by Kate Hudson, CND Secretary General
Hundreds of peace activists from across Europe gathered in central London on 30th November to challenge the NATO war machine and discuss alternatives to current policies which are taking the world closer to war. ‘The New World Disorder’ was the counter-summit organised by the No to War – No to NATO network, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Stop the War Coalition. In a packed hall draped with banners from our movement, participants welcomed the veteran writer and broadcaster Tariq Ali, well-known for his pivotal role in the campaign against the Vietnam War. He was joined in the opening plenary by Ludo de Brabander from Vrede vzw in Belgium, Lindsey German from the Stop the War Coalition, UK, and Kristine Karch from the No to War – No to NATO network in Germany. Arielle Denis, the French IPB and anti-nuclear activist, well-known to many in the audience, was in the chair for the session.
Workshops during the day included NATO and the New Cold War; NATO and Nuclear Weapons; Oil, War and the Middle East; NATO goes Global; 21st Century War; emerging technology and emerging strategies; Racism, Islamophobia and the Far Right; Conflicts, Climate Change and Militarisation; and EU-Militarisation and PESCO.
The closing plenary debated strategies and alternatives, with the powerful US peace and anti-war campaigner Medea Benjamin, from CODE PINK; the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s General Secretary Kate Hudson, and Reiner Braun, from the International Peace Bureau in Germany. In the chair was Shelley Asquith, from Unite the Union, Britain’s largest trade union. The sense of solidarity and determination, to step up our work against NATO and its militarisation and expansionism was shared by all. The conference was made possible through the financial support of the European Left Party.
The following day, the No to War-No to NATO network held its AGM in a central London community venue. Many countries from across Europe were represented as well as from the USA. We agreed priorities for the year ahead including against the planned NATO war-manoeuvre Defender 2020 – details of which will be available on the network’s website.
Early the following week, NATO leaders arrived in London for the Heads of State and Government Summit, to ‘celebrate’ their 70th anniversary. On the Tuesday evening, thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest against both NATO and the presence of President Trump. Trump’s policies sow division and hatred and actively give succour to the rise of the far right internationally. Not surprisingly, many communities and campaigns mobilised to express their opposition to his presence in Britain and to his outspoken support for Boris Johnson in the British general election campaign which was ongoing at the time of the summit. Placards and banners opposing NATO’s nuclear weapons were in evidence, alongside those opposing President Trump’s nuclear arms race, and a host of others.
There was a large contingent of NHS workers and supporters, concerned about what a Trump-Johnson trade deal could mean for the future of public health care in Britain. Other protestors included those campaigning in support of Palestinian rights, for Kurdistan and against Trump’s racism and far-right agenda.
Despite the reported arguments amongst NATO leaders and the claim that the future of the military bloc is threatened, we know that the reality on the ground is increased military spending and expansion and intervention into new areas like Latin America and Africa.
Activists from across Europe and the United States addressed the Trafalgar Square rally, including Alexander Neu MP from Die Linke in Germany, Reiner Braun from the International Peace Bureau and Medea Benjamin from the US. They made it clear that if we are to rid the world of nuclear weapons and bring an end to permanent war, we must dismantle the apparatus of war. That has to mean disbanding NATO and developing a foreign policy that upholds common security based on peace, justice and respect for all nations.
A highlight of the evening was the now customary wearing of the purple NO TO NATO tee-shirts by women against NATO. Each woman wears a different letter to make up the words. Kristine Karch organised the line-up, in memory of our wonderful campaigning sister Cynthia Cockburn, who sadly passed away this year.
After Tuesday’s rally, protesters marched to Buckingham Palace where leaders were gathering for a reception with the Queen. Unfortunately, we were prevented by the police from travelling down the agreed route along The Mall for almost an hour. But better late than never. We eventually marched toward the palace and then made our demands for peace and disarmament very clear when we arrived. None of the leaders can have been in any doubt about the opposition to NATO, war and nuclear weapons that exist in our society.
The good news is that opposition to NATO in the UK is growing. In 2017, polls showed that 27% were ambivalent or opposed to the bloc. By 2019, that number has risen to 41%. Those who strongly support NATO has fallen from 42% to 25%.
But there is much more work to be done. One of the frustrating aspects of the NATO summit was the complete absence of discussion and debate about the bloc in the media. It is still assumed by many – including by the main political parties – that NATO is a good thing.
Our movement will continue to make clear the relationship between nuclear weapons, war, the growing instability in the world, and NATO.