Oliver Kamm: Did peace groups help usher in peaceful anti-nuke policies in the UK?

Roundup: Talking About History

On the invaluable History News Network, Lawrence Wittner, a SUNY historian, writes of an organisation that "did have the satisfaction of turning British public opinion against the nuclear arms race, thereby pushing Britain and other nuclear-armed nations toward nuclear arms control and disarmament measures and helping to prevent nuclear war".

Readers in the UK will be surprised to learn that Professor Wittner is talking about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). His article is a retrospective on CND's 50th anniversary. My estimate of CND's political influence is different from his. The principal influence the organisation had on British public opinion was to ensure repeated electoral defeats for Labour when the party adopted CND's policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. CND's influence on the arms control policies of successive governments, meanwhile, was exactly zero.

I argued this point in a piece earlier this year for The Guardian's "Comment is Free" site, in response to an article by CND's chairman, Kate Hudson. Had CND confined its message to a critique of redundant weapons systems and needlessly abstruse nuclear doctrines, it might have had a healthy impact on public debate during the Cold War. Instead it went out of its way to depict the Soviet Union as a pacific power and Nato as an aggressive alliance bent on a nuclear first strike.

But even that preposterous message, heavily influenced by the now-defunct Communist Party of Great Britain, was more reputable than the political territory that CND now occupies. Wittner refers demurely to CND's reliance on "younger, newer activists, such as its current chair, Kate Hudson" - without mentioning where these activists are, ideologically speaking, coming from. Kate Hudson is a leading member of the reconstituted Communist Party of Britain. A minor academic in East European affairs, she not only opposed Nato's intervention against the genocidal aggression of Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo, but maintained that Serbia was a wronged party. See this article, from The Guardian in 2003, where she argues that what she revealingly terms "an alleged massacre of 45 Kosovan Albanians by Yugoslav government forces" was "seized on by the US to justify acceleration towards war".

The CPB also explicitly sides with the totalitarian nightmare-state of North Korea. Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition and a leading member of the CPB, presented a political report to the party's Executive Committee in 2003, in which he declared: "Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples [i.e. North] Korea clear." The link to this report on the party's website has very recently been taken down, to be replaced - seriously - with a link to an Internet retailer of Viagra. This is odd because Murray has previously defended his views as entirely unexceptionable, as well as "freely and publicly available". Fortunately, the full report has been preserved for posterity by the Tory defence spokesman Julian Lewis, of whom I am an ally on issues of nuclear deterrence. You can find the full text of Murray's report here.

CND has always been indulgent of autocratic and aggressive states. The leadership of the British anti-war and anti-nuclear movements now take this predilection a stage further, by allying unabashedly with the most repressive and bellicose states in the world. You won't find this out from reading the work of Professor Wittner, and I'm happy to fill the gap.   

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