Progress towards Disarmament in 2017

As another politically divisive year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the progress we’ve made towards nuclear disarmament. In a year that saw President Trump threatening to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea at the UN General Assembly, Corbyn’s Labour manifesto accepting the continuation of t

he Trident programme, and Kim Jong-un testing both a successful hydrogen bomb and an ICBM, it can be difficult to see the positives. However, there is much to be hopeful for.

The most striking development, a product of the combined efforts of hundreds of nuclear campaigning institutions, is the United Nations’ Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The UN treaty is the first international treaty to explicitly prohibit the development of nuclear weapons. Voted in by nearly two-thirds of all UN member states (122), and signed so far by 53 of them, it offers a major challenge to the global acceptance of nuclear weapons. While it has not yet been recognised by the nine nuclear-armed states, the treaty presents an unambiguous condemnation of the continued existence of nuclear weapons – something that the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty failed to do. The global nuclear ban therefore offers a different kind of progress – normative progress.

The great success of the nuclear ban brought about another accomplishment – the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). As with the treaty itself, ICAN’s achievement might be imagined by some to have little influence on the overall disarmament process. Yet the award, as with the ban, demonstrates a significant transformation of the accepted narrative on nuclear weapons: nuclear disarmament is not a fringe idea but a majority consensus position that cannot be ignored. This was further demonstrated by Pope Francis’ declaration in November that nuclear weapons are ‘senseless, even from a tactical standpoint’ and that ‘their very possession is to be firmly condemned’. Compare this statement to Pope John Paul II’s argument that nuclear deterrence could be judged as ‘morally acceptable’ in the eyes of God, and it is clear that the global narrative is evolving.

Yet the formally established nuclear powers of the world continue to argue that these weapons offer a ‘strategic peace’. The governments of the US, UK, France, Russia, and China claim that through the promise of mutually assured destruction, world war is no longer an option. These states (who also make up the permanent members of the UN Security Council) are not the only states with nuclear weapons, but they are the only states that are both signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and who argue that nuclear weapons bring peace. The price of this ‘strategic peace’ is a total global expenditure of US$12 million per hour, or $105 billion every year [1]. The reality of this nuclear-armed peace is a world not free from hostilities but locked in a perpetual state of war – from the Gulf War in 1991, Somalia in 1992, Bosnia in 1995, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, to the still-ongoing 2001 War in Afghanistan, the ‘strategic peace’ staggers onwards. Now a nuclear-armed North Korea demonstrates yet again that unless the major powers take meaningful steps towards disarmament, global insecurity will thrive.

Once, the legitimacy of this ‘strategic peace’ and international nuclear orthodoxy appeared unchallengeable. But campaigners, backed by the Nobel Peace Prize committee, the 53 state signatories of the ban treaty, the Pope, the Catholic Church, and millions of anti-nuclear activists around the world now have an opportunity to challenge and delegitimize it. For the first time, the majority of the world is clearly united behind the cause of total nuclear disarmament. A new form of peace is not just imaginable but tangible; a peace based not on millions of civilian lives being held hostage by the threat of atomic evisceration, but on transnational collaboration, UN treaties, trade agreements and global disarmament.

It is often very hard to see the light of progress through the shadow cast by inter-state conflict and the threat of nuclear war. It can often feel nearly impossible to imagine a world in which nuclear weapons no longer exist. But the progress made in 2017 has created cracks in what appeared to be an unbreakable orthodoxy. Our job now is to widen those cracks, and never lose faith in the strength of collective agency to bring about change. It may not happen in 2018, but global nuclear disarmament is in sight.

 

[1] http://www.icanw.org/the-facts/catastrophic-harm/a-diversion-of-public-resources/

 

By Laurie Gerhardt, CND Campaigns Assistant

**Please note, the views expressed in this piece are that of the individual, and not representative of CND as an organisation***

Fancy writing a blog for YSCND? Send us an email at yscnd@riseup.net or a Facebook message at facebook.com/yscnd

With a ‘lefty’ at the helm, why isn’t Labour supporting the peace movement?

Jeremy Corbyn is a ‘lefty.’ Love him or loathe him, it is difficult to argue that the Islington North MP and Leader of the Opposition is a traditional politician. His shock election and the Labour Party’s subsequent shift to the left has led to electoral success and a rejuvenation of the Party. However, it has not led to a total rejuvenation in his party’s policy; Labour continue to support the wasting of £205 billion on Trident replacement. So why isn’t the peace movement, a cause very close to Corbyn’s heart, getting a look-in? How can we ensure that such an important cause receives the recognition it deserves?

With Corbyn, an uneasy – but necessary – tension has arisen in the Labour Party. There was bound to be tensions when a man like Jeremy Corbyn became leader in a shock result. Having joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as a schoolboy in 1966, Corbyn became both Vice-Chair of the CND and Chair of the Stop the War Coalition during his time as a backbencher. Gaining a reputation for his activism, he became Labour’s most rebellious Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2010, defying the party whip a staggering 428 times. Meanwhile, the establishment Labour Party did not share his passion for peace. Former Shadow Cabinet Minister Tristram Hunt called the Stop the War Coalition “a really disreputable organisation,” whilst MP Caroline Flint said that the organisation were “not Labour’s friends.” With New Labour not wanting to rock the boat, the party decided to take the same side as their Conservative opponents and support the destruction of lives through support of the Iraq War and nuclear weapons.

With such a difference in opinion fracturing the party, you would not be blamed for assuming that a massive overhaul would take place after Corbyn’s meteoric rise to power. Bogged down by internal conflicts and lacking support, Corbyn was unable to tackle such a huge problem. In their 2017 General Election manifesto, Labour supported the renewal of the Trident fleet, under the apparent constraints of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Appearing on Question Time in May, it was pretty clear that Jeremy Corbyn did not agree with establishment Labour’s belief in nuclear weapons. He said on the programme that he would never approve of ‘first use’ of Britain’s nuclear arsenal. To some, it seemed like the Leader of the Opposition had blown his chance to take his lifelong anti-war politics to the mainstream.

However, the cause remains alive and kicking. Rather than an issue of public opinion, the question of Labour’s support for the peace movement is one for Labour’s establishment. It is likely that the Labour Party have chosen to support Trident renewal on the basis of its perceived popularity rather than any sort of conviction. This appears ill-founded. In 2016, an ORB poll of UK adults found that 49% of those surveyed did not support the full renewal of Trident. In Scotland, where the fleets are actually located, opposition was at 64%. Being anti-nuclear weapons is hardly an unpopular opinion.

So, how do we change Labour’s peace policies? Simply put, we could just wait. Support for nuclear weapons is lowest amongst young people. A 2014 poll by ComRes showed that just 19% of 18-35 year olds polled believed that Trident should be renewed at equal size and capacity. Hannah Cornford, of WMD Awareness, said of the poll: “it is clear that young potential voters are not being engaged by the government on this issue.” Last month, the Young Labour Conference passed a motion saying that the United Kingdom should leave NATO, an idea that is in direct contradiction with the party line. Young people dislike nuclear weapons and are not afraid to disagree with establishment opinion; this is a recipe for progress in the peace movement in the coming years.

Another, less delayed possibility for progress comes from the Labour Party itself. The Party is currently undergoing a self-imposed Democracy Review. A leaked document, apparently concerning this review, shows that they are keen to strengthen the involvement and participation of members in constituencies. If this is true, Labour should be keen to involve their pro-peace members by allowing them to affect party policy. The party also wants to focus on the recruitment of more members. In order to strengthen support and attract members, the Party must listen to its supporters. The issue of nuclear weapons is pressing and potentially a matter of life and death; unlike these internal divisions in the Labour Party, it cannot be brushed aside.

 

By Lily Sheehan, Manchester CND volunteer

**Please note, the views expressed in this piece are that of the individual, and not representative of CND as an organisation***

Fancy writing a blog for YSCND? Send us an email at yscnd@riseup.net or a Facebook message at facebook.com/yscnd