Kingston Peace News - October 2020

The newsletter of Kingston Peace Council / Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Telling it like it is

“Israel’s consistent flouting of UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention has undermined the rules-based order for decades, and the international community can no longer just look the other way.”

So said Labour MP Stephen Kinnock opening a Commons debate on Palestine last month.

See for September 24 – debate on Occupied Palestinian Territories

Trump bravado ‘triggers arms race’

President brags about new US nuclear weapons system

a group of North Korean military officers smiling with their leader

Plenty to laugh about? Did the US and North Korea really come close to war, as Trump claims, or was it just more grandstanding by the President?

President Donald Trump’s obsession with bragging about his supposed achievements may have started a new nuclear arms race, observers believe.

A new book – Rage – authored by legendary Watergate journalist Bob Woodward has been revealing masses of hitherto unknown details of the Trump presidency and, unlike many of the other tomes written about the current incumbent of the Oval Office, this one is based on actual recorded interviews between the two men.

One recent disclosure, picked up by MSNBC journalist and political commentator Rachel Maddow, concerns a passage in the book where Trump was reflecting ‘how close’ the US had come to war with North Korea in 2017.

Trump told Woodward: ‘ I have built a nuclear – a weapons system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t seen or heard about.

‘We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody – what we have is incredible.’

Such a comment might be put down to no more than Trump’s obsessive hyperbole and self-aggrandisement but Woodward checked further. He writes that anonymous sources later confirmed that the US military had a secret new weapons system, but they would not provide details.

He went on that people were surprised that Trump had disclosed this. Maddow commented to her TV audience: “ If we do have a new nuclear weapons system unlike anything they’ve got in Russia or China that has now been disclosed to the whole world,  I’m sure Trump is not supposed to disclose that. With that comment he has just launched a new nuclear arms race.”

CNN, also looking at this particular exposé, reported that Woodward said Trump’s national security team expressed concern that the United States may have come close to nuclear war with North Korea amid provocations in 2017.

The situation at the time was said to be so serious that the then Secretary of Defense James Mattis slept in his clothes to be ready in case there was a North Korean launch and he repeatedly went to the Washington National Cathedral to pray.

Whether we believe Trump has actually ordered new nuclear arms to be developed, whether Woodward’s anonymous sources really are reliable, and whether the 2017 North Korea situation was really another Cuban Missile Crisis moment, the fact is that Trump’s loose mouth and complete incompetence has placed, and continues to place, the whole world in the most dangerous state it has been in for at least 40 years.

UK ‘needs to prepare for space war’

It seems quite a leap between Spitfires and Hurricanes flying past to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and calls for the UK to get ready to fight wars in space but this is clearly something on the mind of the RAF.

A report in The Independent last month said the RAF senior officer Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston is convinced that the country needs to get ready for a new type of conflict in space because a lack of international rules complicates an arena where more and more countries (the usual suspects – US, Russia)  are seeking to establish a military presence.

“Space is now a contested warfighting domain, so today we can no longer assume the unchallenged access to air or space that we have enjoyed for the last three decades,” he said.

“We are struggling to find a set of international rules and norms of behaviour that operators in space can apply. People are abusing what until now has been a benign and incredibly useful domain for all of humanity, there is now a militarisation of space.”

Russia accused but US just as guilty

The RAF currently has around a hundred personnel dealing with space security. The plan, claimed The Independent, is to raise this number significantly in the near future. Cooperation is also being explored with private companies which are involved in putting satellites into the skies.

Two months ago the UK and US accused Russia of launching an anti-satellite space weapon in what was claimed to be a breach of trust, and a dangerous escalation of the arms race, with risky consequences for the international community.

The Western allies had previously accused the Kremlin of testing anti-satellite weapons. But this is the first time there has been an accusation that an “on orbit” weapon, one that is based in space, has been fired.

Meanwhile, Trump has achieved his own provocation by creating – or rebranding - the US military’s Space Force. At the time the announcement was ridiculed on a number of counts: the logo appeared to have been lifted from the sci-fi series Star Trek and the uniforms were in standard brown military camouflage provoking critics to point out there was no vegetation in space to hide behind.

But, jokes apart, there is clearly another arms race brewing which Britain is fully prepared to be part of. The meeting of top brass attended by Air Chief Marshal Wigston also counted among the attendees Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Protesting in the time of Covid

Mary Holmes looks at the recent Extinction Rebellion campaigns

Was journalist Janet Daley right when she said ‘Extinction Rebellion has declared war on free speech and democracy’ in The Sunday Telegraph on 6 September? Here are just a few of my thoughts and experiences during the recent demonstrations in London but you can find out much more about all that happened if you look at XR on the internet and Facebook.

Members of Kingston Peace Council have thought hard about whether or not we should be holding public events. Even if socially distanced and in the open air I know there are still a range of views on this. The risks are much greater with large events involving travel, marches and protest groups. Of course people can decide for themselves if they want to take part. However the police and others who may be involved don’t have that choice. Should we put them at risk? Even if protesters are young, they can spread the virus to other more vulnerable people.

On the other hand, in early September when the XR demo took place we were being encouraged by the government to eat out, return to workplaces and send children back to school. It seemed wrong just to say ‘these activities are OK but climate change protests are something we have to do without because of the risk of spreading infection’. Maybe we need new ways to protest and campaign to take account of the virus. Please do get in touch with KPN Editor if you have thoughts on this.

The authorities – a change in attitude

At XR’s previous demos in 2018 and 2019 readers may remember seeing beautiful trees in planters on Waterloo Bridge and huge numbers of people, including families with children and lots of young people, peacefully taking over London’s streets. The police took a fairly laid-back approach for which they were criticised by Conservative MPs and the press. Currently if we look at international news we see fires burning out of control, not just in Brazil and California but now also in the Arctic region where such fires release huge quantities of particularly potent greenhouse gases from the burning permafrost. There are reports of sea ice melting at an accelerating rate in the Antarctic with the threat of a massive sea level rise in the future. Reports and television programmes remind us continually that biodiversity is reducing all the time.

So the problems of global heating have not gone away. On the contrary, the situation has become ever more urgent. However what did seem to have changed in 2020 was the attitude of the government, the police and the media towards climate protesters.

The XR protests

There were protests in large cities in the UK and in many smaller places but London was the main centre for the protest that ran from 1 – 10 September. And in London Parliament was a focus throughout the week starting with getting the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill) tabled with its clear framework for achieving zero carbon. The CEE Bill was tabled as a private member’s bill by Green MP Caroline Lucas on 2 September; a significant marker of progress towards effective action.

On the first day of the protest there were several peaceful marches from different points in London with large numbers of young people. Some protesters then sat down and blocked the roads leading to Parliament Square. The aim was to put pressure on MPs and highlight the importance of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. There were a lot of police around and protesters who continued to block the roads were arrested, which they expected and were prepared for. This was just Day 1. 

On each of the following days there were protests against other powerful groups whose actions take no real account of climate change: the media, the City, the oil industry, lobbyists and Oxford Street shops representing our consumer culture. Most protesters were peaceful and when asked to move by the police did so. Some brave people glued themselves to the pavement outside the Department of Transport in protest against HS2. And 13 topless women chained themselves to the railings that surround Parliament while two hardy souls managed to spend several days living in two trees in Parliament Square. There were many other activities across London and beyond. The protests I saw were very well supported by large numbers of activists.

Of course all this got some coverage but it was pretty minimal considering the variety of events and the importance of the issue of climate change.  The aim seemed to be to make it all appear unwarranted and poorly planned - at times manipulated for more sinister ends by ill-intentioned Marxists - and for the police to arrest a large number of people to show the firm grip of the law. I had two wonderful friends, activists from Birmingham, staying with me (after they had recovered safely from Covid) who joined the protests every day and told me what had been happening. I wouldn’t have known this otherwise just from seeing some short piece of local coverage after the ten o’clock news in the evening or scanning much of the press.

The press blockade

a group of protestors, some on precarious structures, and police

XR blockades a Murdoch-owned printing press

There was, however, one event which hugely upset Britain’s press and lots of politicians and perhaps many others. This was the blockading of the print works of the Murdoch press in Hertfordshire and Knowsley near Liverpool, on Friday night. These presses print the Murdoch Sun and The Times, and also The Mail and The Telegraph, and the London Evening Standard. So, many people were without their normal newspaper on Saturday. The reason XR chose this target was because the movement complained – rightly in my view – that the Murdoch press completely fails in its reporting of the issue of climate change and the measures needed to deal with it. I’m sure a free press is important in our national life and perhaps XR should have thought through this issue more carefully, and the huge and pious backlash there would be from our freedom-loving press supported by thunderous editorials. It wasn’t really a total news blackout as suggested in the columns of the next day’s papers. News was freely available online, on smartphones, on radio and TV and by simply buying a different newspaper on this particular Saturday. Janet Daley thought it threatened democracy. Perhaps she’s right but pots and kettles spring to mind.

A citizens assembly

Halfway through the protest I attended a Citizens Assembly outside the National Gallery. XR supporters were sitting on the ground in this public space in two’s and three’s well distanced from other groups. The police were asking people to move and making arrests. The citizens at the assembly were socially distanced and, in Trafalgar Square, people were just as close together/far apart. Our speakers were excellent and full of ideas for the future but the whole assembly closed quite soon because it was felt the speakers would be arrested and the police seemed to have been told to close the event down. One of my Birmingham friends was arrested though he and his partner were just standing holding a banner with an XR symbol on it a long way from anyone else.

Readers will, I’m sure, know this area outside the National Gallery where a variety of people use the space to highlight important causes, exhibit works of art, or simply raise money by sitting in mid-air painted gold. That variety is one of the reasons London is such a great place. There seems a certain irony in the fact that some harmless people, seated suitably far apart, discussing how democracy could work more effectively were seen as a threat.

I only saw a fragment of the 1 – 10 September XR protest. Just as with peace protests difficult questions are raised and this is even more true when any action may lead to increased infection rates. A letter from the Great and Good in The Observer on 13 September headed ‘Extinction Rebellion is a force for good’ said: Extinction Rebellion has helped push the government’s failure to act on the climate and ecological emergency into the public eye. Whether or not we agree with their tactics or their targets, by blocking printing presses and delaying newspaper distribution, they have connected the dots of a broken system. How best we connect those dots raises questions we all need to think about.

Middle East moves

New developments continue to undermine peace in general and the Palestinians in particular

The ‘normalisation’ deals  by which the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have officially recognised the state of Israel are nothing to celebrate, says the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). Once again, Palestinians have been sold down the river and pay the price for others to profit. The deals have misleadingly been presented as a means to stop the illegal annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already declared any delay to annexation will be temporary and that:

“There is no change to my plan to extend sovereignty, our sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, in full coordination with the United States.”

The UK Government has, not surprisingly, welcomed the developments. The Labour Party attempted a more nuanced response. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the agreement was "an important first step". She said Labour welcomed the suspension of Israel's annexation plans, which "would have been in clear violation of international law".

“The Labour Party is hopeful that this announcement will be the first step towards the full withdrawal of annexation proposals, and that this can be a catalyst for a meaningful and lasting peace to be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinians – an outcome we believe can only be achieved by a peaceful two-state solution in the Middle East,” she said.

The TUC, however, didn’t beat around the bush and overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for sanctions against Israel in response to annexation plans and the continued occupation of Palestine. This historic motion came just days after PSC held an online meeting at the TUC conference - with speakers including Dr Mustafa Barghouti and senior trade union officials - and identified Israeli policies as "apartheid". The winds of change have begun to blow, and recently over 20 charities, trade unions, religious groups and civil society organisations joined PSC in issuing a statement calling on public bodies to “uphold their ethical and legal responsibilities to ensure human rights and international law are respected”.

Amongst the signatories was the Most Rev'd John Davies - Archbishop of Wales – who joined PSC in demanding local authorities, churches, local government pension schemes, universities, and businesses guarantee they are not complicit in Israeli illegal occupation through their investments and procurement practices. (KPC has been pressing Kingston Council’s Pension Fund managers to disinvest from companies, such as JCB, that assist the illegal annexation of Palestinian lands by  the Israeli Government. – Ed)

The TUC motion called for the UK to “take firm and decisive measures, including sanctions” against Israel to stop annexation, end the occupation and respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return. It also called for unions around the world to join the campaign “to stop annexation and end apartheid.”

Saudis’ nuclear ambitions revealed

The Saudis are believed to have sufficient mineable uranium ore to begin the domestic production of nuclear fuel. A report in The Guardian last month gave details of confidential documents seen by the newspaper covering the work of Chinese geologists who have been helping the Kingdom map its uranium reserves. The disclosure, said The Guardian, would intensify concerns about the Saudis’ interest in a possible nuclear weapons programme.

Saudi Arabia has been open about its ambition to extract uranium domestically, so as to be self-sufficient in energy production. The Chinese surveys suggest sufficient uranium reserves to fuel domestic nuclear reactors and to have a surplus available for export.

Of particular concern are past statements from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that, if regional rival Iran developed a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia would seek to do the same. This would become more feasible if the country has its own easily accessible uranium deposits.

Liverpool arms fair cancelled

Poster: "No deadly arms fairs in our cities".  Against a backdrop of an explosion in a city, and the PSC logoThis November, the city of Liverpool was due to host the arms fair Electronic Warfare Europe at the council-run ACC Exhibition Centre. For weeks a strong local coalition urged the council to cancel such an unethical event that promotes violations of human rights.

Then last month, the event organisers announced that the arms fair was being cancelled and would next take place in Seville in May 2021.

A partnership comprising Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Campaign Against Arms Trade, CND and Liverpool Against the Electronic Arms Fair, immediately called on Liverpool City Council to confirm that no arms fairs will take place in the city in the future.

The demand had even greater force coming at a time when Covid-19 is showing clearly that cities need adequate healthcare, not events promoting warfare.

As KP News went to press Liverpool city mayor, Joe Anderson, gave a commitment to implement an ethical charter to govern what events can be held at the ACC venue in future.

Just let me answer that …

Last month KP News reproduced from ICAN’s booklet Talking to Friends and Family a succinct answer to counteract the oft-quoted mantra that ‘nuclear weapons deter war and keep us safe.’ Here a couple more helpful myth-busters from the booklet:

‘No country will ever actually use nuclear weapons – they are just for deterrence.’

The theory of nuclear deterrence requires that the threat of use of nuclear weapons be credible. For this reason, over one thousand nuclear weapons were deployed on high alert in 2017. We know about a disturbing number of accidents, close calls and near catastrophes since 1945; presumably many more remain secret. History shows that conflicts can escalate rapidly and unpredictably, national leaders do not always act rationally or prudently, communications can break down, and high tensions tend to amplify misunderstandings. Deterrence is often given the credit for the long record of non-use of nuclear weapons, but much of it is due solely to good luck – which cannot be expected to last forever.

The risk of nuclear weapons being used, whether deliberately, by accident, or miscalculation, is real. It literally could happen at any moment. Worse, many experts assess that the risk of use of nuclear weapons is increasing, due in part to the increased speed of warfare triggered by the expanded use of artificial intelligence by the military. Unless nuclear weapons are eliminated, sooner or later they will be used – and the consequences will be catastrophic.

‘The genie is out of the bottle. You can’t eliminate nuclear weapons if the technological know-how to create nuclear weapons still exists.’

If the genie is out of the bottle and the technological know-how to create nuclear weapons exists, why do only nine countries have nuclear weapons? Many countries could make nuclear weapons but have undertaken not to do so – and the non-diversion of nuclear materials used for nuclear energy to weapons is verified by a highly effective international system of safeguards run by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This system could be adapted and extended to all countries once those with nuclear weapons have made the choice to disarm.

More generally, dangerous technology can be and has been successfully controlled. Chemical and biological weapons have been outlawed, as have anti-personnel landmines, cluster bombs and blinding laser weapons. Useful and economically important industrial chemicals that proved to be health hazards or dangerous environmental pollutants have been banned and their use stopped worldwide. It is entirely possible and nuclear weapons are no different. There is nothing magic about them.

Taiwan becomes flashpoint for US-China tensions

Donald Trump’s war of words with China has been accelerating over many months, initially over punitive tariffs on Chinese goods coming into America, then with the security ‘threat’ of 5G technology and the firm Huawei, then with the spread of Covid-19, disparagingly (and with clear racist intent) dubbed the ‘China virus’ by the US President.

But trade war and the war of words could also become a real life shooting war as the two super powers continue to ratchet up their military activity concerning Taiwan.

Stop the War Coalition has drawn attention to the issue with a timely article on their (newly re-designed and relaunched) website.

Over recent weeks, it reports, tensions have moved up a notch, as the Taiwan Strait, the sea that separates China and Taiwan, has become the backdrop for significant military manoeuvres. Now even the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has raised the alarm about a new Cold War. Guterres’ statement, made to coincide with a virtual UN debate on 22 September warned, “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture… A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geostrategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”

The Trump administration has been deliberately provoking China over the issue of Taiwan in a number of ways. In August the US Health Secretary visited the island, then in September a senior State Department official paid a visit, ostensibly to attend a memorial service for a former Taiwanese president.

These marked the first official trips to the island by senior US officials in more than 40 years. The Chinese reacted with outrage and timed military exercises in the Taiwan Strait that separates the island from the mainland to coincide with these US visits.

American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused the Chinese Government of “military blustering” but this has not prevented the US from engaging in its own counter-blustering.

While Chinese military aircraft have been regularly breaching Taiwan’s air ‘buffer zone’ – to be chased away by Taiwanese fighters – the US has been steadily increasing the number of naval vessels despatched to the area.

And, surprise, surprise, Britain has had to get involved as well with an announcement that it intends to send its brand new, shiny aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the South China Sea – it’s first ever mission. This deployment has so far been delayed because of a serious outbreak of Covid-19 symptoms among the crew.

Needless to say the US administration was delighted by the Johnson Government’s intention to add to the tensions building around Taiwan.

The US is also planning to sell $7billion worth of arms to Taiwan in the near future, following on from a 2019 deal that was worth $8billion. Doubtless the UK government would like a piece of that action.

China’s response to the US has been expected. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” said a Chinese foreign affairs spokesman. Those getting burnt in the future could include the UK.


The pandemic has meant that all the summer fairs where KPC normally runs fund-raising stalls were cancelled. However, magnificent efforts by Maggie and Rosemary to organise garage sales and attend local car boot sales have resulted in nearly £1,000 being raised for the organisation. Very well done both of you and thank you!

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

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