It doesn’t matter that Brian Haw was hanging around with D\avid I\cke kooks too much at the end of his life or that his death was posibbly hastened by putting his trust into quackery rather than proper medicine, nor do questions of how effective an anti-war protestor he was. After all, none of us managed to prevent the Wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, while the War on Libya has proved we haven’t even learned anything from those disasters. What mattered was that Brian Haw had the courage of his convictions to camp out in front of Parliament for years, serving as a living reminder to the fuckers who had voted for these wars that no, the people of Britain did not agree with them and thought them wrong.
He did this so well that the then Labour government created and implemented a law designed specifically to stop him demonstrating in Parliament Square. In typical New Labour fashion, they did this so ineptly that the resulting law applied everybody but him, as he was grandfathered in. (The law only allowed demonstrations to take place if at the start of a demo it had police approval, but Brian Haw had started his demonstration years ago, so…)
Somebody who managed to get under the skin of Blair and co to such an extent that they had to change the law to get rid of him (and failed) and who did so for all the right reasons, deserves our deepest respect.
The arrest of Ratko Mladić today has put the Srebrenica massacre back in the spotlight. It was the greatest warcrime in postwar European history and it’s our national shame. Srebrenica is the reason why I stopped believing in humanitarian interventions: here finally there had been a clearcut case, a chance to stand against the same sort of evil we had been liberated from fifty years before and we fucked it up.
In Srebrenica Holland had the opportunity to prevent genocide, but instead we enabled it. For fifty years we’ve grown up with the stories about World War II and the moral choices our parents and grandparents had to make, for fifty years we had known that we would’ve made the right choices, that we would have been part of the resistance, as every book, movie and television series told us we would’ve been. Yet at the first real test, the first chance for us to prevent the same sort of evil we had read so much about, we fucked up. Our commanders liked the Serb leaders much better — so cultured and European — than the not quite civilised Muslim combatants. Our soldiers were glad to trade in their guns and bullet proof vests for a chance to go home and tried to think too hard about the men they were supposed to protect. Our politicians spoke of a tragedy and a crime but were firm and insistent that the Netherlands were not to blame, that “our boys” had “done their best” and that there had been nothing more that they could’ve done. It would’ve been better had we not been there.
Had we not been there to establish a safe haven that wasn’t, had we not been there to give people a false sense of security, all those Bosnian Muslims wouldn’t have been trapped there and some 8,000 men and boys might still be alive today. At the very least they wouldn’t have been trapped unarmed and been handed over to their murders so easily. Our humanitarian intervention only make things worse and since then I’ve always been convinced it almost always will.
The current Dutch government has decided the department of defence needs to save one billion euros on its budget to help pay for the bankers crisis, which in concrete terms means that the current support for NATO’s airwar in Libya is Holland’s last imperialistic adventure for the foreseeable future. To pay for its deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade the Dutch army already had had to cannibalise itself, selling of equipment like the brand new Panzerhaubitze 2000 only afew years after they had been taken into service. Now the army is going to get rid off even more stuff, including all its remaining tanks and nineteen more F-16 fighters, as well as four out of ten minehunter ships, not to mention a fair few airforce and army bases. More importantly, 10,000 jobs will disappear: some through natural wastage, others by not filling in vacancies but most, some 6,000 in total will be through redundancies.
It will be hard on these people of course, not to mention on the towns and cities dependent on the bases threatened with the chop. Yet I can’t help but wonder, as I’ve done before, why we’re keeping an army anyway if we’re not willing or able to spent the money to support it properly. What do we really need an army for when the chances of war breaking out in our corner of Europe are the lowest they’ve ever been in the past two thousand years. Is it just there to, like we did the past decade, tool about in other people’s countries in service of some vaguely worded humanitarian interests everytime the US or UK ask us to? Now we can’t even do that anymore the moment is there to give it the chop entirely, transfer those few elements we might still need to the police forces, then spent the money we would’ve spent keeping useless armour in service to retraining our soldiers for more useful vocations.
the case for or against a ‘humanitarian intervention’ rests on answering two broad questions: has the level of violence reached such a threshold that the use of counter-force is morally justifiable and is it a practical, strategic option that will actually make things better for the people concerned?
I do not know what the end game is. I accept that the campaign will result in people being killed by allied airstrikes and I presume that the intervening governments have selfish as well as altruistic motives for their actions. However, I think that the situation in Libya immediately prior to the intervention passed the threshold test that I set out above. I think that the UN is fulfilling its responsibility to protect the lives of civilians in this case.
My own view: never support a military action you are not in control off. Because whatever your motivations might be, you can never be sure they are shared by those actually waging the war. And while Conor might disdain the “search for the hidden ‘real reasons’ for military interventions”, motivations do matter. What is the intervention attempting to achieve? What are the countries participating prepare to do to reach this goal? How well does this goal match Conor’s own reasons for supporting the intervention? Can we be sure the desire to protect Libyan civilians — any Libyan civilians, even those supporting Khadaffi — is as great as the desire to get Khadaffi? Can we stop the intervention if it’s clear it makes things worse? Can you really trust countries that only months ago were eager to embrace Khadaffi, sell him weapons and buy his oil? What will happen if Khadaffi is killed or goes into exile? If the airstrikes don’t work, what then?
All questions we don’t have the answers to, nor have the power to decide upon ourselves and because we don’t, time and again we find that the wars we supported for the best of reasons actually make things worse. Never support military interventions you don’t have any control over.
Once upon a time this was an easy question to answer. NATO was either a defensive alliance against the threat posed by the USSR and its allies, or, if you were so inclined, it was an instrument of western imperialism aimed at the people of Eastern Europe and Russia. Then the Cold War ended, not through any NATO effort, and the need for the alliance was gone. So why hasn’t it disbanded, why has it in fact not just continued to exist, but actually grown? Surely as a defensive alliance it is no longer needed as despite efforts to find a new evil empire, none have come to light. Even China is only a third rate military power still happy to buy secondrate Russian equipment and to suggest that an Iran or North Korea is so much of a threat we need NATO to defend ourselves is absurd.
Perhaps we see the real purpose of NATO in the current discussion of membership for the Ukraine and Georgia, something Russia has long objected to. From their perspective the long, steady eastward march of NATO during the nineties and zeros looks remarkably like a slow motion offensive, an encirclement of the motherland. They have some reason to feel that way, having been invaded three times in the twentieth century alone. You can of course reject all this as Russian paranoia and believe the assurances of NATO itself that it’s all perfectly innocent, honest. Myself, I’m not so sure, especially not after what happened in Kosovo.
Kosovo is seen as the great succes in liberal intervention, but remember that it was never sanctioned by the United Nations, featured terror bombing of civilian targets and did not achieve its main goal of ethnic cleansing. Instead NATO served as the KLA’s private airforce in their war against Serbia. The endresult is a combination gangster state/NATO protectorate. Kosovo opened the way for NATO to function as the armed arm of democracy, a role it’s now attempting to fulfill in Afghanistan as well. NATO as security for When the UN is going through one of its maddingly independent phases again; a handy tool to intervene in other countries when the UN doesn’t want to.
It also binds the European powers to the US and its foreign policy and prevents the European Union from following a more independent, perhaps more confrontational course. Many European Atlanticists thinks this is worth it, because NATO also binds America to Europe and prevents it from withdrawing in isolationism again. It’s sort of the old argument that Blair and co used to support the US in the War on Iraq: at least if we’re on their side we can influence them somewhat. Guess how well that worked out in practise.
In short NATO is obsolete and dangerous and needs to be abolished. It’s not needed to fight the real threats of the 21st century and the money wasted on it can be better spend elsewhere. The sooner it’s gone the better.
I’ve talked about the failure of the antiwar movement before, in that it failed to stop the War on Iraq from happening, despite the protests held by tens of millions of people all over the world in the months before the start of the war. One common complaint heard at the time was that the protests came too late, that the troops were already in place, the preperations made and that therefore war was inevitable. I’m not sure this was entirely true; the protests did keep the Netherlands out of the war proper, though sadly not out of the occupation and I can see that if the Stop the War campaign had made different tactical and strategical choices in 2003 it might’ve kept the JUK out as well. There is however a kernel of truth in the idea that anti-war protests usually come too late, when the war is already started or preparations are so advanced stopping is impossible. It doesn’t help that for the most part anti-war movements are created largely adhoc, in response to a threatening war, that they die down in times of “peace”.
When you stop to think about it, it’s absurd that we live in a time when it’s assumed normal that even a country like the Netherlands, with no real enemies nearby is spending millions if not billions of euros each year on defence. Moreover we’re spending it not to defend our own country, but to enable our army to invade and occupy other countries. During the nineties, while our attention was elsewhere, the Dutch army transformed itself from a tank heavy Cold War style “defend the Fulda Gap” army into a lean, mean humanitarian intervention fighting machine, laying the foundations for getting involved first in Yugoslavia, then Kosovo and finally Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the status quo, in which criticism of defence spending is seldom on a fundamental level, but mainly on issues of cost or choice of spending.
What brought this to mind is the news that the UK ministry of Defence is going ahead with a thirteen billion pound tanker investment, in which it gets over a dozen new tanker/transport planes. These planes are not needed for the defense of the United Kingdom, certainly not in that number. Instead they’ll be invaluable for the next Iraq or Afghanistan… That’s why we need an anti-war movement that doesn’t just mobilise when war is imminent, but that opposes defence spending from the start. If we have an army that’s capable of “humanitarian interventions”, interventions is what we get. We need to take away these tools that enable our armies to start wars. We need to stop the preperations for future wars, not just the current war.