Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Mixed messages

George Monbiot in the Guardian today points to the contradictory messages that our Government has been giving about nuclear weapons in recent years. He reminds us of the NPT commitments that oblige signatories to work towards complete nuclear disarmament, but then draws attention to the information uncovered by CND last week ...

[from the CND press release] Ministry of Defence documents obtained by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reveal the Government plans to replace Britain's nuclear warheads, despite Ministers repeatedly telling MPs that no decision would be taken until the next Parliament. The shocking revelation came to light in a speech to the arms industry executives by David Gould, then chief operating officer at the Defence Equipment and Support Organisation, now released under the Freedom of Information Act. [See note 3 and below for the documents] Whilst the Commons voted last year to replace the submarines that carry the UK's nuclear warheads on Trident missiles, the White Paper and repeated ministerial statements since then [see note 4] have claimed that no decision would be taken on replacing the explosive warheads themselves until the next Parliament, expected to be 2010 at the earliest. Today's revelation that a senior defence official has been privately telling industry the opposite, suggests that Parliament has been misled.

Monbiot writes: According to a leaked briefing by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, Israel possesses between 60 and 80 nuclear bombs. But none of the countries demanding that Iran scraps the weapons it doesn't yet possess are demanding that Israel destroys the weapons it does possess. and continues further on in his piece: The permanent members of the UN security council draw a distinction between their "responsible" ownership of nuclear weapons and that of the aspirant powers. But over the past six years, the UK, US, France and Russia have all announced that they are prepared to use their nukes pre-emptively against a presumed threat, even from states that do not possess nuclear weapons. In some ways the current nuclear stand-off is more dangerous than the tetchy detente of the cold war.

Those involved in planning the next major action at Britain’s nuclear weapons factory are keen that people make the connections and attend the next Aldermaston Big Blockade on 27th October 2008.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

History, journalism, fact and fiction

On Radio 4's 'Today' programme recently, following the arrest in Belgrade of Radovan Karadzic, James Naughtie was heard to declare - as if it were a simple, well-known fact - that the NATO bombing of 1999 had been a success. Bridget Kendall, the Diplomatic Correspondent, responded with a rather more nuanced critique. With the recent declaration of independence in Kosovo, the Albanian population might well feel that it was a success - but at what cost?

Jan Oberg, of the Transnational Foundation wrote earlier this year:
"Did the international community make mistakes? Or did it have a deliberate plan to destroy Yugoslavia? Or was it a mix of this spiced with general conflict illiteracy? The answer is as hugely complex as it is important.
"One mechanism is obvious, however: Having started out with the outdated, two-party conflict paradigm – one all right, the other all wrong - borrowed from the just dissolved Cold War structure, nothing could go right. And since this community by constitution cannot admit that it makes mistakes, it has had to build on blunders, covering them up by continuing its irrational, counter-productive policies. The sum total is a boomeranging make-believe such as independent Kosovo. "

In the year of the bombing itself, Philip Hammond concludes:, in Reporting Kosovo: Journalism vs. Propaganda,
"As the bombs and missiles rained down we were informed by Nato leaders that this was 'not a war', and when it ended every newspaper found the same word to describe the occupation of part of a sovereign country by foreign troops: 'liberation'. This was a fitting climax to a media crusade which had frequently turned reality on its head in an utter dereliction of what journalism is supposed to be. It would seem that one casualty of the Kosovo war was British journalism, although some sources maintain it was already long dead. In its place we have propaganda."

The further away you get from an event, historically, it is harder but still more important to question the history with which we are presented as fact, just as it was and remains important to look beneath the current headlines. The danger in doing so is that the very process of questioning can easily be turned around and used as propaganda by one party or another. But keep questioning we must, and keep looking for nonviolent alternatives to the desperation and destructiveness of military responses.

In 2000, between the Nato action in the Balkans and the beginning of the 'war on terror', Judith Large wrote: "Let us never lose our compassion for suffering and willingness to respond. But let us also cultivate an awareness and sensitivity to signs and signals, and take imaginative and strategica actions to pre-empt collective violence, to protect the vulnerable, to build different futures. It is a longer, slower path than the use of only force, but it will lead to hope and renewal rather than destruction and retribution."
(in 'No Alternative? Nonviolent Responses to Repressive Regimes', edited by John Lampen and published by Sessions of York).

Friday, 11 July 2008

Innocent victims

I was deeply saddened to read the report about the 47 people killed at a wedding party by US bombs in Afghanistan recently. Sometimes words and comment not helpful.


Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Three Lords and a knight on nuclear disarmament

The Times yesterday carried an opinion piece Start worrying and learn to ditch the bomb from four former UK government ministers, which states, in part that ...

"There is a powerful case for a dramatic reduction in the stockpile of nuclear weapons. A new historic initiative is needed but it will only succeed by working collectively and through multilateral institutions. ..... Substantial progress towards a dramatic reduction in the world's nuclear weapons is possible. The ultimate aspiration should be to have a world free of nuclear weapons. [my emphasis] It will take time, but with political will and improvements in monitoring, the goal is achievable. We must act before it is too late, and we can begin by supporting the campaign in America for a non-nuclear weapons world. "

The writers of this forcefully argued piece are George Robertson, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and David Owen (I hope they will excuse my Quakerly non-use of their titles). A statement from BASIC sees this as a real breakthrough, building as it does on a similar call from former members of US governments last year. I've not spotted much response or comment on this from other parts of the press so far. It does seem to provide a very useful tool for engaging again with our elected representatives and current government ministers on this issue, however. It is very welcome that this article has appeared - I look forward to seeing a similar comment from members of a current government before too long.