Looking back on 2017, there’s no doubt we are living in dangerous times – when the media routinely discusses the possibility of world war three, something is going very badly wrong. But we are also living in a time of great opportunity, and nowhere are these contradictions being more starkly posed than in the struggle against nuclear weapons and war. We have all been horrified by the aggressive rhetoric from Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un – and the possibility of the war of words turning into catastrophic nuclear use. But at the same time 2017 has seen a huge step forward internationally, with the adoption by the United Nations of a global nuclear weapons ban treaty.
The news that ICAN nuclear disarmament campaigners were awarded this year’s Nobel peace prize, has served to highlight that polarisation, between confrontation on the one hand, and cooperation on the other. That has been a strong theme in our work during the course of the year, whether we’ve been pursuing cancellation of Trident replacement, promoting the global ban, opposing NATO in Brussels or engaging in the many other activities that CND takes up. Our message is one of hope and possibility and we will always stand for peace against confrontation and war.
Trident scaremongering failed
The general election dominated the early part of the year. The Conservative bid to gain votes by scaremongering about the nuclear threat spectacularly failed as too did their attempts to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn cannot be trusted because he won’t commit to killing millions by pressing the nuclear button. Far from providing Theresa May with a ringing endorsement and a strengthened majority for her nuclear-fuelled, intolerance-promoting, inequality increasing government, the election saw a significant shift towards the politics of hope, peace, inclusivity, justice and equality.
Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to nuclear weapons, and his personal opposition to Trident replacement, did not deter millions of people from voting for him. Indeed the likelihood is that many – particularly young people – voted for him precisely because he opposes war, intervention and weapons of mass destruction. Support for Trident replacement is negligible amongst the younger generation and it is clear that the narrative of investment in homes, health, education and jobs, has been very popular.
After all, it led to Labour’s first increase in seats since 1997 and its biggest increase in the share of the vote since 1945. Labour’s support has grown because of Corbyn’s policies based on peace, respect and our shared humanity. And this vision goes beyond national boundaries to his vision of how we relate to the rest of the world. No longer Blair’s ‘war-fighting nation’, ‘punching above its weight’, but a decent part of a shared community of nations.
Over the past months, some have attempted to persist with the myth that Labour needs to look ‘strong on defence’ to win – and that this means supporting Trident replacement. The election showed this to be unfounded. Labour did not surge because its shadow defence secretary repeatedly insists that Labour supports Trident replacement – and more recently has attacked the government for not spending enough on defence. It has surged in spite of that, because it has a vision of a different society, and because everyone knows that Jeremy Corbyn does not support Trident replacement.
Now is an opportune moment for Labour – and other supporters of nuclear weapons – to throw off this dangerous and expensive burden, and recognise that Britain’s future lies in playing a different and more constructive role in the world: being genuinely a force for peace.
One very significant step forward – which can certainly help break down Labour support for Trident, comes in the shape of Motion 17, passed at this year’s TUC Congress, which calls on Labour to set up a shadow defence diversification agency, prior to it becoming a statutory body when they are in government. This will enable the workforce and industry to lead plans for diversification in the sector, make it part of a new industrial policy and remove the fear of unemployment.
Our work to secure the cancellation of Trident replacement continues!
In September, the United Nations’ nuclear weapons ban treaty opened for signature. States from across the world have stepped forward to sign up to prohibit nuclear weapons – over 50 on current count. This is a giant step forward on the road towards global abolition. The treaty follows decades of grassroots campaigning across the world – CND has been calling for a global ban on nuclear weapons since its founding in 1958 and we are delighted at the development.
Over one hundred countries are likely to sign the treaty, but will Britain make the most of this crucial opportunity for peace? At the moment – under this Tory government – things aren’t looking too positive. When the ban treaty was negotiated, our government boycotted the process, despite claiming that it plays a full and active role in the UN’s disarmament discussions. As the first round of talks got underway the UK Ambassador chose to stand shoulder to shoulder with the US Ambassador as she denounced the efforts to bring about a nuclear free world.
Successive UK governments have stated their support for multilateral nuclear disarmament, but they have failed to take action to match the rhetoric. Our job now is to exert pressure on the government to back it – rather than its current position, which is that Britain will never support it! Of course it’s not just a question of this government’s policy. It is also vital that the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats back the ban treaty as well as shifting their policy on Trident.
We are all aware how difficult it will be to get the nuclear weapons states on side with the Treaty, but it does make helpful provision for dealing with them. While states will be encouraged to join the treaty at the first opportunity, there are provisions in Article 4 for states to join at a later stage. The nuclear weapons states can sign up prior to disarmament, initially removing their weapons from operational status and eventually destroying them on the basis of a detailed time-bound plan, agreed with the relevant international authority. One of the contributions that CND plans to make in 2018 is to provide the government with such a plan.
We are delighted that the Treaty has been agreed by the UN – it’s the fulfilment of so much work over decades, but the Treaty itself is just the first step and we realise that getting the UK to sign up will be a long haul, given that the UK parliament voted over a year ago to give the £205bn project to replace Trident the green light. But we will continue to work with all our partners in Parliament and across civil society to raise awareness of the treaty as an integral part of our work to scrap Trident. There is huge potential here to bring about positive change.
We live in interesting times when it comes to US relations with pretty much any part of the world. President Trump’s idiosyncratic approach to policy often leads to mixed messages. Trump tweets one, while US institutions pursue others. In fact, since his entry onto the global stage, we’ve heard him say completely contradictory things about Russia, NATO and nuclear weapons – sometimes inflammatory, sometimes conciliatory. But whatever the latest Trump outburst, the reality is that NATO and Russia are currently undergoing military exercises on a scale not seen since the Cold War.
Tens of thousands of troops are involved, across eastern Europe, as well as aircraft, warships, tanks and artillery. This was a central factor in our work this year with partners across Europe and beyond, against the continued expansion of NATO, its nuclear role, and attempts by the US to impose greater levels of military spending by NATO countries. These were strong themes at the NATO summit in Brussels in May, while CND participated in concurrent protests and a counter-summit posing our alternative vision. Trump visited Brussels for the event, so there was a massive turn out from Belgian civil society for the demonstration, with a vibrant day of discussion as a follow up.
Raising awareness of the aggressive and destabilising role of NATO is vitally important. Too many people are unaware of it, or somehow have the view that NATO is a benign global force that helps out in moments of crisis. That’s the spin that the establishment would like us to believe. So naturally I was dismayed to hear Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry state proudly in her Labour Party conference speech in September, that Britain under Labour “will be a strong leader within NATO, committed to spend 2 per cent of our national income on defence.” When Labour is challenging so much, surely Britain’s role in the world can be rethought too, rather than merely reiterating current government policy?
These commitments cannot go unchallenged. They breed war, global injustice and inequality and these are what the peace movement campaigns against. And we will continue to do so, and to argue for an alternative, whoever is in government, because to condone and embrace NATO is to abandon the cause of peace, the pursuit of justice, and any vision of a world that exists for the people.
This isn’t just sentiment or utopianism on my part. Because the truth is you can’t pursue the vision of a more peaceful and just world if you play a leading role in NATO’s aggressive global aggrandisement and replace the Trident nuclear weapons system. The overwhelming majority of the world wants nuclear disarmament, as we have seen with the nuclear weapons ban treaty, and we need to be part of that majority.
As we enter 2018, our 60th anniversary year, let’s recommit to fighting for a nuclear-free world, and also – as our Aims spell out – to campaigning ‘to create genuine security for future generations’. This means challenging the notion that ‘might makes right’ and pulling down the edifice of militarism and war.