I make no apologies for devoting almost the whole of this newsletter to the war in the Balkans. Opinion is divided over whether NATO intentions were honourable in the first place, but it seems increasingly likely that some major miscalculations have been made — either by the military or by politicians or by both. NATO nuclear strategy — which has supposedly been keeping the peace in Europe since the Second World War — has never seemed more irrelevant, but the threat of indiscriminate nuclear contamination arising from the use of depleted uranium-tipped armour-piercing shells is frighteningly imminent.
The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference this month has been over two years in the planning and the last thing anticipated was that there should simultaneously be a major war on European soil — but the coincidence of the two events underlines more emphatically than ever the urgent need for effective and universally-accepted alternatives to war as a means for settling international (and internal) territorial disputes. It is shameful that we have reached the end of the 20th century with no better ideas about conflict resolution than those which prevailed in the first century AD. The governments of the world have a duty to the future of mankind to direct a fraction of the brain-power and financial investment that is currently devoted to military preparations towards strengthening the institutions of peace.
As part of our Merton Hague Appeal project, I have been visiting schools in the borough and talking to children, encouraging them to enter our competition. When children have disagreements in the playground they are taught to discuss their grievances with their teachers — fighting is against the school rules. As adults, we accept our national laws and the rôle of the police and law-courts. International law and the International Court of Justice (the legal arm of the United Nations) could fulfil a similar function at world level, but the law is denied a powerful international rôle by national governments unwilling to be bound by any authority superior to their own.
A new edition has recently been published of the booklet ‘Going to Court not War’, which describes the workings and potential of the World Court as an instrument of peace, and I have been presenting a copy to every school I visit. I strongly recommend the booklet to every WDC/CND member. (Copies available from Joanna, £1)
“International law is a language which in our experience transcends different tongues, cultures, races and religions. I wanted to mention this peculiar quality of international law as a common and universal system, because it is one of those tremendously significant and important facts which are commonly not even noticed in the world generally. Let us therefore tell more people about its great quality of being a common legal language for all of us and the common property of us all” — Sir Robert Jennings, Past President of the I.C.J.The International Court of Justice
The following letter has been sent to Roger Casale M.P. on behalf of WDC/CND and we await his reply.
“We are extremely worried at the prospect of Depleted Uranium weapons being used in the Balkans.
“We recently heard from investigative journalist Felicity Arbuthnot about the appalling consequences for the health of the Iraqi people of the use of depleted uranium during the Gulf War: a 66% increase in cancer since 1991 and an alarming increase in birth deformities. It is also suspected that depleted uranium is the main cause of ‘Gulf War syndrome’.
“Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear industry (it has only 66% of the radioactivity of normal uranium) which is used to tip cruise missiles, shells, bullets and land mines because it is very dense and heavy, and capable of penetrating heavily-armoured vehicles and underground bunkers. When depleted uranium shells explode a fine radioactive dust is created, which is easily inhaled and almost impossible to clean up — in effect it poisons the whole landscape indefinitely. (Uranium has a half-life of 4·5 billion years).
“Depleted uranium weapons are listed by the UN Commission on Human Rights as ‘weapons of mass or indiscriminate effect’. They are currently being deployed in the war with Serbia and our government has refused to rule out their use. How can such weapons play any part in a so-called humanitarian war?”
We reproduce some constructive suggestions on the Kosovo crisis by the Chair of the World Court Project (UK), Commander Rob Green RN (Retd). In the same paper, written shortly after the start of the bombing campaign, Cdr Green criticises NATO strategy from both a political and military perspective.
Clinton and Yeltsin should meet at an emergency summit, perhaps under G8 auspices, and invite the UN Secretary General to mediate a ceasefire. Alternatively, consideration should be given to asking Gorbachev to help mediate, as Carter did with North Korea.
Negotiations could lead to a partition of Kosovo on the Dayton model, because:
The OSCE is the most suitable organisation to oversee this on behalf of the UN. It already has experienced monitors there, who had generally restrained the Serbs where they were present; it has not lost its impartial status; and it would be acceptable to Russia. If NATO objects, then it only has itself to blame for ruling itself out of consideration, having exploited, marginalised and starved OSCE of funds and resources — almost certainly because NATO rightly saw it as its most serious competitor.
The peacekeeping force which will be required must not include any NATO troops. Probably it should be led by a Russian or Ukrainian.
In addition, a high priority should be given to reviving the rôle of NGOs in the process of reconciliation and healing and rebuilding civil society.
Strong international pressure should now be brought to bear on the US to pay its debt to the UN, in order for the UN to be able to clear up the mess with the OSCE’s help.
NATO should be left in no doubt that it has exceeded both the UN’s and its own Charter, and has created a dangerous precedent. Because UN authority was not even sought, it has committed an act of aggression against a sovereign country which posed no threat to a NATO member. This strikes at the heart of the rule of international law and the UN, and offered Russia and China no option but condemnation. What if China uses this as a precedent to attack Taiwan? This removes both consensus and certainty from international law, and makes every future aggressor a judge in his own cause.
Because of this, and the need for the law and the UN’s authority to be reasserted, serious consideration should be given to proposing that Russia, China and a group of non-aligned states call for the UN Secretary General to convene a special session of the General Assembly, under Article 20 of the UN Charter and the “uniting for peace” resolution. They should then introduce a resolution urgently requesting an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the following questions: