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Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Related subjects: Conflict and Peace

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The CND symbol, designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958. It later became a universal peace symbol used in many different versions worldwide.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is an anti-nuclear organisation that advocates unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United Kingdom, international nuclear disarmament and tighter international arms regulation through agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It opposes military action that may result in the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and the building of nuclear power stations in the UK.

CND was formed in 1957 and since that time has periodically been at the forefront of the peace movement in the UK. It claims to be Europe's largest single-issue peace campaign. Since 1958, it has organised the Aldermaston March, which is held over the Easter weekend from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Establishment near Aldermaston.

The Campaign's current General Secretary is Kate Hudson.

The First Wave 1958-1963

On 2 November 1957, the New Statesman magazine published an article by J. B. Priestley on "Britain and the Nuclear Bombs", which was critical of Aneurin Bevan for changing his mind about nuclear weapons and ceasing to advocate unilateral nuclear disarmament by Britain. The journal received many letters of support, reflecting the growth in opposition to nuclear weapons following Britain's recent H-bomb tests. At the end of November, a meeting was held in the rooms of Canon John Collins, chaired by the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin, to launch the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Collins was chosen as its Chairman, Bertrand Russell as its President and Peggy Duff as its organising secretary. The other members of its executive committee were Ritchie Calder, journalist James Cameron, Howard Davies, Michael Foot, Arthur Goss, Kingsley Martin, J. B. Priestley and Joseph Rotblat.

CND held an inaugural public meeting at Central Hall, Westminster, on 17 February 1958, attended by five thousand people. After the meeting a few hundred left to demonstrate at Downing Street. The new organisation attracted considerable public interest and draw support from a range of interests, including scientists, religious leaders, academics, journalists, writers, actors and musicians. Its sponsors included 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, A.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, the cartoonist ' 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, D. H. Pennington, Eric Baker and Dora Russell. Organisations that had previously opposed British nuclear weapons supported CND, including the British Peace Committee, the Direct Action Committee, the National Committee for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons Tests and the Quakers.

CND's declared policies were the unconditional renunciation of the use, production of or dependence upon nuclear weapons by Britain and the bringing about of a general disarmament convention. In the meantime, Britain should halt the flight of planes armed with nuclear weapons, end nuclear testing, not proceed with missile bases and not provide nuclear weapons to any other country.

The symbol adopted by CND was designed in 1958 by Gerald Holtom and in the following decade became an international peace symbol. It is based on the semaphore symbols for "N" and "D" (for Nuclear Disarmament) within a circle. Holtom later said that it also represented "an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya's peasant before the firing squad."

In Easter 1958, a 52-mile march from London to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston was organised by the Direct Action Committee, supported by CND after some initial reluctance. The march was the subject of a documentary by Lindsay Anderson, March to Aldermaston. Thereafter, CND organised annual Easter marches starting at Aldermaston and ending in London. 60,000 people participated in the 1959 march and 150,000 in the 1961 and 1962 marches.

CND supporters were generally left of centre in politics. About three-quarters of CND supporters were Labour voters and many of the early executive committee were Labour Party members. Its founders envisaged CND as a campaign by eminent individuals who would work through the Labour Party and lobby government for a change in defence policy. The Labour Party voted at its 1960 Conference for unilateral nuclear disarmament, representing CND's greatest influence on national politics and coinciding with the highest level of public support for its policy of unilateralism. Hugh Gaitskell, the Labour 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. Labour's failure to win the General election of 1959 and its rejection of unilateralism in 1961 upset the plans of the CND leadership and, although CND retained the support of a significant minority of the population, from this point onwards its prospects of success began to fade.

As it did not have a national membership until 1966, the strength of CND's support can be estimated only from the numbers of those attending demonstrations or expressing approval in opinion polls. Between 1955 and 1962, between 19% to 33% of people in Britain expressed disapproval of the manufacture of nuclear weapons (though it has been claimed that many of those also disapproved of CND's mass protests). Public support for unilateralism has remained at around 25% ever since.

CND rapidly became a mass movement and attendance at CND demonstrations increased until about 1963. A network of autonomous branches and specialist groups (such as Christian CND) sprang up. The Aldermaston march, the CND symbol and its slogan "Ban the Bomb" became icons and part of the youth culture of the sixties. The different conceptions of CND - campaign by eminent individuals or mass movement - caused friction between leaders and supporters. Until the formation of a national council in 1961, supporters and local groups had no formal voice in the national organisation, which until then had been led by the self-appointed executive committee.

In 1960 Bertrand Russell resigned from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in order to form the Committee of 100, which became, in effect, the direct action wing of CND. Russell argued that direct action was necessary because the press was losing interest in CND and because the danger of nuclear war was so great that it was necessary to obstruct government preparations for it. In 1958 CND had cautiously accepted direct action as a possible method of campaigning, but, largely under the influence of Canon John Collins, the CND chairman, the CND leadership opposed any sort of unlawful protest. The Committee of 100 was created as a separate organisation partly for that reason and partly because of personal animosity between Collins and Russell. Although the Committee was supported by many in CND, it has been suggested that the campaign against nuclear weapons was weakened by the friction between the two organisations. The Committee organised large sit-down demonstrations in London and at military bases. It later became involved in other political campaigns, including Biafra, the Vietnam war and housing in the UK. It was dissolved in 1968. When direct action came to the fore again in the 1980s, it was generally accepted by the peace movement as a normal part of protest.

On the 1963 Aldermaston march, a clandestine group calling itself Spies for Peace distributed leaflets about a secret government establishment, RSG 6, that the march was passing. The leaflet said that RSG 6 was to be the local HQ for a military dictatorship after nuclear war. A large group left the march, much against the wishes of the CND leadership, to demonstrate at RSG 6. Later, when the march reached London, there were disorderly demonstrations in which anarchists were prominent, quickly deprecated in the press and in parliament. In 1964 there was only a one-day march, partly because of the events of 1963 and partly because the logistics of the march, which had grown beyond all expectation, had exhausted the organisers. The Aldermaston March was resumed in 1965.

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.

John Collins helped to form the International Confederation for Disarmament and Peace in 1963 and resigned as chairman of CND in 1964. He had been unpopular with many CND supporters and he found himself out of sympathy with the direction the movement was taking.

Support for CND dwindled 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 1980s, CND underwent a major revival, its membership increasing from 4,000 to 100,000 between 1979 and 1984. This was a response to increasing tension between the superpowers following the deployment of American Pershing missiles in Western Europe, SS20s in the Soviet Bloc countries and Britain's replacement of the Polaris armed submarine fleet with Trident missiles in 1982. The NATO exercise Able Archer 83 also added to international tension. CND attracted supporters who opposed the Government’s civil defence plans as outlined in an official booklet, Protect and Survive. This publication was ridiculed in a popular pamphlet, Protest and Survive, by E.P.Thompson, a leading anti-nuclear campaigner of the period. Public support for unilateralism reached its highest level since the 1960s. More women than men supported it.

The British anti-nuclear movement at this time differed from the movement of the 1960s. Many groups sprang up independently of CND, some affiliating later. CND's previous objection to civil disobedience was dropped and it became a normal part of anti-nuclear protest. The women's movement had a strong influence, much of it emanating from the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. The Labour Party adopted unilateralism in the 1970s, though it dropped it after 1983.

New CND sections were formed, including Ex-services CND, Green CND, Student CND, Trade Union CND, and Youth CND. A network of protesters, calling itself Cruise Watch, tracked and harassed Cruise missiles whenever they were carried on public roads. After a while, the missiles traveled only at night under police escort. The peace movement of early 80s was the largest in modern history. In October 1981, 250,000 people joined an anti-nuclear demonstration in London. In October 1983, three million people took part in simultaneous demonstrations across Europe, 300,000 of them in London.

Organised opposition to CND

CND's growing support in the 1980s provoked opposition from several sources, notably Peace Through Nato, the British Atlantic Committee (which received government funding), Women and Families for Defence (set up by right-wing journalist Lady Olga Maitland) and the Coalition for Peace through Security (CPS), in which the future Conservative MP Julian Lewis was involved. The government also took direct steps to counter the influence of CND, Secretary of State for Defence Michael Heseltine setting up Defence Secretariat 19 "to explain to the public the facts about the Government's policy on deterrence and multilateral disarmament". Gerald Vaughan, a government minister, tried to halve government funding for the Citizens Advice Bureau, apparently because Joan Ruddock, CND's chair, was employed part-time at his local bureau. Bruce Kent, the general secretary of CND and a Roman Catholic priest, was warned by Cardinal Basil Hume not to become too involved in politics.

The activities of anti-CND organisations included publication, debate, counter-demonstrations against CND, and, it is claimed, untruthful personal attacks on CND members. A draft CPS leaflet alleged that Bruce Kent had links with the IRA. Kent claimed that the CPS placed a spy in CND (in fact MI5 had done so - see below).

The CPS attracted criticism for refusing to reveal the source of its funds whilst alleging that the anti-nuclear movement was funded by the Soviet Union. CND's opponents tried to expose CND as a Communist or Soviet-dominated organisation. Communists have played an active role in the organisation, and John Cox, its chairman from 1971 to 1977, was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 1990, it was discovered in the archive of the Stasi (the state security service of the former German Democratic Republic) that one member of CND's governing council, Vic Allen, had passed information to them about CND. This discovery was made public in a BBC TV programme in 1999, reviving debate about Soviet links to CND. Allen stood against Joan Ruddock for the leadership of CND in 1985, but was defeated. Ruddock responded to the Stasi revelations with "[Allen] certainly had no influence on national CND, and as a pro-Soviet could never have succeeded to the chair. CND was as opposed to Soviet nuclear weapons as Western ones."

Opinion polls in 1982 and 1983 showed that public support for unilateralism had fallen from 31% in September 1982 to 21% in January 1983 and 19% in May 1983, though it is hard to say whether this was a result of the propaganda campaign against CND or not.

State surveillance of CND

The security service ( MI5) has carried out surveillance of CND members it considered to be subversive. From the late 1960s until the mid-1970s, MI5 designated CND as subversive by virtue of its being "communist controlled". From the late 1970s, it was downgraded to "communist-penetrated". MI5 says it has no current investigations in this area.

In 1985, Cathy Massiter, an MI5 officer who had been responsible for the surveillance of CND from 1981 to 1983, resigned and made disclosures to a Channel 4 20/20 Vision programme, "MI5's Official Secrets". She said that her work was determined more by the political importance of CND than by any security threat posed by subversive elements within it. In 1983, she analysed telephone intercepts on John Cox that gave her access to conversations with Joan Ruddock and Bruce Kent. MI5 also placed a spy, Harry Newton, in the CND office. On the basis of Ruddock's contacts, MI5 suspected her of being a communist sympathiser and it was suggested that Bruce Kent might be a crypto-communist. MI5 also suspected its treasurer, Cathy Ashton, of being a communist sympathiser. When Michael Heseltine became Secretary of State for Defence, Massiter prepared a report on CND for him. She was asked to provide information for Defence Secretariat 19 about leading CND personnel but was instructed to include only information from published sources. Ruddock claims that DS19 released distorted information regarding her political party affiliations to the media and Conservative Party candidates.

Current CND

Support for CND fell after the end of the Cold war. It had not succeeded in converting the British public to unilateralism and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union British nuclear weapons still have majority support. CND's policy of opposing American nuclear bases, however, was and is more in tune with public opinion.

In 2006 CND launched a campaign against nuclear power which proved popular. Its membership, which had fallen to 32,000, increased threefold after Prime Minister Tony Blair made a commitment to nuclear energy.

In recent years it has extended its campaigns to include opposition to U.S. and British policy in the Middle East, rather as it broadened its anti-nuclear campaigns in the 1960s to include opposition to the Vietnam War. In collaboration with the Stop the War Coalition and the Muslim Association of Britain, CND has organised anti-war marches under the slogan " Don't Attack Iraq", including protests on September 28, 2002 and February 15, 2003. It also organised a vigil for the victims of the 2005 London bombings.

CND campaigns against the Trident missile. In March 2007 it organised a rally in Parliament Square to coincide with the Commons motion to renew the weapons system. The rally was attended by over 1,000 people. It was addressed by Labour MPs Jon Trickett, Emily Thornberry, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, and Elfyn Llwyd of Plaid Cymru and Angus MacNeil of the Scottish National Party. In the House of Commons, 161 MPs (88 of them Labour) voted against the renewal of Trident and the Government motion was carried only with the support of Conservatives.

CND's current strategic objectives are:

  • The elimination of British nuclear weapons and global abolition of nuclear weapons. It campaigns for the cancellation of Trident by the British government and against the deployment of nuclear weapons in Britain.
  • The abolition of weapons of mass destruction, in particular chemical and biological weapons. CND wants a ban on the manufacture, testing and use of depleted uranium weapons
  • A nuclear-free, less militarised and more secure Europe. It supports the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It opposes US military bases and nuclear weapons in Europe and British membership of NATO.
  • The closure of the nuclear power industry.


CND has a national organisation based in London, national groups in Wales, Ireland and Scotland, regional groups in Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, the East Midlands, Kent, London, Manchester, Merseyside, Mid Somerset, Norwich, South Cheshire and North Staffordshire, Southern England, South West England, Suffolk, Surrey, Sussex, Tyne and Wear, the West Midlands and Yorkshire, and local branches.

There are four "specialist sections": Trade Union CND, Christian CND, Labour CND and Ex-Services CND, which have rights of representation on the governing council. There are also parliamentary, youth and student groups.

The Council is made up of the chair of CND, the treasurer, 3 vice-chairs, 15 directly elected members, a representative of each of the specialist sections, 1 from Student CND, 3 from Youth CND and 27 from the regional groups. Employees sit on the Council but do not vote.

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– 2009

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

The post was abolished in 1994, and reclaimed in 2010.

  • Kate Hudson, 2010–


1970-1995 taken from Social Movements in Britain, Paul Byrne, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-07123-2 (1997), p. 91.

Year Members Year Members
1970 2,120 1986 84,000
1971 2,047 1987 75,000
1972 2,389 1988 72,000
1973 2,367 1989 62,000
1974 2350 1990 62,000
1975 2536 1991 60,000
1976 3220 1992 57,000
1977 4,287 1993 52,000
1978 3,220 1994 47,000
1979 4,287 1995 47,700
1980 9,000 1996
1981 20,000 1997
1982 50,000 1998
1983 75,000 1999
1984 100,000 2000
1985 92,000 2001


Much of National CND's historical archive is at the Modern Records Centre at the 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.

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