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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Whatever happened to CND?
By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

It's many years since its Cold War heyday, but with the debate over replacing the Trident submarines, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament could be born again.

In the 1980s nuclear weapons were a burning issue. What to do in the event of an impending strike was the subject of both idle discussions and serious debate, from schoolyards to building sites. Head for the hills to avoid being vaporised, or to a major city to get it over and done with?

Then, the feeling that the Cold War was warming helped the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to reach its zenith.

Launched in 1958, it sowed the seeds of one of its most famous protests in August 1981 when a small group of women set up a peace camp at Greenham Common base, where cruise missiles were due to be sited.

The cause was unilateral nuclear disarmament, the notion that the UK scrapping its arsenal would encourage others to do the same. But critics dismissed disarmament groups as naive, or stupid, or even a tool of the Soviet Union. Far from driving us towards war, they said, Britain's nuclear arsenal was the only guarantee against another world war.

1952: UK tests first bomb
1958: CND founded, symbol designed, march on Aldermaston
1960: Bertrand Russell leaves CND
1976: Soviet Union starts deploying SS-20 missiles
1979: Callaghan accepts US Pershing II missiles
1981: Greenham Common peace camp starts
1982: Faslane peace camp starts
1983: Mrs Thatcher wins election, biggest CND demo
1985: CND claims peak membership of 110,000
1989: Berlin Wall falls

Labour took up the cause but were obliterated at the polls in 1983 by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government. Labour MP Gerald Kaufman memorably described his party's manifesto as "the longest suicide note in history".

Undeterred, the 25-year-old CND held its largest demonstration that autumn, claiming an attendance of 400,000 (critics said 100,000) and two years later membership peaked at 110,000.

Since then numbers have been in steady decline, the group's profile mirroring that of the Cold War. As the Iron Curtain came down, it became harder to imagine nuclear death raining from the skies.

Today, the CND has 32,000 members, with new battles to fight.

"In the 1980s people did genuinely fear that they themselves would be killed," says chairwoman Kate Hudson. "Although we don't necessarily fear that we ourselves are going to be the direct target, people are increasingly aware that there is a danger."

As well as opposing the Iraq war, CND has been campaigning for a year against Trident, lobbying MPs, trade unions and churches, and maintaining low-key protests. And there are fears that the US might deploy battlefield nuclear weapons in its efforts to stop Iran building the bomb.

Uncertain world

While the "Son of Star Wars" missile defence scheme has faded into the political background, the debate over the ageing Trident fleet offers a special opportunity for CND and its allies.

Many question whether a Trident replacement is needed in a world security situation dominated by the fight against terrorism, and "rogue states" trying to build small numbers of warheads.

Protester at demonstration against war in Iraq
CND has diversified
But Professor Sir Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, and a consultant fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says replacing Trident is a rational decision.

"We live in an uncertain world. If we renew it, it will be related to the world in the 2030s or 2040s. It is not directed against anybody in particular. It is an insurance policy. There is a possibility of having hostile states wanting to do very bad things. Is Iran going to be the first of several?"

But the cost is likely to be what sparks the fiercest initial debate. Sir Michael says a 50bn price tag would be hard to justify, while a 10-15bn bill would find support.

Ms Hudson and CND would be overjoyed by any decision not to renew Trident, whatever drove it.

"We often make the legal and moral arguments but many politicians are immune to legal and moral arguments. We're not interested in revisiting Cold War arguments. That is a different age. The question is, is it going to contribute to Britain's safety?"

Trident submarine Vengeance at the Faslane naval base
Dave, 20, has lived at Faslane peace camp for two years
"There will be a resurgence, but I can't see it returning to the 80s heyday - the Cold War made it a more immediate issue"
"Last year 17 people from the base got into the camp. Trident itself is breaking the law"
For today's radicals, issues like Iraq and anti-globalisation dominate. But with Trident in the news, CND expects a rapid dividend. Ms Hudson says 200 people have joined in the past week.

At the Faslane naval base in Scotland - where the Trident submarines are housed - the long-standing "peace camp" has yet to benefit. Apart from occasional arrests for minor offences after protests, it's rarely in the news. There are only half a dozen protesters there, but a 365-day a year blockade of the base is planned, starting in October.

As CND gets ready to take advantage of the current wave of publicity, so too are their opponents. Those who have faced off over the Iraq war may return to a much older issue, and CND and its distinctive symbol may become fashionable again.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

With a nuclear capability we are unlikely to be threatened by nascent nuclear powers (e.g. Iran,, North Korea) in the future and we will not need to rely on the US to offer us protection (no doubt at considerable cost). Like it or not, it is an essential part of our armed deterrent and guarantees our sovreignty.
Chris K, London, UK

Why is that girl in the photos advertising Mercedes-Benz on her cheeks?
Sean O'Conor, London, England

Hard for CND to admit, but the investment in nuclear weapons undid the Communist state because it couldn't afford to play catch up or even maintain it's defensive position. However, playing the same game with rich oil states like Iran won't work - they have endless supplies of cash and some really bright scientists, trained at great expense at the best universities in the UK and USA. I just don't see that spending 50bn is justifiable on a "new" trident - spend it on hospitals and schools instead, improve the inner cities and muslim ghettos of our own country.
KC, Southampton, UK

CND lost the argument in the 80s and was shown to be absolutely wrong in its political analysis. The victory over Communism would not have occured if the British people had accepted their nonsense. That they dare to raise their heads in public after that shows either that they are immune to shame or almost clinically deluded. The left has always been nauseatingly self-righteous but they have never been more provably wrong.
Jonathan, London

The whole point about nuclear arms is that they are meant to be a deterrent. The argument is that no-one would be insane enough to obliterate the homeland of their enemy. Unfortunately, it has been proven that there are people out there capable of slaughter on a massive scale just to make a point. I feel that nuclear arms are entirely pointless if they are build without the intention to be used, and as I hope they will never be used, the money and the time should be devoted to helping us to live, not threatening to kill us all.
Heather, Wolverhampton

I'm glad to see this issue back on the political agenda again. It always seemed like those fighting against Thatcher were fighting a loosing battle, but with ex-CND member Tony Blair proposing spending billions on a new trident system under a Labour government, I think we are at a crucial time. I don't see any way in which these systems are relevent to the threats that we face today and dream of the health, education or pension systems we could create with the money saved.
Matt Johnson, Manchester

As a one time member of CND I find it sad that young people aren't as politically aware as we were back in the 70s and 80s but we have to move on. The interesting point that's missed by both sides in the article is that countries like Iran now see us as a nuclear aggressor in the same way as Russia was viewed back then. Solve the fear - solve the problem!
Neil, Brighton

The whole Trident replacement debate and thus the wider debate about the continuation of the independent (sic) British nuclear deterrent is very interesting and pertinent. But a very quick look at the details lead the observer to note that the probable decision rests upon what the Americans will do and no one in the UK is reporting on what the plans are for the future of the US strategic deterrent. That is the real question that will govern, guide and direct this debate.
Jamie Clarke, Medway, Kent

Anti-nuclear campaigners are extremely naive and certainly stupid. No body wants nuclear missiles but they are a deterrent. Others do not have our morals or belief in liberalism, so we must defend that or be overpowered.
David, Kent, UK

With North Korea having launched 3 missiles yesterday, one of which was long range (even though it failed in flight), Iran forging ahead, etc. there is still a great danger. It is imperative that we retain a nuclear deterrent, as it is impossible to un-invent technology, and while the technology is there, any nation could potentially develop weapons.
Petra, Basingstoke

When they have felt under pressure CND's British opponents have claimed they were in favour of 'mulilateral nuclear disarmament, but CND has always been clear this has been a deception. When the pressure has been off most the self-styled multilateralists have reverted to being in favour of British nuclear weapons come what may. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are no exception to this
Julian Harber, Hebden Bridge UK

Trident is a ludicrously expensive and cumbersome legacy of an age that has past. Pouring vast sums of money into renewing it is a major distraction from addressing the very real and present security threats.
John Latusek, Ammanford, UK

CND are a throw back to an era that has long past and should really put down. It never was a relevant force and despite the hype around it, it never achieved anything of significance. The Cold War was won by the West mainly because of the stand Reagan took in the 80s, the same stand that CND protested against so who was right and who was wrong. Now we are getting corrupt nations spending billions on nuclear weapons whilst their populations starve, where is CND? Never see them on TV protesting at the Iranian embassy? Do they mount rallies against North Korea?
Tom, St Helens

It's says a lot about the subtle bias of the BBC that "Professor Sir Michael Quinlan, former Permanent Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, and a consultant fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says replacing Trident is a rational decision." is quoted next to a stock photo of a 'naive' teenager with the letters CND painted on her face. Were there no professors that the BBC could have quoted who are against nuclear arms? Were there really no people from other organisations who could have been quoted? The fact that the central issues of the legality of nuclear weapons and their obvious stupidity is not discused also speaks volumes about the BBC's deference to the power it is but a part of.
John Gregory, Bangor Gwynedd

This piece does not provide any useful insight into the debate, particularly in light of North Korea. It is a shame that the BBC wants to use scaremongering and transparent romantic ideologies to coax people to the CND. An even-handed and pragmatic story would offer a lot, but this is every bit as useless as a reactionary right wing pro-nuke diatribe which equally draws on scare tactics. Again, the left versus right wing struggle is the undercurrent to this story, and like in so many areas of political debate, it gets us absolutely nowhere.
TheLobby, Lancashire

It is only the truly ignorant that regard military strategy as a left/right issue. It's not - it should be judged rationally immune to such bias. CND were right all along and are as relevant today as back in the 1980s. Deterrence doesn't work - every single war and invasion that has ever happened against a nuclear power has proved this. They were the brightest people then, they are today. Listen to CND
Tom Franklin

As emotive as this debate over Trident's replacement is, the truth is it will almost for certain never ever get used for what it was designed to do. The reality of Trident is that it's a deterrent and a peace keeper, and a bloody good one at that !
Paul Jackson, Aberdeen

Like many "pressure groups" CND spent more time hyping the threat that actually doing anything constructive. I await with interest the setting up of "peace camps" in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Israel...
John, Romford, UK

The equivalent today may be to get out of Iraq, renounce nuclear weapons as South Africa has, and refuse to interfere in other countries. In short, to renounce any attempt by a country at world leadership as misguided in principle.
Miland Joshi, Birmingham, UK

What is really sad is that the girl in the picture "CND has diversified" has a Mercedes logo on her cheek, not the Nuclear Disarmament symbol.
Rune, Oslo, Norway

Only 200 people joined CND in the past week, after CND put fullpage ads in the press (well, The Guardian - which should be their natural territory)? That doesn't sound like a resurgence to me. I don't think that many people are concerned about Trident being renewed - some people may say that the money should instead be spent on hospitals, but those people don't have strong enough opinions to actually join CND. CND can only hope to capitalise on the anti-Iraq war feeling - but even this wasn't as popular as Respect and co make out and certainly has not had any impact on the UK government's policy on Iraq.
Nick, Southampton, UK

It wasn't just women at Greenham Common. I spent several days there when I was younger with another school mate. Also, the first resolution ever passed by the UN was for all nations to unilaterally disarm their nuclear weapons.
John Airey, Peterborough, UK

The critical flaw in any CND argument is the fact that nuclear weapons can not be "uninvented". If responsible democratic countries were to disarm it would make the world a far more dangerous place.
ann_tandec, london

While we have Nuclear weapons, our efforts to prevent the spread of these weapons is laughable. To say "we are good so it's ok for us to have nukes" is not going to cut it.
J. Maitland, Oxford, UK

CND was never a 'peace' movement. It's objective was nuclear disarmament and if the cost of this was conventional then it was more than prepared for 'the boys' to get slaughtered again. If we had adopted CNDs theories them millions would have died in a third conventional world war. Fortunately we ignored them and, although it was a bit scary back in the 80s, level heads on both sides prevailed. We seem to have got through the most dangerous period for mankind, and had the longest period of peace in European history, in spite of CND's child like unilateral blunderings not because of them.
Mark K, London, UK

I don't know what planet these peaceniks live on, but the reality is there are seriously aggressive people out there who would destroy our country if we didn't defend it. Will CND be demonstrating outside the North Korean Embassy regarding their latest missile tests?
Joan Hammond, London, England

I was a member of CND back in the early 1980s. Where is it now? Well society changed and seemed to accept we had nuclear weapons after the cold war was over. CND objected to anyone having these weapons, it seems society has moved so far to the right with the conservative (sorry, or was that New Labour?) party, that these views are becoming the accepted norm. Have we all become the sheep they desire?
Keith Carter-Harris, Wilmslow

Personally I have never believed in unilateral disarmament - the interest in countries acquiring nuclear weapons to me makes the protective arguement quite strong. And it was not CND protests and peace camps which fuelled the end of the cold war, but the inability of the USSR to maintain the arms race. Now of course the risks have diversified and the 'enemy' may now be groups with no clear territorial boundary. Are Nuclear weapons much of a deterrent against them I am not sure. However, at a time when many people seem to think we should perhaps distance ourselves from the US and US policy, people also seem to think we should sit under their nuclear protective umbrella. Surely, there is a conflict here
Ian Johnston, Horsham, UK

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