One of the questions posed by Tony Blair in his ‘Big Conversation’ is ‘How do we develop our concept of international community?’ and I reproduce below some of my own thoughts on the subject as e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com (Roger Casale). “All responses will be fed into the National Policy Forum and will be used to help shape Labour’s next election manifesto” is the government claim, and I urge all WDC/CND members to take the ‘Big Conversation’ at face value and send in contributions to the debate. Democracy may not be perfect in this country, but I feel that it is essential to use the channels that we have got — and to demonstrate to our elected representatives that we are doing so. (If you do not have access to e-mail you can simply send to FREEPOST Big Conversation.)
“How do we develop our concept of international community?”
I am concerned that this section of the Big Conversation does not state clearly and unequivocally that British foreign policy is built around commitment to the United Nations. The statement that “our foreign policy is built on the twin pillars of alliance with the United States and membership of the EU, both of which reinforce our commitment to a global system based on rules” in fact suggests a very narrow international vision. I should like the British Government to go on record as upholders of the Charter of the United Nations and the rule of International Law, above all other loyalties.
The document states that “the major new security threats for Britain are the combined menaces of global terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with rogue or failing states”. There should be far more emphasis on the root causes of terrorism, and the extent to which the arrogance and greed of western nations has helped create a culture in which terrorism flourishes. “We believe in creating an international community where we take tough action on terrorism and rogue states, but where we are equally determined in dealing with the environment, AIDS, Africa and the Middle East” is a statement of breathtaking arrogance if you stop to look at it from an internationalist perspective. Economic fairness, respect for indigenous cultures, sustainable development in our own back yard, and revulsion at the conspicuous consumption, waste and greed exemplified by the USA would lead to our diplomatic voice being taken more seriously as a force for good in the Third World.
The dangers inherent in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have been spelled out to successive governments, both Labour and Conservative, by anti-nuclear campaigners since the 1950s. Everything that was predicted then has come to pass, apart from nuclear armageddon itself. It is both a practical impossibility and a morally indefensible position to assume that a small number of ‘good’ countries can be official possessors of nuclear weapons while keeping them out of the hands of ‘rogue states’. You appear not to realise that ‘rogue states’ do not regard themselves as ‘rogue states’. Why should they indeed? The position adopted by Britain and the remaining official nuclear powers is one of the grossest hypocrisy, and renders progress in nuclear disarmament an impossibility.
The most significant thing that the UK government could do would be to make its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty responsibilities a diplomatic priority during the run-up to the 2005 NPT Review. If Britain has any special influence with the USA, now is the time to use it. We must make it clear that we do not want to have anything to do with US plans for the next generation of nuclear weapons (‘bunker busters’ and ‘mini-nukes’) or with the weaponisation of space, and that fulfilment of the 13 steps agreed at the 2000 NPT Review must be placed within a clear time-bound framework. This is the only way that the NPT will continue to be taken seriously by its non-nuclear signatories. If the US persists in its aggressive ‘defence’ strategies in defiance of its treaty obligations, we should make sure that such behaviour receives international condemnation. At present the Labour government is supporting the most right-wing presidency the US has ever produced, and many of us want to know why.
“What responsibilities do we have to help people liberate themselves from dictatorial régimes?”
Again, this presupposes that Britain ever could or should work other than through the UN. If we joined forces with other ‘middle powers’ such as Canada and Sweden we could perhaps be a significant counterbalance to the overweening power of the US. At the very least we should have the humility to realise that it has been policy for a long time to enter into alliances with dictatorial regimes when it suits us, and we are therefore not in a position to go round the world ‘liberating’ people militarily when convenient.
Britain has its most lasting and constructive influence on the rest of the world through the BBC World Service, British Council etc. which promote education, the exchange of people, and talking at governmental and non-governmental level, all encouraging closed societies to open up to democratic values. By engaging in this way with countries where we hope to have influence and promoting the exchange of different points of view, we stand a chance of persuading such governments of the advantages of being accepted by the international community of law-abiding democratic nations. Confidence-building should be a careful and planned long-term goal. Engagement does not have to equal interference, and war should be completely unacceptable as an instrument of foreign policy. War is an admission of failure, only acceptable in extreme circumstances of self-defence. Once again, we are very ill-served by our alliance with a US which supports dictatorships (e.g. Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia) and undermines democratically elected governments (e.g. Allende in Chile).
You ask how we can help moderate Muslim leaders and contribute to better understanding. Anti-terrorist legislation with secret trials without juries and no disclosure of evidence (and holding people without charge) is bound to poison relationships between communities and give this country a bad name abroad. Once again it makes the British government look hypocritical as it preaches democracy and human rights to other nations.
“Has the UN Security Council not been as effective as it should be?”
Does this mean that the Labour Government resents the fact that the UN would not vote for war on Iraq? The trial of Ms Gun under the Official Secrets Act, about which you are now apparently having second thoughts, might have shed some light on the misuse of GCHQ to spy on fellow members of the Security Council (at the behest of the US government, presumably) in the period during which heavy pressure was being brought to bear on these ‘swing states’ before the war on Iraq. Was this the behaviour of a government whose first loyalty is to the UN and a global system “based on rules”? Can we expect to be taken seriously if we behave like this? Having gone to war without the consent of the UN it is going to take a long time before the rest of the world wants to hear about the UK “taking the lead in attempting to tackle both the causes of state failure and its effects”. We should cease to indulge in such delusions of grandeur, and concentrate on fairness, justice and the environment.
This Easter sees CND’s first Aldermaston March for 15 years, with a send-off rally in Trafalgar Square on Good Friday. We are thinking of hiring a coach to join the climax of the march at Aldermaston on Easter Monday when it is hoped to be able to surround the base, but we need to get an estimate of the level of support. Please phone 8543 0362 if you think you might be interested. (If we can fill a 53-seater coach the cost will only be £10 per head.)
This will be the 8th Annual Lobby hosted by the United Nations Association with the stated aim of “putting the United Nations at the heart of UK foreign policy”. This year’s themes are
We hope to be able to arrange a meeting with Wimbledon MP Roger Casale to discuss some of the issues with him. In addition there will be the opportunity to listen to a panel of distinguished speakers in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House.
If you want to join the WDC/CND group, please get in touch.
A new educational and campaigning video.
This highly professional 14 minute video produced by the Movement for the Abolition of War carries a powerful message: wars are not inevitable and there are other ways of resolving conflict. Contributors include Martin Bell, Bruce Kent, Caroline Lucas, Archbishop Tutu, Professor Sir Joseph Rotblat and Jon Snow.
Much of the discussion revolves around Iraq, and as the first anniversary of Gulf War II approaches we have a golden opportunity to tap into an issue which is absolutely topical. But at the same time, the questions posed are universal and the video aims to stimulate thought and discussion rather than to give all the answers.
The video comes with a booklet which elaborates on some of the issues raised in the film and provides references and guidelines for teachers. We have purchased several copies for local use, so if you could arrange a showing at your school, church or club — or to a group of interested friends and neighbours in your own home — please ask to borrow a copy. (Or video and booklet can be purchased from MAW, 11 Venetia Rd, London N4 1EJ for £8.)
Barbara and Maisie joined Babs Knivett, Ann Pugh and well over one hundred other mourners who packed into the chapel at Putney Crematorium for a celebration of the life of Hugh Jenkins (Lord Jenkins of Putney) recently.
Author, poet, trade union activist, Labour M.P., Arts Minister and above all, veteran peace campaigner, Hugh’s lifelong struggle for peace, justice and socialism inspired so many people, as reflected in the huge attendance and the tributes at his funeral.
Mourners included Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn, Bruce Kent, Alf Dubs, even Peter Hain and many others, too numerous to mention. Ian McGarry, General Secretary, Equity, spoke about Hugh’s candidature (almost vetoed by the Labour leadership because of his anti-nuclear activities) and the election campaign in 1964 which won him the seat in Putney. He recollected the huge canvassing force, which included well known actors such as the heavily pregnant Vanessa Redgrave, Barbara Windsor, Harry S. Corbett and Wilfred Brambell, and even motorcades headed by Steptoe and Son’s horse and cart.
Speaking of Hugh’s record as Arts Minister, when he abolished museum charges and worked tirelessly to make the arts the prerogative of the whole people, Jeremy Corbyn remarked on how much poorer we would have been if the Labour Party Executive had succeeded in blocking him from becoming an MP. And Alf Dubs who worked with Hugh in the House of Lords, remembered his constant pressure on the government on issues of nuclear disarmament, peace and justice. Bruce Kent’s description of Hugh Jenkins as a kind, determined, humorous man “as low on ego as he was high on concern for humanity”, so accurately summed up the man as most of us knew him.
Listening to the choir singing Dona nobis Pacem and to Ann Pugh reading Hugh’s own poem, “Contradicting Dylan Go gentle into that good night”, folk songs sung by Kathleen Ferrier and the Ode to Joy, moved many of us to tears, but made the whole event a totally inspiring experience.
We have lost an outstanding campaigner in Hugh Jenkins, but his example should spur us on to ensure that the peace movement, bigger now than it has ever been, continues to grow and achieve success.