Towards the Future

IssueDecember 2008 - January 2009
Feature by Kate Hudson

Anniversaries are daunting occasions. Inevitably judgements will be made, achievements weighed up and failures raked over – and CND’s 50th anniversary was no exception. Of course there are those who hasten to point out that Britain still has nuclear weapons, as if this is entirely due to our failure to campaign hard enough!

When this has been said to me, I have pointed out that there has also been the small matter of the balance of world forces, superpowers, the Cold War, and enormous vested interests, getting in the way of us securing our goal. And it has always been a pleasure to list the considerable achievements that the peace movement around the world has contributed to over the last five decades.

Great achievements
Consider the following: the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, outlawing atmospheric nuclear testing – in no small part the product of massive public protest; the abandoning by president Carter of the neutron bomb, following European-wide protest in 1978; the signing of the INF Treaty in 1987 by Reagan and Gorbachev, following massive protest against the siting of cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe – and the eventual withdrawal of those missiles from European bases, including from Greenham Common. And I’m sure when all archives of the past five decades are open we shall find that the movement has been responsible for much more.

One of the media comments I liked best actually came from the former Tory MP Matthew Parris, who has never supported CND, but acknowledged that CND had thwarted “the growth of the kind of politics that can tip over into nuclear warmongering”. I think he is absolutely right.

One of the remarkable things about CND is its adherence to its original goals – it has not been diverted from or diluted its founding principles: for unconditional British nuclear disarmament, for global abolition and for an end to nuclear testing. I believe that continuity of principle is largely due to CND’s internal democracy and grassroots membership organisation. Not only do we elect our national leadership every year at a delegate conference, but our policies are decided by that conference, through resolutions tabled by local groups. CND’s most important asset has always been the accumulated experience of its members and its ability to consider different views through democratic debate.

Argument and debate have been the hallmark of CND throughout its history, whether over how much we should get involved in anti-war campaigning, how much direct action is appropriate, what stance we take on nuclear power, or what we think about parliamentary politics. I consider that debate to be one of CND’s greatest strengths.

When CND National Council discussed how to mark the anniversary, we were unanimous that while we wanted to do things that paid tribute to our past, above all we wanted to emphasise our work now, our aspirations for the future, and how we are going to get there.

So we decided to hold two nationally-organised events – the Global Summit for a Nuclear Weapons Free World, and the Aldermaston 50 years “The Bomb Stops Here” event. We also pressed ahead with an exhibition of 50 years campaigning, working with the LSE which houses our national archive, and some short films, working with independent film makers Meera and Wolfgang from MADD Movies.

Looked at together, the Global Summit and the Aldermaston event enabled us to show the range both of our political intervention and of our campaigning methods. The Global Summit drew together activists and experts from around the world. We discussed how we can create the political conditions for achieving global abolition. At Aldermaston we surrounded the bomb factory, drawing attention to the development of a new generation of nuclear warheads and our opposition to Trident replacement. The event drew together old and new activists and emphasised the continuing creativity of the movement and our commitment to a diversity of campaigning forms.

So we feel we are on a sound footing to pursue our campaigning towards the 2010 NPT Review Conference and beyond. This year has seen a number of developments which may facilitate progress to disarmament – international initiatives, changing attitudes across the parliamentary spectrum, the Obama victory.

And more to come

All these may make a breakthrough possible. But at the same time our government is persisting with Trident replacement and continuing to back US missile defence and NATO expansion. So there are opportunities and threats. Working together across the movement is key to our continued progress.

Following agreement at the Global Summit, CND convened a Strategy Discussion in September, with representatives from disarmament groups, to plan towards 2010 when it may be possible to get some progress. The discussion was very constructive and a representative group will begin meeting on a regular basis to communicate and coordinate where appropriate.

The coming year will be an important one for us: the so-called “Initial Gate” report on the first phase of the Trident replacement process is due in autumn 2009. We need to put maximum pressure on the government for that to come to parliament.

We need to reinvigorate and extend the alliances we built in the run up to the Trident replacement debate in March 2007. The decision on the warheads is due in the next parliament; we need to bring that issue to the fore and be prepared to mobilise public opinion against it, in all the ways our movement has.

There is much for us to do, and there are many factors in our favour. Working together in the months and years ahead, we can share our expertise and draw strength from our common commitment. Together, we will make the crucial difference.

Topics: Nuclear weapons