As Vice-President of London CND and a longstanding supporter of the campaign for nuclear disarmament, I was delighted to speak at the London CND conference on Saturday 12 January 2019 at SOAS. Here is a copy of my speech:
“It’s a real pleasure to be speaking here today, as an alumna of SOAS, it’s always exciting to be back. Could I also begin by congratulating Carole Turner and the CNDers on a successful year of activities, both the Hiroshima Day events, the Parliamentary meetings and in particular the CND student reception and tour of parliament which was particularly popular with young people.
It’s also a pleasure to share this platform with Husain whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Ramallah this summer. Together with other MPs I toured the West Bank with the Centre for Arab British Understanding to learn more about the situation for Palestinian communities and to understand more fully the obligation on the international community to adhere to and promote the international agreements made over the last century to protect the rights of Palestinians in the region.
One of the lasting images of 2018 was the photograph of Emanuel Macron and Angela Merkel together at Compeigne in the North of France, remembering the nine million combatants and 7 million civilians who died in WWI, which was then called ‘the war to end all wars’. That image of the leaders of two regional powers previously at war, but seen in reconciliation carries with it great resonance and hope and contrasts strongly with our current period in which we see the re-emergence of nationalism and the prominence of the autocratic, unpredictable leader.
The strong man autocratic leadership style of Mohammed Bin Salman, President Erdogan of Turkey, Xi JinPing, the Core Leader of China and Mr Putin of Russia to name just a few, creates a dangerous context for peace. Into this mix, the UK’s most important ally, the US where the highly unpredictable Mr Trump has used the threat of nuclear war on more than one occasion. This time last year I met with the Speaker of the South Korean Parliament, who was very nervous indeed about the war of words between President Trump and Kim Jong Un. He was not holding out much hope for peace with neighbouring North Korea. Since then of course there has been some exciting moments for Koreans on both sides of the DMZ meeting after decades of war and hope that a ceasefire between the two could, after 68 years, finally be negotiated to bring a formal end to the Korean War. On the substantive question of nuclear disarmament in NK, weapons inspectors are yet to confirm progress in that regard.
What of US progress on disarmament?
The US’s 2017-18 Nuclear Posture Review is assertive in tone and moves away from a vision of disarmament towards the notion of deterrence, which we know is a backwards step, seeing competition between nuclear states as the norm rather than proposing the control and reduction of arms. Specifically the Review promotes “new flexible, non-strategic options into the US nuclear inventory in order to provide tailored deterrence”. The idea that mini nuclear weapons could ever be regarded as appropriate is anathema.
The NPR also confirms that ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is no longer a policy objective of the US administration~a deeply disappointing development. As former Secretary of State George Schulz said in a Senate Hearing,
“A nuclear weapon is still a nuclear weapon. You use a small one then you go on to a bigger one. I think nuclear weapons are nuclear weapons and you need to draw a line there.”
It is deeply worrying to see the Abdication by the US leadership on crucial questions of disarmament and non proliferation. The approach taken by Trump inhibits compliance with arms control obligations. There are no firm proposals to take forward the work begun under Barack Obama to begin negotiations with Russia on the New (START) Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Without those negotiations and dialogue between Russia and the US, there’s a worrying lack of progress on tackling proliferation.
In the UK we have the major debate on Brexit and our role in the world and at the same time the rise of the Far Right. A third of all domestic terrorist plots currently under investigation by the Home Office come from the Far Right. Women MPs cannot speak to the media outside Parliament without abuse of a sexist nature by far right activists. Ethnic minority MPs are attacked online by the same thugs for the colour of their skin.
Brexit and the potential fragmentation of Europe is deeply unhelpful to peace and Cooperation. So many appear to have forgotten the terrible lessons of 100 years ago when our region was at war. Putting peace at risk in search of a nostalgic pursuit of Empire is backwards looking and wrong headed.
Post Brexit trade policy will undoubtedly rely much more heavily on arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia who have shown through the Yemen conflict that they have no qualms about using conventional weaponry purchased from the UK and the US to inflict civilian casualties. The UK will be so much more dependent on this sort of trade policy if Brexit goes ahead.
Labour in Opposition has been clear that its policy on Yemen is to suspend arms sales to Saudi to draw a line under the dreadful loss of life and do all it can to support the ending of the blockade which is inflicting widespread famine on thousands of Yemeni children.
I’m very pleased too, that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, he has appointed a shadow minister for peace and disarmament to focus on supporting the resolution of the Israel Palestine conflict, to bring peace to Cyprus, Columbia and other parts of the globe which have known deeply unresolved conflict. Labour’s policy is to have the UK adequately represented at UN level to provide desperately needed leadership on arms control, to halt dangerous proliferation of deadly weapons and to promote peace through collaboration at an international level. No more empty chairing Disarmament conferences as this government has done regularly since 2010, instead Labour will take a proactive stance on promoting peace and stability.
To conclude, there have been some glimmers of hope this year-a dialogue has begun on the Korean Peninsula, a fragile Peace conference has taken place between the warring factions in the Yemeni conflict, but so much more needs to be done not just ta international level, but at the grass roots to encourage young people to join CND and debate the great questions of the day and for each of us to play our part to scrutinise our own government and its lack of action on peace and disarmament and to work towards a Labour Government which will have a commitment at its heart to further peace and disarmament.”