John Bickersteth died on January 29th, 2018

March 3, 2018


I heard of the death of John Bickersteth in January with regret. He was one of the signatories of the 1980s Just Defence Charter who reaffirmed support for Just Defence and agreed to be placed on the Civilisation 3000 mailing list in 2009.

Looking back over the message in which he asked for the purpose of the website made me realise how poorly the undertaking given to him had been carried out in recent years.

John Bickersteth was an actively ecumenical Anglican clergyman who served as the Bishop of Bath and Wells from 1975 to 1986, and Clerk of the Closet from 1979-1989.

His earlier military service is documented here and in the archives of the Imperial War Museum. He also edited The Bickersteth Diaries,1914-1918, which were compiled from 11 volumes written by his grandmother Ella. They tell the story of his three uncles who fought in the trenches and whose letters brought the horrors of the First World War vividly to life.


As those who seek to contribute to our national security in Parliament or other positions in public and professional life, the signatories of this Charter agree:

  1. The defence of our country and of our way of life must be strong and effective. This is the right of the British people and nothing less will enjoy their support. 
  2. Defence policy must be for defence only, and clearly seen as non-provocative to others. Modern technology, which has changed so much of our industrial and social life, has also transformed the nature of warfare. Conventional defence can now become doubly powerful to deny success to an aggressor through the intelligent use of new and cost-effective technology. 
  3. A non-provocative doctrine of ‘defence only’, will reduce international tension and substitute policies of political detente for those of political confrontation. 
  4. Those who are clearly non-provocative in their policies will be best placed to stabilise any crisis and prevent it escalating into major conflict either through fear or misunderstanding. 
  5. Since weapons of mass destruction are, by their nature, threatening and provocative, British defence policy should not depend on the use of nuclear weapons. To this end Britain should phase out the storage or operation of such weapons. 
  6. The early reduction to a strict minimum of strategic nuclear weapons confined to the two superpowers would be a major and welcome step towards creating the conditions of detente and mutual security which will allow for the ultimate elimination of all such weapons. 
  7. World security depends on the progressive reduction of all offensive weaponry, whether nuclear or non-nuclear. A ‘Just Defence’ policy for Britain would be a significant contribution to that end; and we should seek to persuade other countries with whom we are allied or associated to adopt a similar policy.
  8. ‘Just Defence’ must accord with the principles of international justice, as defined in the Charter of the United Nations and the judgments of the International Court of Justice. 
  1. Non-provocative defence and progressive disarmament could release very large resources for the support of social, educational, and health services, and the relief of poverty and hunger in the Third World. 

We, the signatories, look forward to the emergence of a new consensus on Defence Policy in Britain whereby – whatever the differences in their detailed proposals – all political parties will construct their policies within the framework of the principles of ‘Just Defence,.

Published by ‘Just Defence’: 7 Pound Place, Eltham, London SE9 5DN.  (Address no longer in use)


John Bickersteth retired in 1987 to dedicate more time to environmental issues and became involved in the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. He organised the Creation Festival at Salisbury Cathedral in 1990 that championed conservation and waste reduction and campaigned to ban straw-burning by farmers because of carbon emissions and spoke about the issue in the House of Lords. (left, at Glastonbury)

In 2007 he campaigned to banish plastic bags in Tisbury, a Wiltshire village, thought to be the first place in the West to bringing in such a rule to try to reduce plastic waste. Residents agreed to use their own bags when shopping from 1 January 2008. He told BBC News: “The breakthrough came when the Co-op said they’d play ball and I think it’s catching on, although it won’t happen overnight.” He said he wanted to preserve the earth and was delighted to have convinced the traders to help him.

He later joined the protest against the Newbury bypass in the mid-1990s, alongside “Swampy”, who tried to block construction of the trunk road by building tunnels, voicing his disapproval of a project that would lead to the destruction of woodland.

The best memorial which could be given here is to reactivate the undertaking given to him – unwittingly overlooked in recent years.






In Great Russell Street, Blooms­bury: a plaque for Joseph Rotblat, the scientist who worked to avert the threat of nuclear war

November 11, 2017

Photograph by Valerie Flessati, who designed two peace trails, one through central London and one from Tavistock Square to the Imperial War Museum

This news came from Peter van den Dungen, who attended the unveiling of a plaque for Joseph Rotblat, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist who worked to avert the threat of nuclear war.

It was placed on the large building in Museum Mansions, Great Russell Street, Blooms­bury  where the Pugwash organisation – of which he was a founder – has an office, in which Professor Rotblat worked for many years. About 90 people were there and afterwards attended a reception in the Polish embassy.

The embassy’s website:

“The plaque is the result of a collaboration between the Polish Heritage Society UK (PHS), a charity dedicated to celebrating the achievements of Poles in the UK and their contribution to British life, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the United Kingdom and the British Pugwash”.

The Camden New Journal adds that the plaque was funded by money given to residents and civic groups to thank them for ‘accommodating’ the shooting of part of the film Wonder Woman in Bloomsbury, which – appropriately – had an anti-war message.

Joseph Rotblat, who described himself as “a Pole with a British passport”, was born in Warsaw on 4th November, 1908, and carried out his initial research into nuclear fission there, moving to Britain just before the outbreak of Second World War.  Read on here.

In 1944, he joined the Los Alamos Laboratory in the US as part of the Manhattan Project, which ultimately led to the development of nuclear weapons.

Shocked by the use of nuclear weapons against Japan, Rotblat was determined that his research should serve only peaceful ends and devoted himself to studying the medical and biological uses of radiation. In 1949, he became Professor of Physics at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. 

Rotblat became one of the most prominent critics of the nuclear arms race. In 1957, he chaired the first of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international organisation that brought together scholars and public figures from both sides of the Iron Curtain and around the world to work towards reducing the danger of armed conflict and to seek solutions to global security threats, particularly those related to nuclear warfare.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1995 was awarded jointly to Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences “for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”

From our archives:

  • Professor Joseph Rotblat (CBE) was one of 32 signatories of the CHARTER FOR ‘JUST DEFENCE’.
  • In 1998 Peter van den Dungen met Professor Rotblat in London and had a long discussion about the peace museum, which Rotblat wished to support – but based in London, initially perhaps in the Dome. . .
  • Rotblat’s voice may be heard briefly in this podcast and in the powerful video War No More, with Bruce Kent, Martin Bell, Caroline Lucas, and Desmond Tutu, who spoke about the defensive defence policies of Japan, Sweden, Switzerland and New Zealand.

And the latest word this year comes from his close friend and colleague Bruce Kent:

“Let’s return to Joseph Rotblat, who years ago took us back to fundamentals. In his ‘A World without War’ speech in 2002 he said: ‘getting rid of nuclear weapons is not enough. To safeguard the future of humanity we have to eliminate not only the instruments of waging war, but war itself.’

“Time to write to your local paper explaining what a lot of dangerous nonsense is today passing for defence”.





George Farebrother: in memoriam

April 13, 2015

george farebrotherThe late George Farebrother, who received the Civilisation 3000 alerts was, as his close colleague described him, “a deeply committed member of the global anti-nuclear movement who was intricately involved in moves to mount legal actions against governments that possess nuclear weapons”.

That colleague, Commander Robert Green Royal Navy (Ret’d) – from the Disarmament & Security Centre in New Zealand – wrote George’s obituary for the Guardian.

He records that from 1991 to 2004, they worked together as secretary and chair, respectively, of the UK affiliate of the World Court Project, an initiative that used the International Court of Justice at the Hague to challenge the legality of nuclear weapons. After the court confirmed in 1996 that the threat or use of nuclear weapons should generally be regarded as illegal, George sustained the project virtually single-handedly until his death.

From the moment he learned about the World Court Project in 1991 he took early retirement and dedicated the rest of his life to its activities. Applying his Quaker beliefs and teaching experience, he came up with the idea of collecting individual “declarations of public conscience” against nuclear weapons, which were accepted by the International Court of Justice as “citizens’ evidence”. This characteristically inventive concept was taken up all over the world, especially in Japan, and George helped present nearly four million declarations to the Court before its historic judgment.

He never gave up trying to engage with decision-makers and their advisers, and became a familiar figure in the corridors of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, parliament and London embassies. His cogent writing, networking flair and grass roots appeal brought in enough funds to allow him to travel to key United Nations events in New York and Geneva. Constantly devising fresh ways of using the law to mobilise against nuclear weapons, he became adept at producing computerised publicity material.

In the Friend [15.4.05], George reported that one hundred and eighty eight states had ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which obliged them to negotiate their abolition. Individuals who wanted to see the nuclear­-armed states honour their legal obligations and abolish these outrageous weapons forever signed personal declarations which were presented at UN HQ in New York during the NPT Review Conference in May. The declarations also demanded the start of negotiations leading to the abolition of nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control.

The writer, who had not seen George in person for several years, was very pleased to hear news about his work at second hand from a friend, whose daughter Roslyn (below) worked closely with George during his latter years.

roslyn cook world court project

Roslyn thus gained vital experience that has enabled her to continue his work for the abolition of nuclear weapons and a treaty to ban them, as readers may see here:

She attended the NPT Review Conference in 2010 with George and will be attending again in April as part of the CND delegation. Currently she is involved in a project to bring 80000 voices together next year to sing for peace and freedom from nuclear weapons.

George had also been secretary of the Sussex Peace Alliance, treasurer of Peacerights, Secretary of Eastbourne for Peace and Liberty, treasurer of the Institute for Law and Peace and a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

‘U.N. resolution: Israel must renounce nuclear arms’: Washington Post

December 8, 2014


Mark Shapiro draws attention to another article in Electronic Intifada by the author of One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.


Israel and the United States were the only countries to vote against a UN resolution calling for the prevention of an arms race in outer space and another resolution calling for a prohibition on the development and manufacture of new types of weapons of mass destruction, both passed by the General Assembly on 2nd December.

un officials call on I to sign nptUnited Nations News Centre Top UN officials called on hold-out states to ratify treaty banning nuclear tests in 2011

Another resolution on the “risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East,” calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) “without delay” and noting that it remains “the only State in the Middle East that has not yet” done so was passed, with Canada and Micronesia joining Israel and the US in voting against it.

US envoy Robert Wood voted against the resolution at the committee-level last month on the grounds that the measure “fails to meet the fundamental tests of fairness and balance. It confines itself to expressions of concern about the activities of a single country.”

But Israel is the only ‘single country’ with nuclear weapons in the region, and the only country that has not signed the NPT.


In this article in Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication focusing on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world, the author, Ali Abunimah, also touches on Israel’s nuclear safety record. It came near the bottom of a 2012 survey by the Nuclear Safety Initiative examining the security conditions of nuclear materials held in 32 countries. He also deplores the abstention of twenty states from the resolution calling on Israel to join the NPT, including India, Germany (which gives Israel submarines on which it deploys nuclear weapons) and other EU states including the UK, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and France:

“The usual suspects who lecture the rest of the world about “peace” but are always on hand to assist Israel to commit its crimes while shielding it from accountability”.

The Military and the Environment – 2

April 19, 2014

In February, news of Louise Say’s 1997 thesis The Military and the Environment was published on this site; and some points made in Chapter 1 will now be summarised.

Louise SayLouise, now a producer of TV documentaries, points out that – though environmental degradation is mainly caused by civilian activity, in particular, human economic activity – military resources can make an important contribution to improving environmental conditions. The total release of carbon dioxide as a result of military activity could be as high as 10% of total global emissions.

Though nation states continue to regard military security as the most important aspect of national security and have continued to maintain it by military means, there is evidence suggesting that environmental factors and not military threats have made state boundaries less secure: these include transboundary pollution, population movements and disputes over access to scarce resources, especially oil.

johan galtungConcern has long been expressed about overcrowding and conflict (Meadows et al, ‘Limits to Growth and others).

In 1982, Johan Galtung published Environment, Development and Military Activity: Towards an Alternative Security Doctrine, Oslo, Norwegian Universities Press.

Brigadier Michael Harbottle, a former Chief of UN Peacekeeping in Cyprus, argued that security must “embrace those non-military aspects of economic, humanitarian and environmental security”.

michael harbottle leaving cyprus

Louise cited his consideration of a holistic approach to security, requiring a ‘change in mindset’, which was set down in What is Proper Soldiering? (Centre for International Peacebuilding, 1992).

SIPRI 1994 figures record a period of ‘intense militarisation’ in the 1980s, with a proliferation of weapons, particularly nuclear, biological and chemical weapons to the less-developed countries.

Sovereign immunity & military secrecy

There is evidence (Worldwatch Institute 1984) that during the Cold War period many military activities caused environmental pollution, but that ‘sovereign immunity’ protected armed forces from the threat of legal prosecution in a number of countries. More of this in Chapter 5.

Military exercises, training and weapons development cause damaging environmental pollution, even in peacetime. A 1992 study undertaken by The Working Group on Militarism and the Environment at the University of Toronto, reviewed by Mary Kehoe, assessed the environmental impact of world military establishments which use large tracts of land and airspace and deplete energy resources; one quarter of all jet fuel is consumed by military aircraft (Michael Renner, Lester Brown). Other points included:

“Land use for war games destroys soil, wildlife, vegetation and natural water levels. Labrador, where the Innu have for years protested low-level flight training by NATO forces, is but one region where human beings and wild life have been severely disturbed by continuing flight training.

“Civilian workers employed in the production of explosives and other military “tools” may suffer unprotected exposure to harmful substances which can result in cancers and impairment of internal organs, the study notes. Military secrecy is one factor impeding the calculation of the total damage resulting from nuclear testing and accidents”.

A civilised move: from an outdated adversarial mindset to a co-operative one

October 11, 2010

After returning home to New Zealand from attending a major conference at the United Nations in New York reviewing prospects for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, Commander Green noted the extent to which the negotiations were detached from reality in his article in the Huffington Post.
As a former operator of British nuclear weapons, he tries to articulate this reality, and “get up close and personal” with this desperately serious issue for humanity, most recently in a book called Security Without Nuclear Deterrence mentioned earlier on this site. 

His carefully considered conclusion is that the concept of nuclear deterrence – uncritically accepted by nuclear weapon states – is a fifty year old confidence trick ‘cooked up’ by the US military industrial complex now dominating US politics.

 A rational [civilised] leader cannot use the nuclear threat

Robert Green explains, “A rational leader cannot make a credible nuclear threat against a nuclear adversary capable of a retaliatory strike. And a second strike is pointless, because it would be no more than posthumous revenge, in which millions of innocent people would die horribly . . . A nuclear “weapon” is militarily unusable, combining uniquely indiscriminate, long-term health effects, including genetic damage, from radioactivity with almost unimaginable explosive violence. In fact, it is the ultimate terror device, far worse than chemical or biological weapons, which are banned by global treaties.”

He points out that the overwhelming majority of states feel secure without depending on nuclear deterrence – which is effectively state-sponsored nuclear terrorism.

Meaningful progress towards nuclear weapon abolition is sought by group of experts from the NGO community. They advocate starting a parallel process leading to a Nuclear Weapons Convention and have drafted treaty which has been endorsed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as part of his five-point plan for nuclear disarmament.

Green’s civilised conclusion 

The key is to see nuclear disarmament as a security-building process, moving from an outdated adversarial mindset to a co-operative one where nuclear weapons are recognized as a lethal liability.

Read the full article.