Alliance weakened by recent UK and US actions
The American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the signing of the defence pact between the US, the UK and Australia that followed hard on its heels may signal the beginning of the end for NATO.
Joe Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan was carried out with no prior discussion with America’s British or NATO allies despite the new President’s boast that the US was back on the world stage after the hostility towards the alliance during the Trump years.
Many commentators have asked what is the point of a military bloc formed over 70 years ago to oppose another military bloc – the Warsaw Pact – that was dissolved along with the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war. Instead, it continued to expand, admitting former Soviet satellite countries so as to intimidate the new Russian Federation, prolonging the cold war in all but name.
Its continuation has given Russia under the control of its former KGB officer and cold war warrior Vladimir Putin all the excuse he needed to continue to expand and modernise the country’s armed forces, including nuclear forces, so that it once again was seen as a threat.
But while NATO still casts around for a role there are growing internal divisions that have been amplified by the creation of the AUKUS agreement by which the US and the UK will assist Australia in creating a force of nuclear-powered submarines in a thinly veiled move against China.
The deal has outraged France, because of Australia’s peremptory cancellation of a multi-billion euro contract for French-built diesel-electric subs, and has given President Macron the excuse he needs to advance his call for an EU military force that would downgrade NATO as far as European allies are concerned.
There have even been suggestions that France would again withdraw itself completely from the alliance’s command structure (which it did under de Gaulle in 1966). Such a move would be a major blow for the alliance. Macron is set to become western Europe’s premier statesman as Angela Merkel finally departs the stage and he himself is soon to face an election, so emphasising the French lead in a new Euro force no longer at the whim of an American president could prove attractive to his electorate.
In the wake of what French politicians described as having been a “stab in the back” from their allies over the AUKUS deal former UK ambassador to France Lord Ricketts was in no doubt as to the severity of the decision. “France sees it as a betrayal by the British and the US, who did this secretly with Australia for the last six months,” he said. “French diplomats have told me that America lied about what they were doing and they will be releasing documents to show that America lied. They are asking themselves, ‘What is the point of being a Nato ally if this is how the US behaves?’”
Several years ago, Independent columnist Mary Dejevsky wrote an opinion piece at the time NATO was getting itself embroiled in Afghanistan. She noted:
“Viewed from London, Britain is shouldering a disproportionate burden; the French and Germans are not pulling their weight. Viewed from Paris or Berlin, the British are only where they are because they demanded to make themselves indispensable to the US (preserving the special relationship and all that). Viewed from Washington, the Brits are trying hard, but are so lamentably equipped as to be almost a liability in the front line.”
Nothing much has altered since that observation. In fact it has deteriorated further. Britain is now out of the EU and therefore its views on a Euro Army can be easily ignored by the French and Germans. And the political fallout from the AUKUS deal is played down by London at its peril.
Contrast the attitude of Boris Johnson and the French Government over the new defence pact. On his way to a UN meeting in New York Johnson was quoted as saying: “our love of France is ineradicable. AUKUS is not something that anybody needs to worry about and particularly not our French friends.”
A French Government official, meanwhile, explaining why Macron had recalled his ambassadors from the US and Australia, but not Britain, when news of the deal first broke, did not hold back. He said: “You complain about the bad food in a restaurant to the manager and the chef, not the dishwasher.” If that sums up current French attitudes to the importance of Britain on the world stage, a wide range of issues embracing security, trade, not to mention refugees crossing the Channel, are going to be difficult for the foreseeable future. A bilateral defence summit due to take place between Britain and France in mid September was cancelled by the French. NATO’s future prospects do not currently appear to be so rosy.
The AUKUS deal is more than just an agreement over who builds Australia’s next generation of submarines, many people fear. It is seen as the opening gambit in what could become a new cold war aimed against China.
The issue was given a dramatic twist when Boris Johnson was quizzed on the matter by his own Tory predecessor, Theresa May. She demanded to know in a House of Commons intervention whether the defence pact could lead to Britain being dragged into a war with China over Taiwan.
“What are the implications of this pact for the stance that would be taken by the United Kingdom in its response should China attempt to invade Taiwan?” she wanted to know.
Giving a bland reply Johnson failed to rule this out as a future possibility. “The United Kingdom remains determined to defend international law and that is the strong advice we would give to our friends across the world, and the strong advice that we would give to the government in Beijing,” he said.
China, not unexpectedly, has reacted with concern to news of the AUKUS pact. A foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said it questioned Australia’s “commitment to nuclear non-proliferation” and accused the three countries of adopting an “obsolete cold war zero-sum mentality”.
With his now familiar flip-flopping behaviour Johnson in the same Commons session then tried to play down any suggestion that AUKUS was an anti-China move.
Commentators remain unconvinced, recalling that Britain’s newest aircraft carrier has recently led an international task force to sail through the South China Seas in a move clearly designed to aggravate Beijing.
Professor Peter Kuznick, Director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University, Washington, says the nuclear powered submarines that Australia now wants will require highly enriched uranium that could only be supplied by the United States or the UK (which is itself dependent on the US for its nuclear armaments) as Australia has no nuclear industry of its own. This would tie Australia’s defence policy even more closely to that of the United States.
The Peace Pledge Union was in no doubt as to the real reasons behind the AUKUS agreement. They said the only thing that would be protected by the deal would be the profits of arms dealers.
Announcing the pact, the UK Ministry of Defence praised the arms companies BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce for their work on nuclear submarines.
Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union, said: "Chinese and Russian militarism cannot be defeated by western militarism. Countries use each other's military aggression to justify their own. This latest military deal continues the UK government's military subservience to the US. Britain must be more than a tribute band for the Pentagon.”
Three new international annual peace awards were announced in September by World BEYOND War, a global nonviolent movement, founded in 2014, to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. The award categories are: The Lifetime Organizational War Abolisher of 2021; The David Hartsough Lifetime Individual War Abolisher of 2021 (named for a co-founder of World BEYOND War): and The War Abolisher of 2021.
The Lifetime Organizational War Abolisher of 2021 goes to the organisation Peace Boat. Accepting the award on behalf of Peace Boat in October will be its founder and director Yoshioka Tatsuya.
The purpose of the awards is to honor and encourage support for those working to abolish the institution of war itself. With the Nobel Peace Prize and other nominally peace-focused institutions so frequently honouring other good causes or, in fact, wagers of war, World BEYOND War intends its awards to go to educators or activists that advance the cause of war abolition, accomplishing reductions in war-making, war preparations, or war culture.
Peace Boat (see https://peaceboat.org/english) is a Japan-based international NGO working to promote peace, human rights, and sustainability. Guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Peace Boat’s global voyages offer a unique programme of activities centered on experiential learning and intercultural communication.
Its first voyage was organised in 1983 by a group of Japanese university students as a creative response to government censorship regarding Japan’s past military aggression in the Asia-Pacific. They chartered a ship to visit neighbouring countries with the aim of learning first-hand about the war from those who had experienced it and initiating people-to-people exchange.
Peace Boat made its first around-the-world voyage in 1990. It has since organised more than 100 voyages, visiting more than 270 ports in 70 countries. Peace Boat is a mobile classroom at sea. Participants see the world while learning, both onboard and at various destinations, about peacebuilding, through lectures, workshops, and hands-on activities. It collaborates with academic institutions and civil society organisations, including Tübingen University in Germany and Tehran Peace Museum in Iran. It is also part of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC).
The event was organised by Richmond and Kingston Palestine Solidarity Campaign and took place on the Little Green in Richmond on 19 September.
Harald was a member of KPC/CND, and actively involved with the Green Party but in the last part of his life it was the cause of Palestine that became absolutely central to him. He was the secretary of the local PSC group, the inspiration to others in the group, and a valued friend and colleague to people across the country, and in Palestine itself. When Harald died in July 2020 there was a moving picture on the internet of a man in Hebron, in the West Bank, holding a large photo of Harald and mourning his loss.
It wasn’t possible to get people together last summer because of Covid restrictions but a celebration picnic in the open air was planned for this year as getting together became possible. Harald’s children and grandchildren were able to join his many friends, enjoy Palestinian food and hear tributes from Ben Jamal, the director of PSC, and Iyas AlQasem, chair of the local group in Richmond and Kingston, together with contributions from others attending the event. We all still miss Harald but he remains an inspiration and the group continues to be very active.
Money is being raised for a children’s library in Gaza, in memory of Harald.
Donations can be made at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SomeoneSpecial/Harald
There is still some way to go to complete the target of £10,000 for the whole project so contributions are very welcome.
More info from Mary Holmes.
Governments supporting the COP26 international conference on climate change in Glasgow this November should also commit to meaningful cuts to emissions caused by military activities. This is the call from the Conflict and Environment Observatory which believes some nations may indeed pledge to reduce military greenhouse gas emissions.
Militaries are typically the largest energy consumers among government agencies but historically there has been a reluctance to disclose data on their emissions and the 2015 Paris climate agreement left cutting military greenhouse gas to the discretion of each individual nation.
Similarly the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change obliges signatory nations to publish annual emissions data but military emissions reporting is still voluntary.
NATO meanwhile, in June this year, agreed to “assess the feasibility of reaching zero emissions by 2050.” Carrying out an “assessment” is a long way short of taking action so this would be far too late to deal with the current climate crisis and, given that the undertaking was not to affect “operational effectiveness and our deterrence and defence posture” this does not bode well for meaningful progress while conflicts, deployments and training exercises continue.
Nonetheless the Conflict and Environment Observatory calls for clear targets and proper reporting of measures to meet those targets within the military as part of COP26. KPC/CND is one of the many organisations both national and international listed as supporting the initiative.
Desperately worried by the prospect of Scottish independence the UK government has been casting around for alternative sites for its Trident nuclear submarines should they be chucked out of Scotland in line with Scottish National Party policy.
A Financial Times article said senior officials had been briefed on plans that could involve the British nuclear weapons being moved to either France or the United States if it were not thought possible to house them instead at the Royal Naval base at Devonport, Plymouth.
The Government, in response to the report, said it had “no plans” to move its lethal subs abroad which would clearly create a range of problems. Not least among these is that Anglo-French relations are currently at a very significant low ebb due to the AUKUS pact.
The thought of the French happily agreeing to berth Britain’s nuclear so-called deterrent alongside its own subs at the Ile Longue base in Brittany seems wishful thinking.
Alternatively, if they were sent across the Atlantic and based at King’s Bay, Georgia, alongside America’s own Trident subs, the continued pretence that the UK has a nuclear force independent of the US would disappear. On a practical level, scheduling UK Trident patrols could fall foul of US Trident patrols, experts have warned.
The Devonport option has been voiced before but rejected on health and safety grounds following concerns about non-nuclear armed nuclear subs being re-fitted there. Also there are already 12 of the Royal Navy’s former nuclear sub fleet moored there most with their radioactive fuel rods still on board.
The preferred MOD option, should there be another Scottish Independence Referendum which is this time won by the SNP is to come to some arrangement whereby the UK government ‘leases’ the Faslane Trident base to create another British Overseas Territory, referred to by one anonymous official as a “nuclear Gibraltar”.
It’s difficult to see how Nicola Sturgeon would square that with her supporters. Only last month the SNP rejected any idea of the Trident base being allowed to remain within its territory pouring cold water on the notion of the “nuclear Gibraltar”. One senior SNP member was quoted as follows: “There is just not a snowball in hell’s chance of nuclear weapons being based here for any longer than is necessary.”
Revelations about the US support for Israel’s nuclear weapons programme have come to light showing the complicity of successive American presidents in keeping secret details of Israel’s nuclear arsenal while pretending to police worldwide proliferation of nukes.
The website Mondoweiss - which reports on Palestine news in the US context - used the visit of the new hardline Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett to Washington to expose the American duplicity. The article contains the following quote: “Everyone knows Israel has nuclear weapons and regularly threatens its neighbours with violence but Iran enriching a small amount of uranium is akin to genocide or something.” The website reports on revelations from US news service AXIOS about America’s response to the Israeli nuclear arsenal, the existence of which has never been officially confirmed. In the 1960s America diverted enough US weapons grade uranium for a dozen Israeli bombs.
The issue was first aired between Richard Nixon and then Israeli premier Golda Meir in 1969 when Nixon promised never to discuss publicly the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton reiterated those oral understandings in their first meetings with their Israeli counterparts.
In 1998, during the Wye River peace conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Bill Clinton to turn the oral understanding into a written document. Clinton agreed and signed a letter committing that the US would allow Israel to retain its “strategic deterrence” capability regardless of any non-proliferation initiative. In 1999, when Ehud Barak replaced Netanyahu, Clinton signed the letter again. So did President George W. Bush when working with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
AXIOS also notes that Israel was concerned Obama wouldn't sign the letter and was relieved to learn that his governing strategy didn't contain a whole lot of hope or change. In fact, Obama passed a gag order in 2012 prohibiting federal employees from discussing Israel’s nuclear weapons.
On the eve of opening of the DSEI arms fair, the usual silent candlelit vigil was scheduled to take place on the grassy area between the main western entrance of the ExCeL Centre and the large luxury floating hotel on Victoria Dock. In recent years, as security has increased, the area has been cordoned off behind a high chain link fence with entrance to the enclosure tightly controlled in order to minimise the risk of disturbance to those attending the fair from those who believe the abhorrent event should not be taking place at all.
Five members of KPC/CND were among the 200+ who gathered outside Victoria Dock Station before processing to the vigil site. On reaching the entrance gates it turned out that the guards had been given orders to allow only 100 people into the enclosure, and this was rigorously enforced.
What happened next was quite extraordinary. Instead of the usual circle forming on the grass, silently and intuitively a semi-circle formed within the enclosure facing a similar (possibly slightly larger) semi-circle formed by those excluded, with the high dividing fence running down the middle of the completed circle.
The hour’s candlelit silence is always a moving and effective witness to the iniquitous trading about to start in the centre but this year’s vigil was even more poignant with the high fence a symbolic reminder of the sinister, divisive nature of that trade.
A group of around fifty - members of Trident Ploughshares and Veterans for Peace plus other supporters - set off from Stratford Station on the opening day of the arms fair to walk to the ExCeL Centre. Veterans for Peace led the way carrying wreaths dedicated to the dead and injured of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen: so many the victims of the British arms trade.
The rain started at Stratford Station and soon turned into a deluge but what a minor inconvenience that was compared with the abject misery and suffering which would inevitably result from the business deals being conducted down the road.
The really good aspect of this action was that we were seen by members of the general public. All too often when we protest against DSEI, the only observers are the police and a few delivery drivers. People came to shop doorways and asked what we were doing and we were able to engage in conversation and explain what was happening on their doorstep. One intrepid member of our party, even went into cafes and shops and addressed the captive audiences.
On arrival at ExCeL, the wreaths were cast solemnly onto the waters of the dock.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Phil Cooper
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND