I was headed for the second day of a UN-NGO conference on Volunteering when I first heard the news of the World Trade Centre disaster on my walkman-radio. Was it an accident or a bombing? With news of a second hit, clearly something deliberate. By the time I got to the conference room, news was coming through of a further attack on the Pentagon and there was talk of “Code Delta” which presaged a declaration of war. The Chair soon after that interrupted the anxious buzz of conversations to cancel the conference and say the building had to be evacuated. I remarked to a neighbour as we were leaving that I was “shocked but not surprised, there had been so much bullying.” and referred to America’s Middle East policy. My neighbour proved to be an American on the same wavelength.
As I watched the film of the outrages repeated endlessly on CNN, and interviews with desperate relatives and friends, I shared the deep sadness and sense of foreboding experienced round the world. Being in mid-town Manhattan, I could see the smoke rising down-town for several days, and smell it when the wind came northeast. On the 12th, a gathering of NGO people at the Church Center across from the UN signed a petition appealing to President Bush to respond to the tragedies “with peaceful actions rather than violent retaliation” and proposed “an ad hoc council of elder statesmen and women to create a plan to bring a just, peaceful and rational solution for this growing international peril.” I signed, in agreement with the spirit of the text and unable to think of anything better. Personally that week, I derived more confidence from prayer than petition.
‘No more violence’ was the theme of CND’s hastily-organised vigil in Whitehall last Saturday (22nd September). People were asked to wear black and to come without banners or placards, to maintain the dignity of the occasion — and about 4,000 people responded to the call. We have heard of similar vigils in America, and the depth of the coverage and quality of analysis of the complex issues in the broadsheet newspapers in the aftermath of the initial tragedy has been impressive.
Einstein famously said after the first atomic bomb “everything has changed except the way people think”, but it does seem that this appalling shock has at least resulted in more people than ever before thinking about the huge dangers that we all face. More people too are now thinking about the West’s involvement in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is no longer just a name on the map and an exotic country very far away. Journalists are explaining the political background to the sufferings of the ordinary Afghan people and we see these people as real men, women and children in the pictures from the refugee camps. We think about their future as well as our own, and realise that we live together in a very small world.
In the current context it is difficult to see where we stand with our campaign against US ‘missile defence’. Commentators have said that we live in a changed world. We have been saying for months — years — that NMD was never going to defend the US against terrorists, but we didn’t expect the point to be made so soon, in such a cruel manner. Nevertheless NMD remains more illogical and irrelevant than ever — except as part of a programme of US self-aggrandisement as masters of space — and America has been forced to abandon any illusion that security lies in isolationism.
Politicians do listen to public opinion. Please write to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and M.P. Roger Casale (or your own local M.P.) congratulating them on the restraint shown in the immediate aftermath of the attack on New York and urging that humanitarian considerations continue to be uppermost in all their deliberations.
Beginning with a look at current trends, Professor Paul Rogers said that many people were dismayed at the rhetoric emerging (for example, from the new American administration) but he believed this would have the effect of bringing long-term issues out earlier. He explained the Western security paradigm which meant trying to retain control. But this was ‘barking up the wrong tree’ when the United Nations should be at the centre of things. Looking back over the last 50 years he said there had been over 120 conflicts, killing more than 100 million. The effects of war were becoming ‘civilianised’, “the young men do the fighting, civilians do the dying”.
The Cold War was a misnomer because there were many proxy wars, involving an enormous waste of human and physical resources. Worldwide military expenditure peaked at a thousand billion dollars. Although we had been labelled ‘doomwatchers’, in the 1980s the world had come very close to international conflict many times. To explain the slow response to the ending of the cold war he used the example of a tanker which takes many miles to slow down because of its size and momentum.
The United States’ government attitude to challenges to its hegemony and the potential threat from China are two themes emerging from US military thinking. There were areas of special interest such as the Persian Gulf, which produced a gamut of threats during the 1990s. According to an official US study it was facing “...a swirling pot of poison”. It had slain the dragon and was now “in a forest of poisonous snakes”.
There was an implicit belief in the US following the decline of the Soviet Union, that there was only one way of doing business, globalised liberal economy. If there are threats, the US administration says, “we have the means to deal with them”. Keeping the lid on; ‘Liddism’ is the Western security paradigm. Paul Rogers said “This mindset is unstable. We are facing a global system in which an élite is growing rapidly, the gap is widening”. There was a global élite of about one billion people, represented in many countries, and there was a form of economic apartheid within and across borders. The gap had grown steadily for the past five years and was now accelerating. He believed that now there were about 1½ billion “held right down at the bottom”. On the other hand there had been remarkable effects in many countries of the south, an increase in literacy, and in the transmission of information, which was leading to an evolution of unfulfilled expectations.
Paul Rogers said that in the 80’s climate changes began to appear with ozone depletion. The strongest effects were on the tropical population where most people live and here were likely to be immense effects in the next 20–30 years. A key issue in the coming period would be how people responded when the majority was marginalised.
Turning to the problem of refugees Professor Rogers said that there were people in their fourth or fifth generation still in Arab refugee camps. What he had described as ‘Liddism’ was the practice of not addressing the core issues. A recent trend had been attacks on United States bases overseas and the response of the American government. 240 marines had been killed in an attack on a base in Beirut. Following this, a large base had been constructed in the Saudi Arabian desert where 400 troops were solely employed in security. There had also been an attack on an American warship in Aden, using a crude bomb. Now the American Navy is being described by some as the ‘Flying Dutchman’ navy, because it only enters friendly ports on its routine journeys.
The rôle of the United Nations, he believed, was to deal with widening poverty, to control arms and move towards disarmament. There was a need for a greater campaign on developing countries’ debt. There should be a wholesale reform of the world trading system.
On the environment, he said that Kyoto was only a modest start in dealing with the issue. We had to work towards environmental stability. The United Nations was essential as a pan-world organisation. The problems ( of security and the environment) could not be addressed by a few states. “The UN must be able to think globally and not think Western”. He said that criticism of American government actions and recent military proposals should not be construed as anti-American. But there was a strong opposition to the proposal to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) between America and Russia and also a Biological weapons agreement. The reaction to this and to the US ‘national missile defence’ had been much stronger than the new government had expected. Higher awareness would help to develop alternative proposals.
He concluded with an exhortation that “the incoming British government needs to be pushed”. It all comes down to the work of ordinary people. What could be done in the next five to ten years was likely to be increasingly important.
An edited version of a report by Jim Addington originally published in the September 2001 newsletter of Kingston Peace Council/CND. Many of Paul Rogers’ remarks now seem eerily prescient.
This is a new international campaign launched by Action for UN Renewal, calling for the UN to agree a legally binding instrument requiring states to reduce the amount they spend on arms by a set percentage each year. This is based on Article 26 of the UN Charter which calls for “the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources”. ARC is concerned that the world is “awash with with weapons”. 90% of all war casualties are civilians. Some 30% of the loans made to highly indebted nations is spent on arms. The value of the world’s arms trade is about 800 billion dollars a year and ARC is seeking both a gradual long-term reduction in this expenditure and a transfer of resources to humanitarian, social and environmental campaigns.
Further information from Karl Miller: e-mail email@example.com or ☎ 8241 2483
I come and stand at every door
But none can hear my silent tread;
I knock, and yet remain unseen
For I am dead, for I am dead.
I’m only seven, although I died
In Hiroshima long ago.
I’m seven now as I was then:
When children die, they do not grow.
My hair was scorched by swirling flame.
My eyes grew dim, my eyes grew blind.
Death came and turned my bones to dust,
And that was scattered by the wind.
I need no fruit, I need no rice.
I need no sweets or even bread.
I ask for nothing for myself,
For I am dead, for I am dead.
All that I ask is that for peace
You fight today, you fight today;
So that the children of this world
May live and grow and laugh and play.
Words of a song — author unknown — sung at Sidmouth on August 6th, given to us by Helen Jones.
“The attacks have a dreadful air of inevitability. For years such bombings have been the stock-in-trade of terrorism conferences. Almost all western security policy has focused on reaction forces using massively expensive weapons systems. This policy now faces terrible set-backs.... The answer is not just more of the same. We need to implement a new foreign and defence policy focused on domestic and international prevention. We know that a big police force in our cities is no answer to crime arising from poverty and injustice. Prevention is not a complete cure, but it has been neglected almost totally in the past, as if we tried to run a city with the riot squad and without social security, courts or community policing. We need to reduce our vulnerability and put new effort into working together to prevent the world from being a waking nightmare.”
Dan Plesch, The Guardian 12/9/2001