'Living in interesting times': Report from a member

Helen Martins from Kent Area CND attended our 2018 conference 'Living in interesting times' and wrote the following report, which she has kindly allowed us to publish here! 


Shifts in United States foreign policy are coming thick and fast as President Trump begins his second year in office. A conference in January – Living in interesting times: how the world is shaping up under President Trump – was held at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies), organised by London CND and backed by SOAS CND. What an exhilarating day!

Nobu Ono, a Japanese student representing SOAS CND, referenced the Japanese government – at the time of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and Japanese aggression in the Second World War. He widened this out to include all governments, saying that “It is our responsibility as citizens to stop our governments killing people.”

Next came a live link-up with Brian Becker in Washington DC. He is National Coordinator of the US anti-war Answer Coalition and co-host of Sputnik Radio’s Loud and Clear show with CIA analyst turned whistle-blower John Kiriakou. Carol Turner, London Region CND Chair, questioned Becker about a leaked document in the previous 24 hours about the USA’s nuclear weapons review, and its policy “to make nuclear weapons more usable.” Describing Trump as racist, politically reactionary, misogynist and xenophobic, Becker said that the USA’s 2018 military budget was 10 times larger than Russia’s, and that 60% of America’s military forces are based around Japan and North Korea. Why put this giant military machine in one place? He asked whether it was for confrontation, or war, or to threaten war, or for political or economic ends.

Dr Jim Hoare, LRCND chair Carol Turner, Catherine West MP and Costa Rican Ambassador Jose Enrique Barrantes 

Dr Jim Hoare, LRCND chair Carol Turner, Catherine West MP and Costa Rican Ambassador Jose Enrique Barrantes 

Plenary 1 focused on the shape of things to come. Costa Rica Ambassador Jose Enrique Castillo Barrantes said that 2018 commemorates 70 years of his country abolishing its army. Costa Rica has played a vital role in the UN treaty negotiations, but the Ambassador warned that turning the treaty into an actual global ban would be a long-term fight. He called for strategies to counteract media bias; for attention to be paid to education at all levels, including phasing out toys for children that glorify weapons and violence; and to generate a cultural transformation to a consensus and ideology for peace and disarmament.

Jim Hoare is a UK diplomat who established the British Embassy in North Korea. He is also a historian, writer and broadcaster, who has lived in North and South Korea, Japan and China, singling out North Korea as the most militaristic government of all governments. Despite much posturing, his feeling was that Trump and his hawkish advisers may use diplomacy and not strike North Korea, partly because of massive disruption to international trade and because unless that country is actually wiped out, Trump’s so-called problem is not solved. North Korea is exceedingly difficult to target: it has underground airfields, weapons and ammunition, and the ability to move its war machine around underground easily and invisibly. In addition, if he made a strike, Trump would also hit an estimated 20,000 American service personnel based in South Korea, their families and associated support staff.

Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, wants to see cross-party censure against Trump, who is seemingly not being reined in by his advisers. She expressed particular concern over the leaked nuclear weapons review, in which the USA plans to expand the circumstances in which it would use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state.

Panel discussion points concluded that Trump can’t be trusted to act with the degree of restraint we would expect from a US president, and that he is “living in the superficial now” without any historical perspective.

Sami Ramadani from the Iraqi Democrats, LRCND's Tom Cuthbert, and Kim Sharif, director of Human Rights for Yemen

Sami Ramadani from the Iraqi Democrats, LRCND's Tom Cuthbert, and Kim Sharif, director of Human Rights for Yemen

Plenary 2 focused on facing the challenges. Sami Ramadani, a political refugee from Saddam Hussein’s regime and founder member of Iraqi Democrats, described the USA’s closest allies in the Middle East as Israel and Saudi Arabia. He argued that the genocide against Yemen is only possible because of the UK and USA’s complicity by supplying arms. He also said that Trump’s advisers give the appearance of being rational, but are actually hawkish in relation to foreign policy.

Kim Sharif, lawyer, Director of Human Rights for Yemen, and a campaigner against Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen gave an explosive presentation that left the audience reeling with admiration, outrage and emotion. She described the illegal war against Yemen, and the indiscriminate use of chemical and uranium-enriched cluster bombs, all being sold by the UK and USA. The USA is also providing mid-air refuelling as well as training and technical support. The Saudi-led coalition likes to target markets, weddings and funerals because they like to kill women and children. There is also an illegal blockade, grave breaches of human rights, hunger used as a weapon of war, bombing and destruction of infrastructure, birth defects, unbelievable injuries, a media blackout, increasing cases of cholera and diphtheria, as well as mercenaries trained and armed by the Saudi-led coalition. Sharif asks activists to let the UK government know that its complicity is not being done in our name, and that we don’t want our country to make a living out of the blood of women and children.

Stop the War's Murad Qureshi, Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato, LRCND's Hannah Kemp-Welch, and Bruce Kent

Stop the War's Murad Qureshi, Green MEP Molly Scott-Cato, LRCND's Hannah Kemp-Welch, and Bruce Kent

Plenary 3 focused on action for change. Molly Scott Cato, Green Party MEP for South West England, argued that the UK and USA continue to break the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty so how can we be surprised or outraged that other countries do so too, or want to develop nuclear weapons. She cited a study in Devonport dockyard that she had commissioned to show how jobs in the nuclear industry could be redeployed into the renewable energy industry – a job diversification transformation “from Devonport to Green Port.” Because the defence industry is often hidden, Cato would like to see CND and like-minded groups mapping the nuclear industry in their areas and devising a job diversification plan for alternative employment opportunities. She called for the abolition of NATO, as a relic of the cold war.

Bruce Kent, CND vice president, reminded everyone that Britain does not have an independent nuclear weapons system and argued that it would be a very strange ‘independent’ motor car if we had to borrow four wheels from our neighbour every time we wanted to use our car. He suggested writing to the American peace organisations listed over seven pages in Housmans Peace Diary to ask what they are doing to encourage the US government to sign the UN treaty. He concluded “Why waste millions on international suicide?”

Murad Qureshi, Chair of Stop the War Coalition, called for investment in renewable energy, which would lead to good job security, and also identified the need to persuade the unions that job diversification is an opportunity rather than a threat.

Panel discussion points agreed on the need to redefine the word ‘deterrent’ because people – consciously or unconsciously – actually believe that nuclear weapons keep us safe.