What has anti-racism got to do with nuclear weapons? They seem to belong in different worlds.
When we hear the word ‘anti-racism’, we might think about police violence, like the fatal shooting of Chris Kaba, the unarmed black 24-year-old killed by the Metropolitan police in South London last September.
Or we might think about brutal anti-immigrant policies, like the way the government crowded 4,000 asylum-seekers into Manston detention centre, built for 1,600 people.
There are so many ways in which communities are rightly and urgently seeking racial justice. What has anti-racism got to do with nuclear weapons?
Well, if we look at world history since 1945, what we find is that the British government has been seeking throughout that period to hold onto as much of its colonial advantages as it can, and one weapon in its arsenal has been British nuclear weapons.
The Bomb has, to a large extent, been a racist weapon.
The nuclear ‘deterrent’ has not been lying unused in some military storeroom. It has been used to threaten countries in the Global South, time and again, as a way of reinforcing Britain’s position in the world.
Britain’s strategic nuclear force of the 1950s and 1960s, the ‘V-bombers’, made hundreds of flights across the world... across the empire. This had nothing to do with defending the British homeland from the Soviet Union; it was about shoring up imperial control.
For example, in 1962, V-bombers, strategic nuclear bombers, were sent to be a terrifying show of force over independence ceremonies in Uganda and Jamaica.
The first British-made tactical nuclear weapons were stored in Cyprus for possible use in the Middle East, and stored in Singapore for possible use in South-East Asia. Again, this was nothing to do with defending Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland or England from Soviet attack.
According to a report in the Sunday Times on 31 December 2000, 48 Red Beard free-fall nuclear bombs were deployed to RAF bases in Cyprus from 1960 onwards, and the same number were stored in RAF Tengah in Singapore from 1962. Each ‘tactical’ Red Beard bomb was roughly as powerful as the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
V-bombers were sent to Singapore and Malaya in 1963 – 1966 to send a threatening nuclear signal during Britain’s war (‘Confrontation’) with Indonesia (then, as now, a non-nuclear weapon state).
Nuclear threats were made against Iraq in 1991 and 2003 (for the latter, see p9).
The most important meaning of ‘decolonising history’ for the British peace movement, I believe, is the shift to understanding that the Global South is not a sideshow in the story of the nuclear arms race, or of British militarism in general.
The Global South, especially that area formerly dominated by British imperialism, is central to the story of British militarism and of British nuclear weapons in particular.
To repeat what I wrote a few years ago, decolonising the disarmament movement means understanding – and having at the centre of our attention – how British nuclear weapons, and the British armed forces in general, have had as one of their main priorities attempting to control British colonial areas, parts of the Global South that Britain has wished to dominate.
For the peace movement to become an anti-racist movement, it must face up to racist attitudes and change its policies and practices; it must give more attention to the voices of activists of colour; it must make an effort to hear and take seriously concerns and perspectives from the Global South; and it must put more activists of colour into leadership positions.
Those are all necessary and valuable steps.
But until we overcome the key taboo masking the realities of the British ‘deterrent’, we will not have really decolonised our understanding of nuclear history, or our movement.
And we will be less able to achieve disarmament, because we will be less able to persuade the public to rid us of this evil.
Ban Nuclear Bullying.