Just imagine the world today if the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had achieved its ambitions within the Western democracies. For starters, North Korea’s communist dictator Kim Jong-un would be able to achieve his aim of uniting all of Korea by eliminating South Korea and would prove a deadly threat to Japan and, in time, the US and Australia.
The CND reached its peak in Britain in the late 1950s and early 60s. But it is still going and boasts among its supporters Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour opposition in Britain. The essential aim of the CND was not nuclear disarmament but, rather, unilateral nuclear disarmament.
In short, CND leaders advocated that Britain should dismantle its nuclear weaponry and hoped that Britain’s nuclear-weapon-capable allies, the US and France, would do likewise.
A half-century ago, in the midst of the Cold War, this would have meant that Joseph Stalin’s heirs in the Soviet Union would have dominated the world.
The CND did not prevail because the majority of British voters were not naive and did not believe that Nikita Khrushchev or Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow would follow Britain in getting rid of their nuclear weapons.
As might be expected, the CND had special appeal to the intelligentsia of its day. This is analysed in Frank Parkin’s Middle Class Radicalism: The Social Bases of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Manchester Ubniversity Press, 1968). He documented that “universities and colleges were the chief sources of CND support since these were the milieu which encouraged the type of intellectual and moral attitudes which lay at the centre of the campaign’s appeal”.
Among the tertiary-educated CND activists, more than two-thirds specialised in the humanities and social sciences, with less than 20 per cent in the pure or applied sciences.
In short, the CND was driven by sociologists and the like who held that if the democratic West did the right thing and laid down its (nuclear) arms, the totalitarian dictatorship in Moscow would match the gesture.
The CND was still quite fashionable in Britain three decades ago. Leading figures in the British Labour Party such as Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Patricia Hewitt flirted briefly with the cause before coming to their senses. Tony Blair: A Journey is one of the best and frankest political memoirs of recent times but ignores the author’s brief CND fling.
The CND had an impact in Australia in the late 50s, 60s and 70s but the concept of nuclear disarmament did not gain much ground until the early 80s. The Nuclear Disarmament Party was formed in June 1984 and did well in that year’s election. In Western Australia, Jo Vallentine was elected to the Senate.
Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett was the NDP’s star candidate at the time. He gained a very respectable 9.7 per cent in the 1984 Senate election in NSW. Garrett was not successful because both the Coalition and Labor directed preferences against him.
In his memoir Big Blue Sky (Allen & Unwin, 2015), Garrett names prominent Australians such as Jean Melzer, Ted St John, Russel Ward, Peter Carey, Janet Kenny and Alex Carey as NDP supporters. Within a short time, self-declared left-wing vanguard Trotskyists attempted to take over the party and the NDP was all but wiped out by 1990.
In Big Blue Sky, Garrett is somewhat vague about what the NDP stood for. According to its name, Garrett’s party in the mid-80s advocated nuclear disarmament and believed that Australia should not support such nuclear-armed allies as the US.
Yet in 2015 Garrett wrote that in the 80s he “wasn’t a pacifist and so didn’t unreservedly support” a policy of “unilateral disarmament” and did not believe that “the only country laying down arms would have to be America”. Maybe. But most of Garrett’s colleagues in the NDP advocated that the West should embrace nuclear disarmament. In any event, by the time Garrett joined the Labor Party in the mid-2000s he had abandoned any belief in the CND’s cause.
Like the CND, the NDP in Australia was essentially a party of what Parkin called middle-class tertiary-educated radicals. The NDP’s political descendants can be found today among the Greens-voting tertiary-educated inner-city left.
In the 80s, a world where only communist regimes such as the Soviet Union and China possessed nuclear weapons would have been a very dangerous place. Today, a situation where North Korea’s nuclear capacity is not confronted by the US would be disastrous for the Asia-Pacific region.
Yet this is what would be the unintended consequence if the CND and NDP had succeeded.
Australia has a proud record with respect to South Korea. In 1950, Robert Menzies’ Coalition government committed forces to the UN-sanctioned and US-led campaign to stop an invasion from the north that would have brought all of Korea under the rule of Kim Il-sung and his descendants.
During the Battle of Kapyong in late April 1951, Australian and Canadian forces (with some help from New Zealanders and Americans) thwarted an attack on Seoul by North Korean and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army forces. Had the attack succeeded, the South Korean capital would have fallen.
The ceasefire in 1953 left the Korean peninsula as it was before the conflict began, with a communist dictatorship in the north and a non-communist regime in the south. In time, South Korea became a democracy.
If the pacifists had prevailed in 1950, all of Korea today would be under the control of Kim Jong-un with all Koreans experiencing the brutality described in the 2013 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This was drafted by the commission’s chairman, former Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby. He updated the report in an address to the Sydney Institute last June.
All that stops Kim now is the strength of the US led by President Donald Trump with the support of allies such as Australia. Not the words of the pacifists and disarmers in our midst.