Peace Day was the vision of a British actor who decided to do something himself towards building a more peaceful world. The campaign took Jeremy Gilley from his mother’s house in Richmond to the United Nations in New York and meetings with many world leaders. Against all the odds he succeeded in getting a UN resolution passed, fixing 21st September as the Day of Peace every year.
The aim was to try to stop the fighting in areas of conflict on Peace Day, and this has indeed happened in parts of Afghanistan on 21st September each year from 2007-12, with the result that medical teams have been able to immunise 4.5 million children against polio. There have been many other initiatives where a temporary peace has given space for humanitarian relief.
As in recent years, Maggie Rees and Mary Holmes, aided by Kit Harrap, led assemblies at 14 Kingston schools during the days before and after Peace Day, telling more than 3,000 children about the initiative and asking them “who will you make peace with?” (this year’s theme).
KPC also held a stall on Peace Day in the Market Place, where they invited passing shoppers to write a message on a paper dove and hang it on the ‘peace tree’.
All reasonable people were appalled by the use of chemical weapons in Syria and its horrific consequences.
However, the reasons given by the government and others for military intervention were only too reminiscent of the arguments put forward ten years ago for the invasion of Iraq, and the consequences there should be a lesson for us in the case of Syria. Escalating the civil war in Syria into an international conflict would have untold repercussions not only for the Middle East but for the World.
Fortunately, the British people urged their representatives to reject the military option, their representatives listened, and Parliament voted against the amended motion. We should be proud that on this occasion the democratic process worked.
When the recall of Parliament was announced, some KPC members emailed their MPs urging them to vote against military intervention in Syria - extracts from their responses are reproduced below:
Mr Davey’s response was made before the debate in Parliament.
….Up till now, despite the appalling two year civil war, Britain has not intervened militarily but has focused on diplomacy, non-lethal support for some of the rebels and massive humanitarian relief for refugees, a policy position I strongly support.
However …. the Syrian regime is now using chemical weapons frequently…. The use of chemical weapons is illegal under international law, and unless we intervene to deter future use of such weapons, the implications for both the current humanitarian crisis in Syria and for future wars would be extremely dangerous.
…..As a member of the Government's National Security Council I have read the UK's classified evidence but I have also seen the TV and internet footage and I have seen the reports from independent humanitarian organisations in Syria like Médecins Sans Frontières. And I am also keen to see the reports of the UN weapons inspectors and the Government motion before Parliament today calls for those reports to be published and given to the UN before any UK military action.
….Having not even found the "dodgy dossier" a convincing case for war before Iraq, and indeed having voted against the Iraq war, the evidence I have seen on Syria is of a totally different quality and credibility and convinces me of the case for some form of action in Syria.
….So the second question is: what is the action being considered? What action should we take as a result of the use of chemical weapons? What are our aims?
The aim of any action must clearly be both to deter the future use of chemical weapons in Syria, and to make it more difficult for the Assad regime to use them.
And it would be best if this could be done by diplomacy and at the UN, rather than a military response of some sort. …..
However, while I hope this will work, the failure of diplomacy to date…means we have to be realistic and consider what else we might do.
…The military action under consideration would be limited and targeted. It would be aimed at deterring the use of chemical weapons - it would NOT be an intervention into the Syrian civil war itself, and would be followed by yet more intense diplomatic efforts to get the peace talks in Geneva going - which have so far been stalled by Russia.
….The appalling First World War resulted in new international laws to govern how future wars and conflicts were fought, including the 1925 Chemical Weapons Protocol. I strongly believe we must uphold those laws, whenever and wherever we can, but do so in a way that does not seek to escalate fighting but to deter…..
Mr Goldsmith says he has been campaigning against attacking Syria despite his revulsion at the actions of the Assad regime. He is not convinced that a military attack will protect civilians, nor that it will solve anything. There is a distinct possibility that an attack could inflame and widen the conflict. Any action that effectively defuses the situation would be preferable to the imminent 'cavalry charge' escalation proposals. He believes other MPs gave government similar messages and have been heeded.
Extract from Zac Goldsmith’s blog:
Following intense pressure from myself and other backbenchers, the Government re-wrote its motion so that it was no longer anything resembling a declaration of war. I remain absolutely opposed to intervention of course, but the motion as it became was not something I could oppose, as it is effectively a condemnation and a call to the international community to act together. It doesn’t take us closer to war, and in any case it includes a commitment to hold a vote should that change.
…. The Prime Minister told me that the clear lack of appetite for action among the backbenches meant that intervention was in any case no longer even an option.
Parliament, and in particular backbenchers can take credit for averting what seemed a certain path to war, and can be proud that it effectively held the Executive to account. I believe the motion was so watered down that it no longer merited rejection by those opposed to war, the net result in my view is undoubtedly good.
I share many of the concerns of residents about military intervention in Syria and, as a member of the Cabinet, have had an opportunity to express them in that context on the morning of the debate and in meetings with my party colleagues.
I am, however, a member of the Government and, as such, supported the Government in the decision on a motion which set out the necessary safeguards: a proper review by independent weapons inspectors; an attempt to secure a consensus in the Security Council of the UN; and a further debate and vote in Parliament.
The issue we face is not a single right v wrong issue. We have to balance the need to uphold the international law and humanitarian protection for civilians subject to attacks by chemical weapons. On the other hand, there are all the risks and uncertainties associated with military intervention, however limited.
Parliament has prevented a precipitate risk, which is a good outcome especially in view of President Obama’s effort to obtain a political mandate from Congress in the USA. The Government has no intention of trying to override the expressed view of Parliament.
I made clear my views about the UK’s involvement in a column for The Sunday Times back in May. I have been very wary of any UK military involvement from the outset…. Equally, I believe the Assad brutality to be appalling and support the international community taking action. The motion debated on 29 August was substantially revised as a result of concerns expressed by myself and many others. It called for ‘a humanitarian response and UN action’. It made clear there would be no UK military action without another vote in the House of Commons first. I supported the government on that basis, having made clear I would not vote for British military action.
Extract from Dominic Raab’s column in The Sunday Times published 26 May 2013 :
Is it time for Britain and the West to intervene? Far from it. The chances are that Syria will descend into chaos. There’s little Britain can do to prevent it — and intervening risks making matters worse….
The moral case for British intervention remains compelling, but no more so than in other conflicts that we ignore. The carnage in Syria is appalling but many less high-profile wars are worse — from the 5m dead in the Democratic Republic of Congo to the 300,000 casualties in Sudan. Strategically, Syria is pesky but not pivotal. Producing just 0.48% of the world’s oil, it has long been a mid-ranking trouble maker, far less influential in the region than Iran, Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
…. British musings on whether or not to supply arms to the opposition will not alter the grand scheme of things: the odds of it tilting the balance in favour of moderate rebels are slim. It is just as likely to prolong a civilian-punishing impasse. Equally, limited surgical strikes would not tilt the balance as they did in Libya, even if the UN approved them (which it won’t) because Assad’s forces are better defended and more spread out…..
British policy makers need to make their peace with this changing reality, as the public have. We would better channel our moral indignation into stronger support for selective UN peacekeeping operations, conflict resolution, delivering indicted war criminals to the International Criminal Court and bespoke assistance for nascent democracies in war-torn Africa…..
For all our disgust at Assad’s brutality, the real test for Britain is to reconcile ourselves to a more modest role.
All four local MPs voted for the Government motion.
The best of the debate began when it was the backbenchers’ turn to speak. The idea of the proposed punitive, selective, finely-targeted bombing with Cruise missiles in order to ‘degrade’ Assad’s chemical weapons was carefully taken apart by many speakers. Could it in fact be done? Doubtful. Would there be collateral damage, killings of innocent bystanders? Most certainly. Even if the proposed strikes were entirely successful in their objective, what would have been achieved exactly? What would be the effect on Assad? On Syria’s allies, Russia and China, and newly-moderate Iran?
The use of force to crush and intimidate and punish does not usually result in the desired capitulation. Very often it has an opposite effect, a desperate, angry escalation. What then, for this new coalition of the willing? Mission creep? Escalation? Years of involvement in a civil war between a mix of Sunni, Shia, Christian, not to mention al Qaida factions? Speaker after speaker made all these points and emphasised that diplomacy and humanitarian assistance were the sane way forward. This in answer to those who equated failure to use Cruise missiles with ‘doing nothing’.
The quality of the debate was extraordinary, the tone moderate and generous to opposing views. It was a debate to restore faith in democracy, in that these MPs were representing the views, copiously expressed, of their constituents, and, what’s more, it was backbench MPs, not the executive, who determined the outcome. Usually it is the executive who determine policy, with the House acting merely as a rubber stamp. On this occasion the executive tried to force through its agenda, there was a whip applied, and MPs risked their careers in voting against their government’s motion, yet they were not deterred. For those who believe that the Executive today has such power that the Commons is a mere sideshow, making democracy a sham, this overturning of the Motion was a surprise and a delight in itself. A great day for democracy!
The accuracy of the ‘intelligence’ was widely suspected. It was interesting to hear universal references to the Iraq war as a disaster, a deception, a long shadow from ten years ago cast over the debate. Only one speaker said that he believed that Tony Blair was sincere in believing in Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and in response to laughter he added, ‘Okay, I’m naïve.’ This is how far Blair has today been discredited.
Notable was the pressure felt by many MPs as a result of a massive opposition to the proposed involvement from their constituents. This was an issue largely determined by vox populi. Many speakers declared they would vote against the motion because of the wishes of their constituents, that this was the way democracy was supposed to work. A poll showing only a tiny fraction (11%) of the public in favour was several times quoted. The strong pressure of the peace movement was a major factor in this victory.
The decision not to become involved in war in Syria in partnership with the United States has several international implications. For one, the example of a debate in parliament deciding foreign policy is bound to have an effect in the US, causing increased pressure to have a similar open debate in Congress before an Executive decision is taken. In the US the Executive, especially the president himself, has enormous power. Obama was talking about a ‘red line’ being crossed: he alone, as 'Commander in Chief', could decide on a military strike if Assad used chemical weapons. Perhaps the British example of democracy at work will inspire Americans to obtain a wider consensus before going to war in future. Perhaps a debate in Congress would be of the same quality as that in the British parliament, and perhaps produce the same result – though across the Atlantic, the president has such power that a two-thirds Congress majority is needed to ensure an issue against a possible presidential veto.
And a great day for the United Nations! For those who believe that matters of war and peace should be the province of the United Nations, and not decided by the hubris of individual states, this Commons vote is a rare and most welcome boost.
Twickenham, Richmond And Kingston Network against the Arms Trade (TRAKNAT) held vigils outside Vince Cable’s office in Twickenham on Friday 6th and Friday 13th September 2013, to coincide with the Defence and Security Equipment International Exhibition (DSEi). Protesters drew attention to Vince Cable’s Business Department’s (BIS) sponsorship of this, the world’s largest arms fair, at Docklands. BIS invited delegates from some of the most repressive regimes in the world, including Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – each of which has turned weapons on democracy protesters. Egypt recently used British helicopters against protesters. TRAKNAT was horrified to learn that one of the exhibitors was Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms exporter that supplies weapons to Assad in Syria. In recent years, Rosoboronexport has supplied 78% of Syria’s weapons including fighter aircraft, tanks and ammunition.
TRAKNAT is continuing to follow up on its meetings with Vince Cable MP and Zac Goldsmith MP. Four TRAKNAT representatives have met privately with Dr Cable in August and September 2013, and have exchanged letters with him, in an effort to improve the transparency in the licensing of arms exports and arms dealers, and to tighten up the application of the criteria for granting licences for the supply of arms to developing countries. Mr Goldsmith has asked a question in parliament about the recent changes to the reporting rules.
(see http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2013-09-06a.167265.h )
Vince Cable’s Business Department issued 17 open licences to British arms brokers between May 2010 and March 2013 to trade an unlimited quantity of weapons from another country to Egypt and 33 open licences to UK exporters to trade an unlimited quantity of weapons from the UK to Egypt. These licences were for a full range of military goods including assault rifles, sniper rifles, combat shotguns and small arms ammunition. The use of these licences is not currently reported and we have no way of distinguishing between, for example, a few components for a naval radar system and an export of a large quantity of machine guns, ammunition, or riot control agents which might be used on a civilian population.
(See http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/export-licences/ )
- and another kind of treaty
It seems that governments are addicted to power, almost by definition. Thus when the whole world longs to be free from the threat of annihilation that is implicit in the continued existence of weapons of nuclear mass destruction, the nuclear nations cling to their bad-boy status. In defiance of the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Britain and France have agreed to collaborate on nuclear weapons technology, by sharing research facilities for the next 50 years! How ironically appropriate that they have named this irresponsible retrograde treaty after a Celtic war god. Teutates (Tutatis of the Asterix comics) is not funny any more. However, increasing collaboration at dinosaur government level is being matched by international cooperation among peace campaigners.
I was privileged to be one of eleven campaigners on the Christian CND journey to Valduc and Paris, linking with local and international activists to protest the Teutates Treaty. Valduc is the French nuclear weapons facility, hidden away in forests about twenty miles from Dijon. It is more remote than Aldermaston but of similar size and we think around 1,000 people work there. Just as at Aldermaston or Burghfield, the workers are all inside while the protesters bring their message to a highly defended but otherwise deserted gateway.
Police presence was quite intensive - it was only thanks to patient negotiation by local activists that we were allowed to walk past and no photography was allowed. However, also thanks to our Dijon friends, we had a TV journalist walking ahead of us. Her film and interview got us three minutes on television, see http://bourgogne.france3.fr/node/297751. The odd thing about this coverage is that the rather oppressive police presence, in cars and motorbikes etc, is not visible. We were supposed to walk past without stopping but at the gate they let us stop for one prayer. Then we all got back in our van and went to a local village, an agreed place to do the TV interview. One police car followed us around for hours.
The first thing you see in this footage is our "Aldermaston to Valduc - Nukes are Immoral" banner. This was made by a member of Wimbledon CND. I first saw it on our recent (KPC) trip to Burghfield - we were encouraged to sign it for solidarity with French activists for the visit to Valduc. It got signed by more people at the National Justice and Peace Network Conference and all these messages were taken right to the gates of Valduc. And it gets better: on 6th August - Hiroshima Day - we were able to introduce the idea of the banner in our report to all those participating in the international "Non aux armes nucléaires!" vigil and fast at the Mur de la Paix in Paris. Many more people spontaneously signed it. Now it is a truly international symbol of solidarity for peace.
We carried the banner amongst many others in the subsequent demonstration walk and 'die-in' at the Eiffel tower and then we took it to the UK Embassy, where, however, an intensive police presence prevented any demonstration or contact with the embassy. I think the banner is back in Wimbledon by now. Well done to whoever had this idea.
Another idea is in hand: in response to the manifestly bad government-level Teutates treaty we shall have an equivalent document: a treaty for cooperation between peace activists of Britain and France. The "Eirene Treaty" is in preparation. Eirene was a Greek goddess, their personification of Peace.
The Superpower (continued from last issue)
The militarised America of modern times grew from the relatively small beginnings described last month. At the end of the first world war, the sensible idea of mutual protection via a League of Nations was enthusiastically promoted by the American president Wilson and agreed at Versailles. However the US Senate refused to ratify the proposal, and so America remained outside the new-formed League.
Then in 1939 came the second world war. During this savage conflict, American scientists invented, and American military used, the atom bomb. The terrible consequences of the invention of nuclear weapons, escalating to the unimaginable power of the hydrogen bomb, is a story sufficiently well known. This escalation in the power of the military provoked not a coming together for mutual protection, but a splitting apart, a Cold War where the peace was to be kept not by mutual agreements but by a military standoff. The post-war world became a tinderbox, with opposing superpowers of America and the Soviet Union threatening each other with annihilation. Those who believed in the power of the UN to promote peace were generally regarded by the new America as dangerously naïve.
The America after the second world war was scarcely recognisable from the America of the founding fathers. The rhetoric about freedom and democracy was retained, but now the drive was for superpower – a new concept alien to the Dream. Americans now found that their government was spending a large percentage of their tax dollars on ‘defence’, promoted as necessary first to keep the red menace of communism at bay, and latterly for less defined reasons, including the ‘war on terror’. Today’s America feels so threatened that it is responsible for 42% of the world’s total of military spending. So militarised has the country become, that suggested cuts to this gigantic spending are seen as unpatriotic and undermining of security.
After WW2 came Vietnam. Not content to demonstrate a self-evident social superiority to Stalin’s Russia, American leaders felt compelled to shore up democratic freedom with bombs and bullets. Not for conquest, but simply for fear of the spread of communism, America went to an undeclared war in Vietnam, to save the country from communism even if that meant its destruction. Pictures of children burned with napalm, of bombing of villages, of helicopter gunships strafing suspect communities appalled a watching world. The massacre of men, women and children by American soldiers at the village of Mai Lai was one action amongst similar incidents that was reported. High level bombing of northern cities was deliberately chosen in a failed attempt to break Northern morale. From outside, the American dream looked like a nightmare.
Matters have worsened in the 21st century. The militarist mindset having previously taken hold, the response by an enraged American administration to the terrorist attack on New York on 11th September 2001 was to declare war on Afghanistan, the country where the perpetrators had taken refuge. Contemporary America will be discussed next month.
 In 2009, 54 cents in every tax dollar was spent on defence, current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and war-related expenses! (see https://www.warresisters.org/federalpiechartarchives )
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND