19 June 2004

Time to move on to World Peace

By Marguerite Finn

As we approach the hand-over of 'sovereignty' to the Iraqi people on 30th June, there are predictable calls from the US and UK governments for the public to "move on " from their preoccupation with the war. This is flawed, wishful thinking on their part.

The public are trapped in a limbo of mistrust and anxiety over the whole issue of the invasion and destruction of an ancient civilisation and its peoples in the name of freedom and democracy. The biggest obstacle to 'moving-on' is the fear that no lessons have been learnt from the US/UK's disastrous intervention in the region.

Is the world a safer place since March 2003 ? No.

Is the Middle East region more stable ? No .

Is the War on Terror any closer to being won? No.

What we have gained is the opprobrium of the international community and the national shame of our involvement in an illegal war, occupation and abuse of human rights. For any real 'moving on' to occur, there first has to be an adequate national contrition led by the government, followed by a radical re-orientation towards a non-nuclear, non-aligned foreign and defence policy and a build-up of a special relationship with the United Nations.

Meanwhile, here in East Anglia, we have a relevant concern with the prospects for international security, because we "host" the biggest concentration of American military bases in the country: Lakenheath and Mildenhall in Suffolk; Feltwell in Norfolk and Molesworth in Cambridgeshire. Personnel from the bases were directly involved in the war: re-fuelling bombers, rescuing missions and intelligence-gathering.

Longer-term concerns go well beyond this. There is no doubt that the US has nuclear weapons at Lakenheath. Having a nuclear base on the Norfolk / Suffolk border puts us in the front line of danger from terrorist attacks, not to speak of potentially horrifying accidents. The danger of radiation from a simulated crash in Thetford Forest of a US aircraft carrying unarmed nuclear weapons (the 2003 exercise ominously code named 'dimming sun') has never been made public. At a recent meeting in Dunwich, the consultant nuclear engineer John Large described in chilling terms the dangers facing the residents of East Anglia from a terrorist attack on the Sizewell nuclear complex. Current emergency procedures drawn up to deal with a small to medium range accident at Sizewell A or B power station, are totally inadequate to deal with a major radioactive emission following a well planned terrorist attack.

So, we are hostages to the proponents of nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Moreover, preparations are being made for the manufacture of a new generation of "usable" mini-nukes here in the UK at AWE Aldermaston. This calls into question the commitment of both the UK and the US to Article V1 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ( signed and ratified by this country nearly 40 years ago) to achieve prompt, total and unequivocal elimination of nuclear weapons.

Even if, as is rumoured, the US intends to reduce some of its nuclear weapons in Europe - it will simply be a shift away from the big bases here in "old Europe" towards more flexible "lilly-pad" bases elsewhere.

So how do we, as a nation, regain our self-respect and 'move-on' from the horrors of this war? Two unlikely allies have recently shown one way: Madeleine Albright and Robin Cook, writing jointly in The Guardian on 9 June, called on the United States " to stop developing new nuclear weapons, to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty and, together with Britain, to support a fissile materials cut-off treaty that would end the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons". They went on to say that "given their nuclear weapons capacities, the US and European countries have a special responsibility to ensure that these terrible weapons do not spread further - but before they can fulfil this responsibility, they must be seen as credible proponents of nuclear non-proliferation." We must campaign for a bigger role for the UN in combating poverty by allowing the General Assembly, in which there is no veto, to control the IMF, the WTO and the arms trade. We must also control the multi-nationals and confine our military role to support for UN action authorised by the Security Council.

Current US/UK policies lead to perpetual war; these alternatives would open the way for world peace.