Cable fields questions at arms trade meeting but ducks the ethical issues
More than 200 people crammed a Richmond upon Thames church in late November to hear Business Secretary Vince Cable defend the sale of arms to foreign governments, many of whom have dubious, or in some cases, appalling human rights records.
Organised by TRAKNAT which is based in Cable’s Twickenham constituency the meeting was called to discuss the impact of the international arms trade on poverty and human rights. Originally Cable was to have shared a platform with Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who represents the neighbouring constituency of Richmond Park but, late in the day, Goldsmith said he was double booked and so couldn’t attend.
Although it would have been entertaining to see how much – or how little – the MPs representing the two partners of the Coalition had in common, the main draw was always going to be Cable given his department’s responsibility for promoting and selling arms abroad.
Those who might have expected the one-time left of centre Vince Cable to give his audience cause for hope that he had not abandoned his party’s erstwhile principles were disappointed.
He trotted out the mantra of the Labour and Tory politicians he once opposed by stating “If we withdrew from selling arms to other countries they would buy them from someone else.”
Asked by TRAKNAT organiser Paul Tippell why we should be selling arms to India whose military budget outstrips its health budget by more than fourfold he replied that countries had a right to defend themselves. He even claimed the moral high ground on this basis. He went on to claim that “95% of the pressure I get is from people clamouring for more effort on arms sales.”
This was a strange sort of justification from an MP talking to a hall full of constituents whom he will be expecting to vote for him at the next election. One expects that the sort of sharp suited people who are “clamouring” for him to sell more weapons do not include the electors of Twickenham which, after all, has no armament factories.
The more he spoke the more one formed the impression that, not only was Cable not expecting so large a crowd to turn out on a frosty November night, but he also underestimated the knowledge of arms sales and international development issues within his audience. He trotted out some statistics – 200 arms sales licenses refused and 158 revoked out of a total of 12000; less than 1% of the staff of his department and the MoD and the Foreign Office were promoting arms sales abroad etc etc. And he made much of the international arms export treaty currently being drawn up. The Government was also now implementing anti-bribery legislation in the wake of BAe Systems’ activities.
But many of his answers were glib and short on facts and figures. He also failed to respond to ethical questions such as was it morally right to sell arms to governments who wanted to defend themselves against their own citizens; in a time of recession how could he justify government subsidising the DSEi arms trade fair in London held every two years? He claimed the government wasn’t subsidising it though the facts say otherwise.
|Paul Tippell addresses the TRAKNAT meeting|
As a counterbalance to Cable’s 95% of lobbyists clamouring for more arms sales the meeting presented him with a 9,000-signature petition from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade and a further 1,000 signatures from Amnesty International.
Two of his constituents (and members of KPC) Hilary Evans and Mary Holmes wound up the evening with powerful speeches. Hilary said: “It is not OK for the Government to facilitate the arming of repressive regimes. It’s not OK for the Government to help organise the massive DSEI arms fair every two years at the Excel Centre in London; and it isn’t OK to welcome customers to this fair from repressive regimes … And it’s not OK for the government to waste £700 million of public money every year on subsidising arms exports. All these things are wrong, wrong, wrong.”
If the applause for Cable was polite, that for Hilary’s comments was heartfelt.
By Maggie Rees
Between the 10th and 26th September Kingston Peace Council members visited 12 schools, led 15 assemblies and spoke to over 3,000 children. This was to bring to the attention of children, students and staff the International Day of Peace on the 21st September.
This day began as the vision of Jeremy Gilley, a British filmmaker, who started the Peace One Day Campaign from one room in his mother’s house in Richmond. From here he began a journey which took him around the world and ended up at the United Nations building in New York. With remarkable drive and energy, he and a small group of supporters approached every head of government in the world and many more political and religious world leaders. In 2001 after two years of hard work, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted resolution 55/282 fixing the 21st September in the calendar as an annual day of ceasefire and non-violence. Sadly the launch ceremony which had just started in New York on the 11th September 2001 had to be abandoned when the first plane flew into the World Trade Centre.
In 2009 members of KPC decided to visit schools to tell young people about this significant day. Mary Holmes contacted almost all the schools in the boroughs of Kingston and Richmond. Initially the response was not good and only three schools were visited, but this number has grown over the years due to Mary’s conscientious emailing and phoning. Now some schools are booking the team a year in advance and the reception and follow up have been very encouraging.
All but one of the schools are primary (KS1 and 2), infant (KS1) or junior (KS2).
The usual order of the assembly has been that Mary Holmes introduces us to the children and tells them why we are visiting. She tells them about Jeremy Gilley’s “good idea” and how the International Day of Peace came into being. Maggie Rees then follows this with a story showing how the children can make their own contribution to a more peaceful and better world.
As some of the children are as young as 5, the stories have to be at a level they can understand and contain ideas which they can cope with and put into practice. The theme of the Quaker story of “The Tale of Two Mules – a fable for the Nations” is simple but the message is clear to all “Co-operation is better than conflict”. Hopefully there are many children in the schools of Kingston and Richmond who now understand what the words “co-operation” and “conflict” mean and will agree that the former is better than the latter! Children have also heard the story of Sadako the Japanese girl who died as a result of the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and who, during her illness made origami cranes – a symbol of hope – and inspired her friends to work for peace. A third story told is about the early years of Quakers in America. A group was saved from attack by Native Americans because they were observed to be a peaceable and quiet people. The message for the children here is that a peaceful and calm attitude is far more helpful than taking an aggressive stance.
The response from the children has been excellent – they have participated very well and often listened with rapt attention. More schools are now aware of The International Day of Peace and many teachers have prepared the children well. Assemblies are followed up with peace activities – poems, art, craft, prayers in church schools and discussions – some based on ideas given to them by the KPC visitors.
The secondary school visited is Christ’s in Richmond. A good relationship has been built up with this school over the last few years. Hilary Evans and Mary Holmes visit here and this year attention was drawn to the Olympic legacy of peaceful co-operation and goodwill. The students were told that peace doesn’t just happen - we have to be proactive if we want to preserve that legacy. “Peace begins with a smile” is a good start, but it is not enough – it is still necessary to be active citizens. Jeremy Gilley was and still is very active in the cause of peace and a group of students from the Royal Docks Community School next door to the ExCeL centre were active when they noticed protesters outside the huge DSEi arms fair. They investigated the issues and made a film. The young people of Christ’s were asked to think about the iniquities of the arms trade – it’s not even just about people’s right to defend themselves – and about the importance of telling your MP what you think.
The aim for a day of global ceasefire and non-violence seems too much to hope for but the signs are very positive with up to 70 % less violence in some areas of the world on the 21st September this year and many medical teams taking advantages of cease fires to immunize children against polio and other diseases with millions benefitting.
KPC’s contribution may be small, but as Hilary told the students at Christ’s – it is necessary to be active citizens.
In 2000 I published a novel under the pen name George Paine that was inspired by acts of non-violent direct action in the US. It was published by a now-defunct firm for £12.99, had very little promotion, and, I thought, quickly disappeared. Though it must be admitted that it did not appeal to everyone, some liked it very much, including the dedicatee, Helen Woodson, who was in prison at the time, serving a sentence of 17 years for the destruction of a missile silo.
Recently I looked up the title on Amazon, and was surprised to find that a few second-hand copies were still available, at twice the original price. Even more surprising were the three reviews, which all gave the book the maximum five stars. My interest was rekindled, as it were, and I have now republished The Crisis In Tripetria in Kindle under my own name, at the more reasonable price of 77 pence. I am sufficiently confident to recommend the book at that price. Anyone with a Kindle buying it, please tick the Like box if they do like it, and, who knows, the book may one day find a wider circulation amongst those who have never heard of non-violent direct action.
The British Government’s support for US drone operations in Pakistan may involve assisting murder or may even constitute a war crime, The Guardian reported in late October, citing a high court hearing.
Lawyers for a Pakistani man, Noor Khan, whose father was killed by a weapon fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle, were seeking a ruling that it was unlawful for the UK to share intelligence information relating to potential targets with the US.
The British Government has declined to state whether or not its signals intelligence agency, GCHQ, passes information in support of CIA drone operations in Pakistan airspace, although the court was told of media reports suggesting that this was the case.
Mr Khan lives in North Waziristan where a drone strike in March 2011 killed more than 40 people who, he said, were gathered to discuss a mining dispute.
Counsel for Khan argued that “the participation of a UK intelligence official in US drone strikes, by passing intelligence, may amount to the offence of encouraging or assisting murder.” Alternatively it could be construed as a crime against humanity.
According to research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between June 2004 and September 2012 drone strikes had killed between 2,562 and 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom between 474 and 881 were civilians, including 176 children.
The London case, which is yet to be decided, is one of several underway around the world.
As it was being heard the RAF announced that it was to double the number of drones flying combat and surveillance missions in Afghanistan.
In late November The Times reported that MPs were to open an inquiry into the use of drones by British forces. The Commons Defence Committee is to investigate the deployment of drones in Afghanistan as part of a two-year inquiry into the military’s use of lethal force.
The newspaper also reported that MPs and peers might hold a joint debate into the UK’s drone policy and the ethics of killing targets remotely. Ministers face demands that they reveal if British intelligence is shared with the CIA to determine targets.
Think in Kingston is a festival of ideas with events staged by local organisations. Money was the 2012 theme so Kingston Peace Council decided to pose questions about government austerity. Cutting budgets is controversial – How much? When? Is cutting right? Necessary? And Which Budgets? We tackled the last question since coalition plans are to cut many of the budgets we value, treasure, and are those we pay taxes for - by 25%, (more or less,) whilst ‘defence’ cuts are planned to be a miserly 7% (less than ⅓) and all by 2015.
But that isn’t all. The Afghanistan war is estimated (guestimated) to be costing £5billion/year which doesn’t include troop salaries, medical expenses and a shed-load more; and TRIDENT renewal, our nuclear weapon, is planned to cost £100billion over 25 years - £100,000,000,000! - with the major expense up front for design and build. In a survey a staggering 72% were opposed to Trident renewal and a local Greenpeace street survey found over 90% opposition. That was before austerity cuts were even a twinkle in the chancellor’s eye.
The odd £millions are being handed out to Aldermaston and Rolls Royce for development work meantime and it’s said the final decision to go ahead hasn’t been made. The current system costs over £2billion/year to run and doubtless there are other costs.
So, adding all this together, at a time when our services are being cut, ‘defence’ spending is actually growing and is within striking distance of the education budget. We are fourth biggest spender on war and weapons after US, China & Russia.
A troop of hardy KPC members donned nurses’, doctors’, librarians’, teacher’s outfits with the odd George Osborne and David Cameron mask – “Ooohh! I could punch that face”!!! (a bit alarming since I was wearing it at the time) Despite some bad weather we took to Kingston’s streets and persisted on 3 occasions. We wanted to break free of the old habit of talking to ourselves and found considerable sympathy with shoppers who overwhelmingly chose ‘defence’ for extra cutting. We had a try-your-luck machine with four holes for balls, each one representing a budget – Health, Education, Local Services and Defence. Placing the ball in the budget of choice shoppers were surprised with a flag that shot up revealing the price of a £1billion cut. The challenge was to help poor George decide which budget to cut £1billion from – half a year of the current Trident fleet, or thousands of teachers, or nurses, or local government workers and libraries – hard choice!!
Wars don’t have budgets. For generations they have been paid for by borrowing. There is no revenue stream to pay the loans and interest, and wars and weapons’ spending generates no revenue itself. The burden of loan repayment and interest is borne by future taxpayers – a typical deficit situation that government is pledged to eliminate (but is doing the opposite). Typical government spending on education, health, transport and communication and infrastructure promotes and supports the economic development on which thriving economies are built, helping secure tax revenue for future government spending or pay down borrowing. So wouldn’t you think that those would be the last things to cut if the plan is to secure UK future prosperity?
Burgeoning welfare is a thorny issue. Much of it supports people in poorly paid work and housing support actually helps fill private landlords’ pockets. Child tax credits help support poorly paid workers achieve a basic standard of life free from absolute poverty. The book, “the Spirit Level”, shows how widening wealth gaps create these dilemmas. It’s more complicated than I imply and we decided it was too big an issue and chickened out; but Kingston Peace Council sticks with the basic premise that it doesn’t make sense and isn’t sound economics to take the hatchet to our government services and be recklessly dissolute with war and weapons’ spending.
Our experience showed Kingston’s Shoppers agreed, overwhelmingly opting to cut defence spending first; and they didn’t need any persuading from us. Never mind about poor George, “a chancellor on work experience”, what about poor us?
As reported in the November issue of KPN, a mini-survey was carried out from the World Disarmament Campaign stall on attitudes to Trident. The results of the survey on ‘What Shall We Do With Britain’s Nuclear Weapon?’ were: Keep it 14, Give it up by agreement 48, and for Give it up unilaterally 54. More interesting than the simple numbers, were the reasons given for the choice in the Why?box provided.
The Keep it option. 12% Those ticking this box generally gave short answers. Security was the keyword, sometimes just the single word. One added ‘in an uncertain age of terrorism’. One added ‘and other unseen benefits’, another simply ‘Maintenance of UK’s global power’. One gave as sole reason, ‘Unite member’, evidently considering the jobs involved were a good and sufficient reason. Another: ‘If Iran has one, we have no choice’. Those who ticked the Keep it box would evidently not support the actual use of Britain’s nuclear weapon, simply regarding it as a deterrent. The ‘global power’ argument implies either confidence that Britain is a force for good in the world, or else that power is needed as a lever to secure advantages for Britain. It would be interesting to know which motivation, selfless or selfish, was behind the choice. Evidently if a way to security without the Bomb could be found, then most of those ticking the Keep it box would be happy to give up Britain’s weapon of mass destruction. Some few would regret the loss of their jobs, but in view of the huge savings entailed, no doubt something useful could be found for them to do.
The Give it up by Agreement option. 41% The desire to get rid of nuclear weapons was evident. All those ticking this box wanted efficient negotiations so that we could get rid of the Bomb. ‘I would like to give it up, but suspect we’ll need to negotiate.’ ‘Diminishing need, but don’t want to be left unguarded.’ ‘We need to be able to protect ourselves from unstable countries.’ For some, negotiations were the future. ‘Needs to end over time.’ Some were aware of the cost, and made it a prime concern. ‘Get the money, to use it for education.’ ‘Can’t afford it. Can’t use it.’ ‘Why waste money on destruction when we need it for production.’ The history of actual negotiations notwithstanding, genuine negotiations were assumed. ‘Lead by example, and negotiate.’ ‘Negotiate globally.’ ‘To keep the world safe, without threatening ourselves.’ ‘It’s not something we should do alone.’ There was an understandable assumption that any negotiations must be fair and efficient, and in good faith. In fact, if such could be arranged, the great majority of participants, including those ticking the ‘Keep it’ box, would be satisfied. In ‘Need for cooperation and agreement’, one sensed that the participant had in mind other advantages that might flow from a successful negotiation to eliminate nuclear weapons.
The Give it up unilaterally option. 47% Surprisingly, this box unequivocally giving up Britain’s nuclear weapon, was the most popular. The reasons given, written within seconds of ticking the box, were impressive. ‘Must do so. Deterrent value is meaningless.’ ‘Britain having nuclear weapons sets a dangerous precedent, allowing other countries to justify having them.’ ‘Makes no financial, military or moral sense.’ ‘Makes the whole world more insecure, rather than less.’ “Save money, and live.’ ‘We should be ashamed we haven’t done this already.’ ‘Too dangerous. Militarised society.’ ‘It is a danger to us and humanity.’ ‘It’s completely illogical to maintain such an (illegible).’ ‘Of no use whatever, even as a deterrent, so why have we still got them?’ ‘Unnecessary colonial pretension.’ The idea of the value of setting a good example was several times mentioned. ‘Lead by example.’ ‘Set a precedent!’ ‘Example to world.’
This, note, was not at a meeting of CND, but the opinions of the rank and file at the Labour Conference. It was a lively issue, to which most had obviously long given careful thought. Yet inside the conference hall, the question of Britain’s nuclear weapon was carefully avoided. Clearly, those in charge should try harder to meet the desires of their constituents.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND