Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Conflict and Peace

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo

In British politics, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been at the forefront of the peace movement in the United Kingdom and claims to be Europe's largest single-issue peace campaign. The organization is led by an elected " chair", currently Kate Hudson.

As well as campaigning against military actions that may result in the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, they are also in favour of nuclear disarmament by all countries and tighter international regulation through treaties such as the NPT. They are also opposed to any new nuclear power stations being built in the United Kingdom. One of the activities most strongly associated with CND is the Aldermaston March held over the Easter weekend from Trafalgar Square, London to the Atomic Weapons Establishment near Aldermaston, taking the whole four days to complete.

Although many of its members, including religious groups that make up a significant minority of the active membership, are strict pacifists, the organisation itself is not.

The First Wave 1958-1963

Public opposition to nuclear weapons emerged in Britain in the mid-fifties when the government announced its decision to manufacture a hydrogen bomb. Between 1955 and 1962 a significant minority (varying from 19% to 33%) expressed disapproval of its manufacture.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was founded in 1958. J. B. Priestley had written an article for the New Statesman, published on 2 November 1957, entitled Britain and the Nuclear Bombs. Priestley's article was heavily critical of Aneurin Bevan for abandoning his policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The journal received numerous letters of support for Priestley's article.

At the end of November, Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, chaired a meeting of fifty people in Canon John Collins's rooms to launch the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Canon Collins was chosen as its Chairman and Bertrand Russell as its President. Its Executive Committee consisted of Richie Calder, James Cameron, Howard Davies, Michael Foot, Arthur Goss, Kingsley Martin, J. B. Priestley, Professor Joseph Rotblat, Sheila Jones and Peggy Duff (Organising Secretary).

CND also had a number of sponsors: John Arlott, Peggy Ashcroft, the Bishop of Birmingham Dr J. L. Wilson, Benjamin Britten, Viscount Chaplin, Michael de la Bédoyère, Bob Edwards, MP, Dame Edith Evans, E.S.Frere, Gerald Gardiner, QC, Victor Gollancz, Dr I.Grunfeld, E.M.Forster, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Rev. Trevor Huddleston, Sir Julian Huxley, Edward Hyams, the Bishop of Llandaff Dr Glyn Simon, Doris Lessing, Sir Compton Mackenzie, the Very Rev George McLeod, Miles Malleson, Denis Matthews, Sir Francis Meynell, Henry Moore, John Napper, Ben Nicholson, Sir Herbert Read, Flora Robson, Michael Tippett, Vicky, Professor C. H. Waddington and Barbara Wootton.

Other prominent founding members of CND were Fenner Brockway, E. P. Thompson, A. J. P. Taylor, Anthony Greenwood, Lord Simon, Eric Baker, and Dora Russell.

CND held its inaugural public meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, on 17 February 1958. Five thousand people attended and afterwards a few hundred marched to Downing Street.

From the outset people from all sections of society got involved. There were scientists, more aware than anyone else of the full extent of the dangers which nuclear weapons represented, along with religious leaders such as Canon John Collins of St Paul's Cathedral, concerned to resist the moral evil which nuclear weapons represented. The Society of Friends (Quakers) was very supportive, as well as a wide range of academics, journalists, writers, actors and musicians. Labour Party members and trade unionists were overwhelmingly sympathetic as were people who had been involved in earlier anti-bomb campaigns organised by the British Peace Committee, the Direct Action Committee and the National Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests.

CND organised many demonstrations and the Aldermaston march attracted tens of thousands of people. It had a national network of branches, and specialist groups, such as Christian CND (founded in 1960), were formed by supporters with common interests. It did not have formal membership at this time, so the strength of CND support can only be estimated from the numbers attending demonstrations and expressing approval in opinion polls. The Aldermaston march, CND's logo and its slogan "Ban the Bomb" became icons and part of the youth culture of the sixties.

About three-quarters of CND supporters were Labour voters and many of the early Executive Committee were Labour Party members, hoping to persuade Labour to adopt a unilateralist policy. The Labour Party voted at its 1960 Conference for unilateral nuclear disarmament and this is regarded as CND's high-point in this period. Hugh Gaitskell, the Party leader, received the vote with a promise to "fight, fight, and fight again" against the decision and it was overturned at the 1961 Conference. CND's popular support began to decline from this point.

Its logo, designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom became widespread outside of Britain during the 1960s as the " peace symbol". The peace symbol is based on the international semaphore symbols for "N" and "D" (for Nuclear Disarmament) enclosed within a circle. It may also be seen as a cross with lowered arms. There is a common misconception that Bertrand Russell designed the logo, stemming from his being president of the organisation at the time.

In 1960 Bertrand Russell resigned from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in order to form the Committee of 100. The Committee of 100, founded in reaction to what it regarded as the tameness of CND, became, in effect, its direct-action wing. Its members (who included several of the original founders of CND and covered a vast range of political opinion) became involved in numerous other political campaigns, ranging from Biafra to Vietnam to housing and homelessness in the UK.

Many people who disapproved of the H-Bomb also disapproved of CND and public support for unilateralism tended to decline as CND increased in prominence, particularly during the peak of the Committee of 100's civil disobedience campaign of the early sixties.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in the Autumn of 1962, in which the United States blockaded a Soviet attempt to put nuclear missiles on Cuba, created some anxiety about the possibility of imminent nuclear war and CND organised demonstrations on the issue. But six months after the crisis, a Gallup Poll found that public worry about nuclear weapons had fallen back to its lowest point since 1957, and there was a view, disputed by CND supporters, that Kennedy's success in facing down Khrushchev turned the British public away from CND.

Support for CND dwindled rapidly after the 1963 Test Ban Treaty. From the mid-sixties, the anti-war movement's preoccupation with the Vietnam War tended to eclipse concern about nuclear weapons but CND continued to campaign against them.

The Second Wave (1980-89)

In the early 1980s the organisation underwent a major revival, as tensions between the superpowers rose with the deployment of American Pershing II medium-range ballistic missiles in Western Europe and SS20s in the Soviet Bloc countries and the Thatcher government replacing the Polaris armed submarine fleet with Trident. Some aspects of what happened in the wider world at the time are to be found in the article on Able Archer 83.

During this period CND established a number of "Specialist Sections" to add to Christian CND and Labour CND (est. 1979), including: Ex-services CND, Green CND, Liberal CND, Student CND, Trade Union CND, and Youth CND.

Much of National CND's historical archive is at the Modern Records Centre University of Warwick and the London School of Economics, although records of local and regional groups are spread throughout the country in public and private collections.

Current CND

Today, CND has several priority campaigns, with recent campaigning opposing the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system, and falls within their first priority campaign: Scrap Trident.

  • "Scrap Trident": Against the UK's nuclear deterrent
  • "Missile Defence: The New Threat": Against the US Strategic Defense Initiative
  • "No to NATO"
  • "Stop the Plutonium Trade"

Its campaign to prevent the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system saw major opposition to the government's proposals, who had not allowed the Labour Party to debate the issue at the conference preceding the House of Commons vote.

The vote which took place on 14 March 2007, saw 95 Labour MPs support an amendment to delay the decision and 89 Labour MPs vote against the government motion - the largest Labour rebellion since their election in 1997, other than on the decision to invade Iraq. The decision to replace Trident was passed by the Labour and Conservative leaderships voting together.

CND organised a rally on Parliament Square attended by over 1000 people, which was addressed by Labour MPs Jon Trickett, Emily Thornberry, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as Elfyn Llwyd of Plaid Cymru and Angus MacNeil of the SNP.

In an end to its single-issue focus on the nuclear issue, since 2001 it has become a focus for organising resistance campaigns to U.S. and British policies on the Middle East. Along with the Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain, it organised several anti-war marches under the main slogan " Don't Attack Iraq," including those on September 28, 2002 and February 15, 2003 in London, and also a Vigil for the Victims of the London bombings on July 9, 2005 in London.


There exist several branches of CND to cover the British Isles, namely CND Cymru, Irish CND and Scottish CND, in addition to " 'National' CND". For England there are Regional Groups covering Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, East Midlands, Kent, London, Manchester, Merseyside, Mid Somerset, Norwich, South Cheshire and North Staffordshire, Southern, South West, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and Yorkshire.

This is in addition to the several "Specialist Sections" listed above which have continued in some form and been joined by Parliamentary CND. Note also that Youth and Student CND became effectively a single conjoined group.

The CND Council is made up of the Chair, Treasurer, 3 Vice-Chairs, 15 Directly Elected Members, 1 representative of Christian CND, 1 of Labour CND, 1 of Student CND, 3 of Youth and Student CND and 27 Members Representing 11 Regional Groups .

Chairs of CND since 1958

  • Canon John Collins 1958–1964
  • Olive Gibbs 1964–1967
  • Sheila Oakes 1967–1968
  • Malcolm Caldwell 1968–1970
  • April Carter 1970–1971
  • John Cox 1971–1977
  • Bruce Kent 1977–1979
  • Hugh Jenkins 1979–1981
  • Joan Ruddock 1981–1985
  • Paul Johns 1985 – 1987
  • Bruce Kent 1987 –1990
  • Marjorie Thompson 1990–1993
  • Janet Bloomfield 1993–1996
  • David Knight 1996–2001
  • Carol Naughton 2001–2003
  • Kate Hudson 2003–

General Secretaries of CND since 1958

  • Peggy Duff 1958–1967
  • Dick Nettleton 1967–1973
  • Dan Smith 1974–1975
  • Duncan Rees 1976–1979
  • Bruce Kent 1979–1985
  • Meg Beresford 1985–1990
  • Gary Lefley, 1990–1994


Taken from Social Movements in Britain, Paul Byrne, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-07123-2 (1997), p.91.

Year Members Year Members
1970 2120 1986 84000
1971 2047 1987 75000
1972 2389 1988 72000
1973 2367 1989 62000
1974 2350 1990 62000
1975 2536 1991 60000
1976 3220 1992 57000
1977 4287 1993 52000
1978 3220 1994 47000
1979 4287 1995 47700
1980 9000
1981 20000
1982 50000
1983 75000
1984 100000
1985 92000
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