20 November 2004

Remember the 80s

By Rupert Read

Remember the 1980s? Remember 'Neighbours', and the 'Pet Shop Boys'? Remember Kenny Dalgleish, Ian Botham?

Remember the Miners' Strike, and the Poll Tax? Remember Reagan and Gorby? Remember nuclear disarmament?

People used to talk quite a lot about nuclear disarmament. CND were big in the 1980s, and Labour believed in 'unilateral nuclear disarmament'. (That phrase meant what it said: getting rid of our nukes, our WMDs, unilaterally, without waiting for other major powers to do the same, but hoping they then would, so that the world could become nuclear-free.) Labour - good old Labour, not sickening shiny 'New' Labour - were condemned by the entire mainstream media for this, condemned as 'loony lefties' and 'appeasers'.

They believed in unilateral nuclear disarmament; everyone else believed in multilateral nuclear disarmament. What did 'multilateral nuclear disarmament' mean? It was supposed to mean that we would negotiate our nukes away. Nuclear disarmament would occur through multilateral negotiations between nuclear states.

The US and Russian governments did carry out some such negotiations, back in the 80s. Their armouries of nukes were reduced slightly. Now they can only destroy the world about 8 times over, not 18 times over… Cold comfort, really; it isn't much better to be obliterated 8 times over than 18 times over, if you are the person / city / country obliterated…

Nuclear weapons are perhaps the only true weapons of mass destruction. Of total destruction. And while Russia and America have reduced their huge nuclear arsenals somewhat, Britain has held on tight to its 200 nuclear warheads, these last twenty years. That's the equivalent of about 2000 Hiroshimas. That's about 300 million people that we can kill, at the push of a button.

That's abhorrent.

Now, Britain is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires that its signatories disarm, multilaterally or unilaterally. But what has Britain actually done, since the 1980s, to rid itself of nukes? In fact: can you remember the last time that you heard any 'mainstream' politician talking about British nuclear disarmament?

Funny, isn't it; it seems like all those advocates of 'multilateral disarmament' stopped talking about it, as soon as the 'threat' of the unilateralists' popularity receded. As soon as the 'loony leftie' unilateralists were buried by Thatcherism and the right-wing press, and Labour gave up the ambition of unilateral nuclear disarmament so it could be 'electable', then all talk of Britain playing a part in multilateral nuclear disarmament … just evaporated away.

So: what did the words, 'multilateral nuclear disarmament' mean, in practice? That we would achieve nuclear disarmament - ridding the world of these worst-of-all weapons - multilaterally? Or: that we in Britain would have a label for our nuclear weapons policy that made it sound as if we were in favour of real peace (not endless war or threat of war), while in fact we intended no such thing? Is the meaning, in practice, of 'multilateralism' simply this: deterring any efforts to make Britain or Europe or the Earth nuclear-free, and then, once your efforts to deter unilateral nuclear disarmament have succeeded, no longer talking about nuclear disarmament at all?! Is that what Kinnock, Steel, Owen and Thatcher (remember the 80s!) meant by 'multilateral nuclear disarmament': i.e. no disarmament, except disarming the unilateralists of their arguments and their popularity, and saying disarmingly to the British people, "We too are in favour of disarmament", for as long as it took until campaigners had despaired of getting the government to relinquish its nukes?

Luckily, we haven't despaired. I served last month as spokesperson for 'Theatre of War' and 'Trident Ploughshares' - anti-war activists dramatizing the need for Britain to beat its Trident nuclear missiles into ploughshares - in their successful 5-hour blockade of Downing Street. And a fortnight ago I was in court supporting fellow members of the 'Peace Police' (who back in June cut into Burghfield nuclear base) as they presented arguments from international law to explain why they had acted to try to prevent a greater crime - the crime of nuclear blackmail (most recently applied by Geoff Hoon to Iraq).

The inheritors of the Greenham generation are still here.

So: Remember the 1980s. Remember and weep. Many were fooled by the government and media then. Fooled into thinking that 'multilateral disarmament' was anything more than an excuse for doing nothing, an excuse for holding on to our illegal WMDs. We've been fooled again, recently, by our government, which invaded Iraq pretending that it (Iraq) had WMDs.

Let's never be fooled again. As our international treaty obligations require, as any basic human decency or morality requires, let us get rid of our WMDs, our nukes, now. Unilaterally. Without excuses.

Without lies.