'It has never been more vital that we build the mass movement against nuclear weapons and for peace'.
Kate Hudson is the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
This Saturday, from all across the country, tens of thousands of ordinary people will turn out for the People’s Assembly national demonstration.
They’ll do so to demand a new normal because what passes for normality at the moment cannot be allowed to continue. From huge government corruption to an underfunded NHS under threat from privatisation, with billions spent on new nuclear weapons while school children go hungry; this is no way to recover from the pandemic, let alone build the kind of society that is good for everyone to live in.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will be there of course, because the fundamental argument of the People’s Assembly remains true – austerity is a political choice, government spending is a political choice, and there is no choice more political than allocating billions for nuclear weapons whilst underfunding the NHS and its staff.
And we’ll also be there because we know that, if we are to achieve a world without nuclear weapons, we need to work together across civil society, linking together the demands of our communities and movements, embracing a vision that sees disarmament as part of a more just and peaceful world. Experience over many generations shows that exercising our democratic right to protest is fundamental to achieving progressive change; so our presence on Saturday’s demonstration is also about reasserting that right at a time when the government wants to restrict those liberties.
Our mobilisation for this demo was given impetus by the shock decision by Boris Johnson to increase the UK’s stockpile of nuclear weapons from around 195 warheads to 260 warheads – an increase of more than 40%. This, as well as the brutal assault on the Palestinian people, has energised the peace and anti-war movement. CND has had hundreds of new members, all incensed by the government’s disgraceful priorities during this pandemic, putting weapons of mass destruction before healthcare.
Thanks to a recent legal opinion CND commissioned from leading experts, we can say conclusively that the decision to increase the UK’s nuclear arsenal is illegal under international law, because it breaks the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This violation is also a break with years of stated government policy, under successive Tory and Labour governments which have seen significant nuclear reductions over the past 30 years.
Moreover, the decision, which is likely to cost tens of billions, is out of joint with new international realities. There is a genuine possibility that the U.S. will return to the Iran nuclear deal. Across the world, dozens of countries have adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which came into force at the beginning of the year.
Only last week, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin declared that ‘a nuclear war should never be fought and could never be won’ – something the UK government is said to have opposed behind the scenes.
But it’s important that the warhead decision isn’t seen in isolation. Nuclear weapons are only one of the sabres the Tories are intent on rattling, albeit the most terrifying one. The Integrated Review represents a vision of revitalised British militarism, a ‘Global Britain’ of terrifying dimensions. In particular, the so-called ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’ reverses decades of post-war policy by expanding British military operations back into the Far East and sets the UK on a collision course with China.
A key element of this strategy will be shoring up the international arms trade and Britain’s role in it. The UK has one of the largest arms industries in the world, and British weapons are used to kill innocent civilians from Yemen to Palestine. The Tories don’t see these facts as moral obscenities but as good business opportunities.
These policies by the Johnson government will understandably generate significant opposition. For this reason, among others, the government wants to restrict the right to protest – something it’s doing through the Police, Crime, Courts, and Sentencing Bill, which is progressing through Parliament this week. The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has said the Bill is inconsistent with human rights. The government intends to push ahead, for now.
It has never been more vital that we build the mass movement against nuclear weapons and for peace. The incompetence and callousness of the Johnson government extends internationally, leaving Britain and the world a more dangerous place.
There is something deeply wrong with a society where the money that could be used to pay nurses and NHS staff decently are instead used to buy and build more weapons of mass destruction. The People’s Assembly demonstration on Saturday is a chance to show we can and must build an alternative.
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