Trump's finger on the nuclear button: Report from London CND 2019 conference

Photo: Henry Kenyon

Photo: Henry Kenyon

Last Saturday, CND supporters from across London gathered for our annual conference - this year taking the theme ‘Trump’s finger on the Nuclear Button.’

We were honoured to be joined by Ambassador Husam Zumlot, head of the Palestinian mission in Washington until President Trump closed it down. The Ambassador gave fascinating insights into the challenges facing those who seek a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and what the Trump administration’s policies mean for the region. We also heard from Catherine West on the UK Parliament’s response to the Trump administration, and from Ann Feltham from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade on the importance of ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

After the first session we crossed the Atlantic, with a video interview with Medea Benjamin from Code Pink USA, a women-led organisation opposing war and militarism. She told us about the varied tactics Code Pink uses - from traditional protest marches to inventive publicity stunts and educational programmes - and said she hoped to work more closely with the UK peace movement in the months and years ahead.

You can watch the video interview  here

You can watch the video interview here

Our second plenary featured Dr Rebecca Johnson from the Acronym Institute, London CND Chair Carol Turner, and Rae Street, Vice-Chair of CND UK. The guests discussed the trashing of international treaties - such as Trump’s intention to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, first signed in 1987 between the US and Russia. We heard about the importance of international agreements like the in building towards a nuclear-free world.

SOAS CND chair Nobu Ono speaking at the conference. Photo: Henry Kenyon

SOAS CND chair Nobu Ono speaking at the conference. Photo: Henry Kenyon

In the final plenary - ‘Think Global, Act Local’ - our speakers tackled the challenge of how to take concrete action as campaigners and communities to build this world. Sara Medi Jones, acting CND General Secretary, spoke about CND’s current campaigns; Nobu Ono told us about the work he’s been doing running SOAS CND, and the challenges and opportunities in youth and student activism. Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley left us with a message of hope: that we are living through times of intense change, in which the old political order is breaking apart - and we have the opportunity to build something new.

London CND vice-chair Hannah Kemp-Welch chairs the final panel of the day. Photo: Henry Kenyon

London CND vice-chair Hannah Kemp-Welch chairs the final panel of the day. Photo: Henry Kenyon

You can see all the photos from the conference here.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review explained!

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On Friday, the Pentagon unveiled the US’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a document which has already been the subject of intense debate and concern since a copy was leaked last month. Here's a brief guide to what it is and why it matters. 

What is a nuclear posture review?

The Nuclear Posture Review is published periodically by the US department of defense, and it sets out the role of nuclear weapons in the country’s military. It is often used to signal a change in nuclear policy: for example, Barack Obama’s 2010 NPR ruled out for the first time a nuclear attack against non-nuclear-weapon states who are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

What is in the 2018 NPR?

The main policy change signalled by this review is the move to introduce so-called ‘low yield’ nuclear weapons into the US’ arsenal, in order to combat the perception that its current nuclear weapons are ‘too big to be used’ and thus redundant.

‘Low yield’ nuclear weapons have a strength of up to 20 kilotons. The bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki would today be classed as ‘low yield’ despite the fact that it killed over 70,000 people.

Why does it matter?

This change in policy is designed to make nuclear weapons more ‘usable.’ That means it is much more likely that they could be used in a ‘conventional’ (non-nuclear) conflict. Far from moving towards disarmament, President Trump is creating a situation in which an escalation to nuclear war is a real risk.

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson says:

“Essentially, the lid is being taken off the restraints on both new-build and nuclear weapons use. The most significant element of the review is commitment to a whole new generation of nuclear weapons, with the emphasis on low-yield, often described as ‘usable’.

“It should be pointed out here that the bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki are technically low-yield in today’s parlance, so we are not talking about something small.

“The excuse underpinning this approach is supposedly that there are no real options between conventional weapons and all-out nuclear war, and that there should be more rungs on the ‘escalatory ladder’. Personally I would rather see more rungs on the de-escalatory ladder.”

'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.



Is President Trump's foreign policy unravelling?

Image by Gage Skidmore

Image by Gage Skidmore

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star

Shifts in US foreign policy are coming thick and fast as President Donald Trump begins his second year in office. We know now what we didn’t know when he was inaugurated this time last year — resistance to Trump is growing internationally and within the US.

One close-to-home illustration is Trump’s decision to withdraw from opening the new US embassy in London next month.

Opposition to a Trump visit runs through the British political establishment and is visible in Parliament. It reflects the strength of public feeling and is a victory for all of us who’ve campaigned against his visit.

Many and diverse voices were raised at the UN against Trump’s announcement of his intention to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, including the British government and other US allies.

As the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has pointed out, this “shows flagrant disregard for international law, Palestinian rights and international opinion” and will lead to greater tensions in the Middle East.

Trump still threatens to destabilise the Iran nuclear agreement by imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran. Lifting nuclear sanctions was at the heart of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed by the UN security council’s five permanent members and the EU in July 2015, but the EU, the US secretaries of state and defence and Trump’s national security advisers are all speaking out again such a move.

Trump’s attempt to recover from the failure of US policy in the Middle East by calling for sanctions against Syria has also been denounced and opposition to the activities of the biggest US regional ally, Saudi Arabia, is growing fast as the extent of the humanitarian disaster resulting from its war on Yemen becomes known.

Perhaps most interesting of all are recent developments on the Korean Peninsula after a year of growing tensions between the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Rhetorical exchanges about nuclear buttons notwithstanding — they’re more suited to the playground than international diplomacy — Trump’s apparent eagerness for a military solution is floundering.

Despite the client-state status of South Korea, President Moon Jae In has reopened the “sunshine” policy towards the northern neighbour which he promised during his election campaign last spring.

The crisis has already begun to destabilise the region. Witness, for example, the moves by President Shinzo Abe to break Article 9 of Japan’s post-war constitution which restricts its military activities.

Experts and activists alike understand that negotiations are the only safe way to resolve the biggest threat of nuclear confrontation since the Cuban missile crisis. Far from bringing North Korea into line, as Trump claims, his rhetorical belligerence has made talks less not more likely.

Many agree, including within the US administration, that a freeze-for-freeze agreement and the reopening of six-party talks is the way forward. The tragedy of 2017 has been to watch the possibility of a political solution recede with every tweet.

Most of these issues, and more, are the focus of discussions at this afternoon’s conference at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, jointly called by London Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and backed by SOAS CND, Living in Interesting times: How the World’s Shaping up under President Trump, is a timely opportunity to assess the state of international politics at the outset of the new year.

There’s an exciting line-up of speakers, starting with a live link-up with Brian Becker in Washington DC. Becker is the national coordinator of the US Answer Coalition and co-host with John Kiriakou the CIA analyst turned whistle-blower, of the Sputnik Radio’s Loud and Clear show.

Becker will be looking at where President Trump’s foreign policy is headed and how his fellow citizens view his presidency.

He’s followed by a platform that focuses on nuclear challenges. Costa Rican ambassador Jose Enrique Castillo Barrantes will assess progress of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which opened for signatures last September.

He’s joined by Jim Hoare, Associate Fellow of Chatham House and former charge d’affaires (from 2001-2002) at the British embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, who will provide an expert view of the crisis.

Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green since May 2015 and a staunch opponent of Trident, completes the trio of speakers. West will share an insider analysis of how parliament sees Trump.

Our second plenary focuses on the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, with Sami Ramadani, a spokesperson for Iraqi Democats and a Stop the War Coalition (StWC) steering committee member. He’ll be joined by Kim Sharif, a lawyer and director of Human Rights for Yemen.

The closing session of conference brings discussion back to Britain. Speakers in the Action for Change session will look at how the anti-nuclear and anti-war movement is shaping responding to the challenges of the new US presidency.

CND vice president Bruce Kent will be joined by StWC chair Murad Qureshi, Momentum rep and Young Labour activist Huda Elmi and Green Party MEP for south-west England, Molly Scott Cato.

We hope some readers will be joining us for what promises to be a great day of debates where plenty of time has been allocated for audience contributions.

Former US military analyst backs nuclear no-first-use policy

A new book, The Doomsday Machine, by former military analyst and cold war hawk Daniel Ellsberg hits the streets at an opportune time. Ellsberg counsels against a pre-emptive attack to remove the North Korean leadership – a strategy under consideration by some in the White House. This, he says, would be more likely to trigger than prevent a nuclear exchange.

Ellsberg calls for the US government to adopt a nuclear no-first-use policy. ‘This is not a species to be trusted with nuclear weapons,’ he says. ‘And that doesn’t just apply to “crazy” third world leaders.’

Writing of the US attach on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he says: ‘We are the only country in the world that believes it won a war… specifically by bombing cities with weapons of mass destruction, firebombs, and atomic bombs — and believes that it was fully justified in doing so. It is a dangerous state of mind.’

In 1971 Ellsberg he leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers, a US Department of Defence study which showed the White House had systematically lied about its Vietnam War strategy. His leak helped bring the Vietnam War to an end and precipitated the indictment of then-president Richard Nixon. Ellsberg was indicted for conspiracy and espionage, but these charges were later dismissed. The Pentagon Papers were fully declassified and publicly released in 2011.

Ellsberg is well known among anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigners in Britain. He wrote an introduction to EP Thompson’s pamphlet of the early 1980s. Protest and Survive – the peace movement’s ripost to the UK government’s civil defence pamphlet, Protect and Survive, purporting to advise the public how to survive a nuclear war.

  • The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner by Daniel Ellsberg is published by Bloomsbury,432pp, £18.

  • Pre-owned copies of Protest and survive, a Penguin Special by EP Thompson, 1980, are available from London CND website, price £5 plus £1.20 p&p.