13 October 2007

Keeping peace in space?

By Marguerite Finn

Q. What can a peace activist from North Yorkshire, Sir Menzies Campbell and an American nun possibly have in common?

The answer is a mutual repugnance against the militarization of space. Today is the last day of Keep Space for Peace week during which these three people, representing an 'activist', 'political' and 'scientific' approach, have been campaigning for a common goal.

Q. What does the 'militarization of space' actually mean?

It all began fifty years ago, in October 1957, when the launch of the Sputnik Satellite changed the world forever. Even then, Sputnik aroused fears of an arms race in outer space and the friendly peep, peep of the satellite as it passed over Norfolk was translated by the more paranoid members of US Space Command into a future threat to the interests of the USA.

Ten years later, in October 1967, the UN passed the Outer Space Treaty, which sought to ensure the peaceful uses of space for the benefit of all mankind. The United States however, has rapidly and unilaterally continued to militarise its own considerable space assets. It has utilized space to fight wars on Earth and to develop a prompt global strike capacity to achieve "full spectrum dominance" in land, sea, air and space. A statement on 3rd October 2007, from the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Geneva, says "These provocative policies are instigating a new and deadly arms race which will devour resources needed for sustenance of human life, bring death and devastation and very possibly lead to a global war more devastating than the Earth has yet known".

Q. What does a peace activist from North Yorkshire have to do with any of this?

The peace activist is midwife, Lindis Percy and she will be actively protesting today, outside the USAF base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, against the militarization of space. The UK Government quietly slipped out a statement in July giving the US permission to install additional equipment at Menwith Hill to support its missile defence system. Later this month, nearby USAF Fylingdales will switch on its upgraded radar to "contribute to the US ballistic missile system." The base will be part of a deadly space weapons system known as Operation Phoenix, which Lindis believes must be stopped, in the interests of human security and peace.

Q. And where does a senior politician like Sir Menzies Campbell come in?

In an article published in the Yorkshire Post on 20 September 2007, Sir Menzies castigates politicians and commentators who work themselves into a frenzy about power-sharing in Europe "and yet remain largely silent over the transfer of British sovereignty in crucial areas of national security to the United States". As he says, "There has been no public debate in Britain about the desirability or workability of missile defence, let alone the strategic assumptions that underpin it". What perturbs Sir Menzies is the continuation and expansion of American enclaves on British soil, protected from Parliamentary scrutiny or public debate. US bases like Menwith Hill and Feltwell in Norfolk are effectively outside the control of the British authorities. Sir Menzies argues, "The drive towards missile defence in Washington is driven by a mixture of industrial and military interests - the British Parliament has the duty to question whether such motivations are compatible with British interests".

Q. What does the American nun say?

Quite a bit. As well as being a member of the religious congregation the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Dr Rosalie Bertell has a doctorate in biometrics and has worked in the field of environmental health since 1969. In her gentle and persistent way she has rocked the male-dominated world of nuclear physics and the military-industrial complex. Her latest book, Planet Earth – the Latest Weapon of War, warns us against the weaponisation of space.

As well as documenting the adverse effects of military experiments on the earth’s atmosphere, Rosalie shows how the habit of choosing violence as a first response to a threat has manifested itself as an addictive and ultimately self-destructive policy. She explains that, as in overcoming any addiction, the first step is for society to admit that we have become addicted to war. "Wars require the cooperation of civil society - involving universities, trades unions, governments and media. All of this cooperation could be withdrawn by a society determined to change the course of violence". Rosalie's vision is for a world where reverence for life is valued more than the ability to kill efficiently.

When three disparate voices argue together for the same thing, surely it is time to listen?