Bikini DayInternational Forum - Dr Jenny Clegg's Remark
March 1 Bikini Day Gensuikyo National Conference
February 28, 2016
Dr Jenny Clegg
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
Yesterday (i.e. Feb. 27th) thousands of people took to the streets in London to protest against nuclear weapons. The STOP TRIDENT national demonstration was the biggest organised by CND for a generation. It was joined by anti-war and anti-austerity activists, by trade unionists, faith communities, environmentalists, women’s groups and students. It was addressed by politicians from different parties, media celebrities and of course the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
The UK Parliament is preparing to vote on the renewal of the Trident submarines which carry the country’s nuclear warheads. Our existing submarines are ageing and the government wants to begin to manufacture the replacements. The new submarines will ensure that the UK remains a Nuclear Weapons State for another half a century until 2060 and beyond. The costs are huge - including running costs, they total ￡167bn according to the government’s own figures.
This is at a time when austerity measures are biting more and more deeply. Who would imagine that in the 5th largest economy in the world nearly one million people have to rely on food handouts, in a classroom of 30 pupils on average there will be 9 children who aren’t getting enough to eat. There is a desperate shortage of affordable homes, people are sleeping on the streets, and our precious National Health Service is being driven into the arms of privateers.
But since September, with Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the main opposition party, the political landscape of Britain has changed. Jeremy is one of us - a member of CND since he was a teenager, and the key Parliamentary politician involved in the peace and anti-war movements which rose up following the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has taken a stand on the Middle East, campaigning against the conflict in Gaza, and, without condoning Russian behaviour over the Ukraine, he has spoken out against NATO and America’s belligerent drive eastwards. He stands for a new type of politics, a new world politics of international cooperation.
At the time of his election - and he was elected with an overwhelming mandate - he was vice chair of CND and chair of the Stop the War Coalition. Now as leader of the Labour Party, he has confirmed his commitment to both organisations. When asked in a radio interview, whether he would press the ‘red button’, he replied ‘no’, as any sane person would.
Jeremy’s election was largely due to the thousands of people who had left the Labour Party after Tony Blair launched the Iraq war, together with a new younger generation that see themselves as the first generation in a long time facing a future in which they will be less well-off than their parents.
I cannot find the words to describe the atmosphere of the summer as the Labour leadership candidates toured the country. At one meeting I attended, the audience of several hundred were asked not to applaud the speakers so as to allow more time for questions and answers. Following the first round of question and answers, the audience was obedient. The second question was about Trident - Jeremy stood up and said he was opposed to nuclear weapons and the hall erupted with loud cheering. After the meeting, Jeremy went to a pub a few miles away in Manchester. The place was packed - young people mobbed him to take selfies as if he was a rock star!
Jeremy’s victory follows the hugely energising political upsurge in Scotland especially against the nuclear weapons base in Faslane. The British people now have the best chance since the 1980s to get rid of our nuclear weapons. The Stop Trident demonstration has unleashed a new phase in our campaigning. But we still have arguments to win. First there will be the debate in Parliament. Some MPs are becoming more skeptical about Trident replacement and if enough do so, it may be possible to sidetrack the decision.
At the same time, the Labour Party is undertaking its own review of defence policy to be decided in September. We have big questions before us: how do we see ourselves? what kind of a country do we want to be in the world? what are our priorities? Our status as a nuclear weapons state is seen by many as fundamental to our global role and our position as one of the 5 permanent members on the UN Security Council. But we pride ourselves on ‘upholding the international rule of law’ - how then can we ignore our commitment to disarm under Article V1 of the NPT?
The most pressing threats facing us are those of terrorism and climate change - even the government admits this. In that case, what earthly use are nuclear weapons? Do we really need the military capabilities - the armed forces, the equipment and military bases - which allow us to project military power and influence all around the world? Should we not be redirecting our resources to the tasks of humanitarian aid and peacekeeping?
As I see it, the international situation has moved on from the so-called ‘humanitarian interventions’ of the last couple of decades to enter a new phase of intensifying competition between major powers, in which the risk of confrontation between nuclear armed states is increasing. Collisions between military forces, accidental or otherwise, could escalate very rapidly into full-scale international conflict.
This new phase, I would suggest, was launched with the US Quadrennial Defence Review in 2014 and the subsequent NATO summit in Cardiff, Wales. The British Tory government is not only committed to our nuclear weapons status but is also determined to ensure that we remain NATO’s strongest military power in Europe. The government’s own defence policy is a manifesto for militarism: in brief, the UK will lead NATO’s military build-up along Russia’s borders; it is to establish a new naval base in the Middle East in Bahrain; and it will spend a whopping ￡178bn on military equipment. This represents a massive injection into the military industries within our declining manufacturing sector. It is predicted that half of all firms in the defence sector will grow by at least 10% over the next year. In other words, this manifesto is a bet on militarism to overcome the weaknesses of our economy. Instead, people in Britain are campaigning for one million climate change jobs.
Of course Britain’s global role stretches right into East Asia - in fact, do you know who owns the Pacific? Mainly the US but also large sections are owned by France and Britain. It is easy to overlook the fact that UK is involved in 2 military alliances: not only NATO but also the 5 power alliance with Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. The government wants to work more closely with the latter through joint military exercises involving our new aircraft carriers. Britain has a permanent military presence in South East Asia with its base in Brunei and a naval attache in Singapore. The government is seeking to strengthen partnerships with South Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of course, the idea is to tap into the wealth of East Asia through selling arms.
Japan is seen as Britain’s closest security partner in Asia, and the idea is to build up the two country’s defence cooperation and explore opportunities for defence industrial cooperation. The UK also aims to give strong support to Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of an expanded United Nations Security Council.
Do you think that in the future we may see Britain and Japan carrying out joint military exercises in the South China Sea? In fact it has just been announced that there is to be a joint UK-Japanese fighter drill in October.
Incidentally on the question of the South China Sea, I learned recently that the reason why at least three of the P5 Nuclear Weapons States will not ratify the Treaty of Bangkok for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in South East Asia, is because of concerns over its impact on freedom of navigation.
Britain and Japan then have much in common - they are both the key allies of the US to the West and to the East. Our two peace movements have twin tasks to reverse the new militarist trend which perpetuates the atomic age. I bring with me our thanks from CND for your message of support for our demonstration and a reciprocal message of solidarity from our movement to Gensuikyo’s Bikini day actions this weekend. Today, I can tell you, we are meeting in parallel as CND is holding a joint discussion with our European co-activists in the No to NATO network.
60 years ago, the start of the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests presaged the Cold War. They left a ghastly legacy in the Pacific and kindled the nuclear arms race. 30 years later in the 1980s, the international peace movement forced the nuclear-armed superpowers into talks on arms reduction. Then in 2003, there was the overwhelming opposition around the world to the invasion of Iraq which still acts as a certain restraint on military adventurism.
But today, we still under the shadow of the bomb. However, despite the risks and dangers of nuclear confrontation, we can perhaps see some glimmerings of hope for peace. The P5 Nuclear Weapons States are capable of cooperation - getting the nuclear deal with Iran, reaching the climate change agreement in Paris, and there is the Geneva 2 accord on Syria.
For us in Britain, it is a big ask for people to accept that within a generation our nation will probably only be a ‘middle power’. If Labour Party policy can step back from Trident replacement and from the global militarist trend, this will be a victory, a great message to the world.
The UN is starting to draft a treaty for the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. We must ensure its success. We must make the international peace movement the foundation pole in our multipolar world, the bedrock that prevents competition between states transforming into a new phase of Cold War rivalry and nuclear confrontation. Those opportunities for international cooperation can only succeed if we mobilise grass roots momentum to push from below. We must act together now to end the nuclear intimidation and bring about the complete abolition of nuclear weapons of mass destruction to finally achieve a world of peace.