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ScrapTrident


Stop the Slaughter

As we go to press the world watches in horror at the unfolding tragedy that is Gaza. Israel’s bombing campaign and ground offensive has left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Across the world millions have demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Gaza and the United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire and lifting of the blockade

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As we go to press the world watches in horror at the unfolding tragedy that is Gaza. Israel’s bombing campaign and ground offensive has left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Across the world millions have demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Gaza and the United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire and lifting of the blockade. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg has to be congratulated for breaking with the bipartisan consensus at Westminster. But Israel’s leadship has ignored them all. It has the support of the only country that really matters - the United States - which supplies its sophisticated weapons of war and keeps its economy afl oat with a massive annual subsidy of $20 billion.


It is now very clear that Israel’s leaders do not want peace or a 2-state solution. They want to create a greater Israel. That’s why they continue to build settlements on the West Bank and cage and starve those Palestinians who resist their  As we go to press the world watches in horror at the unfolding tragedy that is Gaza. Israel’s bombing campaign and ground offensive has left hundreds dead and thousands injured. Across the world millions have demonstrated their solidarity with the people of Gaza and the United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire and lifting of the blockade. The Liberal Democrats’ Nick Clegg has to be congratulated for breaking with the bipartisan consensus at Westminster. But Israel’s leadship has ignored them all. It has the support of the only country that really matters - the United States - which supplies its sophisticated weapons of war and keeps its economy afloat with a massive annual subsidy of $20 billion.

 

But there is a further menace which requires us to speak out. Israel is the only nuclear weapons state in the region. Western Governments and media want to demonise states such as Iran who do not have nuclear weapons rather than those like Israel who do. And Israel’s 42 year occupation and recent attacks on Lebanon and Gaza have shown its utter contempt for human life. Ehud Olmert is hardly a ‘safe pair of hands’ on the nuclear button. Israel’s grossly unequal war on Gaza threatens a wider war and its nuclear weapons programme poses a grave threat to the entire region. That’s why the demand for the Middle East as a nuclear free zone is more revelant than ever. If the incoming US president really intends to break with the policies of his predecessor, this would be a good starting point.

Balancing the Defence Budget - it’s simple

Last month Defence Secretary John Hutton announced a series of defence cuts. Work on the 2 new aircraft carriers costing £2 billion each would be postponed for up to 2 years. Instead frontline troops in Afghanistan are to be equipped with new helicopters and new armoured cars and a budget of £635m provided for ‘urgent operational requirements’. The carriers would now enter service from around 2016 and 2018. This is closer to the expected delivery date for the new Lockheed Martin F35 joint strike aircraft they are intended to carry. The UK government has ordered 150 of the new aircraft at a cost of £8bn.

 

There is, of course, a mismatch between Britain’s defence procurement wish-list and the existing Defence budget of £38.4bn. There is also a mismatch between Britain’s current defence capabilities and its committments around the world. But the way to solve that is not to engage in piecemeal cuts and postponements of grand projects or to ask our troops to go out and fight with inadequate equipment. It is to make a sober assessment of what Britain’s true defence requirements are.

Defensive Defence

We are an island nation with, according to Tony Blair, no credible enemies. Our only security threat comes from home grown terrorism which is intimately linked to our current foreign policy. We need an army, air-force and navy to defend our land and coastal waters, not one designed to fight wars thousands of miles away at the behest of a United States President. Under these criteria, the new aircraft carriers and their new strike aircraft would be cancelled rather than postponed. Such weapons are not required for genuine humanitarian missions sanctioned by the UN. The £12bn saved could be spent tackling climate change and for a crash programme of social house building. Jobs at the shipyards in Portsmouth, Barrow, Govan, Scotstoun and Rosyth which may be affected by cancellation could be maintained by building container ships or cruise liners for civilian use.

Time to Cancel Trident

But there is an even bigger issue at stake. When the UK parliament reluctantly agreed (with 166 MPs voting against) to replace Trident, the argument that it was needed to guard against an uncertain future looked decidedly threadbare. Today, with our economy broken and our national debt ballooning, it looks criminally insane. Building a replacement for Trident will cost 5 times as much as the 2 postponed carriers and its ongoing running costs will swallow 5% of the defence budget for next 50 years. With lengthening dole queues and an escalating housing crisis, there was never a better time to build the irresistable pressure that can get the programme cancelled. That objective has widespread and growing support, especially in Scotland, and is achievable. It must remain the number one priority for Scottish CND in 2009.

Obama’s Vision

The election of Barack Obama was a huge victory for the global movement for peace and a corresponding defeat for neoliberalism and the Project for the New American Century. Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq, his desire to negotiate with Iran rather than bomb it and his committment to tackling climate change are well known. Less known is his oft-stated vision of a nuclear-free world and his committment not to develop new nuclear weapons. This chimes with the growing support across the world for a global treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Former statesmen such as George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have renewed their call for steps to a nuclear free world in the Wall Street Journal in January 2008. Across the world opinion polls have shown widespread support for such an international treaty including 70% support in the United States. Now UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon has published in November 2008 his ‘Five Steps to a Nuclear Free World’. Since then ‘Global Zero’ has been launched bringing celebrities and major world statesmen and women into the campaign and broadening its appeal. Further hope that Obama may actually carry out his pledges came from the appointment as Science Advisor of John P Holdren, a Harvard Professor with a long record of support for nuclear disarmament.

Missile Defence

The key to opening up a new disarmament process is constructive negotiations with Russia to make deep bilateral cuts in nuclear warheads. And for Russia there will be two related stumbling blocks which could block progress - missile defence and the expansion of NATO. Placing missile defence components on Russia’s doorstep is hardly likely to build confidence in the relationship. Medvedev and Putin clearly view missile defence as a thinly veiled attempt to gain US strategic superiority. Obama has been ambiguous on this issue, neither supporting or opposing it. He has placed important caveats that Missile Defence ‘must not be expensive’ and ‘must be proven to work’ which should rule the project out immediately, but only outright cancellation would satisfy the current Russian leadership. The appointment of Robert Gates as Defence Secretary does not inspire confidence. From his early career at the CIA to his current position as Defence Secretary for Bush, Gates has been a major advocate of Missile Defence.

 

Altogether the Missile Defence programme has swallowed $110bn of federal money since 1983 and is the Pentagon’s single biggest procurement programme. The prime contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are likely to fight hard to stop it being cancelled. 

Expanding NATO

The other problem is the expansion of NATO. Obama has stated that he supports the recruitment of Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance, despite the clear opposition from European NATO members like Germany and France. The depth of Russia’s concern about the ongoing efforts to encircle it with NATO bases was exposed by the short war in Georgia in August last year.

 

The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could harden Obama’s position on NATO expansion. Bill Clinton’s administration oversaw the first round of NATO expansion which resulted in the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in March 1999 and Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia five years later. As US senator, Hillary Clinton voted in favour of NATO expansion and co-sponsored a resolution in favour of NATO entry for Ukraine and Georgia.

Soft or Hard Power?

Most of the new President’s appointments confirm the impression that his presidency will mark a return to Clinton-era hegemonism but under radically changed conditions. The banking collapse and the deepening recession in the United States and Britain has rapidly accelerated the change in the balance of forces across the world, transferring economic and political power from debtor to creditor nations almost overnight.

 

Obama’s policy will be to break with the confrontational unilateralism of the Bush era in favour of a more consensual approach, relying on temporary and longer term alliances to carry out US policy across the world. This change is as much borne out of necessity as choice. The United States can simply no longer afford its huge defence budget and its global empire of bases. ‘Soft power’ will be used extensively, relying on the positive image Obama has worldwide to rebrand America as a force for peace and progress. But ‘soft power’ alone will not be sufficient. Where hard power is needed the incoming President will work with traditional US allies to control the balance of power and to disguise its use of military muscle.

Role of NATO

NATO would appear to be the ideal vehicle for this. It is an alliance dominated by the United States and its key allies and is increasingly acquiring an ‘out of area’ or offensive role. The inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine would provide a gateway to the Black Sea and Caspian basin but it would come at some cost. It would be perceived as a hostile act by Russia and could scupper any chances of meaningful progress towards nuclear disarmament.

 

And despite its rapid expansion throughout the Clinton and Bush eras, all is not sweetness and light within the NATO alliance. Through much of the last decade NATO has been divided and paralysed because of deep differences over the war in Iraq, the role of an EU army, the committment of individual nations to the fi ghting in Afghanistan and over current plans to expand NATO. Even the powers of persuasion of Barack Obama may not ensure that US policy will hold sway within the alliance in the changed balance of world forces.

 

If President Obama really wants to make progress towards a nuclear free world, he will have to halt Missile Defence and the expansion of NATO.

 

That huge wave of activism which swept him to power is now needed more than ever.

 

Alan Mackinnon