Tag Archives: nuclear weapons

Baroness Sue Miller writes: Lib Dem Conference should debate UN nuclear treaty

This week the Federal Conference Committee will decide whether to allow Conference to debate the UK joining the UN multilateral nuclear disarmament Treaty.

Lib Dems, like the other main parties, have been unwilling to be seen as unilateralist but since the Trident debate a most important new initiative from the UN has changed the nuclear weapons landscape.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, supported at the UN General Assembly by 122 countries, will place nuclear weapons in the same category as other WMDs -illegal under International  law.  Also,  importantly, it provides a framework and a pathway to their eventual total elimination. If we are to live up to our statement that we support multilateral disarmament, internationalism and a long term view we must debate and, I believe, support it.

The Treaty grew out of three Conferences on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear War. As the scientists, medics and civil society examined various scenarios it became starkly clear that now, with more powerful weapons, more countries possessing them and a modernisation programme planned in several countries the scenario was even bleaker than at the height of the Cold War. Even a limited regional nuclear exchange would have environmental consequences for agriculture that would lead to the risk of billions starving. They also found that no medical response could be adequate. As the International Red Cross said as the UN debated the Treaty

The treaty alone will not make nuclear weapons disappear overnight. But it delegitimises their role in the world today and provides a strong disincentive for their proliferation. The treaty signals to all that any development, modernising, testing, threat or plan to use nuclear weapons by anyone is completely unacceptable.

The timescale is important and practical. Nuclear states will not relinquish their weapons overnight. In the current febrile atmosphere of Russian/Chinese /US relations there are likely to be decades of work to do the create the necessary trust, verification and de escalation. 

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Nuclear fudge on the Lib Dem stall

Bismark is quoted as having said that “politics is the art of the possible” and in perpetuating a nuclear defence policy that can never be realised, the Liberal Democrats  have succeeded in stepping out of the debate on nuclear weapons.  The policy of having a part time submarine which probably isn’t carrying any nuclear warheads is neither possible nor deterrent.
 
This position is the sort of contingency that is adopted by fence sitters who do not expect ever to have to implement the policy that they have adopted and quite frankly for a party that aspires to government it is an entirely unsustainable policy.
 
There are in fact on the nuclear debate only two main questions, do we want a nuclear based defence policy or not?  If the answer is yes then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it means in reality that we leave the warheads at home until after war has been declared.  If the answer is no then the policy of the Liberal Democrats is not that policy as it retains the warheads.

Fundamentally we are saying that we want to negotiate away warheads that we will never use and will never have the opportunity to use and so we have taken our warheads out of any possible multi-lateral agreement.
Posted in News | 32 Comments

Observations of an Ex Pat: Brexit goes nuclear

The EU is worried about losing their American nuclear umbrella.

The UK is worried about losing their European market and their seat at the European top table.

Britain has nuclear weapons. The EU has markets. Is there a fit?

If so, the result could be a tectonic strategic shift with far-reaching political repercussions.

My sources say there is enough of a fit for Prime Minister Theresa May to be thinking of offering to extend the British deterrent to EU countries in return for Brexit concessions.  This is most likely to be in cooperation with the French.

The reaction of the strategic eggheads ranges from “not incredible” to “logical,” to “totally unrealistic” and then “utterly crass” with a lot of “no comments” thrown in for good measure.

No comment was what the British Ministry of Defence said. No reply was all I could elicit from The Foreign Office and Downing Street. But The Department  for  Exiting the European Union, was more forthcoming. It referred me to Mrs May’s 18 January  Brexit strategy speech in which she said: 

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Lib Dems to continue quest for multilateral disarmament after amendment to get rid of nuclear weapons falls

Another conference, another debate on nuclear weapons. The anti nuclear weapons side has won once, in 1986, so the odds weren’t good. What would happen today, though, given that it was the first ever vote under OMOV.

Well, the party was clearly bringing out its big hitter so both sides. Conference darling Alistair Carmichael for the party working group position and Conference darling Julian Huppert for the anemdnemnt.

The working group was set up in Bournemouth in 2015 to look at the issues around nuclear weapons and drew up a paper which recommended keeping a nuclear deterrent and working for multilateral disarmament. An amendment recommended getting rid of nuclear weapons and spending the money strengthening our conventional weapons which, its movers argued, were actually what was needed to counter the global threats we face.

After a generally good-natured debate, Conference voted by 244 to 429 to reject the amendment.

Here’s a flavour of the debate:

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Tim Farron writes: A nuclear weapons-free world?

 

I recently revisited an article that I wrote ahead of Autumn Conference in 2015. My article opened with the line, “Another Lib Dem conference and we find ourselves talking about our nuclear deterrent once more.”

And they say politics has changed in the last eighteen months!

In York this week, we will again debate the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. At conference’s request, the FPC has commissioned a policy paper on nuclear weapons (pdf). The paper, written by party members after long consideration, advocates a step down the nuclear ladder by moving to a medium-readiness posture, and proposes an end to continuous at-sea deterrence. It also calls on the UK to become a leader in the disarmament and control of nuclear weapons. This position reflects the UK’s continued need for a minimum nuclear deterrent, suitable for the 21st century, which sits alongside the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to working for a world free of nuclear weapons, working within international institutions, particularly the UN.

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Is Trident’s successor a white elephant?

On Saturday afternoon Spring Conference debates motion F11 “Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons” which actually endorses the government’s plans to replace Trident with Successor at a cost of £200 billion, twice the original estimate.  The motion also talks about developing multilateral negotiations and ending Continuous-at-sea Deterrence (CASD) but in essence it supports a like-for-like deterrent, which we opposed through the coalition years.

I was on the working group which drafted the report which this motion approves, but I don’t agree. I’m tabling an amendment which agrees with most of the motion’s analysis and call for beefing up negotiations but also calls for Trident to be phased out and NOT replaced.

Many party members have long supported ending the UK’s nuclear weapons but others have placed their faith in nuclear deterrence on balance.  People may feel the global security situation inclines them more than ever to support replacing Trident with the Successor programme.  The argument can be summarised as “Oh my God, Putin !, Oh my God, Trump !  We better have our own nukes”.  I originally felt that the party’s latest working group on the subject was a waste of time.  Nothing had changed.  But I was wrong.  

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Living on borrowed time

Many of you will have read Kate Atkinson’s novel, Life After Life. If you haven’t, I recommend it. On one level, it is a story of alternative realities, but its real theme is war. In chapter after chapter, the central character, Ursula, meets a different untimely end. Each time, this is followed by a chapter in which, in an alternative reality, the tragedy is averted, and Ursula lives longer, on borrowed time. Perhaps we are all Ursula, in one of her more fortunate realities. I’m sure I am.

I was born in the early hours of the 9th September, 1962. I had picked an inauspicious moment. Within a few hours of my arrival at Epsom District Hospital, a consignment of Soviet ballistic missiles had arrived in Cuba. This led, when I was a month old, to a confrontation between the USA and the USSR, which came close to leading to nuclear war.

On this occasion, disaster was averted. But my friends and I grew up with deadly Soviet weapons aimed permanently at us. Meanwhile, our government had equally deadly weapons aimed permanently at Russian children.

On 26th September 1983, a couple of weeks after my twenty-first birthday, the world again came close to nuclear war. This time, by a complete accident. The Soviet satellite early warning system appeared to detect five missiles from the United States heading towards the Soviet Union. The officer in charge at the time, Stanislav Petrov, would have been expected to report this to his superiors. Had he done so, a retaliatory strike might have been ordered, almost certainly leading to full scale nuclear war. But Petrov chose to “wait and see”. And it turned out the system had malfunctioned. Petrov may have saved millions of lives.

Posted in Op-eds | 63 Comments

Towards a world free of nuclear weapons

At Spring Conference in York, Liberal Democrats will debate a new policy paper, Towards a World Free of Nuclear Weapons. 

This is an important debate for Liberal Democrats, because we understand all too well the catastrophic consequences of detonating nuclear weapons. The ethical questions they raise go to the heart of our party’s values: we believe that any nuclear war is morally unacceptable and must never be fought. We appreciate that as a founding signatory of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation on Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK has a legal responsibility to reinvigorate international nuclear disarmament initiatives. And we have always recognised the Government’s duty to protect the British people from attack and to play a full part in protecting the UK’s NATO allies.

We are reviewing our nuclear weapons policies because the international security situation has changed, and not for the better, since 2013 when they were last updated. With Russia’s growing military adventurism, increased instability in the Middle East and a changing balance of power in Asia, the world is a more dangerous place than it has been for many years. In this challenging environment, strengthening NATO solidarity, military capability, and coherence should be the highest priority for the UK’s defence policy, especially if we leave the EU. The policy paper concludes that this is not the right time to renounce our nuclear weapons. The UK should maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent. 

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Have party members come any closer to a common view on nuclear weapons?

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741  party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

Nuclear weapons have always been a tricky issue for Liberal Democrats. In Bournemouth last year, the vote on whether to renew Trident was knife-edge close. We’ve been fudging the issues for years and the day of reckoning approaches. The Bournemouth  debate resulted in a working group being set up to fully investigate the possibilities.  They outline five options in a consultation paper here.

The first 3 options provide for some sort of nuclear weapon. They are supported by 59.11% but only 23.62% support like for like replacement.

Continue with the successor programme to Trident  23.62%

Contingency posture (partial replacement) 25.37%

Airborne Deterrent 10.12%

The two options which don’t involve having nuclear weapons are supported by 40.89%

Virtual capability 9.31%

Zero option 31.58%

Does this mean that the divide is growing? We’ll have to wait till Spring Conference in York to find out.

Here are some of the comments people made:

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The ethics surrounding the nuclear weapons debate

Members of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group are presenting their personal views as part of a wider consultation process into the party’s future policy on nuclear weapons. The full consultation paper can be found at www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-conference-16-policypapers and the consultation window runs until 28 October. Party members are invited to attend the consultation session at party conference in Brighton, to be held on Saturday 17 September at 1pm in the Balmoral Room of the Hilton.

The UK’s options for the successor to Trident are (boiled down to essentials):

  1. Same as now – nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, only new.
  2. Keep most or all of the kit but stop continuous nuclear armed submarine patrols, unless circumstances change.
  3. Shift from missiles in submarines to bombs dropped from aircraft.
  4. Don’t keep nuclear weapons but do keep the expertise and the radioactive materials needed to make them, just in case.
  5. No nuclear weapons. Unilateral disarmament. The zero option.

I have been invited to write about these options in the light of ethical and humanitarian concerns.

Nuclear weapons are not really weapons of war. They are beyond war. They are means of annihilating life as we know it on this planet. There are about 15,000 nuclear warheads in the world today, which in a full nuclear conflict could comfortably exterminate us all.

They are so destructive that their use in pursuit of a traditional victory is impossible. They are not made to be used, but to make threats with. 

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The UK and the rapid deterioration in global security

Members of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group are presenting their personal views as part of a wider consultation process into the party’s future policy on nuclear weapons. The full consultation paper can be found at www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-conference-16-policypapers and the consultation window runs until 28 October. Party members are invited to attend the consultation session at party conference in Brighton, to be held on Saturday 17 September at 1pm in the Balmoral Room of the Hilton.

Trident

UK nuclear defence policy does not exist in isolation. As the Lib Dem’s Nuclear Weapons Working Group Consultation Paper makes clear, nuclear defence policy exists in the context of the UK’s broader policy on defence and foreign policy. Changes to Lib Dem nuclear weapons policy are best seen in the context of a changing defence and foreign policy environment.

From a UK perspective, the key recent shifts in the foreign and defence policy context include the continuing economic and military rise of China (and our Allies’ response to this), the adversarial turn in relations with Russia, and the rise of IS in the Middle East – together with its effects on Western Middle East policy, NATO and Turkey.

The most significant change in the foreign and security policy landscape for the UK concerns China and its relationship with the US. Up until 2013 China pursued what they called a ‘peaceful rise’ policy; rapid economic development avoiding involvements in conflict.

This changed with the new leader Xi Jinping, who, for example, announced the ‘String of Pearls’ policy, otherwise known as the ‘maritime silk road’.  This is a string of Chinese-controlled ports and associated inland infrastructure that dots the world’s trade routes, with economic investment closely followed by military investment; for example in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Djibouti/Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka.

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Lib Dems Trident decision – stick or twist

Members of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group are presenting their personal views as part of a wider consultation process into the party’s future policy on nuclear weapons. The full consultation paper can be found at www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-conference-16-policypapers and the consultation window runs until 28 October. Party members are invited to attend the consultation session at party conference in Brighton, to be held on Saturday 17 September at 1pm in the Balmoral Room of the Hilton.

 

It’s great to be able to speak with my own voice for a change. I’m more used to putting words in other people’s mouths. As Ming Campbell’s foreign affairs adviser, Charles Kennedy’s speechwriter, and then Nick Clegg’s policy chief, I played a small part in the Lib Dems evolving policy on nuclear weapons for over a decade.

When I joined the Ministry of Defence in 2009 as a politically restricted civil servant, I thought my involvement would end. No such luck! From my berth in the MOD, I found myself supporting Nick Harvey as he out-foxed the steely men with cold eyes to set up the Trident Alternatives Review. I wrote Danny Alexander’s speech launching the review, helping him frame the options so as to fulfil the Lib Dems’ pledge of ‘no like-for-like replacement’.

Now, as an ordinary party member, free from any encumbrance, I’m able to contribute in my own name, as part of the policy working group bringing a consultation paper on nuclear disarmament to conference in September.

Posted in Op-eds | 39 Comments

How nuclear weapons violate your rights

 

Most of us have an idea how nuclear bombs work; history has taught us just how destructive they are. However, the argument still persists that world peace can only be achieved when the most powerful nations have enough of them to guarantee upon each other, mutually assured destruction. At this present time, with the renewal of Trident firmly on the Government’s agenda, I feel now is a good time for people to express their views on the morality, legality, and practicality of utilizing nuclear weapons.

The after effects of detonating nuclear bombs are well documented. The fallout unleashed by current nuclear weapons would create an environment that is so radioactive that future generations of people will almost certainly be affected by it. This situation leads to a challenging question: If generations that had nothing to do with a war that was fought at a time prior to their birth, but suffer the effects of that war even after it has ended, then is that not a catastrophic infringement of article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family’ (Un.org, 2016)? If you have to suffer radiation poisoning through no fault of your own, through actions that took place before you were born, then how can it be said your right to a healthy life is being protected?

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Are you interested in working on party policy on nuclear weapons?

 

The Federal Policy Committee is searching for members with an interest and/or some relevant expertise in the issues around Trident and nuclear weapons to join a policy working group.

At Federal Conference in Bournemouth, Conference passed this amendment to the Trident motion:

1. Commission a Policy Working Group to develop policy on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent, if any, following a full consultation within the party.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Also tagged | 6 Comments

Entente Nucleaire?

We have had a lot of articles about Trident in the build up to conference. Now the motion has now passed with amendments, conference has commissioned a working group on what to do without Trident. The group has been asked to assess strategic threats; how best to promote non-proliferation and disarmament; the implications for Britain’s defence commitments to both NATO and our European alliances; and the scope and implications of other kinds of nuclear deterrent. Here is a proposal to consider.

In his article, George Cunningham argues that the international situation has changed enough that we should retain our nuclear capability after a broader re-evaluation of defence policy.

And George Potter writes that our stockpile is overshadowed as a deterrent by America’s NATO-wide umbrella, but enough of a threat to hostile nuclear powers to single the UK out as a target.

My sympathies are with the unilateralists. The reports and rumours I have read about outdated protocols, lax discipline, and the resulting almost-accidents are enough to make the blood run cold. The presence of nuclear weapons and their destructive force is a permanent risk to all of our lives. In an ideal world, we would use the scrap to plough our furrows. (In an ideal world, the radiation would make the crops super-big.)

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Willie Rennie MSP writes… Trident: We must consider effect of disarmament on our international relationships

Our party has always had a sceptical view of nuclear weapons. Whether we personally adhere to a multi-lateral or unilateral route to disarm, few members feel comfortable with the concept or reality of such a powerful weapons system.

There are issues of geo-diplomacy and security and not just party positioning at stake. Although not in power now, we need to consider our policy as if we were in government not just a party in opposition hunting for differentiation.

The United Kingdom is a stable partner amongst the nuclear defended nations of the world. The importance of stable partners should not be understated especially when the Non Proliferation talks take place every five years. Britain has been an important cog in the reduction of nuclear capability across the globe through these talks.

We need to consider the effects on geo-diplomacy if we unilaterally disarm. It is a delicate balance and we should be extremely careful when seeking to change that balance.

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Trident is a threat to our national security

 

A week from now Lib Dem conference will be debating our position on our Trident nuclear weapon system. Two years ago I wrote and proposed the amendment to our defence policy which called for us to oppose the renewal of Trident.

I still oppose the renewal of Trident and will fully support the Scrapping Trident motion.

But I’m not doing so because I oppose nuclear weapons out of principle or because I think unilaterally abandoning Trident will be a step towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Let’s be clear: a nuclear weapon free world is a dream which is highly unlikely to ever happen, let alone in my lifetime.

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Conference controversy guaranteed – Renewal of Trident to be debated

Full details of the agenda for Autumn Conference will be released in due course, but reports on social media say that a motion calling for Trident not to be renewed at all will be debated.

If passed, this would mean an end to a succession of fudges on the issue in recent, and not so recent, years.

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LibLink: Danny Alexander: A like-for-like Trident replacement isn’t justifiable in terms of security or cost

110301-N-7237C-009Danny Alexander has written for the Guardian in response to yesterday’s Trident Commission report. He continues to make the case that the policy passed at Liberal Democrat Conference last September, which cut the number of submarines was the right one for two reasons.

First of all, we don’t need continuous at sea deterrence because the nature of the world has changed:

During the cold war, there was a credible threat of a surprise massive attack against this country or Nato allies. Our nuclear forces needed to be available within minutes in order to give credibility to our policy of deterrence. This is why we maintained continuous at-sea deterrence; we kept at least one armed submarine on patrol 24/7, 365 days of the year. But the Berlin Wall has been down now for 25 years and the threat of “state on state” attack is much reduced.

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Nick Harvey MP writes… Robert Gates poses stark defence question to UK: Do we want to be a real military partner or a nuclear power and nothing else?

Former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning decrying the UK’s defence cuts. He said the squeeze meant the UK could no longer be a ‘full spectrum’ military partner of the US, acknowledging that our relationship with the US has been fundamentally altered.

A sceptic would quickly dismiss the comments of a man currently promoting his memoirs, but Gates makes a wider point about what exactly we want to be doing with a smaller defence capability.

Both Labour and the Tories continue to cling to the idea that we should maintain a full-scale Cold War …

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Scrap Trident nuclear weapons, urge 58% of Lib Dem members

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

58% say scrap Trident, just 26% back leadership line of reduced deterrent

Currently the Trident system has FOUR nuclear armed submarines. This means that at least one nuclear armed submarine can always be on patrol, even if others are undergoing maintenance or training, and therefore the country has a continuous nuclear deterrent. One way of having a less expensive nuclear

Posted in LDV Members poll | Also tagged , and | 24 Comments

Nick Clegg’s Letter from the Leader: “Trident: we need to protect ourselves from the threats of the future not the past”

libdem letter from nick clegg

Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons system, divides opinion. That was apparent this week when the Government published the results of a two-year, detailed study of the alternatives.

Some people say Britain should surrender our nuclear weapons tomorrow, regardless of what threats we face. While others seem to believe it’s unpatriotic to even consider anything other than the full-scale Trident system we built for the Cold War threats of yesterday.

Personally, I think the world has changed. I am not, and never have been, a believer in unilateral disarmament. But I

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Opinion: Thoughts on Trident alternatives

The much awaited Trident alternatives report is out; and, within the given parameters, its quite a good one. The party should be happy it forced the MOD to publicly review its nuclear deterrent for the first time.

However, the revelation that ballistic missiles are superior to cruise missiles for nuclear deterrent is not really a revelation for even laypersons like myself, and the debate is really about replacing the V class nuclear submarines which carry Trident rather than the missile itself. Retaining the Trident system, which we already operate, would always be a cheaper option than a

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Baroness Shirley Williams writes… Trident review is a remarkable accomplishment for the Liberal Democrats

The Trident Alternatives Review is a highly informed and detailed study of the effectiveness, sustainability and cost of this country’s nuclear deterrent. Trident has been based on a rota of four submarines which between them ensure that there is always one nuclear-armed submarine at sea every hour of the day and every day of the year, a deterrent that is undoubtedly expensive but also, as the Review points out, ”as close as each system can get to an assured second strike capacity”.  Trident was developed in close co-operation with the United States and in that sense is not, unlike the …

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Trident: the Grand Old Lib Dems have lost this war already

110301-N-7237C-009Yesterday the Lib Dems published The Trident Alternatives Review. According to Danny Alexander, “it is the most thorough review of nuclear systems and postures the UK has ever made public. It is ground-breaking – thanks to the Liberal Democrats and our insistence that Trident alternatives must be examined.” That may be: but this is a war the party will not win.

Here’s the party’s sound-bite version of the policy:

We oppose the like-for-like replacement of Trident. We believe there is a ‘nuclear ladder’ of capabilities. Alternative systems or postures could bring

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No, Nicola, a vote against independence is not a vote for Trident

Writing blog posts based on the tail end of a radio interview you have caught  is fraught with danger. However, I want to take issue with something Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

She had been asked about today’s Guardian story which suggests that the Trident base at Faslane could be designated UK territory in a way similar to the sovereign military bases in Cyprus for a temporary period post independence.

She said that if the UK Government wanted to keep weapons of mass destruction, it could do so, but Scotland would just have voted against Trident, for independence.

On the ballot …

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