Challenging the rhetoric and the actions which underpin Nato. Photo: Getty
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Nato stands for bombed-out Afghan schools, not Obama grinning for photo-ops

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, explains why she has been protesting the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport.

If you’ve been in Newport and Cardiff over the past week, you might have thought you’d entered a warzone.

As Nato warships drifted ominously into the harbour and US Osprey and Nighthawk helicopters thundered in the sky, above mile after mile of steel fencing, disgruntled residents were left taking to Twitter to complain about their desks shaking at work. "The amount of helicopters I have heard today makes it sound like we’re at war,” one said.

Here in the UK, we can view this dazzling array of weaponry with whimsy: with sardonic takes on social media.

But the sophistication of this security apparatus in Wales is a world away from the carnage in Afghanistan: a country left in ruins by a Nato-led force. Here, these same helicopters really do fly over a war zone. They fly over a country which has seen tens of thousands of its men, women and children killed. They fly over shattered institutions, a foundering security force, a state rocked to the point of collapse.

And that is what Nato stands for. It’s not Barack Obama grinning for a photo-op in a Newport school – it’s the bombed-out ruins of an Afghan school providing the only playground for local children.

Formed in 1949 as a "defensive" alliance, Nato prompted the creation of the Warsaw Pact. But while the end of the Cold War in 1990 may have meant the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, it was the beginning of a new era for Nato.

This "defensive" alliance decided to take on "out of area" operations. Sometimes "the best form of offence is defence", isn’t that how the saying goes? Defence through killing tens of thousands in Afghanistan? Defence through the bloody chaos in Libya, where militias compete in an all but lawless land? Few can now argue that these interventions have contributed anything to global security.

And of course there is Ukraine, which is set to be the primary item on the agenda at the Nato Summit in Newport. It is clear there is no military solution for the Ukraine crisis – from whatever quarter it comes. But few can deny that Nato’s insatiable expansion into eastern Europe has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, raising the spectre of a new Cold War. Is it any surprise that Russia feels threatened? Do we really need to spell out how the US would react to a Russian-led military alliance pulling up at the border in Mexico?

For the past week, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been working with partners in Europe and beyond to not only protest the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport, but also to challenge the rhetoric and the actions which underpin it.

The No To Nato Counter-Summit was held in Cardiff and Newport last weekend. It saw peace campaigners and activists from across Europe, the US, and Russia come together to discuss alternatives and diplomatic routes towards true global security.

And the weight of the peace movement has been never been clearer. A potentially disastrous bombing campaign in Syria was averted last year, when more than a decade of protest against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond hung heavily over the Parliamentary vote. A humiliated David Cameron was forced to abandon military action. The atrocities of the civil war in Syria are all too clear, but let’s not delude ourselves that bombing in favour of the rebels would have solved anything. Many of those who called for bombing in August 2013 are now telling us that we should be aligning with Assad to counter the barbarism of Islamic State. What a difference a year makes.

Back in Newport, the peace movement today prised open the gates of Fortress Nato. A delegation from the No To Nato protests was allowed through the steel fence to hand-in letters and messages of opposition to Nato. A symbolic act, of course, but one which shows the real strengths of the peace movement and its ability to actually shape politics in our country.

Tens of millions around the world oppose Nato’s interventionism, its expansionism and the fact that US/Nato nuclear weapons are hosted on European soil – in countries with staunchly anti-nuclear public opinion like Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. It is only through persisting with campaigns which call for political solutions over military actions, for diplomacy over air strikes, and for peace not war, can we hope to achieve real and lasting global security.

Kate Hudson is general secretary of the CND

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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