Kingston Peace News - October 2011

AFGHANISTAN: 10 years of impossible dreaming

On October 8 we can show that we believe the continuing slaughter in Afghanistan should stop now and that a long overdue, meaningful and constructive solution to Afghanistan’s problems should at last be considered instead. None of the aims of the war are within site of being achieved after 10 years. In the face of evidence of a worsening situation Britains MPs continue overwhelming support for more of the same – we need to encourage a change of mind.

In 2001, Anthony Linton Blair promised (almost) that the US/UK bountiful offensive on Afghanistan would make the lame to walk, the blind to see and the illiterate to read. His Arcadian propaganda was vacuous bullshit.

Inspired by the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden, some Egyptian and Saudi students had hatched a plot in bed-sits in Hamburg to fly planes into the World Trade Centre and, since the US government was incompetent, they did so on 11 September 2001. Now the US, with others, began to regret having provided the seed-corn and the propagation facilities for radical Islam in Afghanistan and Pakistan years before – and certainly the progeny of their effort was unappealing. The ruthless misogynistic Taliban administration was an open invitation for intervention by armchair crusaders everywhere. Wiser heads cautioned that invasion and occupation, however briefly, heralded unintended consequences, and that reordering other people’s countries is a virtual impossibility. But undaunted the gung-ho twins (Blair & Bush) promised Eldorado-on-earth.

For centuries there were tensions between Pashtuns and Tajiks and other ethnic groups. British Victorian imperialists carved up the area and drew the Afghan/Pakistan border slap bang through the Pashtuns. In the 1990s the Pashtuns formed an alliance with radical Islam and the Taliban was born. For years the Taliban Pashtuns and the Northern Alliance of Tajiks and others fought ruthlessly for control of the whole country. They were too preoccupied with their civil war to care about New York and the World Trade Centre – but the attack of 9/11 was to bring the world crashing down on everyone. The invasion-generated chaos triggered the collapse of the hated Taliban regime. The Invaders bought the loyalty of Northern Alliance Warlords and, installing them in power, gave preference to Tajiks and others, to the dismay of the Pashtuns who have continued resistance ever since. Today “Taliban” is a generic term loosely applied to anyone resisting the tottering government and the western occupation. They kill NATO soldiers and the tenacity of the resistance is partly fuelled by the brutality of the NATO forces routinely bombing villagers, causing wholesale slaughter and rounding up unknown thousands, subjecting them to murderous medieval treatment in ‘black holes’.

The US flagship project slips ever backwards. It is a killing field for thousands of Afghans, and NATO deaths are doubling year-on-year too. Malnutrition and poverty are increasing. Child and mother deaths, and blatant corruption are amongst the world’s very worst. Money is liberally spent on instruments of death whilst a pittance goes to aid and refurbishment – and much aid is stolen.

We have all been tutored in the vacuous mantra about British soldiers dying in the hills of Afghanistan so London’s streets are safe; but NATO’s continuing presence fuels violence and hatred and I am not alone in thinking it could provoke some into contemplating attacks on European and American soil – why else does our government believe elaborate security precautions are necessary? The argument that NATO will leave when Afghanistan is stabilised is questionable since the instruments of the Afghan state the US & NATO have created are neither sound nor sustainable. In my view no useful purpose can be served by continuing and troops should come home sooner rather than later. Stop War is urging us to join a demonstration on 8 October, In Trafalgar Square. Anyone who believes the troops should NOT continue to stay in Afghanistan a day longer than necessary ought to be there. I shall be.

Noel Hamel, 11th August 2011

Dashed Hopes

President Obama will soon be starting his campaign for re-election as president of the United States. Looking back, one remembers his election to the office of the most powerful man in the world (can it really be over two years ago?). Many a tear of relief was shed when the US voters rejected the raw Republican team of McCain/Palin and put in place a man who had voted against the Iraq war, and who was on record as urging the creation of a nuclear-free world. In addition, this man was an intellectual, had written two very readable, thoughtful books, in one of which he recognised that his country needed a less militarist, more cooperative foreign policy. High hopes! This man would understand the failures of naked military power, of how violence always begets more violence, would have an instinct for a more mature world-view. He would get US troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and start to heal the wounds and lessen the widely-held suspicion of his country in the wider world as a self-elected ‘global policeman’, a power that policed the world to make it safe for US big business. President Obama, alone and unassisted, would save the troubled world, incidentally making environmental campaigners and the peace movement redundant in the process.

These high hopes have been dashed, for reasons that are hard to discern. President Obama has failed to deliver. Readers will have their own ideas of what has prevented such a man from effecting the changes that were reasonably expected of him. We won’t attempt any such analysis here, just give a brief account of president Obama’s record.

He did succeed in getting what is by British standards a rudimentary Health Bill through a reluctant Congress. But in matters of war and peace his record has been poor. He has spoken of his hopes for a nuclear-free world, but they remain just hopes. No new initiatives. Guantanamo Bay remains open. He did not renounce the Afghanistan adventure, but instead escalated the conflict by sending an additional 30,000 US troops, against the advice of his vice-president and the US ambassador in Kabul. In Iraq he announced that US combat troops would be brought home, and they were in fact withdrawn last September, but 10,000 ‘advisors’ (shades of Vietnam!) will now be retained by the Iraq government beyond a proposed deadline of December this year. Anti-US cleric Moqtada al-Sadr declared this month that any foreign troops remaining in 2012 ‘would be treated as an unjust invader and should be opposed with military resistance’.

What is it that drives suicide bombers? A powerful motive is required to give up one’s life to damage a perceived enemy, and the most obvious is hatred of an occupying army. Before the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, many warned that military force would be sure to generate resentment and hate as inevitable by-products of such action. Better options were available to achieve the stated objectives of justice. In confirmation of this warning, Mehdi Hasan, a senior political editor at the New Statesman, quotes from a book Dying to Win: The Strategic logic of Suicide Terrorism by US political scientist Robert Pape, which analyses every known case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2005, and concluded unsurprisingly that the ‘specific and strategic goal’ of suicide terrorists was to end foreign military occupation. Common sense has thus the backing of academic research. Sending in more US troops to Afghanistan has meant more conflict, more deaths of US soldiers, more recruits to terrorism.

Should we hope for another term for this winner of the Nobel Peace prize?


Under the flag of democracy

The military action in Libya

Mikhail Gorbachev, perhaps the most deserving winner ever of the Nobel Peace Prize (1990), has a sure touch on matters of war and peace. Regarding the intervention in Libya he is uncompromising in criticising the way in which the UN Resolution 1973 has been implemented. The Resolution authorised creation of a no-fly zone in Libya and other measures (an arms embargo, and freezing of Libyan assets) aimed at preventing a threatened genocide, after Gaddafi ordered his military to attack dissident Libyans in Benghazi.

KPN readers will be aware that authorisation for creating the no-fly zone was handed over to the military pact Nato, though provision existed in its Charter for the UN to oversee its own resolutions, with the experience of over 60 successful peacekeeping operations to guide its actions. Nato considered that the no-fly zone could not be put in place without bombing of any facilities that might conceivably endanger the patrolling UN-authorised surveillance planes. Before a single threat had materialised, extensive bombing of Nato-chosen targets was carried out, causing predictable civilian deaths, including those of Gaddafi’s son and his children.

Political posturing could not be resisted. As if it were any of their business, political leaders in Britain, France, and Italy, later supported by an apparently reluctant US, now called for regime change – calls that must have stiffened resolve amongst Gaddafi supporters, and given weight to Gaddafi’s claim that the UN-initiated action was really a plot by certain foreign powers to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs.

Gorbachev’s position on the Nato actions is forthright and clear.

Stop the bombing. Stop the killing. Stop the destruction. It’s degenerated into killing people and destruction and I think this is really defiance. It’s defiant behaviour. Let’s go to the United Nations and discuss whether the current policy is acceptable. I say no. Poor democracy. Under the flag of democracy all kinds of things are done. (Guardian 17th August 2011)

The resistance of the troops loyal to Gaddafi may have been less fierce and committed if the international action to protect civilians called for in Resolution 1973 had remained in UN hands. The UN has unrivalled credibility for impartiality, and has successfully managed military interventions in East Timor and most recently in the Ivory Coast. With the implementation handed over to Nato, and with the posturing of leaders of individual countries, suspicions must have been aroused within Libya that a hidden agenda may be involved.

Stop the War Coalition commented: But beyond that, we must recognise the danger that even a passing 'success' in Libya may embolden the US, British and French governments to believe that the idea of 'liberal interventionism', discredited after Iraq, can be revived on a broader scale.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the Nato-led military action in Libya is the lost opportunity it represents. A lower-profile, UN-managed protection of Libyan civilians, allowing the Libyan people (who else?) to decide whether to follow their Tunisian and Egyptian brothers to a freer, more democratic society, would have been a wonderful precedent, been more acceptable to all Libyans, and improved the standing of the UN as the first port of call when trouble flairs up anywhere in the world.


Quakers and Peace – 350 years

In 2011, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) is marking the 350th anniversary of the first written declaration of a Quaker commitment to peace. It was made to Charles II following the introduction of legislation suppressing non-conformist sects including Quakers, which resulted in more than 4,000 Friends being imprisoned. Friends were indignant that they should be thought of, with others, as plotting the violent overthrow of the king and parliament and in an eight‑page pamphlet stated: “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever”.

Since then the Quaker commitment to avoiding use of violence has expanded into actions to relieve the suffering of war, and support conflict resolution and peace-building and training in non-violence. Quakers have played a role in establishing movements such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the Campaign Against Arms Trade and sponsored the founding of the School of Peace Studies at Bradford University. Currently British Quakers are involved in peace-building in East Africa, South Asia, Nagaland (NE India), and Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and are a partner in the Dialogue for a Nuclear Weapon-free World project.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness, a department of Quakers in Britain, has issued a statement on behalf of Friends reasserting their commitment to peace, springing from the Quaker conviction that there is “that of God in every person”, which might be interpreted as the spirit of God in every person. To Quakers, God is unknowable, but the spirit of God is recognisable in our fellow human beings and the natural world and compels us to respond with love.

Graham Torr, Clerk, Kingston Quaker Meeting

350 Years On – The Peace Testimony Today

During 2010 and 2011, Friends in Britain Yearly Meeting considered our peace testimony, on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the declaration to Charles II. Through collective worship and personal reflection, Friends identified areas of concern. They saw that economic, environmental and human injustices are root causes of much violent conflict. These forms of structural violence therefore need to be addressed at an early stage. The production and trade in increasingly destructive weapons inevitably encourages armed responses to conflict. Friends reaffirmed their commitment to nonviolent, spirit-led approaches. The peace testimony, in words and in action, remains both inspiring and challenging.

Quakers recognise that of God in every living being. We work to build peaceful relationships between individuals, communities and nations, and to nurture life on this planet. We strive to live in ways that are consistent with the peace we seek. We are convinced that no end can justify the means of killing another human being.

The promptings of the spirit of love and truth lead us to express our peace testimony through loving, creative and imaginative action. Some forms of witness may make us feel uncomfortable or even put us at risk. We recognise that demands may be made of us that go against the values and norms of society but we will not let these norms temper the call to action.

We sometimes feel overwhelmed and disempowered by the scale and complexity of current global crises. The power that governments, corporations and individuals wield is too often destructive. But we know a 'life and power' which enables us to be both peaceable and powerful. We can dare to be bold as we resist injustice and challenge institutions which prepare for war.

Quaker Peace & Social Witness, Peace Campaigning & Networking group, July 2011

Fukushima Problems

(Continued from last month’s issue)

The Fukushima 1 dilemma shows that the issues of cost-efficiency and technological viability can no longer be deferred or ignored. Ratings agencies report that Tepco's outstanding debt has soared beyond $90 billion, meaning that it cannot cover future costs of storing spent rods from its Kashiwazaki and Fukushima 2 nuclear plants. The Japanese government's debt has soared to 200 percent of GDP. Neither entity can afford the rising cost of nuclear power.

The inability of Tepco or the government to pay for nuclear waste disposal puts the financial liability squarely on its partner companies and suppliers, including GE, Toshiba, Hitachi, Kajima Construction and especially the sources of the uranium, CAMECO and Rio Tinto and the governments of Canada and Australia. A fundamental rule of both capitalism and civil law is that somebody has to pay.

Last Stop

Since Australia and Canada aren't in any hurry to take back the radioactive leftovers, that leaves Japan and treaty-partner United States with only one option for quick disposal- Mongolia.

Ulan Bator accepts open-pit mining for coal and copper, which are nothing but gigantic toxic sites, so why not take the melted-down nuclear rods? Its GDP, ranked 136 among the world's economies, is estimated to be $5.8 billion in 2010. Thus, $12 billion is an unimaginable sum for one more hole in the ground.

Not that Mongolia would get the entirety of the budget, since the nuclear cargo would have to transit through the Russian Far East. Unlike the health-conscious Chinese, the population of Nakhodka or Vladivostok are used to playing fast-and-loose with radioactive materials and vodka.

Even if the mafia that runs the Russian transport industry were to demand a disproportionate cut, Mongolia's 3 million inhabitants would be overjoyed at gaining about $2,000 each, more than the average annual income, that is if the money is divided evenly after the costs of building the dump.

Realistically, the Mongolian people are unlikely to receive a penny, since the money will go into a trust fund for maintenance costs. That's because $12 billion spread over the half-life of uranium - 700 million years - is equivalent to $17 in annual rent. That doesn't even cover kibble bits for the watchdog on duty, much less the cooling system. Not that anyone will be counting since by the time uranium decays to a safe level, fossils will be the sole remnant of human life on Earth.

Illusory, shortsighted greed will surely triumph in Mongolia, and that leaves a question of moral accountability for the rest of us. Will the world community feel remorse for dumping its nuclear mess onto an ancient culture that invented boiled mutton, fermented mare's milk and Genghis Khan? For guilt-ridden diplomats from Tokyo and Washington wheedling the dirty deal in Ulan Bator, here's the rebuttal: Did the national hero, the Great Khan, ever shed any tears or feel pangs of guilt? There's no need for soul-searching. A solution is at hand.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times Weekly, is a Hong Kong-based environmental writer and also Editor-at-large at the 4th Media, China.

Legitimising military intervention

Letter of the week, NewStatesman, 12 September 2011

What changed on 11 September 2001 was that western intervention in the affairs of third world states suddenly went mainstream.

The organisation of coups, arming sympathetic factions bent on overthrowing unsympathetic regimes, propping up sympathetic tyrannical regimes, bombing raids and all out war had been the preserve of secret services and elite cabals in Washington and other western capitals.

After 9/11 subversion, war and hegemony was transformed into vote-winning ‘justifiable’ responses to the heinous theatrical stunt conceived in a cave by a mostly martyred group of perverted fanatics.

Despite the crudely devious yarns spun by Bush and Blair both went on to win second terms. The 10th anniversary could be a good time for electorates both sides of the Atlantic to take a good hard look at themselves and consider what kind of world we really want.

Noel Hamel

British arms exporters cash in on the Arab Spring

The Foreign Office can no longer claim, as once it did, that export licences are not granted for sale of armaments to repressive regimes. A front-page article in The Times (29/8/11) revealed that British arms exports to the Middle East have increased by 30% since the height of the Arab Spring. The exports of weapons used for internal repression, such as small arms ammunition, sniper rifles, shotguns and submachine guns are among the sales. UK officials approved a licence to export £75,000 of small arms ammunition to Bahrain in January, weeks before the kingdom’s violent crackdown on protesters. Despite the continuing violent repression, the F.O. has still not revoked the licenses.

The Times obtained figures from HM Revenue and Customs revealing that £64,151 of arms were exported to Libya in February, at a time when Gaddafi was in power. This was a time when Foreign Secretary Hague said he was ‘deeply concerned by the ‘unacceptable violence’ used against protesters. (It is unlikely that Hague was aware of the arms sales to Libya.)

In Saudi Arabia military trucks used to help suppress demonstrations in Bahrain were British. The Times went on to quantify arms exports to 17 countries in the Middle East from January to June, consisting of small arms such as sniper rifles, grenade launchers, semi-automatic pistols.

The government-backed campaign to promote arms sales in this volatile region continues. The huge arms fair, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), took place in London on 13th – 16th September, and The Times revealed that a week before this event 26 of Britain’s defence and security companies met in secret with their invitees, British diplomats recently posted to Pakistan, Yemen, Eritrea and Bahrain to brief them on export opportunities.

Thanks to the Angie Cooper who posted copies of The Times articles to the editor.

So They Say!

Whose country is it anyway?

The UK government has been working hand in glove with parts of the oil industry to bring about regime change in Libya. (Terry Macalister, Guardian energy editor, in an article, 3rd September, that threw light on the strident calls for regime change from the British and French, and more reluctantly the US, leaders, when the UN resolution 1973 mentioned only protecting civilians.)

Only the world sherrif can have guns

America’s present horror of nuclear proliferation stems from the knowledge that their dearly achieved trump card in all conflicts could lose its value. . . It is not the mad dictator it fears, it is that the absolute power of a nuclear monopoly might end. (John West, Peaceline, Sept/Oct 06)

Wise words, words, words

Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. (President Obama, Cairo speech, 5th June 2010)

Interests in Conflict

As the business secretary, Vince Cable is now responsible for the arms export promotion unit, UK Trade and Investments Defence and Security Organisation. He is also in charge of export licensing.

I wonder at having a leading government minister previously opposed to the use of public money to promote the arms trade.

It was the Liberal Democrats who said categorically in 2008: ‘We will end export credit guarantees for arms exports’.

(Emlyn Richards, in a letter to Daily Post, 5/7/2010, sent in by Lib Rowlands-Hughes.)

160 civil servants are employed by UKTI to sell arms, compared with approx 130 to support all other industry sectors combined. There is no economic justification for this huge and disproportionate level of taxpayer support: arms sales account for just 1.5% of UK exports. Arms sales were made last year to the governments of 10 of the 22 countries listed by the Foreign Office as being of major concern regarding human rights abuses.

(This info taken from a leaflet prepared by Hilary Evans from CAAT stats.)

Newsletter Editor for this issue was Harry Davis.

Disclaimer: It is the nature of a newsletter like KPN that views cannot be sought on everything that appears herein, so views expressed are almost never the agreed opinion of the group.