UK CND goes mainstream - Golden Anniversary Meeting

Global Summit for a Nuclear Weapon-Free World London, February 16-17 2008

To commemorate the first CND meetings and Easter March to Aldermaston in 1958 the UK’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament organised a Global Summit at London’s City Hall. Since 1958 the world has changed and CND has changed.1 In 1958 we were in the midst of the cowboy era of nuclear weapons testing, with madly massive H-bombs, tens of megatons in size, exploded in the atmosphere, and generating huge quantities of radioactive fall-out. But in 1958 the UK had tested only a rather unsatisfactory H-device the previous year and had very few weapons of its own.

Japanese fisherman Aikichi Kuboyama had been killed by fall-out from the March 1 1954 H-bomb test on Bikini atoll2 – a test which had not even been announced – the exclusion zone for which was far too small, and whose bang was much bigger than the scientists expected (they had ignored one of the key reactions – bomb tests were real in those days). Nothing like that could happen now. Today the nuclear weapons business is circumscribed by treaties that ban proliferation, that promote disarmament, that block all testing, that limit shorter range N-weapons and that set up nuclear weapons free zones (with hard-wrung negative security assurances from the remaining NW states). These progressive legal changes would not have occurred without political action such as that engaged in by CND. Yet CND has itself since moved from a radical left pressure group to a technically sophisticated campaigning organisation with political links, collegial relations with thinktanks and coordinating with other campaigns and peace and human rights groups.

The summit saw plenary talks from Sergio Duarte (UN Disarmament High Representative), Bianca Jagger (UN Human Rights ambassador) and Abdul Minty (South African disarmament ambassador). Technical sessions were coordinated by key figures in the NW abolition area including Canada’s Douglas Roche, still putting in an immense effort on the part of the Middle Powers Initiative. US participants included Amb. Thomas Graham and George Perkovich of the Carnegie Endowment, While keeping the faith in eventual nuclear abolition, we do work on smaller issues that help circumscribe the usefulness of nuclear weapons or threats of NW use – getting a NW Convention onto the negotiating table, supporting moves towards an Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, pressuring the UK in particular and NWS in general to adopt more disarming postures with respect to UN disarmament resolutions.

I was impressed by the work of the IPFM3 described by Zia Mian (Pakistan and Princeton). He pointed out the problems – that control and eventual elimination of fissile material will require something more extensive than the current ideas for an FMCT. We were made aware of the tension between NW abolition and continued use of nuclear energy; there is too much overlap to be sure of effective control – a NW-free world would be more stable if there were no NE plants. But NE seems here to stay at least at some level – the NW-free countries that demand action on nuclear disarmament also demand the help in developing NE promised by the NPT.

The meeting was welcomed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone. He is in a closer contest than expected for the mayoralty and has faced criticism for his donation of City Hall facilities for meetings such as this. If his main rival were to be elected the price for such a day would rise to £25000. CND also organised a Saturday evening reception to honour the class of ’58. Of the six original sponsors on Kate Hudson’s poster only one is still with us. Now in his nineties Michael Foot is too frail to come any more but sent his best wishes. Other stalwarts of the fifties and early sixties were there, including Dorothy Thompson, Tony Benn, Pat Arrowsmith and Bruce Kent. It made your correspondent — who was (briefly) on the second (1959) but not the first Aldermaston march — feel young.

Notes

1 Kate Hudson (2005) CND – now more than ever (Vision Paperbacks, London). ^

2 Richard Hudson & Ben Shahn (1965) Kuboyama and the Saga of the Lucky Dragon (Yoseloff, New York). ^

3 IPFM (2007) Global Fissile Material Report (www.fissilematerials.org). ^

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)