Nobel committee hails chemical weapons experts
The award of the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came as a surprise to many but mature reflection prompts the question as to why these scarcely heard of scientists had not been recognised before.
Although they have only just begun their onerous task of dismantling the Syrian regime’s massive stock of sarin and other chemical agents – and attempting to do so in the midst of a terrible civil war – the fact is that this modest organisation based in The Hague has had an unrivalled success rate in pursuing its goal of ridding the world of chemical weaponry.
Set up after 1992 when the world community (minus a few notable exceptions) vowed to outlaw this type of armament) OPCW has thus far overseen the destruction of 80% of the world’s declared stock of chemical weapons – a statistic yet to include Syria.
It is overseeing the destruction of the remaining chemical weapons arsenals held by Russia and the US.
The organisation goes about its hazardous business with an annual budget of just £60 million - small beer in the armaments universe – so the £780,000 prize will be helpful in practical terms and, it is hoped, give impetus to the elimination of other countries’ stocks of chemical weapons.
|Chemical weapons declared worldwide since 1997||71,196 tonnes|
|Chemical weapons destroyed||58,172 tonnes|
|Percentage of declared weapons destroyed||81.71%|
|Number of inspections carried out||5,286|
|Number of declared chemical weapons sites||228|
|Number of sites visited||228|
The US Air Force announced in mid October that it had relieved from command the general in charge of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for all 450 of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the demotion and re-assignment of the deputy commander of the US Strategic Command, which has responsibility for all US nuclear forces, including land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear-armed submarines. The reason given in both cases was ‘personal misconduct’.
A major London conference posed the question but the answer was more difficult
reports Phillip Cooper
|The Pandora’s Hope women’s seamstress co-operative, Kabul, with UK visitors including Maya Evans (front row, centre).|
The London conference was planned as a first step in what was described by Maya as “ a long-term project making links with Afghans living in the UK and in Afghanistan.” A practical demonstration was provided in a live Skype link between the conference and a sewing co-operative in Kabul where a group of women make duvets for refugees and the poor. The project is supported by the Afghan Peace Volunteers, a courageous group based in Kabul who seek to promote peace in the devastated country. They protest about injustice, including NATO drone attacks, they campaign for good jobs for poor people, provide microloans to help small businesses establish themselves and raise awareness of the potential for different ethnic groups to work and live together for the future.
The injustice faced constantly by women in Afghanistan was a recurring theme of the conference. The women in the sewing co-operative spoke over the Skype link of the fact that outside the capital, Kabul, women living in the other 33 provinces were expected to remain at home indoors. For those that did venture out there was the constant fear felt by their families that something might have happened to them if they returned home later than expected. Everyone in the country was so very tired of war, said one of the women.
The conference also welcomed Fazana, a 25-year old Afghan women now living as a refugee in Britain. Speaking through an interpreter she asked how there could be justice in Afghanistan where half the population were women and did not have equal rights. She explained that, as Hazaras, her family had been targeted by the Taliban when she was a small girl. Their homes were destroyed and she fled to Iran aged seven with her parents. They returned to Kabul when she was 16 and she went to school where, as well as her studies, she developed a love of theatre.
As girls in Afghanistan reach puberty many are removed from school but, she said, Hazaras are often more progressive and allow their daughters to remain in education. However, there is often overwhelming pressure from the extended family who adhere to the old beliefs that girls should not be educated. Her parents withstood this on her behalf and she went on to University in Kabul where she got to know the Peace Volunteers group. She also performed in a theatre group and was one of only ten female actors in the entire country.
Problems arose however when she was filmed performing in a Shakespeare play as part of the 2012 cultural Olympiad. This was broadcast by the BBC Persian service and led to threats of violence against her and her family. Her parents advised her to come to England and shortly after her arrival she learned that a female colleague who had also acted with her had been murdered in a Kabul street. She sought asylum in the UK and she was granted leave to stay in Britain.
Fazana felt there was little hope for a positive future with former warlords still in positions of power and little or nothing done to put into practice the progressive agreements made by the Afghan politicians with the Western occupying powers. “They make the right noises to get funding but they are only paying lip service,” she said.
Her pessimism was reflected by conference speaker, Guardian journalist Jonathan Steele. “I feel we are looking at peace or justice, rather than peace and justice,” he told the audience. “Most of the men now in power are serial human rights abusers.” He did however believe that negotiation, including with Taliban representatives, was the only way forward. Asked by KPC/CND chair Noel Hamel whether the Taliban had changed during the past dozen years of the war, Steele said: “ They have changed. They have embraced new technology. They have a Facebook page and issue press releases. They also claim to be no longer against the education of women and girls.” He remained unconvinced that this was a view shared by all those claiming to represent the Taliban throughout the country.
A message that emerged from the conference was ‘Don’t forget Afghanistan.’ Supporters were encouraged to lobby their MPs to press the Government to ensure that aid continues to flow and that human rights should be honoured. There are currently some 7 million children attending school in Afghanistan and 40% of these are girls. The challenge is to see that these numbers increase rather than diminish once the foreign troops have returned home.
Conference organisers Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK can be found at www.vcnvuk.wordpress.com You can join their mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlike the rest of us –that is almost 70% of the British people – there were some who were miffed that first the UK Parliament, then the US Congress and White House, showed a marked reluctance to attack Syria so as to ‘punish’ its President Bashar Al-Assad for his despicable and illegal use of the chemical weapon sarin against hundreds of his own people.
Tony Blair – the well-known Middle East ‘Peace Envoy’ who is unremitting in his calls for the West to launch armed attacks against various Middle East countries – was unhappy to say the least.
His reasons, however, may not only have been coloured by his apparent view that armed response is the best response, it may go deeper than that. It may go back to a very uncomfortable meeting he, as recently elected British prime minister, had with the also recently ‘elected’ President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus.
It was November 2001, just two months after the 911 attack on the US when, in the words of The Guardian, ‘Tony Blair’s drive to strengthen the anti-terrorist coalition and the Middle East peace process … suffered a very public rebuff at the hands of the leader of Syria.’ Assad, the newspaper went on, ‘… gave Mr Blair a dressing down, condemning the bombing of Afghan civilians and praising Palestinian armed groups as freedom fighters.’
Blair was forced to stand and listen to all this during a televised press conference where Assad went on to berate the Israelis as state terrorists and the west as having double standards in its ‘inability to distinguish terrorism from self-defence.’
Putting to one side for a moment the fact that those words have come back to haunt Assad who is now battling to hang on to power in a brutal civil war that is being waged by freedom fighters that he calls terrorists, the experience certainly left Blair ‘distinctly uneasy’.
Afterwards he spoke of the ‘candid discussion’ between the two sides. Clearly from that point on Assad would have been struck off the Blairs’ party guest list.
Assad had gone on to say Syria could not accept ‘the killing of innocent civilians.’ Dictators don’t do irony do they?
At Kingston Peace Council’s monthly meeting on 9th October concern was expressed about proposals to “celebrate” the centenary of the outbreak of World War 1. It was suggested Kingston Peace Council should stake out its own position and circulate schools and churches in the area. I agreed to draft something on the understanding that Kingston Peace Council members should put their suggestions and views to help agree an ‘official’ Kingston Peace Council view. What follows is the rough draft. I’m sure it should be possible to make a substantial case worthy of such an important event.
Almost uniquely the marking of the centenary of the onset of the First World War offers an opportunity to consider what wars are for. This anniversary should never be thought a celebration and many question the wisdom of marking the anniversary at all. In Germany and in other parts of Europe enthusiasm is muted. Some suggest it is the end that should be commemorated so we could reaffirm our relief that such a futile tragedy was over.
Kingston Peace Council decided that, as the beginning is to be marked, it would be an excellent chance to consider the futility of war. We argue continuously that where there is difference, disagreement, resentment, contention, a clash of ideas and interests the best way to achieve resolution is to try to find settlement through negotiation; the worst way is to wage war. All the above elements were in play at the moment of the outbreak of the war but pomposity, pride, jingoism and false senses of national and racial superiorities stood in the way of diplomatic exchanges or resolution. Bloated national pride and assertions of supposed military superiority and virtuosity helped men of little imagination, and only disdain for ordinary and humble human lives, to precipitate a landslide into an unimaginable Armageddon which casts a long dark shadow to this day. Farmers, miners, teachers, clerks, postmen and railway workers, having far more in common than ever divided them, were suddenly thrust into open and bitter combat, slaughtering each other mercilessly, and unrelentingly fighting one another to a standstill.
Men were innocently caught up in a tide of euphoria about dying heroically for “King and Country”, without any understanding of the scale of the ensuing bloodbath and slaughter of similarly guileless men, who happened to be born of mothers in different countries. However we should not be blinded to the fact that there may sometimes be need to defend against aggression if deflecting and averting it by other means fails. The conflict of 1914-18 was not inevitable. Remembering those who died, apparently so avoidably, should help us understand the futility of war. As if to underline the point approximately 10,000 were killed in the final hours as the armistice documents were prepared and signed. Many of those killed in the final hours were sent into combat to secure territory they could have walked into after 11 am on November 11th. Besides remembering the “fallen comrades” and the “unknown soldier” we should remember everyone, friends, family and potential friends who died and suffered.
The outcome of the First World War is striking. After four years of unmitigated hell, millions of deaths and injuries, and huge disruptions to lives and the everyday industriousness of ordinary existences, none of the chief protagonists got what they wanted, there were no victors, there was a truce, an armistice. Everyone lost out save those areas of Europe newly liberated by the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; an unintended consequence. The rulers of Europe didn’t get what they craved and fought for; and it was a ‘rulers’ war’ though it was fought by ordinary men and women following orders and sacrificing their lives. Everyone suffered unimaginable losses. Lives were snuffed out, human suffering and pain on an unprecedented scale was inflicted, civilian life was disrupted, progress was stalled, economies were shattered, property and infrastructure decimated, empires and countries dismembered. And the Versailles agreement embedded inter-state tensions and resentments that ultimately fuelled World War Two.
Objectively many will conclude that war is a recipe for wanton destruction of everything we hold dear. As humans we certainly can and should do better. This, Kingston Peace Council believes, should be the message of the centenary of the outbreak of World War One.
(Let us have your thoughts for publication in future issues of Kingston Peace News – Ed)
An outbreak of wilful disobedience may well have saved the world from a nuclear holocaust on 26th September 1983, The Guardian reported on the 30th non-anniversary of this particular Amageddon.
The newspaper carried an interview with one Stanislav Petrov who in the early hours of that particular 1983 morning was duty officer in a Soviet early warning control centre when the machinery indicated an incoming missile from the US. First one, then two, then three, four and five missiles were detected. The computer was telling him that the alert was categorised as being of the highest reliability. He was now meant to report this at once to his superiors which would have led to a Soviet retaliatory nuclear strike.
But Petrov hesitated. Rather than pick up the phone to his superiors he checked with nearby radar operators who reported that no missiles could be seen. He then picked up the phone but instead rang army HQ to report a system malfunction. Had he been wrong the first nuclear detonation would have occurred within minutes.
Speaking now the retired Petrov said that he was the only officer in his team who had received a civilian education. All his colleagues had been professional soldiers and would have followed the military protocols without question. Result WW3.
Another Russian officer who helped prevent a similar catastrophe was one Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov who was second in command of a Soviet submarine stationed off Cuba during October 1962 when the missile crisis was at its most critical point.
US warships were facing down Soviet vessels carrying armaments to be delivered to Cuba. The submarine was submerged and out of contact with Moscow when the Americans started dropping practice (non-lethal) depth charges on the submarine.
Believing hostilities had broken out in earnest the boat’s captain and its political officer wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo at a US warship but Arkhipov’s consent was also needed, and he refused. Despite a heated row the dissenter persuaded his captain to surface and await direct orders from Moscow. Such orders were never received and the vessel turned and headed for home. Arkhipov was later promoted to admiral and died in 1998, partly due to cancer brought about by radiation poisoning sustained during an earlier submarine accident.
How comforting to think that WW3 has been averted by the military disobeying orders!!!
(concluding a three-part series)
Today America bestrides the narrow world like a threatening colossus. KPN readers will be well aware of how militarised modern America has become, of the elective wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the assassinations by drones of suspected terrorists in other countries, the hubristic role assumed of ‘world policeman’. This series has focused only on the effect of militarism on the American Dream.
The major destructive effects on American democracy of the policies we have so briefly mentioned in the last months have been the economic cost of a militarised economy, an increased threat of terrorist strikes provoked by the foreign wars, a weakening of the rule of law and a threat to the individual human rights that were so important to the founders of the republic.
The economic cost of devoting so much productive effort into weaponry has been detailed many times in KPN. The diversion of so much of US taxpayers’ money to defence has aroused surprisingly little protest: are ordinary Americans really convinced that their country is in need of so much protection, or feel the need to go to war against countries they have scarcely heard of?
The military mindset at present in charge is blind to the likely effect of violence. The elective wars, the assassinations by drone aircraft with the associated collateral killings of bystanders, have obviously provided the motive for terrorist counterstrikes which, by their nature, are extremely difficult to prevent. How to prevent another such atrocity as occurred at the Boston marathon?
There have always been terrorist atrocities. Long before the attacks on the Twin Towers there were assassinations of heads of state, including American presidents Lincoln, McKinley, Garfield and Kennedy, with an attempted assassination of Reagen. Other murdered leaders included President Carnot of France (1894), Premier Canovas of Spain (1897), Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1898), King Humbert of Italy (1900), Premier Canalejas of Spain (1912), and of course the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (1914), whose assassination on 28th June provided the excuse for the First World War. We will have to live with terrorism while there are madmen with irrational grudges, or crazed religious fanatics such as those who poured sarin gas into the Tokyo underground, and sensible precautions are needed, but terrorists are best controlled with clean hands.
The weakening of the rule of law in America, by the holding of suspected terrorists without trial at Guantanamo, must be regarded by terrorists as a great victory. A veil of secrecy impervious to legal scrutiny obscures why those arrested were regarded as terrorist suspects, though it is known that in some cases money was paid to informers leading to innocent men being incarcerated and tortured (e.g., British citizen Shaker Aamer). Obama’s instinct on first being elected as president was to close Guantanamo, but though he issued an executive order, this was not sufficient to pass through a Congress dedicated more to the ‘war on terror’ than to the American Dream.
In today’s military America the Dream still survives, though not strongly enough to dictate policy. A dedicated peace movement exists. Individuals demonstrate and act non-violently against the military machine, knowing that they will receive prison sentences, sometimes very long ones. Despite the personal danger their revelations expose them to, whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden have clearly been motivated by the Dream to expose what they see as a betrayal of core American values by an administration wedded to the exercise of military power.
The founding fathers would not have recognised today’s violent superstate, yet the American dream, a vision of equality, justice and peace, continues to inspire. The American singer and social activist Harry Bellafonte, reflecting on the day of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, says, ‘. . . such a tide of people leaving with such a sense of satisfaction and hope. That was America at its greatest. . . . The struggle is not just race, it is gender, it is economics, it is human rights, it is the growth of powerful elites and populist rightwing movements that seek to undermine American democracy while peddling their version of America the great.’
Can the Dream survive the hydrogen bomb, Vietnam, the US interventions on behalf of military dictators in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, the Philippines? In view of the trend of history, it seems unlikely, but as the Dream represents the hopes not just of Americans but also of humanity, we must hope that one day it will replace the current nightmare.
The problems at the Japanese nuclear power plant are far from over, in fact thy are worsening
The Fukushima nuclear disaster threatens to surpass Chernobyl as the worst radioactive accident the world has yet witnessed. Assurances by Japanese politicians and officials from TEPCO, the company that operates the nuclear site, that all is under control are rejected by independent experts who predict that vast swathes of humanity remain at risk from the effects of the 2011 event when an earthquake triggered a tsunami that smashed into the coastal power station.
This November the supremely delicate task gets underway of removing spent fuel rods from the damaged reactor No. 4 which has a radiation equivalent of 14,000 times that of the Hiroshima atomic bomb. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes untangled during removal the consequences could be more severe than the initial catastrophe.
Even without this possibility, reports The Asia-Pacific Journal for October, the groundwater flowing beneath the power station site in July 2013 recorded the highest radioactive readings yet, a rise of 9,000% since the start of the disaster. TEPCO officials admitted a daily discharge of 300 tonnes (since upgraded to 400 tonnes) of irradiated water into the sea plus a further leak of massive amounts of triated or ‘heavy water’ into the ocean. According to the Journal report triated water binds with DNA to cause great damage to life and there is no known means of removing the tritium once it has bonded.
The article notes: “If estimates are correct regarding increases in caesium levels in the entire Pacific Ocean well beyond the peak level during the nuclear weapons tests, these are preliminary findings of degradation of the ecosystem at a far greater scale than has been anticipated.”
Writing before these latest findings Japanese author Haruki Murakami described Fukushima as Japan’s second massive nuclear disaster adding “this time no one dropped a bomb on us … we set the stage, we committed the crime with our own hands, we are destroying our own lands, and we are destroying our own lives.”
Meanwhile the British Government gave permission in March this year for a new nuclear power station to be built at Hinckley Point in Somerset and wants several more to be constructed around the country tying the UK even more firmly to a nuclear future.
A footnote on the effects of Chernobyl. In 2000, only after thousands of scientific studies conducted in the affected regions around Chernobyl over the 1990s did the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announce that radiation dispersed from Chernobyl (100 times the amount from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki) had caused chronic illness in 7 million more people, with 3 million children requiring treatment.
Cluster bombs are banned by 83 nations. They have been used in Syria by the forces of Bashar Al Assad and this fact has been condemned internationally.
This however has apparently not prevented the US military from selling $640 million worth of American-made cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia.
"This transfer announcement comes at a time when Saudi Arabia and the US have joined international condemnations of Syria's cluster bomb use," said Sarah Blakemore, director of the Cluster Munition Coalition, in a statement about the sale.
For its part the US State Department has issued a statement saying “The United States shares in the international concern about the humanitarian impact of all munitions, including cluster munitions. That is one of the reasons that it spends more than any other country to eliminate the risk to civilians from landmines and all explosive remnants of war, including unexploded cluster munitions.” But it goes on to say that "cluster munitions can often result in much less collateral damage than unitary weapons, such as a larger bomb or larger artillery shell would cause.”
So that’s alright then. It’s so reassuring to know the military have our health and safety at heart.
As this edition of Kingston Peace News was going to press the Government announced the go ahead for the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor to be built by French company EDF supported by the Chinese. Energy Secretary Ed Davey claimed it was ‘the first time a nuclear station will not have been built with money from the British taxpayer.’ Dr Paul Dorfman from University College London’s Energy Institute disagreed, saying the deal amounted to a government subsidy of up to £1bn a year from the taxpayer to guarantee the profits of the French and Chinese operating companies. And that doesn’t include final cost of decommissioning and the storage of the nuclear waste.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND