COMMENT by Alison Williams

The Alternative Works — Why keep it a Secret?

We are generally expected to believe that weapons of mass destruction and a world-beating armaments industry are essential to our defence; and that heavy bombing can be the best route to peace. A lot of political and economic interest is invested in those theories, which must be why the mainstream media fail to inform us of developments which point another way.

Take the current situation in Sri Lanka, for example. After some 30 years of vicious civil war, a cease-fire was achieved which has held for 3 months, so far. Where military action and terrorist outrages failed, political action and mediation have succeeded. First, a collection of Tamil opposition parties united behind a common manifesto and won an election. Then, with the assistance of mediators from the Nordic countries, a cease-fire was agreed and an economic embargo which had crippled the north-east since 1990 was lifted.

The political situation remains complex and delicate, and the country faces great challenges — not least landmines dislodged by heavy rainfall and thus hard to find and deactivate, preventing people returning to their farms and a normal life. But a spokesperson for the Tamil Information Centre — one of the groups which, like CND, supported the recent UNA/ ACT-UN Lobby of Parliament — expresses cautious optimism. With 5 international monitors on hand, the cease-fire is holding and preparations can be made for the next step forward.

Fête of the Earth

May 11th — noon till 4pm

This is our big annual fundraiser and social event. Please support us in whatever way you can, either as helper or customer, and please publicise as widely as possible. We shall be concentrating on plants and books this year, plus the usual delicious home-made food (to eat there or to purchase and take away).

US Nuclear Posture Review

This Pentagon report, leaked to American newspapers on 9th March, speaks of the possible use of nuclear weapons against China, Russia, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria. The report foresees the use of nuclear weapons in the following situations: against targets able to withstand attacks by non-nuclear weapons, in retaliation for an attack with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, and “in the event of surprising nuclear developments”.

US nuclear scientists have already designed the low-yield B61-11 bomb designed to penetrate underground shelters, the so-called ‘bunker-buster’ deployed in Europe since 1997.

The report says “North Korea, Iraq, Syria and Libya are among the countries that could be involved in immediate, potential or unexpected contingencies”. The report refers to a possible “Iraqi attack on Israel or its neighbours, or a North Korean attack on South Korea, or a military confrontation on the status of Taiwan”.

Bush’s advisers are replacing the idea of deterrence with the possible use of nuclear weapons.

US Embassy, 20th April

Several of us from Wimbledon made the journey to Grosvenor Square on Saturday 20th April to support the call by Bruce Kent for visible support for the march on Washington D.C. by American citizens protesting against their government’s ‘War on Terrorism’, and demanding a “US foreign policy based upon social and economic justice, not military and corporate oppression” and “an end to the degrading and secret imprisonment of immigrants”. Their message is that not only does the war on terrorism breed more terror... but it is un-American too.

This was a hastily-arranged gesture of solidarity with our friends in the US and only a few dozen were present at any one time, but the vigil was sustained all day from 10am until 6pm. The list of organisations supporting the peace march within the US was impressively long and various, and a reminder that the strident belligerency coming from the US government is by no means representative of the whole US population.

Visit to the M.P.

Alison and Joanna had a useful hour-long discussion with Wimbledon M.P. Roger Casale on April 13th, a follow-on to the UNA lobby of Parliament held on 6th March. We explored with Roger the three specific issues raised in the Lobby:

and found a lot of common ground.

Sustainable development was the area where we were in broadest agreement. Roger was keen that we should appreciate the measures taken by the government over debt relief, tackling child labour, and responding to humanitarian disasters, and presented us with copies of Gordon Brown’s speech at the Jubilee 2000 Final Event (Dec 2000). We were able to tell Roger that Sir Richard Jolly (chair of UNA) gave credit to Clare Short and Gordon Brown in his speech at the Lobby — congratulating them for “putting their money where their mouths are”. Sir Richard had also pointed out that the UK is particularly well-placed to play a big rôle in strengthening the United Nations, both by virtue of sitting on many of the key boards at the U.N. as well as the Security Council and by being part of the E.U. partnership that together contributes more than 36% of the U.N. regular budget, 41% of the peacekeeping budget and over 50% of U.N. development aid.

We discussed arms exports and the Export Credit Bill introduced by the government last year (Roger spoke at both its Second and Third Reading). We agreed that although the situation with regard to arms exports was not ideal, the fact that debates such as the recent furore over the military-grade air traffic control equipment destined for Tanzania were now taking place in the open marked significant progress since the days before the Scott report when such transactions took place in deepest secrecy. In the House of Commons Roger had said “clearly, there is much work still to be done on parliamentary scrutiny, on end-use monitoring and in particular on ensuring that sustainable development is, if not in the Bill, very much part of the spirit of the legislation as it operates in practice.... much work can still be done when we review the Bill’s operation in the light of experience to keep the ideas and aspirations that lie behind it alive in the years to come” (Third Reading: 8th Nov 2001).

Roger was interested in the suggestion made by the UNA Lobby that it might be worth exploring the value of appointing a government minister with specific responsibility for the United Nations, answerable to Parliament (and with powers to liaise with all departments to ensure coherent policies in their dealings with the U.N.) We agreed to find ways of taking this idea further.

Finally we discussed issues arising from the US commitment to National Missile Defence and UK government support for its ‘closest ally’. We made it clear that we appreciated the political sensitivities of the Prime Minister’s position in relation to the US, but we stressed that we felt that the bottom line was that any support for US policy must not be without limit. In fact the Guardian newspaper that day (12·4·2002) had carried an alarming article “US revives cold-war nuclear strategy” claiming that the Bush administration is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons on NMD interceptors — “the latest in a series of signs that the Bush team is radically rethinking the rôle of nuclear weapons in its arsenal”. We asked Roger to take our concerns to the government and we agreed to pursue the whole issue of the militarisation of Space further through correspondence.

It was a productive meeting.

Joanna Bazley

Cartoon of the Devil trading War in return for Housing, Schools etc.

Leslie Durham

from ‘Time to Abolish War’ pub. IPB May 1998

International Criminal Court at last

On Thursday April 11th a group of 10 countries ratified the treaty setting up a permanent International Criminal Court to try crimes against humanity, bringing the total number of signatories to 66 and passing the minimum requirement that at least 60 countries sign for the treaty to take effect.

The ICC will now function as a permanent war crimes court with universal jurisdiction to prosecute and bring to justice those responsible for the worst crimes committed anywhere in the world, intervening where national authorities cannot (or will not) prosecute. Unlike the International Court of Justice (’World Court’) which rules on disputes between governments, the ICC will be able to prosecute individuals. Tribunals such as those set up for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia will eventually be wound up, but the ICC is a permanent body.

In the absence of the United States, Germany, France and Britain will make the largest financial contribution, at least at first. We can congratulate our government for their part in making the ICC dream a reality.

Wimbledon Vigil for Peace

We are continuing to support this regular Friday evening ‘witness for peace’ launched by WDC/CND, UNA and Wimbledon Quakers after the dreadful events of last autumn and held throughout the winter. Now that the lighter evenings have come we have substituted white balloons and flowers for the candles of the earlier months. We have updated our leaflets several times as world events unfold, but we feel that our presence is more than ever a necessary reminder that we do not have to accept the inevitability of the unending cycle of violence. Currently we are handing out leaflets which read:

“The declared aim of the U.S. and British governments’ war in Afghanistan, and that of the Israeli government in the Middle East, is the combating of terrorism. This has not been realised. Instead there has been the wholesale slaughter of innocent people in Afghanistan, where the death toll is now at least double the total number killed in the attacks of 11th September. In Israel and the Palestinian territories there continues to be a terrible spiral of violence. with suicide bombers and the aggressive attacks of the Israeli amy on Palestinian homes, hospitals and places of worship. This has resulted in widespread death and injury to many innocent civilians, and a deep climate of fear. Brutal attacks on Palestinians already deprived of many basic human rights, and brutal attacks by suicide bombers on Israelis do nothing to end terrorism. Neither will a new war on Iraq, whose people - who are still suffering the consequences of the Gulf War, repeated bombings and sanctions - will surely see the U.S. and British governments as the perpetrators of terror.

“Those witnessing for peace believe that we need to work actively to build peaceful solutions to international disputes, coupled with strong use of existing international processes to bring terrorists to justice. We must also listen, try to understand what lies behind hatred, and seek to address the underlying issues. These may include the inequalities of poverty and wealth around the world and the wanton environmental damage caused in pursuit of more wealth.”

Please come and join us from 6–7pm each Friday.

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