Two events in January, separated by just two days, allowed a world riven by a lethal pandemic to sigh with relief that an alternative cause of mass death had just become a little less likely.
On the 22nd of the month the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) passed into international law. Two days prior to that a rogue American President, widely considered to be mentally unstable, left office and no longer had at his fingertips the means to initiate nuclear war.
The term of office of Donald Trump, a man branded as ‘deranged, unhinged and dangerous’ by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, gave way to that of Joe Biden.
Fear for what Trump, who had fomented a coup against his own country’s lawmakers in a desperate attempt to retain power, could actually do next was so heightened that Ms Pelosi, as well as attempting to hasten the outgoing president’s departure through constitutional means, also spoke to the country’s senior generals to see if the nuclear codes could be taken away from Trump in his final days in office.
In the event, while the Congress convulsed itself over an unprecedented second impeachment, Trump merely continued to fulminate - minus the ability to Tweet - about how unfair life had been to him. Although reportedly flying into rages and obsessed by his bruised feelings and ego these moods did not metamorphose into a desire to go out, quite literally, with a bang.
Two days later, with no fuss, and little ceremony the UN TPNW made its way onto the international statute book so that nuclear weapons, alongside their evil counterparts - chemical and biological weapons - are now illegal.
More revelations of the last days of Trump may come to light subsequently to clarify whether or not the 13 days between the former president’s coup attempt against the US Capitol and the inauguration of his successor was as potential a risk to global peace as the 13 days that elapsed while the world held its breath during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
What is certain is that Americans will need to review the processes by which future presidential nominees are selected in the hope of preventing the election of a future sociopathic criminal and his equally corrupt family.
Newly inaugurated US President Joe Biden will seek a five-year extension to the New START arms control treaty with Russia, the White House confirmed the day after he took office. It ranked as one of the first major foreign policy decisions of the new administration ahead of the treaty’s expiry in early February.
“The President has long been clear that the New START treaty is in the national security interests of the United States. And this extension makes even more sense when the relationship with Russia is adversarial as it is at this time,” White House newly appointed press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing. She also said Biden had “tasked” the US intelligence community for its full assessment of the Solar Winds cyber breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, Russia’s use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny and alleged bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The arms control treaty, which was due to expire on February 5, limits the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads each.
In addition to restricting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to its lowest level in decades, New START also limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.
In a statement, the Pentagon said that Americans were “much safer” with the treaty intact and extended.
The treaty’s lapse would have ended all restraints on deployments of US and Russian strategic nuclear warheads and the delivery systems that carry them, potentially fuelling a new arms race, policy experts had warned.
The Kremlin has said that it remained committed to extending New START and would welcome efforts promised by the Biden administration to reach agreement.
The previous Trump administration had been unclear on whether it would extend the treaty, saying instead that it was not viewed as a “good deal” for the US.
The mainstream British media managed to overlook/avoid reporting late last month that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had just appointed a former member of Israeli military intelligence to work in his office.
The news was broken by the website The Electronic Intifada and given further publicity by Novara Media.
One Assaf Kaplan has joined Labour’s staff to fulfil a role described as social listening and organising manager.
A previous employment was as an officer in Unit 8200, the cyber warfare branch of Israeli Military Intelligence where he served for almost five years.
According to The Electronic Intifada Unit 8200 specialises in spying, hacking and encryption. It carries out blackmail, mass surveillance and systematic discrimination against Palestinians.
According to his LinkedIn profile he worked for Unit 8200 from May 2009 to November 2013 but this detail was subsequently removed from his entry.
The Electronic Intifada also reported that his Facebook entry had recently been restricted but not before a journalist had noted that one of the ‘friends’ listed was the Israeli Government agent exposed by Al Jazeera in 2017 and subsequently kicked out of the UK for plotting against ministers and MPs who were hostile towards Israeli government policies.
The post he now holds in the Labour Party was described as challenging disinformation online. ‘Social listening’ is the practice of monitoring online conversations to see what people, presumably inside and outside of the party, are saying about it.
After leaving Israeli intelligence Kaplan also worked as deputy head of the Israeli Labor Party’s April 2019 general election campaign in which the Party was almost wiped out.
The complete absence of coverage in the media of his appointment to Keir Starmer’s office is not surprising. The journalist who broke the story for The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley, told another left wing website The Canary: “If Jeremy Corbyn had hired someone from the Russian intelligence it would have been in all the mainstream media front pages the next day.”
One of Israel’s most prominent rights groups has branded the state an apartheid regime that works to perpetuate Jewish supremacy over the Palestinians in the entire territory under its control.
The conclusion, in a policy paper by B’Tselem, has prompted a backlash from the Israeli authorities and others.
B’Tselem said that Israel was not a democracy and its actions met the definition of apartheid in view of “the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians”.
This is not the first Israeli rights group to brand the state in this way. There are a growing number of commentators who have warned that Israel’s actions could amount to crimes against humanity.
B’Tselem said that across the entire area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River the Israeli regime “implements laws, practices and state violence designed to cement the supremacy of one group, Jews, over another, Palestinians”.
Recently, Israel came under fire for failing to supply COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinians while pushing ahead with vaccinating its own citizens.
The Independent reported (January 24) that Israel’s health minister had claimed it is not the country’s job to provide vaccinations, despite calls from the UN to do so, because it was under no “legal obligation” to provide jabs. However, as this newsletter went to press Israel announced it would inoculate 5000 Palestinian front line health workers.
Celebrations took many forms to mark the coming into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. At a local level a range of initiatives took place.
Individual members equipped themselves with flags and banners to register the event and attract the attention of passers-by (right/above).
KPC/CND members contacted local churches pointing out that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Pope had all supported the Treaty (The Vatican was one of the first states to ratify it). The Archbishops, meanwhile, had called on the UK Government to sign up to it.
The Network of Christian Peace Organisations had asked places of worship to ring their bells at 12 noon on January 22 and to draw attention to the ban during their sermons or messages on the following Sunday. Kingston Parish Church and St Matthew’s Church Surbiton both rang their bells as requested and, along with other churches, made mention of the ban to their congregations.
KPC/CND has also written to the Mayor of Kingston upon Thames to ask if the Council would adopt a resolution calling for the UK to sign the treaty and if individual council members would sign a pledge to the same effect.
There was some sporadic coverage in the national media with The Guardian producing a truncated version in the print edition compared with what had been published on their website. Hilary Evans tackled them directly over the apparent discrepancy and was bemused to learn that the newspaper was unable to make a distinction between the signing of the treaty and its ratification.
‘It is prohibited to develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess, stockpile, use or threaten to use nuclear weapons and nuclear explosive devices’
Article 1, TPNW
The UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into force internationally on January 22 this year but, as the Nuclear Information Service points out, as with all treaties, entry into force is not an endpoint, but the beginning of the all important implementation process. From late 2021 onwards, Meetings of States Parties will begin negotiating on how best to set up necessary institutional, technical and verification capacities for the future.
The first meeting will set the rules and framework for decision-making. It will review reports and steps that have been taken, and consider how to move forward to fulfill the TPNW’s objectives and longer term needs, including environmental remediation, victim assistance, and the ‘competent international authority’, that is envisaged in the TPNW for overseeing compliance, verification and enforcement in the future.
Austria has begun preparations to host the first meeting of TPNW States Parties (1MSP) in Vienna, probably November or December 2021 (Covid permitting). It is hoped that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) Organisation will become fully engaged from now on.
As well as being open to all signatories, relevant international organisations and civil society, as specified in the treaty, it is likely that states that have not yet signed the treaty will be invited to attend as observers.
Human and technical mistakes and poor leadership are normal parts of life. Cyber capabilities and other technologies open up further risks and vulnerabilities in military and nuclear systems of control, command and delivery. Last century’s theories of nuclear deterrence don’t deal with today’s realities. If we carry on with nuclear weapons it is inevitable that soon or later we will have to deal with their use or a catastrophic accident.
The world is changing and nuclear weapons are on the wrong side of history. Threatening the use of nuclear weapons for projecting ‘power’ or ‘deterrence’ undermines global security and has no place in today’s world. We live in challenging times and cannot keep squandering resources on pariah weapons that can never be used without causing unacceptable suffering and risks of mass extinction.
Though the treaty does not legally bind states such as Britain that have not signed, ignoring it is not a realistic option. As proposed by the House of Lords Report on ‘Rising Nuclear Risks’ in 2019, the UK government needs to do more to accept this reality and engage constructively with both the TPNW and Non Proliferation Treaty.
Recommendations for what the UK should be pressured to do in future are as follows:
Articles 2–5 require the ‘total elimination of nuclear weapons’, and provide basic obligations, principles and pathways that build on existing UN and NPT institutions and safeguards. As countries that currently possess or share nuclear weapons decide to accede, the TPNW envisages further negotiations with those governments on specific steps and timelines to disarm and comply. Currently applicable legal obligations, such as nuclear safeguards required under the NPT, are reinforced as they stand. In keeping with its mandate to fill the legal gaps in the disarmament and non-proliferation regime, the TPNW goes further than existing agreements in order to strengthen, adapt and develop the legal, technical and verification systems that are needed to bring about nuclear disarmament and global security for the future.
In keeping with humanitarian disarmament principles and practices in other treaties, positive obligations for victim assistance and environmental remediation are enshrined in Article 6 of the TPNW. Article 7 makes it a legal as well as normative and political obligation for all states parties to cooperate with each other in facilitating the universalisation and implementation of the treaty.
This article is extracted from a report written by Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a précis of which is published by the NIS.
In the latest example of the arms industry and armed forces indoctrinating young people with the view that conflict is somehow morally acceptable The Independent reported late last month on BAE’s supplying branded ‘fairy tales’ for nine-year-olds.
Primary schools in northwest England were among those, the newspaper reported, to make use of ‘learning materials’ that, claims the UK’s largest arms manufacturer, aims to raise awareness about career opportunities in engineering.
The fairy tales, produced specifically for children in years five and six, feature videos of BAE employees and armed forces personnel reading favourites stories like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk and posing engineering questions. The company is also providing schools with branded learning materials for children as young as five years old to do at home during coronavirus lockdowns.
BAE’s website, said its schools campaign was in part being conducted to “improve our corporate reputation at both a local and national level”.
The fairy stories are just the latest example of a marketing blitz on schools by military contractors and suppliers, who collectively spend millions of pounds a year promoting their brands in schools.
Another arms manufacturer, Thales, which has sold arms to regimes like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Kazakhstan, runs branded activities for children, including a missile simulator.
Meanwhile Raytheon, manufacturer of the Paveway IV missiles currently being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, runs a national dome-building competition for children in UK schools every year.
MDBA, another major supplier of missiles to Saudi Arabia, runs a “robot rumble” for children aged 11 and above in the town of Stevenage where its factory is based.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The idea of allowing arms dealers to target young children through schools and home education is bizarre, dystopian and wrong.”
BAE-made aircraft were playing a central role in the Saudi’s bombing of Yemen causing the destruction of schools and the death of school-age children. “This is no fairy tale, this is real life and these are the consequences of arms sales,” he said.
Campaigners for a range of issues including nuclear disarmament, tackling climate change, immigration rights, Black Lives Matter and justice for Palestinians need to intensify the pressure despite positive indications on some of these issues coming from the new US administration.
This was the message that came out of the various speaker presentations made during the online London CND annual conference held just two days after the UN TPNW became law.
Speaking from the United States international peace activist Phyllis Bennis said there had been a number of significant actions by new president Joe Biden immediately upon taking office. He had signed executive orders that had lifted his predecessor’s Muslim ban, made massive improvements to immigrant rights, rejoined the World Health Organisation and the Paris Climate Accord. He was also intent on concluding a new START nuclear ban treaty with Russia.
But, she warned, “These should not be credited to Biden being so far-seeing but credited to our movements for keeping the pressure up,” There were still challenges and potential dangers and she quoted the unchanged Washington view that China should be treated as a strategic threat, rather than just an economic competitor. Russia was seen as a potential danger and in the Middle East the rights of Israel were seen as primary and “the rights of Palestinians are not even secondary or tertiary, but so far down the list as to be virtually non-existent”.
She was hopeful that there could be a positive shift on Yemen by ending all direct US involvement in support of Saudi Arabia. This was due to campaigning in the US that had alerted the public at large to the suffering of the Yemeni people. There had previously been agreement in both houses of Congress to stop direct US involvement but this had been vetoed by Trump. It was hoped the issue could now be pursued again. Meanwhile progressives within the Democrat party were also pushing for an end to arms sales but it was unclear if this would progress because of the gap between progressives and the centrist majority in the Democrats. (Since this was written the US has announced a “pause” on arms sales to Saudi and some other Arab states. ED)
Also, the Washington ‘elites’ on both sides of the political divide consider Iran as a major danger even though all US intelligence agencies agreed that Iran was not trying to build a nuclear capability. Biden wanted to get Iran back into a nuclear treaty that had been abrogated by Trump but many in Congress still supported the Netanyahu claim that Iran was an existential threat to Israel even though the latter was the only Middle Eastern country with nuclear weapons, numbering, it was believed, some 200.
There is also widespread Washington agreement that US military spending should be maintained at its high level. At present the country was spending $740billion on the military that amounted to 53 cents in every federal dollar.
All the issues now to be dealt with depend on far more from the campaigning movements than it did on the wishes of the new president and vice president, said Ms Bennis, and she concluded by referencing a quote from Franklin Roosevelt when faced with demands from progressive campaigners as the US was coming out of the Great Depression. “FDR said to them ‘I get what you want me to do, now you go out there and make me do it.’”
Another speaker was CND National Council member, China specialist and author Jenny Clegg who opened her remarks with “Thank God Trump has gone. Under Trump there was a more aggressive nuclear posture, the deployment of new mini nukes, advances in delivery systems at supersonic speed, North Korea gained nuclear arms, and arms in space.”
China was now seen as the US’s number one global threat and America was now building a global NATO, drawing in Japan, Australia and India in order to contain China’s rise. “A new cold war is rising to the surface from July when Pompeo effectively called for regime change in China.”
She added: “The relationship between the US and China is now the most important in terms of war and peace in the world.”
Under President Biden US policy would be less unpredictable and less dangerous and he was seeking to rejoin the multilateral order. His foreign policy aim seemed to be to work more closely with allies on a ‘league of democracy’ against Russia and China with a military network covering the Atlantic and the Pacific but before he could work on that aim he had to put democracy at home in the US in order.
Also, on his other initiatives, such as the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea and climate change he needed to co-operate with China who had also offered Biden a No First Use agreement and Biden had previously leaned towards this when he was vice president under Obama.
As a final topic Ms Clegg warns that it is vital to keep an eye on Boris Johnson’s foreign policy and his desire to get the UK in on the act in pressuring China. This spring, she said, Johnson was despatching the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier as part of a battle group to the Pacific in a bid to make a global Great Britain a reality.
Conversely, the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this year should be seen as resetting international relations. Said Ms Clegg: “CND must make its voice heard in mobilising around the summit to make COP26 the moment the government shifts its priorities from militarism to a green global recovery.”
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND