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Britain's CND holds conference: Cruise, freeze, NATO highlight debate

Robert Penner — February 1984

SHEFFIELD – The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the powerful umbreila organisation for the British disarmament movement, laid out strong plans for action in 1984 at the organisation’s annual conference in Sheffield” England, in December.

CND is showing no signs of demoralisation after the recent arrival of ground-launched cruise missiles. Instead, the organisation looks stronger and more detennined than ever. In his annual report, General Secretary Bruce Kent told over 2000 delegates from throughout Great Britain that CND had recruited more members in the few weeks following the deployment than were in the total membership of the organisation just a few years ago. He reported that CND is adding 1000 new members each week to its current membership of over 80,000. (This figure includes only the direct national membership. At least three times that number are members of local CND groups, and millions more are affiliated to CND through organisations such as unions, women’s groups and professional associations.)

Unlike the disarmament movementln most other countries, the CND has been able to unify all British peace activists into one powerful organisation. This does not mean that it is without strenuous debates or internal division. The conference featured a wide range of opinion, but it also demonstrated that CND is quite able to deal with these disagreements, remaining solidly intact and future-oriented.

The conference itself is a major event for CND. Months of preparation go into making sure the conference participants are able to make good decisions in’ such a constricted time-frame. Resolutions and amendments are circulated, discussed and revised during this period of preparation. By the time the delegates arrive at the conference, the decision-making priorities are clearly laid out and the debates are already elaborated.

The major debates of the weekend centered on the campaign strategy for 1984. The. delegates wasted no time in reaffirming that the campaign to keep the cruise missile out of England would not be jeopardised by the recent arrival of the new missiles. In fact, the tactics used by CND members would escalate as they continue to demand the remqval of the missiles.

After some debate, “it was agreed by a large majority that there would be no challenge to the women-only nature of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, where the first missiles had arrived. Instead, mixed-sex non-, violent protests would be held at other bases and in the surrounding area in support of the work of the camp at Greenham.

The participants also agreed to adopt a strategy to deal with the anticipated transportation of cruise missiles outside their stationing bases. In an actual war situation, the cruise missiles would leave the bases in launchers before being fired from various locations in the British countryside. CND conference participants vowed to make the testing of any such operation extremely difficult, and proposed blockades of all the major arterial roads that would be used in the expected maneuvres.

The conference also decided to emphasise the ‘no Trident’ campaign, to protest Britain’s further’ involvement with first-strike weaponry.

However, the conference did not ratify the resolution calling for the CND to adopt a call in support of a freeze on new nuclear weapons. This resolution was put forward because many members of CND are concerned that their long-established position of unilateral British disarmament is not well understood and is used by their opposition to paint them as pro-Soviet. In reality, unilateralism in CND is a belief that they should focus on their own government’s complicity in the arms race and not allow the inaction of any other government to be used as an excuse for continued weapons build-up. This in no way implies support for, or acceptance of, nuclear proliferation in any other countries. Bruce Kent repeated the oft-quoted phrase summarising the CND position: “A unilateralist is a multilateralist that means it.” Despite the, backing from .the wellrespected CND leadership, the delegates rejected the freeze proposal. Some participants objected .to calling for a freeze after new and potentially unverifiable weapons were already”, being. deployed., It was also felt that this would be a retreat from calling for a direct disarmament action in favour of a more general call for negotiations.

Another lively debate centered around the issue of NATO. Although CND is on record as opposing NATO, they haven’t made this a prominent focus for their work. There were arguments presented for both a harder and a softer line on this issue. Supporters of the latter position argued that CND should work for the reform rather than the abolition of NATO, but one delegate reflected the prevailing mood when he said “reform of NATO is a bit like expecting the Vatican to become an atheist organisation.” Delegates argued that NATO’ was nothing more than an agressive nuclear alliance, and that CND should argue strenuously for a British pull-out. Those who were afraid of alienating potential support prevailed, and a compromise resolution was passed which stated that the “CND reaffirms its opposition to all nuclear alliances” and that “Britain’s withdrawal from NATO would be a positive step in the. unravelling of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.” It also stated that this position would be explained “through a comprehensive educational campaign… whilst emphasising the campaign against cruise and Trident.”

Although at times the debate was hot and heavy, the conference clearly demonstrated the vitality of this organisation and of the disarmament movement in Britain. A huge number of delegates from different regions, backgrounds and perspectives were able to leave Sheffield with a solid direction for 1984. In building one of the strongest national peace movements, the Campaign’ for Nuclear Disarmament will continue to be one of the leaders in the worldwide campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons.