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Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.
Issue 162: September 2008

Georgia, and Russia, on my mind
The reconfiguration of political realities within the former boundaries of

Georgia raises a considerable number of issues, not necessarily those that have been taken up by the USA , Britain , the EU and others. As almost always in such circumstances, the realities are messy, perhaps inconvenient for many, and subject to long term judgement as to whether Russia treats South Ossetia and Abkhazia as puppet states, fully incorporates them, and/or allows them genuine freedom or freedom of choice – if such is politically possible for such small entities.The first point to be made is that political boundaries in the former Soviet Union , and in the countries which emerged from it a couple of decades ago, were not necessarily rational.  Thus there were, and are, unwilling bedfellows who could grow to tolerate each other or end up in the divorce courts.  Secondly, there are the related questions of territorial integrity and self determination.

Territorial integrity should mean that outsiders do not intervene to change the political map but it is quite clear, from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, that ‘the West’ only spouts on about territorial integrity when it suits them; when it suits them to intervene in regime change then other issues are brought in which are considered more important. ‘Territorial integrity’ is therefore not of the utmost concern as a value, and, from a moral point of view, increasing emphasis on human rights should put limits on the power of a nation state to treat people badly within its boundaries.‘Self determination’ is a value which countries tend to support, or not, according to what side they are on. 

If Kosovo/a has the right to ‘self determination’ then, by the same, and sane, measuring stick, so must Abkhazia and South Ossetia but ‘the West’, in the context of increasing divisions between Western Europe and Russia, emphasises territorial integrity over self determination in these last two cases. It is quite clear that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia wanted freedom from Georgia and, small as they are, should be entitled to it considering political and cultural factors. Georgia was determined to bomb South Ossetia into submission, and may have killed upwards of a couple of thousand people by bombardment in the events which led up to Russian intervention. Georgia badly misjudged Russia in this instance, thinking there would be no Russian military action.  In this case, Russia could claim defence of the human rights of the people of South Ossetia, as well, obviously, in acting against what it considered an uppity neighbour to the south ( Georgia ) and in its own perceived national interest. It was Georgia which precipitated the immediate crisis.  Russia may have driven Georgian forces out of South Ossetia , and there has been ethnic cleansing by South Ossetian forces of Georgians, but there was no military intervention in Abkhazia – Georgian forces withdrew without Russian support to Abkhazian forces. Russia is flexing its muscles as a regional superpower and its neighbours are concerned and scared – this is only natural. 

However taking NATO membership right to the borders of Russia is not the way to defuse new Cold War fears and make Russia believe that ‘the West’ wants peaceful relations. Certainly there are major fears about Russian nationalism and militarism, and about the extent and nature of Russian democracy and human rights – which have severe limitations - but, concerning present conflicts, it is not Russia that invaded Afghanistan (at least not in the current war) and Iraq. There are thus a number of pots around calling the Russian kettle black.  NATO is an ‘anti-communist’ Cold War relic which should have been relegated to the dustbin with the end of that ‘Old’ Cold War, if not before (the September 2008 issue of the War Resisters International newsletter, ‘The Broken Rifle’, analyses further the current situation with NATO. See ).

What we need in such a situation in the state of Georgia , as hinted at above, is a clear set of guidelines about where self determination and freedom for peoples outweighs considerations of territorial integrity. We need a neutral set of values which can be utilised in such circumstances, not a set of values pulled out of the closet to suit a particular interest at a particular time, one set of rules for ‘us’ and another  set of rules for ‘them’.  Such dualities and false thinking neither promote peace nor freedom and are simply used to bolster perceived national and regional interests.It has yet to be seen how Russia will treat Abkhazia and South Ossetia

While Russia is still a diverse country, it is not the Soviet Union empire that it was, either in intent or reality.  There are many militarists and nationalists at work in Russia but it is far from being alone in this, and, on a global scale, it is the USA with its own disdain for human rights and willingness to promote its interests, by hook or by crook, which is a greater danger to world peace. However, any number of wrongs on any side do not make one right, Russian attempts to control its neighbours are not welcome, and we will view with continued concern human rights and democracy issues within Russia itself and on its borders, as well as expressing our dismay at the evolution of a ‘New’ Cold War.

Doing and not doing are not opposites
To take a particular action is not necessarily the opposite of not to take that action. The example that comes to mind is the decision made by Belfast City Council to have a ‘homecoming parade and civic reception’ on 2nd November for British armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan

Unionist councillors (including the non-sectarian unionist Alliance Party) supported the move and nationalists (Sinn Féin and SDLP) opposed the civic approval of local involvement in these wars.  That much is, perhaps, predictable. The ‘Ministry of Defence’ “said it would boost the morale of troops thousands of miles away” (‘News Letter’ 2nd September 2008).We oppose such a parade and reception on several grounds. It is clearly, as indicated by who voted how, a largely sectarian decision. Had there been a decision not to have such a welcome it might have been seen as a victory for people on the nationalist side of the house but not doing something (which if done would cause offence to others) would not have been the same as doing something where there is no automatic expectation that it would be done. Since a large slice of Belfast , from across many boards, voted with their feet against the Iraq war it also seems a strange decision. Alliance ’s Naomi Long and the DUP’s David Rodway both spoke about how they opposed the Iraq War but felt the soldiers’ bravery should be recognised; this is politically naïve. The British Army is a volunteer army and, while many may have chosen it as a career in the absence of other opportunities, by joining up they agree to be the military muscle of the government of the day. 

To separate out soldiers’ ‘bravery’ as deserving of praise is splitting hairs.  We do not praise burglars who do not leave a mess or do ‘a good job’ in burgling; you cannot separate how something is done from what the task happens to be. Of course we have to recognise individual soldiers as human beings with the respect that this deserves, and they should certainly not be seen as automatons, but civic receptions - as the Ministry of Defence clearly recognised - are seen as support for the whole military enterprise.Posthumously (sic) approving these wars and boosting military morale is a regressive move from the point of view of building peace and international relations. The UK is one of the European countries most prone to go to war in the modern era and any achievements, in either of these countries (Afghanistan and Iraq), is far outweighed by the deaths and destruction caused, the damage done to international relations, and the promotion of military-type militancy (‘terrorism’), aside from the financial cost (which may be significant in the level of recession currently affecting the UK) . 

The British armed forces are the tool of British government foreign policy and this has been disastrous. The attempt to ‘normalise’ the position of the British armed forces in Northern Ireland should be resisted as it seeks to ingratiate itself into post-Troubles society, and becomes more blatant in its recruiting practices.But then the attempt to ‘normalise’ the position of the British armed forces in the whole of Ireland should be resisted. This has come up recently in relation to reports written by an Irish man serving with the British Army in Iraq whose reports have been carried by the Irish Times. While different views were expressed in the letters page on this, some correspondents to that paper expected that Ireland should ‘grow up’ and tolerate this. 

What is there to tolerate?  Militarism? Mercenary soldiers? Illegal and immoral wars based on false premises?  It is noted that letters written by the coordinator of INNATE, pointing out that some of us have difficulty with anyone being in military uniform let alone fighting in other country’s wars, were not published by the paper in question. There is an antimilitarist tradition or traditions which, while small, are nevertheless significant but can be invisible when the powers that be, whether in government, local government or the media, choose to ignore them.We are here, we will not be going away, and we believe our views will increasingly gain more support as people realise the foolishness of militarism and the dangers of European and NATO military hegemony. At a time when the Independent Monitoring Commission in Northern Ireland has judged the IRA Army Council to have fallen into abeyance (by choice within the military republican structures to discontinue meeting), we would be pleased to see the British Army command structures collapsing in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. Why should the IRA be alone in disbanding? What gives the state the right to armed force? ‘Remember the golden rule – whoever has the gold makes the rules’.  That, however, is all another day’s work.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
Larry Speight brings us his monthly column:

Leadership & Climate Change
Elected ministers, prime ministers and presidents revel in their leadership status and the accompanying perks. Yet there are urgent issues in which they show no leadership at all, most notable is climate change.   Climate change, as scientists continually remind us, is an ongoing event caused by the emission of global warming gasses, which may, within the life-span of most people alive today, bring an end to civilization.  

This is hard to imagine without the realization that the global economy is gratis of a healthy biosphere. If this collapses, which it is presently doing under the onslaught of massive deforestation, the death of the seas, and climate change, then the world economy, which provides us with life’s essentials, collapses as well.   It is because of what is at stake with climate change that the failure of our leaders to do what they were elected and are paid a handsome sum to do, is so apparent. An example of this lack of leadership was illustrated at the G8 summit held in Japan earlier this year.   At the summit the G8 leaders issued a statement on climate change in which they vowed to “consider and adopt” a target of at least a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Critics say that without a baseline, a date against which this 50% cut would be measured, the target is meaningless.  

As reported in The Guardian, 9th July 2008, Tom Picken of Friends of the Earth said: “Setting a vague target for 42 years’ time is utterly ineffectual in the fact of the global catastrophe we all face.” Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the South African minister of environmental affairs and tourism stated that: “As it is expressed in the G8 statement, the long term goal is an empty slogan.” Oxfam described the deal as tepid and little more than a stalling tactic.   Even if the G8 leaders were sincere, the UN development programme estimates that 50% reduction by 2050 would lead to a 4C increase in temperature, and catastrophe. What is needed is an 80 to 95 % reduction of global warming emissions against 1990 levels, starting today. To set this in motion requires leadership.  

Leadership is more than attending lavish dinners, wearing sharp suits and being driven about in petrol-guzzling cars escorted by police outriders. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1983) informs us that leadership means: “To guide by persuasion; to conduct by argument, to induce; to engage; to direct by one’s example; to form a channel into; a connecting link to something.”   The G8 leaders, and those of other countries influential on the world stage, show none of these qualities, most especially “to direct by one’s example”. None would dare suggest that the idea of endless growth is an illusion, that it is the cause of climate change, the loss of biodiversity and mass poverty, not the solution.  

The lack of vision and compassion by our so-called leaders reveals them to be a part of the herd. This fact means a rethink by all of us.

Copyright INNATE 2021