuppered the whole thing. China wanted any resolution to endorse the work of the World Health Organisation but this was opposed by the US in line with President Trump’s current obsession with blaming China and the WHO for the coronavirus pandemic.

French diplomats believed they had engineered a compromise by substituting reference to ‘specialised health agencies’ in place for WHO but this also failed to placate Trump.

Lift sanctions

Russia, meanwhile, signaled that it wanted a clause calling for the lifting of sanctions that affected the delivery of medical supplies, a reference to the US-imposed sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Observers believed that Russia would not press this to the point of a Security Council veto if it appeared they were the only ones prepared to hold up the ceasefire resolution but, in the event, the US refused to budge over the China/WHO issue.

Since Secretary-General Guterres’s original call for a ceasefire, warring factions in a dozen countries had begun unofficially to observe temporary truces. As of late May, however, UN diplomats had been unable to find a way forward.

Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, now the CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said: “The paralysis of the Security Council in the face of Covid is shameful. To millions of people it is also incomprehensible. The IRC has warned that up to one billion could be infected by the virus without an urgent, coordinated and context-appropriate response. This is a threat to international peace and security. This is not a failure that can be blamed on UN bureaucracy. It is a failure of the member states.” The Oxfam report said that only a cessation of violence would allow an effective response to Covid-19. In the last year alone, the international community spent more than $1.9 trillion on their militaries. This would have paid for the UN's coronavirus appeal more than 280 times, according to Oxfam.

“Arms exporting countries must stop fuelling conflict and instead make every effort to pressure warring parties to agree to a global ceasefire and invest in peace efforts that can bring a meaningful end to conflict,” said Oxfam Interim Executive Director Vera.

Yemen faces new catastrophe but hope in sight

Although, at the time KP News went to press, the official number of infections and deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Yemen were still relatively low the authorities in the civil-war torn country are totally unprepared for controlling the virus, cases of which are already surging in Aden.

Save the Children said that authorities in the city have reported an average of 50 deaths per day since May 7. That's five times higher than the baseline average of ten deaths a day in more ‘normal’ times, according to the international aid group. Hospitals have been forced to close and doctors with no protective gear have been deserting their posts.

The six-year civil war, fuelled in particular by supplies of UK and US arms to Saudi Arabia, had been named by the UN as the world’s worse humanitarian crisis even before the coronavirus appeared.

But even as the virus began to take hold worldwide arms continued to flow. Oxfam in mid May reported Flight tracking data that showed BAE systems sent a cargo plane to Saudi Arabia in late April. There are concerns that its cargo could include spare parts or weapons for use in the conflict in Yemen.

After Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pledged UK support for the thus-far abortive Security Council attempt to forge a global ceasefire during the pandemic, Campaign Against Arms Trade called for a ban on all foreign arms sales as part of the deal. The UK already stands accused of flouting, on three occasions, a Court of Appeal order that suspended new arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

Meanwhile in the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been embroiled in a row over authorising sales of weapons to the Gulf kingdom last May that involved by-passing Congress approval. It is this that appears to be at the core of an internal investigation of Pompeo’s actions that has been halted abruptly because the investigating officer was fired by Trump on the recommendation of Pompeo.

Saudi halt

Ironically, the coronavirus may turn out to be the reason why Saudi Arabia finally calls to a permanent halt its military actions in Yemen, commentators say.

An Al-Jazeera opinion piece in April claimed the virus may provide a excuse for the Saudi actions. The argument goes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is keen to pull out to focus energies on the kingdom’s deteriorating economic situation exacerbated by a collapse in world oil prices and a very severe Covid-19 crisis.

The continued bombing of the rebel forces by the Saudis masks the fact that on the ground the front lines of the conflict have remained static.

In July 2019 the United Arab Emirates withdrew its troops and tensions have festered between the forces of the internationally recognised Yemeni government of President Hadi and his erstwhile allies in the Southern Transitional Council. Outright hostilities broke out between these ‘partners’ and Saudi Arabia was forced to intervene to separate them. Meanwhile the capital Sanaa and the north of the country remain in the hands of the Houthi rebels.

Saudi troops were forced to intervene again between Hadi and the STC in April. Crown Prince Salman appears to be looking for a way out.

Drones for Peace?

Photo of a drone with slogan superimposed 'Stop Israeli killer drones from militarizing European anti-migration policies'

An Israeli-built drone of the type used against the Palestinians will be taking to the skies off the Welsh coast later this summer in a trial to emphasise some non-military uses of the unmanned aircraft.

But the plan has already sparked controversy.

A 1.6 tonne Hermes 900 drone, built by defence company Elbit Systems, is being tested by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to determine its suitability for search and rescue operations during weather conditions that would be deemed too dangerous for manned aircraft.

Such drones could in future be equipped to drop six-person life rafts and could be used ‘in adverse conditions day and night’ although this will not be part of the current £1 million testing programme.

Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesperson Andrew Smith said: “The Hermes 900 drone was built for conflict … there are serious questions to be asked about how these drones will be used. Borders are becoming increasingly militarised around the world and companies like Elbit have been keen to profit from it.”

Meanwhile, the EU’s border agency Frontex has signed contracts worth £53 million to deploy Hermes 900 drones over the Mediterranean to monitor refugees attempting to get to Europe, especially via Greece. A European coalition of NGO’s, trade unions and migrants organisations has launched a petition to stop the use of Israeli drones to intensify the EU’s border militarisation. The petition is co-sponsored by more than 40 peace and BDS organisations throughout Europe.

The petition can be accessed through this link:

Wartime nostalgia displaced by real time key worker support

by Phillip Cooper

The front page of a newspaper on the morning of VE Day.  Premier will announce official end of war at 3pm, the King will broadcast to the nation at 9pm

A newspaper front page from May 1945.

VE Day 75 fell in the midst of a pandemic and, however much the media tried to chivvy us all up with pictures of Spitfires, and Winston, and their pull-out-and-keep souvenir editions, the whole thing went off rather tamely. No military parades, gun salutes or politicians looking sombre at memorial services.

Yes, people with no specific adherence or connection to the Second World War hung out the bunting and flags and gathered in small groups to give thanks for victory against the Nazis 75 years ago, though it was more an excuse to meet with socially distanced neighbours and enjoy a few beers or glasses of fizz in the sunshine, and who can blame them wanting to escape, albeit for a short time, from the dreary monotony of Covid-19 lockdown?

But Stop The War’s Lindsey German had a more sobering message. ‘Don’t let the nostalgia-fest distract us from the horrors of war,’ she blogged.

“Let me make it clear,” she wrote, “that I have no trouble with people marking this anniversary. It was a terrible sacrifice for so many – in Britain but also much more so in many other European countries which were occupied.

Full of respect

“I come from the generation brought up by those who fought in the war. My mother celebrated in the West End on VE day, and often became tearful when listening to Vera Lynn. I am full of respect for that generation.”

But then she went on: “However, I find the way in which this anniversary is used to promote the policies which disrespect that generation absolutely sickening. Two months after VE day Britain voted Churchill out and ushered in a landslide Labour government which nationalised industry, created the NHS and built council houses.

“We have to assume that many of those dancing in Trafalgar Square were already fed up not just with war but with the Tories.” She ventured that none of this would be touched on in establishment narratives on May 8, because it would challenge the “theme park view of the Second World War which Johnson trades on with his ridiculous Churchillian references.”

In the event, people did use the celebration as an excuse to socialise as far as the virus-controls permitted. But more people have been coming to their front doors to clap, whistle and bang saucepans in support of the Attlee Government’s NHS and other key workers every Thursday evening for over two months, so perhaps the balance has been right after all.

Another country supports law banning nuclear weapons

Belize has become the latest country to ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Despite the United Nations Office for Legal Affairs in New York City being in lockdown the Belize delegation announced the ratification on 19 May. This means that 37 states have now ratified the Treaty so that just 13 more are needed to sign up for it to enter into force as international law. ICAN commented “ We’ve seen a lot of exciting progress from the Caribbean, as a result from hard work by our partner organisations in that region and from the Caribbean regional conference we organised last year. It’s exciting to see that our activities are having a concrete impact.”

Belize is the seventh Caribbean nation officially to ratify the Treaty, which was adopted in 2017 with the support of 122 member states of the UN.

Not quite swords to ploughshares …

Defence firm Babcock announced it would begin manufacturing 10,000 ventilators.

In a statement Babcock said it had “responded quickly to the UK Prime Minister’s UK Ventilator Challenge” and that the manufacturing of 10,000 Zephyr Plus ventilators would begin subject to regulatory approval.

Although Babcock has not said where the ventilators will be manufactured, the firm has factories in Scotland and south-west England, and it is expected that staff who routinely work on defence contracts have been redeployed to work on the ventilator project.

Babcock is also refurbishing parts of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system at Devonport Dock, and is part of an alliance which manages The Royal Naval Armament Depot (RNAD) at Coulport and Faslane.

Defence diversification

One of the objections to scrapping Trident is that highly-skilled employees would be left without jobs. CND’s answer to this point over many decades has been that workers can and must be redeployed to socially useful parts of the economy. However, whenever it has proposed this ‘defence diversification’, the usual retort is ‘that’s impossible!’ The Babcock ventilator scheme shows us that it is possible after all.

Trident whistleblowing gag from MoD

The Ministry of Defence has banned its staff from speaking about the Trident nuclear weapons system in public.

In new rules issued on April 21, MoD staff are instructed not to discuss “Trident/Successor,“ “Scotland and Defence” or “Spending Reviews” and 9 other topics it believes are “contentious”.

The MoD’s instruction notice warns staff that leakers of information could face disciplinary action.

Submariner William McNeilly blew the whistle in 2015 on a catalogue of Trident safety and security failings. Campaigners fear the MoD’s new draconian speech rules will prevent further vital information from ever reaching the public.

Kate Hudson, then CND general secretary, said:

“The MoD has cast a very wide net with these new speech rules, backed up by the threat of disciplinary action. That creates a climate of fear and will prevent MoD staff from speaking out even when it is in the public’s interest to do so.”

Ex-nuclear submarine commander Rob Forsyth told The Ferret “The requirement for all media contact by service personnel to be pre-screened by the MoD robs what they say of spontaneity and real value. “It suggests that the MoD doesn’t trust its people to speak, particularly on issues as contentious as Scotland and Trident. This begs the question: why not?”

Never forget Shinkolobwe

The town of Shinkolobwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo has largely by-passed the historians of the Second World War and the Cold War yet affected the outcomes of both.

During the Second World War the US wanted to source the highest grade uranium in order to build the atomic bomb. This commodity was in the Shinkolobwe mine where the uranium was found to contain 65% uranium oxide, compared with American or Canadian ore that contained less than 1%. The US, determined to prevent any of the Congolese ore reaching Nazi Germany or, later, falling into the hands of the Soviet Union, took every precaution – including dispatching spies – to secure the supply of uranium. Despite strenuous efforts by the US to find alternative sources of rich ore, Shinkolobwe remained its greatest single source in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The territory at the time was within the Belgian Congo under a colonial regime marked by racism, segregation and extreme inequality. Unsurprisingly, concern for the health and wellbeing of the Congolese miners was never a priority consideration. Add to this decades of radiation poisoning.

Author Susan Williams uncovered the story of Shinkolobwe in her 2016 book Spies in the Congo: The race for the ore that built the Atomic Bomb. Her moving account of the injustices suffered by the miners and their families can be found in an article linking Hiroshima with the Congo on the website The Conversation (

Thanks to KPC member George Short for reminding us of this ongoing tragedy and suggesting its victims should be remembered when we commemorate Hiroshima.

A Good Read

In the continued absence of events due to the requirements of social distancing here are some suggestions for reading material drawn from Ten articles about the current crisis that every UK activist should read published in Peace News.

‘Governed by Opinion? Governments and the Public Mood In a Crisis’ by Ian Sinclair, Byline Times, 1 May 2020

The public played a key role in forcing the government’s hand to introduce a national lockdown on 23 March. Don’t take our word for it: as Ian Sinclair reports in this must-read piece, it’s what a ‘cabinet source’ told the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph. Even more ominously, the same source explained the government’s so-called ‘exit plan’: ‘They are waiting for the public to change their mind. We didn’t want to go down this route in the first place …’

‘The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations’ by Kim Stanley Robinson, New Yorker, 1 May 2020

For decades science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson has been helping us imagine ways we might take collective action to avert environmental catastrophe and build a more equitable society. In this piece for the New Yorker he wonders whether we may now be ‘learning our way into a new structure of feeling’ as a result of the pandemic - and what this might mean for the even larger crisis of climate change. “For the past few decades, we’ve been called upon to act, and have been acting in a way that will be scrutinized by our descendants. Now we feel it. The shift has to do with the concentration and intensity of what’s happening. September 11th was a single day, and everyone felt the shock of it, but our daily habits didn’t shift, except at airports; the President even urged us to keep shopping. This crisis is different. It’s a biological threat, and it’s global. Everyone has to change together to deal with it. That’s really history … What about afterward, when this crisis recedes and the larger crisis looms? If the project of civilization—including science, economics, politics, and all the rest of it—were to bring all eight billion of us into a long-term balance with Earth’s biosphere, we could do it. By contrast, when the project of civilization is to create profit—which, by definition, goes to only a few—much of what we do is actively harmful to the long-term prospects of our species. Everyone knows everything. Right now pursuing profit as the ultimate goal of all our activities will lead to a mass-extinction event. Humanity might survive, but traumatized, interrupted, angry, ashamed, sad. A science-fiction story too painful to write, too obvious. It would be better to adapt to reality.”

‘Coronavirus Capitalism — and How to Beat It’ by Naomi Klein, The Intercept, 16 March 2020

Thirteen years ago Naomi Klein literally wrote the book on how the right uses disasters – natural and otherwise – to push its regressive agendas, as well as how we can resist. As she explains in this snappy 9 minute video: ‘If there is one thing that history teaches it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by elites and pay the price for decades or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier. This is no time to lose our nerve. The future will be determined by whoever is willing to fight harder for the ideas they have lying around.’ According to recent polls, only 9% of Britons want life to return to 'normal' once lockdown is over, 58% think that it is important that climate change be prioritised in the economic recovery from COVID-19, and 71% (versus 13% against) believe that the government’s response should be to tax the wealthy as opposed to another round of austerity cuts to public services.

Calais needs clothes

Decent shoes, underwear, socks and other basic items of clothing are still needed by the charity Care for Calais. At a time when the charity shops remain closed the deliveries to the refugees across the Channel are still getting through. Men’s clothes are especially needed, and must be clean and undamaged. Also required are toiletries, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and tinned food.

Let Rosemary know on 0208 399 2547

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND