Kingston Peace News - October 2022

The newsletter of Kingston Peace Council / Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

War and Day of Peace

This year’s UN Day of Peace coincided with President Putin mobilising troops to mount a new offensive in Ukraine while threatening the West, specifically, with nuclear war if they intervened in the regions he now claims are part of Russia. President Biden was accusing him of nuclear terrorism from the UN in New York. Biden said: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Ukraine war tops Cuban era nuclear threat

Black and white photo of presentation of photos at the United Nations
Cuban missile sites exposed by the US at the United Nations

This month we mark the 60th anniversary of what was the most dangerous confrontation between nuclear armed states until the present events in eastern Europe.

Then, in 1962, the focus was Cuba. Today it’s Ukraine. Then it was the US versus the Soviet Union, today it’s the US and NATO versus the USSR’s successor led by an unreconstructed cold war warrior. Then catastrophe was averted because of cool-headed diplomacy and a determination by leaders to face down the belligerence of their own military. Today such wisdom seems nowhere in evidence. Politicians and generals sing from the same aggressive hymn sheet.

The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted just 13 days. We are now seven months into the Ukraine war and there is no sign of it ending any time soon.

President John F Kennedy, in the aftermath of a peaceful resolution of the crisis, said it was beholden upon nuclear powers to “avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.”

Now we have Putin, from the very start of the conflict he initiated, threatening nuclear retaliation against those who assist Ukraine and we have NATO, and in particular the US and Britain, pushing for a defeat that humiliates Russia. Both sides toy with the concept of using tactical or battlefield nuclear weapons as though that particular genie, once released, can be put back in the bottle.

Professor Paul Rogers from Bradford University has underlined this trend, one that has been developing for some time, away from the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, that, it was widely supposed, restrained the nuclear armed adversaries from using their arsenals.

Study the Cuban Missile Crisis and it will be clear how much effort went into avoiding a pretext for the Soviets to claim that the US was providing a casus belli. Kennedy announced that the island of Cuba would be “quarantined” to prevent Soviet missiles being delivered by sea. The word “quarantine” was chosen because to have announced a blockade would have been an overt act of war.

One US Air Force pilot was killed when his U2 spyplane was shot down by the Cuban military using Soviet-supplied missiles.  American military leaders urged Kennedy to strike back but the president correctly suspected that the downing of the aircraft had been ordered locally and not by the Soviet leader Khruschev. In fact, the shooting down of the aircraft crystallized for the US and Soviet leaders how the crisis was on the brink of spinning out of control.

Kennedy would tell his advisers: “It isn’t the first step that concerns me, but both sides escalating to the fourth or fifth step and we don’t go to the sixth because there is no one around to do so.” 

There followed back-channel negotiations. The Soviets agreed to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba and the US reciprocated by agreeing not to invade the island and by removing their Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Biden was quoted warning Russia not to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Ukraine. But asked what would be the US response he told journalists: “You think I would tell you if I knew exactly what it would be? Of course, I'm not gonna tell you.” Hardly reassuring.

But since then his national security adviser Jake Sullivan has confirmed private, “very high level” communication with the Kremlin to explain in a “clear and specific” way how the US and its allies would respond to the use of nuclear weapons. At least the two sides are still talking!

Posturing or reality?

US nuclear bombers started arriving in Britain once more during August as part, we are told, of a routine training exercise.

The B52 heavy bombers – described by the US Air Force as “a universally recognised symbol of America’s assurances to our allies and partners,” were flown into RAF Fairford.

Describing their presence in security-speak the UK Defence Journal reported that the aircraft go on missions “routinely conducted across the European continent underscoring NATO’s commitment to deterring an adversary”.

So, although there’s a war in Ukraine there’s nothing to see here. Presumably nothing to see either in the decision for US nuclear weapons to be stored at RAF Lakenheath, returning there for the first time since they were removed, all 110 of them, in 2008.

CND has condemned the British government for failure to come clean in Parliament as what is going on and why.

Major targets

The US remains the only country that locates its nuclear weapons outside of its own borders, an act that ensures the host countries become major targets of attack in any nuclear conflict.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world RAF fighter aircraft for the first time took part in a major Australian-led training exercise.

The purpose, according to a spokesperson, was “extremely important to the RAF as it tests the ability to deploy air power at speed to any part of the world … The UK’s participation in such a significant exercise in the Indo Pacific highlights the importance placed on the region.”

So that’s part of the UK government’s oft-heard mantra about global Britain and part of the ramping up of anti-China rhetoric.

The same edition of the UK Defence Journal reporting these developments also noted a defence analyst’s comment that the history books will not look favourably on Britain’s decision to abandon to their fate Afghans that helped UK forces in the “lost cause” of the Afghanistan war. A moral here? Britain will show off its military “might” in training exercises but don’t be surprised to be let down when the rhetoric turns into reality.

Warhead upgrades and UK’s global intentions

The upgrading of Britain’s nuclear missiles plus the decision to increase the stockpile of warheads poses a greater threat that they will be used in future.

The decisions, made without proper Parliamentary scrutiny, undermine the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and could also pave the way for the use of nuclear weapons in a tactical, or ‘battlefield’ context.

These and other current issues were discussed last month in a webinar hosted by the Nuclear Information Service following the publication of its latest report Extreme Circumstances: The UK’s Nuclear Warhead in context.

Introducing the broadcast NIS director David Cullen said the fact that the UK was developing a new nuclear warhead for its Trident missiles was actually first announced by the US government which itself has been developing the new W93 nuclear warhead.

Despite secrecy at the British end it had emerged that both countries were upgrading their nuclear missiles in parallel and it was therefore assumed that this was one and the same nuclear weapon. Up to the end of 2018-19 the UK government had spent some £116million on development and in 1920-21 the bill rose by a further £98million.

Adversary countries

The reasons given in the UK’s Integrated Review of defence published in early 2021 was that increased measures were needed against what were described as “adversary countries”. In the US, said David Cullen, there had been a longstanding desire “to revitalise the nuclear industrial base”. In other words, the military industrial complex first described by Eisenhower.

The UK’s existing Trident nuclear missiles each had a yield, i.e. destructive potential, of 100 kilotons whereas the new W93 warhead could provide yields between 100 and 455kilotons. By way of comparison the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was rated at “just” 15 kilotons.

But perhaps most alarming was the discovery that the nuclear developments now underway included weapons with a lower yield capacity so that submarines could carry missiles with a range of destructive power – perhaps as low as 5 or 8 kilotons - making their use more, rather than less, likely.

“The changes now underway are more likely to be a desire to assert Great Britain as a global power and are driven by political priorities not technical necessity,” said Cullen.

Government’s obsession

The geopolitical issue was expanded by CND general secretary Kate Hudson who agreed that nuclear decisions were being driven by political considerations. There had, during the Tory Party contest that resulted in the appointment of Liz Truss, been talk of the PM’s readiness to use nuclear weapons and increase massively the country’s defence spending. This, she said, chimed with the Tory government’s obsession with militarily confronting Russia and China.

US intentions to increase its warhead stockpile and capability had been given voice in the Trump era and even though he was now out of office Biden had also promised changes in the US nuclear posture although these had yet to be made clear. Meanwhile British politicians were now selling their global Britain ideology about fighting wars and winning and, she said, “an economy based on the arms industry.”

America, having failed to knock back China economically, now wanted to do it militarily. Part of this was the AUKUS agreement to supply Australia with nuclear submarines, itself a breach of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Hudson also focussed on the development of low yield nuclear warheads and she quoted chair of the Commons Defence Committee, Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who believed a tactical nuclear weapon would be used within ten years. The Daily Mail, she said, maintained that such an event would not cause widespread destruction, which was clearly absolute nonsense.


The final speaker at the event was Dr Nick Richie, a senior lecturer at York University. He set out the resurgence of what he termed nuclearism in world politics referring to a culture of nuclear weapons as an essential and enduring solution to world problems. This mindset, he said, went “hand in glove with populism and nationalism.” On the opposite side of the growth of nuclearism was resistance with the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Liz Truss, he said, illustrated the extent to which nuclearism was embedded in the political culture that meant that “every Prime Minister must bend the knee at the altar of nuclear deterrence.”

Both he and Kate Hudson praised NIS for its research that gave valuable technical and scientific evidence to bolster campaigning against nuclear weapons.

First use

Among audience members was Bradford University’s Professor Paul Rogers who commented: “People under 40 years of age have little memory of the Cold War. People still assume that MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) holds. But this is disturbed by low yield warheads and the concept of nuclear war fighting.” And he added: “Great Britain still has a first use of nuclear weapons option.”

Picking up this point Hudson said that Britain’s nuclear arsenal was assigned to NATO but it was not clear how this would operate in reality. “But,” she said, “that’s why Britain cannot have a no first use option because NATO has a first use option.”

Not very super

Hollywood has a long history of supporting the state of Israel with stirring films such as Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow. But now the propaganda machine has topped even its own previous efforts by creating a Zionist superhero.

The latest addition to the Marvel universe will be Sabra, an Israeli police officer and Mossad spy depicted in the upcoming film Captain America: New World Order (note the title!) wearing a cape and a Star of David.

Jewish Voice for Peace has revealed the female character’s movie backstory as “rife with racist, anti-Muslim stereotypes and dehumanising depictions of Palestinians and nonstop glorification of Israel military violence.”

JVP also points out the name Sabra is loaded. It recalls the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre in Beirut, during which thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were brutally murdered by a Lebanese militia while the Israeli army looked on. 

American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) has called on Disney and Marvel Studios (founded and run by an American-Israeli businessman) to “immediately reverse the harm it has caused and to immediately cancel the thoughtless plan to feature ‘Sabra’ in its upcoming Marvel film.”

No cause for alarm?

Just how blasé can you be about the lethal effects of radiation and losing track of your nuclear weapons? Well, it seems that the American military has been quite relaxed over the years about the issue.

The process began soon after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Reports soon began coming through revealing death and sickness from unknown causes that turned out to be the result of radiation. Worries that this information would cast the new weapon in a bad light General Leslie R Groves, the senior American officer overseeing the Manhattan Project, said these reports were just propaganda. In the face of evidence from medical experts sent to Japan Groves told US senators there was “no radioactive residue” at the devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then, contradicting himself, claimed that radiation sickness was a “very pleasant way to die.”

Fast forward to 1958 and following a mid-air crash between a US bomber and a fighter plane above the Savannah River in Georgia, the bomber dropped the hydrogen bomb it was carrying into the mouth of the river. For six weeks the Air Force searched for the missing bomb without success. They then abandoned the search completely when another H bomb was dropped accidentally in South Carolina. In that case the TNT in the bomb exploded but the nuke failed to detonate. There were four major incidents involving H bombs in 1958 and since 1945 the US has lost 11 nuclear weapons, reports the online magazine CounterPunch.

Women in Black the world over

A row of six women in black with placards and a rainbow PACE (peace) flag

While away in Italy recently Ange and Phil Cooper encountered this peace demonstration in the centre of Perugia in Umbria. It seems that the Women in Black who are seen demonstrating against war every Wednesday evening beside the Edith Cavell statue near Trafalgar Square have counterparts in Italy.

This group was spotted outside the local headquarters of the left-leaning Partito Democratico. In the picture Ange (in light blue top) is finding out more about them.

Their placards read ‘Let’s raise the voice of reason on weapons and horror’, ‘For a society of care and peace’, ‘No to war’, ‘Just cease fire’, ‘No more arms factories’, and ‘Italy repudiates war.’

Subsequently, speaking to the Women in Black in London they confirmed that there are similar groups dotted around the world. The London protesters are currently focussed on Gaza. Their handouts state: “We stand with Israeli partners, too, such as Women in Black Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the Coalition of Women for Peace, Machsom Watch and other organisations in which Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women work together for a peace agreement and sustain contact with Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza. With them, we call for full equality in Israel for Jewish and non-Jewish citizens alike.

Women in Black London can be contacted as follows: Twitter @WIB_London;  Facebook;  web

Peace protesters arrested

A protest camp outside an Israeli arms factory in Staffordshire was evicted in September and 14 peace activists arrested. The camp, in existence for a fortnight, was outside the Elbit Systems factory that manufactures parts of drones used by the Israeli military.

The protest was organised by Palestine Action.

Threats drive more nations to TPNW

President Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine has spurred on more nations to sign and ratify the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Newly signed up are Barbados, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti and Sierra Leone. Dominican Republic and Congo have both ratified it bringing the number of ratified nations to 68.

Learning from war to fight for peace

MAW’s Peace Day lecture raises a range of issues

Former BBC war correspondent and independent MP Martin Bell gave a lively account of his experiences and his conversion to the cause of peace in a lecture organised by the Movement for the Abolition of War to mark the United Nation’s Day of Peace on September 21. He was joined by former soldier and chair of Veterans for Peace Ben Griffin.

Bell recalled receiving a brown envelope with his call up papers. He served in Cyprus where “we put thousands of young men into camps – a pointless exercise.” Following his stint in the Army he became a war reporter “by chance” and reported from Vietnam for the BBC.

“My early reports I was ashamed of. I was obsessed by the weapons used. I didn’t see what was really happening,” he admitted. “By the second time there I got better. I talked to the Vietnamese.”

He went on to cover the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and took with him to the front the writings of World War One poet Wilfred Owen. “His compassion crept into my reports as much as the BBC would allow, which wasn’t much,” he said.

Nowadays he viewed war as a complete waste of time and waste of lives. What altered his view irrevocably was the conflict in former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s during which he was hit by shrapnel. “I was wounded by the Serbs and robbed by the French on the same day,” he noted, adding, “But what was more important was staying alive. Do you know 98,000 people died in that war and to this day 4% of Bosnia’s territory is still covered with landmines?”

Bash on regardless

“Historically Britain is a war-fighting nation and here we are holding this Day of Peace meeting when we are under the threat of nuclear war. The Peace movement must bash on regardless,” he told the audience.

Ben Griffin explained how he had joined the Parachute Regiment in 1997 and served six years in Northern Ireland, in Macedonia and in Afghanistan. He transferred to the SAS and was deployed to Iraq working alongside US Special Forces. Their job was basically to drag men out of their homes and take them off to be tortured by the Americans, he said. “I couldn’t get past that,” he admitted. He told his superiors he could not continue and was released from the Army. He became aware of the disconnect between what he had actually experienced and what the public were being told had happened.

He went on to help form Veterans for Peace which existed between 2011 and 2019.

Having been an anti-war, anti-militarisation campaigner he began to ask himself what is peace? “Peace seems to evade definition,” he told the meeting. “Our society seems to be continually turning our backs on peace.”


Status was a key factor in Britain’s rush to war. This was clear for Blair and Iraq. “Status and peace are incompatible,” said Griffin. “Those of us who campaign for peace need to look at our own methods.” Another key factor was identity. This was clearly a big part of the wars that broke out in former Yugoslavia.

A member of the audience asked whether class was also not as big a factor as identity and Griffin agreed.

A discussion followed with audience members adding their own thoughts on the issues raised and questions as to how the public could be encouraged to take peace issues more seriously. Bell commented: “You are not confronted with the reality of war. It is not shown on your tv.” While the Northern Ireland Troubles were underway tv broadcasts changed from black and white to colour and this led editors to remove scenes where blood could actually be seen as such.

KPC member Mary Holmes asked: “Isn’t there a way that we may have conflict but don’t have to resort to war? We will have differences. We should deal with it in a totally different way.”

Asked whether he had hope for the peace movement Bell said: “I don’t think the peace movement should be the property of the left. We are all threatened by war.” He also felt it was helpful for promoting peace that the most recent wars in which Britain had been involved, especially in Afghanistan, had been lost.

Time for a real diplomatic effort to prevent World War III

Vladimir Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine War; a threat aimed directly at NATO. He backed up the threat with the pledge that he was not bluffing.

What is the consensus as to whether he is or not? Many an armchair general fulfilling their punditry roles on daytime US TV didn’t believe him. Their view was shared by some European officials and, of course the British. The FT reported: “European leaders brushed off Putin’s cranked-up threats as the flailing of a man running out of ideas.” Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte called it “a sign of panic”, while British defence secretary Ben Wallace said it was “an admission that his invasion is failing”.

Others were more circumspect commenting that studying Putin, over his period in the public eye, showed that he tended to do what he said he would. After all, he had threatened to invade Ukraine and did. The EU’s top diplomat said European leaders must take his threats seriously. Josep Borell commented: “Certainly it’s a dangerous moment because the Russian army has been pushed into a corner, and Putin’s reaction - threatening using nuclear arms - it’s very bad.” He said a diplomatic solution “that preserves the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine” must be reached between both sides. “Otherwise, we can finish the war, but we will not have peace, and we will have another war,” he concluded.

Go for broke

Putin may well have pushed himself into a corner where he has to go for broke, and that means use of nuclear weapons. A more cerebral reasoning about how the West should react came in a Guardian article by Christopher S Chivvis, a senior fellow and director of the Carnegie Endowment’s American statecraft program. He admitted that just because he threatened to go nuclear it did not follow that Putin would but he said it wasn’t hard to see a set of circumstances in which he would. NATO continues to pour advanced weapons into Ukraine, Russia, despite calling up 300,000 more troops, suffers heavy losses in one the Ukrainian regions it has annexed and now says is part of Russia. The Putin project “is now collapsing once and for all. He fears losing his grip on power.” So he uses a tactical nuclear weapon to stop the war in its tracks and avert disaster for himself back home. “After that, de-escalation would be hard. The United States and NATO nuclear powers would come under pressure for a nuclear strike of their own.”


What is the US, NATO, the West to do to avoid this? Chivvis suggests a way forward, now, before we get to that point. They should use all the leverage they can to get China, India and other G20 countries to condemn Russia’s nuclear threat and put pressure on Putin. Meanwhile, despite earlier nonsensically belligerent comments from the US and Britain Biden should reinforce the point that the US is not aiming to oust Putin although this argument would be difficult, admits Chivvis, “given the past US record of overthrowing despots”.

A ceasefire would be problematic because of Ukrainian resistance but, he argues, “Western capitals should at least point out to Ukrainian leaders that their prospects of retaking all their territory may not be as bright as they hope.” He adds: “At a minimum, now is not the time to offer the Ukrainians advanced weapons systems.”

He concludes: “Russia must emerge from this crisis chastened for its recklessness. But in the next few weeks leaders need to find offramps to prevent the worst.”

Shortly after this article appeared China and India issued a call for negotiations to end the war, the Chinese saying that it was necessary to keep the crisis from spilling over. During a visit to the UN China’s foreign minister met with his Ukrainian opposite number and made it clear he recognised the integrity of Ukraine’s borders.

In nuclear matters, of course, China maintains a no first use policy unlike Russia, the US, NATO and the UK. Meanwhile India’s foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar responded to the question of whose side are you on in the Ukraine conflict as follows: “India is on the side of peace and will remain firmly there. We are on the side that calls for dialogue and diplomacy as the only way out.”

Phillip Cooper

Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper

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