|ISSUE 54 SPRING 2007
|problems with powers
- oppressed and vilified
President Sukarno of newly-created Indonesia set the tone: ‘The well-being of mankind is not always the primary consideration. Many who are in places of high power think, rather, of controlling the world…. What can we do? We can mobilise all the spiritual, moral, political strength of Asia and Africa – more than half the human population of the world – in favour of peace.’
Such hopes did not triumph. In 1962 came border war between India and China, and war between India and Pakistan in 1965. In the following decades the Soviet Union and the USA spent billions on their proxy wars in Africa and Asia – among the most shameful activities of the Cold War. But Bandung should be remembered as a genuine attempt, by what was then called the Third World, to stand peacefully apart. The conference’s final communiqué declared that universal disarmament was ‘an absolute necessity for the preservation of peace’. It also upheld ‘abstention from the use of arrangements of collective self-defence to further the interests of the big powers’. As most people know, a safe political future – needed even more in the face of an increasingly unsafe natural one – depends on all the world’s countries, and therefore on their leaders.
‘Kennedy says his patience is coming to an end?’ Castro exclaimed in 1961. ‘What about our patience, with all the things we have had to endure? The imperialist powers use the method of surprise attacks, the method of Hitler and Mussolini…. Imperialism must pass, just as feudalism did, just as slavery did.’
Castro had secured a trade agreement with the Soviet Union, which also provided support in the shape of nuclear missiles housed on Cuban soil (not for Cuban use, but an experimental move towards equalising the USA/USSR balance of power). After the crisis of 1962 Castro described how the Soviets had disappointed him. ‘We were deprived not only of the missiles but of the very symbol of solidarity; and the Cuban people believed the weapons were their property.’
Castro now began to support other Third World revolutions. ‘We express solidarity with nations such as Vietnam, the Congo, Venezuela, any nation fighting imperialism. That is the enemy that must be defeated here and in Asia and Africa. What we must liquidate is the right of imperialism to commit aggression.’
Why recall his words here and now? As a reminder of the dangerous power held by political and military leaders, the credibility given to them by the people they lead, the often mindless enthusiasm for their doctrines, and the willingness of some to suffer and die for them. (In 1997 did anyone foresee that the bright new Labour leader, promising domestic reform, would involve Britain in a series of wars which have cost money, lives and trust?) We know (but sometimes forget) that human situations are subject to human error and accident. And the story of the thirteen tense days of the Cuban missile crisis shows how uncontrollable and unforeseeable chances brought nuclear catastrophe desperately close. When the Soviets withdrew, the American media aggressively claimed victory: a taunt that could easily have been seen as provocation.
President Kruschev was soon out of office, but he got what he wanted: US warheads were removed from Turkey. Nuclear weapons, however, still remained a threat to the world.
What troubled him was the failure of the 5 original nuclear states (the USA, the former Soviet Union, the UK, France, China) to abide by their commitment, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to dispose of their nuclear weapons ‘under strict and effective international control’. The NPT was signed in 1968 and came into force in 1970. After China went nuclear in 1964, India’s foreign minister claimed that ‘no responsible Indian leader could rule out the option of following suit’: in 1974 India detonated its ‘peaceful nuclear explosive’. Pakistan soon did the same. There’s no doubt that Israel has nuclear weapons; there are well-aired fears that North Korea and Iran also mean to possess them.
It is, of course, hard to say. A good friend of that great pacifist and anti-nuclear campaigner, Joseph Rotblat, spoke at a memorial gathering for him: ‘Nuclear weapons are about far more than nuclear weapons. They are about power. They are about economic exploitation. They are about racism. They are about fear. Nuclear proponents have deceived the public for a long time that nuclear weapons are about deterrence, that they are necessary to ensure our own security, and that their use, while to be regretted, is justified in the protection of our way of life. Just as truth is the first casualty of war, the rationale constantly advanced for the possession of nuclear weapons is deceitful and an insidious manipulation of public thinking.’
At Bandung, Achmed Sukarno spoke of what he called ‘moral violence’. Taking this to mean a kind of creative moral energy employable in securing peace, one can think it worth seeking and tapping. Almost everyone is capable of it. Perhaps, as Robert McNamara has hoped, the very real nuclear threat can and will concentrate the world’s minds wonderfully.
Such commitments as the resolutions passed at Bandung, or the good (if ambiguous) intentions of the World Bank and the IMF, or the efforts made by various UN organisations and charities like Oxfam (and even by western governments) to provide aid – indeed all attempts to reduce inequality and suffering – have failed to work properly. One reason is the influence of militarism and violence. Another is poor economic management or advice. A third is greed. A fourth is poverty. If only all the billions allocated to nuclear weapons could have been spent differently, and politicians had realised the dangers of dependence on market forces…. It’s a mad, mad world where the USA spends (according to the budget for 2007 alone) $1 billion contributed towards the too-slow task of clearing up the old Soviet Union nuclear sites, $11 billion on missile defence, and $60 billion on the ill-conceived venture in Iraq.
And then there’s Britain and Trident. What a tragically lost opportunity to set the world an example, and claim some moral high ground too, by adhering to the NPT commitment. Nuclear weapons don’t solve disputes, and there’s no evidence that any post-1945 conflict has been resolved by their existence. The Trident missile is American; its technology and navigation is American; its warheads are US-designed. This ghastly lodger should be evicted, and the money thus freed up spent on redressing the too-many social ills in Britain, and above all on inventive approaches to climate change across the world. As the world’s peoples face the problems of altered environments, nuclear weapons may become more dangerous than ever.