cnd anniversary

Kath Cripps, centre, under the Sheffield CND banner
Kath Cripps, centre, under the Sheffield CND banner

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. With the world at a brink of a new nuclear arms race the campaign has, sadly, never been more relevant.

As a local campaigner on global issues it’s sometimes hard to measure your progress, but looking back on our campaigning in this city we’ve much to be proud of.

Be it the work with the city council to establish Sheffield as a ‘nuclear free zone’, Barry Hind’s terrifying film Threads (in which I was an extra!) or the countless coaches of people we took down to London for the largest demonstrations in British history.

I was inspired to go to Greenham Common by my first grandchild and a desire to create a brighter future for them in what felt like the darkest of times.

Mikhail Gorbachev explicitly mentioned the Greenham women when he said the European peace movement enabled his decision to meet Ronald Reagan in 1986, ending years of nuclear arms escalation.

So while we were often mocked in the British press and my support for CND even saw me sacked as a local magistrate, our actions had an impact in making the world a safer place.

Yet, though the Cold War tub-thumping quietened, the missiles remained in their silos. Last month the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists again moved their symbolic ‘Doomsday Clock’ nearer to midnight, indicating a world closer to destruction than at any point since 1953.

President Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review, published earlier this month, ends the gradual nuclear weapon reductions since the end of the Cold War.

The most worrying element being the development of ‘flexible, low-yield’ nuclear bombs, to create weapons more usable in regional conflict without sparking full-scale nuclear apocalypse (hopefully).

It is worth remembering that the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, are classed as ‘low-yield’ by modern standards.

The US already has over 20 times the nuclear weapons stockpiles of China.

In response to the review and the expansion of US missile defence systems, the Chinese government has already stated that they may reassess their ‘no first use policy’ (that they would fire only in retaliation to nuclear attack) and their military budget is being further increased.

It should be noted that neither the UK or the US currently have any such policy on not firing first. Putin is similarly committing Russia to new nuclear weapons systems.

The refusal of the US to extend the New START treaty (which limits US/Russian nuclear deployments) could lead to more weapons on hair-trigger alert and pointed our way.

The large numbers of US bases dotted around Yorkshire, such as the NSA spy base at Menwith Hill and the US missile defence radar at Fylingdales make us prime targets for attack.

But there is hope. The rest of the world is working together to bring an end to such weapons of mass destruction.

In July last year the majority of countries (122 in total) voted for the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons’, a global nuclear ban similar to those which already exist for chemical and biological weapons.

The UK Government has boycotted all such negotiations, despite claiming to want multi-lateral disarmament.

Interestingly, the only nuclear state to vote for the UN ban treaty talks was North Korea.

While no-one wants Kim Jong Un to have access to nukes, maintaining that he has no right to such weapons, the idea that they remain vital for our security is increasingly untenable.

As the factious behaviour of President Trump makes abundantly clear, there are no safe hands for nuclear weapons.

So, should the UK follow demagogs like Trump and Putin, ploughing ever more public money into a potentially world-ending arms race?

Or should we take the lead and be the first nuclear-armed state to join the majority of countries in supporting a global ban?

If you think the second option makes more sense, come join us in making it happen. Sheffield Creative Action for Peace meet on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at Sheffield Quaker Meeting House S1 2EW, or find us on Facebook.

n Kath Cripps was chair of Sheffield CND for many years and is a founder member of Sheffield Creative Action for Peace (SCrAP).

n Turn to P8-9 for news of a new exhibition tracing the history of protest in Sheffield.