Thursday, 26 June 2008

US/UK - an explosive relationship

A press release just received from the CND (not yet, at time of writing, available on the press release page of their website) reads, in part:


CND today welcomed the news that 110 US tactical nuclear weapons had been withdrawn from Lakenheath airbase in Suffolk . The report by Hans Kristensen, one of the foremost nuclear researchers with the Federation of American Scientists, concludes that there are now no US nuclear weapons in Britain – for the first time since 1954.

However, CND cautioned against the installation at Lakenheath of interceptor missiles as part of the US Missile Defence system, which could potentially replace one historical arms race with another, with Europe again at the centre. Tony Blair asked the US to consider Britain as a possible launching pad for US missile interceptors in February 2007.

This looks like good news: but where are they now keeping the weapons withdrawn from Lakenheath?

Less cheerful news came in an article in The Sunday Times this week, reporting that the UK military is currently using Hellfire missiles in Afghanistan, fired by RAF Reaper unmanned drones, remotely controlled from a US base in Nevada. The missiles have been described as being armed with 'thermobaric' warheads, though the article tells us that the MoD prefers to call them 'enhanced blast weapons'. The Times article describes the effects thus: "[the weapons] create a pressure wave which sucks the air out of victims, shreds their internal organs and crushes their bodies". Concerns have been raised by Human Rights Watch, Nick Harvey of the Lib Dems and others, particularly highlighting the consequences for civilians who happen to be in the vicinity of one of these missile explosions. Anyone remember that old-fashioned idea of an ethical foreign policy?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Arms conversion still envisioned

Steven Schofield has long been advocating arms conversion and has written extensively on the theme. Many of us were disappointed about the Labour government's approach when it came into power in '97. Instead of conversion away from arms production, they set up the Defence Diversification Agency which was as much about 'spin-in' from the non-military sector as diversifying (spin-offs) from arms production. The most recent CAAT newsletter reports that Steven Schofield has just written a new report ' 'Making Arms, Wasting Skills: Alternatives to Militarism and Arms Production'. It doesn't seem to be on their website yet (though keep checking, as I am sure it will be soon).

The printed newsletter quotes parts of the Executive Summary, which advocates deep cuts in defence procurement and cancellation of Trident, amongst other things. And along with this, a 'multi-billion pound investment in renewable energy.... [that would] also generate more jobs than those lost from the restructuring of the arms industry. This way the UK would take a leading role in establishing a new form of international security framework based on disarmament and sustainable economic development.'

Meanwhile, the successor body to at least part of the Defence Diversification Agency, is Ploughshare Innovations which 'manages technology transfer on behalf of Dstl, the Ministry of Defence's Defence Science & Technology Laboratory; an organisation of some 3,500 plus staff devoted to providing the UK Government with independent expertise on defence and security-related issues.'

It's worth remembering at this point another group which incorporates the imagery of swords into plougshares in its name, Trident Ploughshares whose activists have pledged to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a non-violent, open, peaceful, safe and fully accountable manner. Their next major initiative to this end is Aldermaston Big Blockade on 27th October. Perhaps Ploughshare Innovations hope to disarm the potency of ploughshare actions of this nature by adopting the name.... Now, how about a joint project in which the disarmers do their bit and the technological innovators do theirs, as Steve Schofield has suggested. That would be some interesting joined-up ploughshare thinking, even though there may be a bit of culture clash to work through in the first instance....

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Food security, climate change and conflict

This issue is deeply worrying. It's only become apparent to many of us these past few months. Here's a recent piece from a blog that is dedicated to the food crisis:

Dominique Strauss-Kahn said last Saturday that if the spike in food prices continued, “thousands, hundreds of thousands of people will be starving. Children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives. As we know, learning from the past, those kinds of questions sometimes end in war.”

Meanwhile, the wider context is addressed in an interesting blog 'New Security Beat'
One of their recent pieces... U.S. Army War College Report Says We Ignore Climate Change Security Risks “At Our Peril”
The article concludes: '[Carolyn] Pumphrey - [editor of the War College report] calls for a three-pronged strategy that includes “better intelligence, better science, and better understanding of the relationships between such things as violence, society, and climate change.” She maintains that we must slow the rate of climate change and prepare for unavoidable changes, take action to alleviate international social distress, and prepare to address potential conflicts. And, she notes, this is “a job for everyone,” not just the military.'

City of Sanctuary

Good to see a report in the Guardian today about the City of Sanctuary project, holding their first national conference in Sheffield as I write.

From the article: 'Craig Barnett, the voluntary organisation's national coordinator, says the project aims to dispel misconceptions and build a culture of hospitality. "It is about offering a positive vision of our city as a place of sanctuary," he says.

I look forward to hearing from Bolton Friends who are attending the conference.