Early last year, the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced that the UK was working with the US to replace our existing nuclear warheads to ensure compatibility with the new Trident system (see KPN March/April 2020).
On 2 March this year BBC Newsnight disclosed that currently the UK has just under 200 warheads that were introduced in the 1990s under the codename Holbrook, but US programmes to modernise its missiles and create the new W93 warheads mean the UK cannot simply keep using the Holbrook system. "Our warheads have to match theirs exactly, in terms of flight performance, in order to remain certified".
The W93 project is part of a $19bn package of projects being urged by the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) after many years in which the US did not invest in new atomic weapons. Prior to the presidential election, Democrats in the House of Representatives had refused to fund the first year of a development programme for the W93, despite lobbying from both the White House and the UK, the latter having been arguing it was “crucial that we demonstrate transatlantic unity and solidarity in this difficult period”. But the W93 is not required by the US Navy until the late 2030s and works needed to prepare the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston to make new warheads are in fact years behind schedule.
Newsnight concluded that UK’s lobbying appears designed to bolster NNSA’s support for the programme rather than being driven by Britain's production schedule.
You may remember from previous editions of Kingston Peace News that KPC is supporting Kingston Community Refugee Sponsorship (KCRS), a scheme in which community groups accept major responsibility for sponsoring and resettling a refugee family into a local area.
In February KCRS sent this update on the scheme’s progress:
Some good news! In late January we received a note from the Home Office to say that refugee resettlement will continue past the completion of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) target of 20,000 refugees. The VPRS scheme, in which resettlement costs are funded by the government, was set up to resettle particularly vulnerable persons from amongst those displaced by the conflict in Syria. Its brief is now broader than this, as is the aim of the Community Sponsorship scheme, in which local communities raise funds to support resettled families. The Home Office note says that they are ready to select a family for any Community Sponsorship group that has met all their requirements.
Whilst KCRS has not yet secured a property for a refugee family to rent, we are close to completing all other Home Office requirements.
We have heard that one of the refugees resettled in Kingston under the VPRS scheme is hoping to develop her embroidery skills. She would enjoy making friends with someone who is experienced in embroidery and able to offer advice. If this interests you then please contact the KCRS chair of trustees at vdaly at kingston.ac.uk.
KPC usually raises money for campaigning by having a stall at local fairs, as well as holding garage sales and taking a pitch at car boot sales.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Ham, New Malden and Carshalton Fairs were cancelled last year, but Maggie and Rosemary and their loyal helpers made sterling efforts to hold garage sales and attend several car boot sales, taking all the necessary precautions, once the initial lockdown was eased. They managed to raise over £1000, which was almost as much as in 2019 when stall hire charges were taken into account.
They hope to be able to continue these fundraising activities this year, once restrictions are eased, and we have heard that Ham Fair will go ahead on 11 September. This is a provisional date and is dependent on circumstances and approval by Richmond Council who are not as yet considering public functions. Carshalton Environmental Fair is currently planned for 30 August 2021.
The sale of plants, especially tomato plants, boosted our fundraising at garage sales. Maggie urges members who like gardening to see if they could add to our supply of plants.
Some of the items that have been donated for us to sell are a bit classier than the average stall goods. We’d like to try to sell some of these on eBay, but don’t have the expertise.
If you are experienced at selling on eBay would you be willing to put these items up for sale for us, so that we can get appropriate prices for them?
Please contact Maggie if you can help.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by Albert Einstein and the scientists who helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. Two years later the Bulletin created the Doomsday Clock, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The Doomsday Clock is set every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. It has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.
General Secretary Kate Hudson wrote in CND’s Campaign magazine about this year’s Doomsday Clock announcement on 27 January. Following their decision last year to set the hands at 100 seconds to midnight – the closest ever – which was a real reflection of the dangers we face, many of them long-running but exacerbated by the Trump years, she wondered if they would pull the hands back a little, with Biden in the White House. But no. The hands remain firmly fixed at 100 seconds to midnight.
The scientists’ statement said that while deadly, the consequences of the Covid-19 virus will be grave but will not obliterate civilization. What the pandemic has revealed is just how unprepared and unwilling countries are to handle global emergencies properly; they have abdicated responsibility or ignored scientific advice. This is a real wakeup call. Governments are also unprepared to handle today’s existential threats: nuclear weapons and climate change, or emerging future threats, like more virulent pandemics and next-generation warfare. They point to accelerating nuclear weapons programmes in multiple countries and raise concerns about delivery systems that can flexibly use conventional or nuclear warheads, which ‘may raise the probability of miscalculation in times of tension’. They highlighted the concern recently over national leaders who have sole control over nuclear use – notably Trump in his last days. In fact the scientists assert that the potential for the world to stumble into a nuclear war increased in 2020, even as we have seen the rapidly worsening consequences of the climate crisis. They also referred again to the ‘threat multiplier’ which has intensified the existential threats in recent years: ‘the continuing corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision-making depend’.
But in spite of these negative events they do see some positive developments. Chiefly, ‘the election of a US president who acknowledges climate change as a profound threat and supports international cooperation and science-based policy puts the world on a better footing to address global problems’.
But we still remain the closest ever to midnight: there is work for us all to do to move that hand back to a place of safety.
Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize alongside Mwatana for Human Rights, a grassroots organisation working in Yemen. (see https://mwatana.org/en/ )
CAAT has posted the following on their website (see www.caat.org.uk ) :
The nomination from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) aims to draw attention to CAAT’s work to stop the UK government’s sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, particularly their ongoing court case to challenge the UK government’s decision to resume arms sales to the Saudi regime for use in the war in Yemen.
This is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the suffering of the Yemeni people who are experiencing the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Millions are facing starvation as a direct result of the actions of the Saudi-led coalition. This is all made possible by weapons supplied by the UK and sustained by its ongoing military support.
Inspirational Yemeni groups like Mwatana have shown remarkable dedication in documenting human rights violations by all parties to the war and raising the voices of victims in exceptionally dangerous circumstances. As the chairperson of Mwatana, Radhya Almutawakel, says: “This nomination is a source of strength for Mwatana as we continue our work towards a Yemen where there is credible and holistic accountability and redress for the civilians who have suffered the horrors of this war.”
Oliver Robertson, the Head of Quaker Peace and Social Witness, also told us: “We hope this nomination will not only highlight the excellent work for peace by Mwatana and Campaign Against Arms Trade but encourage others to shut off the flow of armaments and instead work hard to build a sustainable peace in Yemen.”
We are truly honoured that our campaigning is being acknowledged in this way.
This nomination is a tribute to all of us. If you have ever signed a petition, come to a protest, shared on social media, written to your MP, made a donation, or taken any other action against the arms trade, you have helped to make this happen.
CAAT’s court case challenging the UK government’s decision to resume arms sales to the Saudi regime for use in the war in Yemen, referred to above, has been brought back into focus following two recent events:
1) On 4 February President Biden announced that the US would be “ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales”. He said that the conflict in Yemen, which has killed more than 100,000 Yemenis and displaced 8 million, had created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.
Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the powerful finance committee, said in a statement to The Guardian that he believed the US should not “be in the business of selling weapons to governments with a track record of using them to commit atrocities. American allies like the UK and France should follow suit immediately and stop enabling the Saudi regime”.
Senator Chris Murphy, another Democrat who has led the push to end offensive US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, told The Guardian that he knew many in the UK share concerns about weapons sales fuelling the war in Yemen. “The respective economic benefits of these sales do not outweigh our national security and moral responsibility to end complicity in this ongoing nightmare. I hope that our governments can work together to prioritise a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yemen,” he said.
2) On 26 February US intelligence agencies released a report confirming the long-suspected view that in 2018 Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the violent murder of one of the most prominent critics of his crackdown on dissent, Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post journalist was a former Saudi insider living in exile in the US.
This has led to fresh calls from charities, civil rights groups and others to end unrestricted arms sales to the regime. Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s country director in Yemen, said: “At a time that the US seems to be evaluating its relationship with Saudi Arabia we would urge the UK government to do the same and stop its arms sales to Saudi Arabia which are fuelling the conflict in Yemen.
“Over 12,000 civilian lives have been lost since the start of the war, with atrocities on all sides. We need an immediate ceasefire to ensure no more innocent Yemenis are killed and that humanitarian agencies have safe access to deliver the support they need.”
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the UK defence select committee, reiterated a call he had made for the UK to follow the US in halting Yemen-related arms sales. “The CIA report is unambiguous in its conclusions. Inevitably this will be an embarrassment and shame to the UK.”
So what is the UK government’s response to the “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe” in Yemen, as described by President Biden, to which UK arms sales have contributed?
James Cleverly, the Middle East minister, announced at a UN donor conference on 1 March that UK aid would fall to £87m, from a total of £214m in 2020. It follows a temporary reduction in UK aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income, despite a Conservative manifesto commitment to the higher target. The move was immediately met with outrage from charities and MPs.
Andrew Mitchell, the Tory former international development secretary, said the decision was “unimaginable” amid the coronavirus crisis. He added: “Britain is the lead country at the UN on Yemen, yet this decision will condemn hundreds of thousands of children to starvation. “It makes no foreign policy sense at all. Rather, it is breaking a promise made in our manifesto.”
At Prime Minister's Questions on 3 March, Sir Keir Starmer said the UK is “increasingly isolated” in selling arms to Saudi Arabia and followed Tory MPs in calling for a Commons vote on the government’s cut to international aid, saying “They should at least put that to a vote in this House. Will he have the courage to do so?”
Mr Johnson replied: “We’re going to get on with our agenda of delivering for the people of this country and spending more on aid than virtually any other country in the G7. Given the difficulties that this country faces, I think the people of this country will think we’ve got our priorities right.”
During February the Bedouin community of Humsa Al Bqai’a (Khirbet Hamsa) located in the north part of the Jordan Valley was demolished five times – on the 1st, 8th, 14th, 16th and 22nd. This is the same village that was demolished on 3 November during the largest mass demolition in the previous ten years, and when the eyes of the world were on the US Presidential election. Israel is determined to clear more parts of Area C, forcibly displacing the indigenous Palestinian population, and reserving it for Israeli use following its settler-colonial policy to take as much land as possible in historic Palestine.
According to Stop the Wall, a Palestinian grassroots organisation (https://stopthewall.org ), on 1st February, tens of armed Israeli soldiers accompanied four British-made JCB bulldozers that reduced the entire village of Humsa to rubble. While Palestinians were trying to rebuild their demolished community, the Israeli army arrived. They confiscated the building materials and demolished the tents provided to the residents of Humsa from the International Red Cross.
After each subsequent demolition, humanitarian aid was provided, including from the EU and UK, but the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) continued to return with bulldozers causing more destruction and with the aid confiscated.
In May 2018, Palestine (a member of the International Criminal Court since 2015) formally asked the ICC prosecutor to initiate an investigation into possible serious crimes on its territories since June 2014. These include allegations against Israel of war crimes, including settlement-related activities, and crimes against humanity, such as persecution, deportation and transfer, as well as the crime of apartheid against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; crimes allegedly committed by Israel and Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 assault on Gaza and during the Great March of Return protests in 2018-19; and allegations against the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank of torture and support for attacks against Israeli citizens.
In early February 2021, the ICC announced that it had confirmed that it has jurisdiction to investigate possible war crimes in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. This is a significant step towards accountability
But Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) says:
“This decision of the ICC will not be a game-changer. True, it is a good thing that Israel is held accountable for violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and its crimes against the Palestinian people, and that such an action, not to say conviction, carries symbolic importance, especially to Israel’s carefully cultivated image as a peace-seeking, liberal democracy. But it also shows the limits of what is called the ‘human rights approach’ to politics, something that has gained traction among Palestinian activists as a political solution seems to fade.
“IHL and human rights conventions, however, do not comprise a political program. Nor are they intended to. They are guidelines to good government and a just society. They had aspirations to be more than that, to be instruments in curbing major violations of international norms by governments (and in the case of the ICC by individuals as well). Thus, human rights conventions – the foundational Geneva Conventions in particular – all have tribunals of signatory countries and other instruments to ensure their enforcement. These, however, have proved useless, and are seldom employed.”
It is still unclear whether the Palestinians’ case will ever get a hearing in the ICC. The ICC’s chief prosecutor who paved the way, Fatou Bensouda, has been replaced by a British human rights lawyer, Karim Khan, who may or may not pursue the case. The US in particular, together with Israel, have mounted a major campaign against the trial.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND