What are our ‘Special Friends’ up to?

Readers of this Newsletter will remember Muriel Wood’s review of Rosalie Bertell’s book ‘Planet Earth: the latest weapon of war’ with its clear message that military development and environmental degradation are all too often the product of a mindset which is prepared to ignore all long-term consequence in pursuit of military and industrial dominance. Maxi Alexander drew our attention to an article in the environmental journal The Ecologist:

In a recent Ecologist there was a comment on an earlier article about a US-specific space threat — a project known as HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project). This project has apparently caused a grid of 48 antennæ to be placed between Anchorage and Fairbanks in Alaska which is designed to ‘pump’ 3.6 million watts of radio-frequency electromagnetic energy into the ionosphere to heat it up. It is expected that many transmission towers will be added with the aim of enabling a huge stream of electromagnetic energy to flow into the polar ice. HAARP is planned to direct this energy to any point so that it could be used as a weapon in war as an integral part of a star war.

Other ‘talents’ HAARP is hoped or expected to have is the possibility to communicate with submerged submarines, to intercept or disrupt communication systems, or to examine ionospheric processes with the aim of developing techniques for altering or controlling weather and earthquakes. It will not be necessary to point out that these activities could hardly be described as defensive.

In order not to fall behind, the press informed us recently that the British military will be provided with a new bomb which seems to cause an ‘improved’ version of the firestorms following big air-raids on German towns in World War II except that this new weapon (called thermobaric — from barbaric?) will apparently also cause a large enough vacuum to suck in all that is not yet destroyed or burnt in the tremendously hot fire, people and bodies included. Do we need atomic weapons?

Maxi Alexander, 4/5/2001

“Pentagon to put general in charge of space”

This was the spine-chilling headline to an article in the Times [9/5/2001] which reported the first key policy announcement of Donald Rumsfeld, US Defense Secretary. “Donald Rumsfeld moved the Pentagon’s front line into orbit yesterday when he announced a radical reorganisation that may pave the way for weapons in space with the help of a specially trained ‘space force’.

“...Mr Rumsfeld said that he planned to create a four-star air force general post with responsibility for coordinating the funding, training and equipping of space forces.... The move is part of a determined effort to put the use of space at the centre of strategic military thinking and to prepare for the possibility of conflict in outer space. ‘More than any other country, the US relies on space for its security and wellbeing,’ Mr Rumsfeld said at a news conference.

“Before becoming Defense Secretary Mr Rumsfeld headed a congressional committee studying military issues in space.... It said that the President should retain ‘the option to deploy weapons in space to deter threats to and if necessary defend against attacks on US interests.... The present extent of US dependence on space, the rapid pace at which this dependence is increasing and the vulnerability it creates all demand that US national security space interests be recognised as a top national security priority.’ ”

It is against this background that we must judge President Bush’s visit to Europe last month and assess the worth of his talk of shared missile defense against rogue states. The Pentagon already spends $8 billion (£5·6 billion) of its $310 billion budget on space programmes. ‘Keep Space for Peace’ must be the theme of our own campaign against Ballistic Missile Defence.

Dangers of Depleted Uranium

We support the Manchester-based Campaign Against Depleted Uranium (CADU) and have received their regular newsletter for several years, but it is only fairly recently that DU has registered with the media as Gulf War and Balkan War veterans press their claims for compensation.

The latest official reports and UK government replies have all played down the dangers and claim that there is no ‘scientific’ evidence to show that there is any danger from DU weapons.

The MoD has been sending out a briefing on the ‘misconceptions’ about the dangers of DU weapons. A conclusion of the consultants brought in by the MoD that “the risks of the DU having any effect at all on members of the public or the environment were assessed to be extremely low” is seen by CADU as highly questionable in view of comments by Richard Bramhall of the Low Level Radiation Campaign.

The fact that “DU is a lot less radioactive than naturally-occurring uranium” is irrelevant, and its constant repetition is a constructive lie. It would make very little difference if they made armour-piercing shells out of naturally-occurring uranium. The MoD document states that “a tank crew would have to spend about 1500 hours on operations... before they would even reach the UK statutory whole-body annual-dose limit for radiation exposure for employees”. Richard Bramhall points out that although the annual limit for nuclear industry employees is 50 mSv, for members of the public it is 1 mSv. “If you say it takes 30 hours sitting in a tank to reach a dose limit it doesn’t sound so reassuring.” (Or is the MoD now treating soldiers as nuclear industry employees?)

The MoD maintains that a DU round would have to be held in the hand for 250 hours to reach the UK annual dose limit for the skin, but Bramhall points out that this assumes that the shell’s cladding is still in place — after firing the cladding is lost, so that even if the shell does not hit a hard target (and convert itself into dangerous aerosol) naked uranium is lying around, emitting beta radiation which is an especially serious hazard for children.

Gamma emissions are also present: “of the three Kosovar residents who kept a DU shell in their houses, two have leukæmia and one is suffering from an unspecified disease.” Gamma radiation from this Kosovar shell has been measured at 70 mSv per hour through its packaging (which mimics the pre-firing cladding). Out of the box it gave off 1,000 mSv [=1 mSv] per hour. Thus children playing with discarded ammunition will receive a gamma dose equal to the whole-body annual-dose gamma limit for a member of the public in a single hour, in addition to the beta-particle dose.

The MoD claim that there is no scientific evidence that DU has caused ill-health is described by Bramhall as “the culture of denial”. The study quoted by the MoD purporting to show that “a slightly smaller percentage of Gulf War veterans have since died of cancer than amongst their contemporaries” [The Lancet, July 2000] is a mortality study (excluding those who are still alive to complain!). Bramhall says that what is needed to resolve the dispute is a proper morbidity study matched with the result of monitoring for the presence of DU, neither of which is being done.

Further information:

CADU, 22a Beswick Street, Ancoats, Manchester M4 7HR

Lobby of Parliament July 3rd

Alison Williams (of Merton UNA) and I have sent a joint letter to wide range of local community groups inviting them to join us in this first Disarmament Lobby of the new parliament, pointing out that the topics under discussion:

are all issues which have environmental and human rights implications as well as being part of the obvious ‘peace’ agenda.

It would be nice if we can inspire a large joint delegation to Westminster on this occasion but we feel that it is equally important to start a process by which the many separate groups working locally for change and reform work more closely together to make our voices heard, and to counter the widespread disengagement from politics revealed by the General Election.

Joanna Bazley

Letter writing

The latest suggestion for action to come from Jenny Maxwell’s letter-writing team is as follows:

Belgium takes over the E.U. Presidency in July. Please write to the Belgian Prime Minister

Guy Verhofstadt
Wetstraat 16
B-1000, Brussels

making some or all of these points:

It is an opportunity to show that Tony Blair does not speak for everybody in this country!

Wimbledon Village Fair June 23rd

This was the first time we had ventured to take part in this distinctly ‘up-market’ event and it was a great success, helped by a day of perfect summer sunshine, which brought out huge crowds. We sold bric-à-brac and books plus a few plants and took £124·45, financially very worthwhile, even with a £30 stall fee. Even more encouraging was the reception we got from the general public, who were uniformly friendly and supportive. Our new display boards really came into their own and several people stopped to talk and took away literature. One amusing footnote was that we added a trayful of old campaigning badges to our display — everything from ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ to ‘Maggie Out’ — and these proved extremely popular and saleable. (Other CND groups might like to take note!)

A People Betrayed

‘A People Betrayed’ by Linda Melvern, £15 from publisher Zed Books.

Many WDC/CND members will remember hearing investigative journalist Linda Melvern speak at Merton UNA AGM a few years ago. This recently-published book is a full narrative of how in 1994 one million people were killed in Rwanda in a planned, public and political campaign: a terrible indictment not just of the UN Security Council but all governments, individuals and international communities who could have prevented what was happening but chose not to do so. Linda Melvern clearly reveals how the UN failed to stop the genocide despite indisputable evidence, coming to the unpalatable conclusion that where Western geo-political interests are absent, Western morality and civilised concerns are nowhere to be found.

based on a review by Vijay Mehta in ‘Peaceline’, the journal of London Region CND

“Any Questions?”
Merton College, Morden 1st June 2001

The final broadcast of the Radio 4 programme ‘Any Questions’ before the Election came from our local Sixth Form College, and a group of us from WDC/CND joined the audience hoping to raise the question of NMD. We were disappointed that none of our questions was chosen, but we were encouraged to find that the background information sheet handed out to members of the audience specifically mentioned that panel member Menzies Campbell (Lib Dem spokesman on Foreign and Defence Affairs) “has been critical of the government for its lack of opposition to President Bush’s ‘son of Star Wars’ missile defence shield programme.”

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