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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 188: April 2011

1. Libya
Once more we have ‘the West’ and NATO in military action; how fast it was that implementing ‘a no fly zone’ to protect civilians became fighting on one side in a Libyan civil war and an implicit plan by some to get rid of Gaddafi. Of course we would like Gaddafi to be ousted, and indeed democracy to be instituted in Libya - although there is no certainty if the rebels won what political system would end up in place. The UN Security Council resolution 1973 does provide the ambivalence of legalising actions for the protection of civilians, and the West has been exploiting that; the question then becomes, which civilians? Only those on the rebel side? Resolution 1973 excludes “a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”, hence the air attacks, which brings us back to the West using technological superiority to inflict death while minimally risking its own personnel.

There are many, many questions which arise from the Western/NATO intervention, and some of the questions are asked in Clem McCartney’s article in this issue. As in Afghanistan, the West, including EU countries, is militarily attacking someone it has supplied with substantial amounts of arms, in the case of Libya someone who had supported and organised murderous attacks on civilians outside his country (Lockerbie etc), had supplied the IRA with weapons, and who had a brutally repressive reputation within his own country. Yes, there was a rapprochement between Libya and some European countries some few years ago but this did not then justify supplying the Libyan regime with arms – not even if they were thought of as sweets to give to a bold child who they thought had resolved to be good. The Taliban did not have ‘form’ when they were armed by the USA; Muammar Gaddafi did. So was the attempt to support the rebels a case of a guilty conscience?

And why was Libya picked out for confrontation? Because the rebels had taken up arms? It may have been a natural reaction for them to use or take the weapons they could get but to try to fight against a stronger, better trained army (or collection of military units as in the pro-Gaddafi forces) was probably not wise and it may have been the only option they saw. But what of all the other situations, like Bahrain, Yemen or Syria, where people have been struggling for human and political rights nonviolently? Should or could they be supported some way? There is something sad where the criteria for intervention is that major violence has broken out but what you have to offer is more, major, violence.

What the end will be has yet to be determined; some kind of an out for Gaddafi, a partitioning of the country arrived at through stalemate, or a victory for the rebels with major backing from NATO which results in Gaddafi’s death (the last seeming most unlikely at the moment). The West has a very chequered history in this geographical area. We hope that the outcome will avoid further death and lead to the maximum possible freedom. But freedom is something which it is difficult to build overnight, as military intervention in Iraq proved yet again. In the longer term, the death trade of arms supplies and the arms trade is something which needs more effective action. Supplying tyrants and dictatorships with arms, and then taking up arms against them, is farcical.

2. Chernobyl 25, Fukushima 0
Sometimes you wonder. Sometimes you wonder how nuclear power safety issues get rationalised. Three Mile Island was serious but not too serious. Chernobyl happened in the perceived backward technology of the USSR so “it couldn’t happen here”. Fukushima was hit by the double whammy of earthquake and tsunami. And Sellafield? Well, Sellafield/Windscale has had lots of major and minor accidents and leaks over the years but hasn’t gone up in smoke yet, and tends to be forgotten apart from those on the east coast of the island who are acutely aware of its presence across the Irish Sea. Thus safety, lack of, issues get rationalised. The world still turns.

However you have to expect the unexpected, particularly when potentially lethal technology is involved. And it is clear that the nuclear industry has not properly taken into account earthquake risks – and earthquakes can hit in unexpected places. So can paramilitaries, militaries or ‘terrorists’. Or human error. Or technological failure. Chernobyl has left a lasting impression, twenty-five years afterwards, on the European landscape and health – just ask Chernobyl Children International or look at their website. The Japanese nuclear disaster is now several weeks into the drama and it is far from over yet with the lasting effect still to be determined, and ongoing attempts to contain the situation and radioactive waste. Not only are there likely to be lasting effects but there is also the current trauma for many Japanese people, not least piled on top of the trauma of earthquake and tsunami. Bizarrely, some people at home have used the current heightened awareness of nuclear issues to suggest the need to introduce nuclear power for Ireland.

INNATE and its predecessor Dawn have taken a consistent line to oppose nuclear power. Dawn was part of the anti-nuclear movement in Ireland in the middle to late 1970s. The story of the anti-nuclear movement in Ireland, and its victory, can be seen in Simon Dalby’s account on the INNATE website However being anti-nuclear is obviously not enough today; there has to be a major, and swift, transition to renewable sources of power.

Nuclear power looks enticing as a means of avoiding global warming but keeping electricity flowing. It is centralised so governments and electricity generating companies tend to like it. Green/renewable sources of energy are seemingly less neat as a solution; they are generally fairly decentralised, certainly spread out, and there are difficulties. The biggest difficulty with renewables is continuity of supply; if the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine, what do you do? The answer is diversity, including wave power, and stored energy through excess power having been used to shift water which is then used for hydroelectric generation. In the case of Ireland, one of the windiest countries in Europe, not overly populated, and with a long coastline for the number of people in it, the answers should be obvious. Biomass can be part of a solution as well, certainly for Ireland.

Nuclear power is far more expensive than generally known (when decommissioning and storage issues, and other subsidies are taken into account). It is not even that carbon neutral when developing it is taken into account (perhaps producing 40% the carbon dioxide of fossil fuel equivalent). Uranium mining is dirty and dangerous for people and the environment and the amount of suitable grade uranium is in any case very limited. During the lifetime of a nuclear power plant there are dangers, some mentioned in the second paragraph above. But the final act of nuclear power is to leave radioactive waste which has to be safeguarded for a period much longer than recorded history. Is this really the legacy that we want to leave for future generations? They will not thank us. And, given the number of nuclear accidents over the years already, we may not thank ourselves either.

Nuclear power is a dangerous cul de sac. It is far more sensible to go straight to the maximum possible generation of renewable energy now, coupled with major work to insulate houses to the highest possible degree – a project which itself will be very labour intensive and thus meet some of the current needs for additional employment.

We do not need more Chernobyls, more Fukushimas, or the risk of more. Ireland does not need nuclear power. But we do need urgent action on renewable energy and insulation. There is a limitless supply of wind and waves in Ireland, and there is the possibility to make the country largely energy self sufficient for perhaps even less than the cost of nuclear power plants to meet current needs and without any of the drawbacks and dangers of the latter. All it requires is the political will and investment necessary. The money may seem problematic but with oil prices likely to only go one direction, upwards, in the coming years it would be very false economy to think that we cannot afford to make the necessary changes and investment. Where there is a will there is a safe way; nuclear power is not a safe way to generate energy.

3. Death in Omagh again
The killing of PSNI police constable Ronan Kerr in Omagh is very much to be regretted. Those republicans involved, still believing in the effectiveness of a military strategy, are not actually making a blow for a United Ireland – since their action puts that possibility further away – but rather saying “We haven’t gone away you know.” In using their power to destroy they have been showing their feeling of powerlessness and exclusion (or they would not engage in this action). But they have destroyed the life of a young man and wrecked the lives of his family. If the previous trend of attacks continued it was, sadly, only to be a matter of time before there was another death, and this has come about through the killing of Ronan Kerr with a car bomb.

Northern Ireland remains in part a maelstrom of bitterness, division, and people who are trapped in ideologies which do not encompass or consider others. We have said it time and time again; when people are killing other people, all is obviously not well, but the fact that people are not actually killing others should not be taken as a sign that there is nothing wrong.

Moving on in the North will take much work over many years. Involving and respecting everyone is a difficult task and the possibility of moving things on would be far easier if there was a comprehensive government-supported plan which provides realistic resources to those who are working on the ground on issues of conflict, identity and inclusion. Sadly, the Cohesion, Sharing and Integration plan produced last year by the OFMDFM parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, was not worth the paper it was written on, and presumably is already being lost in the shuffle. [See Editorial in NN 184]

Many people have learnt many lessons from the Troubles. Not everyone has learnt however, and for some this may be because they still feel left out in the cold and betrayed, and they and others who did not live through the Troubles may imagine that more military action will achieve something. But what it will achieve will be more bitterness, despair and division, not a United Ireland or a copper fastened Union.

A radical plan is necessary within the educational system to make people aware of issues to do with conflict – its features and stages, how to deal with it as a participant or a mediator, and so on. Learning the possibilities of nonviolent action in addressing grievances is part of this. Continuing to believe that the bomb and the bullet can achieve things, for anyone, in Northern Ireland is to live in a violent and macho fantasy world which cannot deliver anything beyond misery, despair, and division. That is a poor result for violence and the belief that violence can achieve things in the situation. Whatever one’s political beliefs in the situation, working without violence is likely to be more successful in achieving goals. INNATE is happy to assist anyone to explore the possibilities of nonviolent action and struggle.

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

The Nuclear Power Debate
The 9.0 earthquake which struck Japan on March 11, and the tsunami that followed, disabled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The seriousness of the damage can be gauged by the fact that the worst nuclear power accident in history, which was at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, was classified as level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The Fukushima disaster is classified as level 5. However, with four of the six reactors volatile nuclear meltdown has yet to be averted. Sea water near the plant is contaminated with a level of radioactivity 3,000 times the legal limit, and high levels of radiation have been detected in milk and leafy vegetables. 30km around the plant, home to 100,000 people, has been evacuated. The Belfast Telegraph, 30 March reported that detection equipment in Dublin found traces of radioactive iodine from Fukushima in the atmosphere. Tokyo, a metropolis of 13 million people, situated 150 miles (240km) south of the plant, is well within range of serious radioactive contamination if containment efforts fail.

The disabling of the Fukushima nuclear plant has triggered intense debate about the wisdom of building new nuclear power plants and extending the life of existing ones. Some countries, such as China are reconsidering their nuclear power building programme. In Japan there were street protests against nuclear power. Paradoxically, the fact that the Fukushima plant withstood the force of a 9.0 earthquake without causing immediate mass death has assured many that nuclear power plants are safe. One such person is the prominent environmentalist George Monbiot.

The gist of Monbiot’s support of nuclear power, one shared with the scientist James Lovelock, is that the affects of climate change will be so catastrophic that every measure that can mitigate the warming of the planet should be taken. Monbiot argues that given our almost boundless need for electricity, and with the human population projected to rise from 7 to 9 billion by 2050, the idea that renewable energy can meet our needs is an illusion. In the absence of the electricity which could be provided by nuclear power plants countries will use coal, a highly polluting fuel.

Addressing the all important safety issue Monbiot points out that the fatalities from all the nuclear power plants in the world over the past 50 years are exceedingly low compared to those from coal mining and pollution from coal power plants. Further, as the generation of renewable energy is not without environmental costs, and nuclear power is thought not to significantly contribute to the sum of global warming gasses, we would be foolish not to harness nuclear power. Writing on the subject in The Guardian, 22 March, Monbiot says: “I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”

While some of Monbiot’s arguments are not without substance, he ignores a whole range of critical issues. These include the astronomical cost of nuclear power plants, that they are enticing targets for groups or governments with violent intent, and are a poisoned legacy for future generations. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (1979) illustrate the fact that even highly skilled, well trained, conscientious people make mistakes with catastrophic consequences. The pro-nuclear argument also ignores the fact that prosperous countries can become paupers without the finance to maintain their decommissioned nuclear power plants. Ukraine is an example.

Nuclear power will not prevent the loss of bio-diversity, halt soil erosion and protect our sources of fresh water. More nuclear power stations will not change our habit of wasteful consumerism. The point the pro-nuclear lobby miss is that climate change is the writing on the wall, spelling in clear bold letters the message that our species has no future unless our culture morphs into a form which supports environmental sustainability or as E.F. Schumacher described it in August 1960, “non-violent economics”.

Libyan no fly zone
by Clem McCartney

We are saddened and troubled by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone over Libya by force and “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian populated areas”. Subsequent actions taken under the resolution only confirm our concerns. We are mindful of the fate which faced the people in Benghazi if Muammar Gaddafi had attacked the city with the weapons at his disposal and carried out his threat to go through the city house by house rooting out those who opposed him.

But we are aware that the decision to impose the no-fly zone was an indication of failure. It is not an expression of strength by those with the capability to impose the no-fly zone, but an expression of their failure to make a more constructive contribution to resolving the Libyan crisis.

The Paradigm of Power and Control and the Paradigm of Principled Engagement
We know that the powerful normally set the terms of engagement in any conflict. If the powerful use force against those opposing them, it is difficult and dangerous to use peaceful methods including demonstrations and negotiations in response. The powerful refuse to negotiate and demonstrators risk the possibility of arrest and torture or even death. But the Egyptian and Tunisian protestors turned that presumption on its head. They were weak in arms (though perhaps not in moral courage and popular support) and as a result they maintained their non-violent stand and the governments, with the world watching, were unable or unwilling to resort to violence to any significant degree.

Perhaps the Libyan situation could have been similar, but the protestors had access to arms when sections of the army came over to their side and Muammar Gaddafi and his supporters were willing to use oppressive force and justified it, as a response to civil war.

But the stage had been set for a military confrontation long before. The outside world had tolerated the Government’s oppression for many years and had actually condoned it in recent years, when the Western states decided that, whatever his human rights record, Muammar Gaddafi was useful. They even provided him with arms and sophisticated weapons, knowing that he had few targets to use them against except his own people.

Also the relationship between the Libyan government and the outside world had been constructed as one of power and the ability to exert control and it was impossible to change that in a few weeks. The West wanted to control Muammar Gaddafi but did not know how to do it, given that they had decided they needed him as an ally and that he is a maverick who is not easy to control and make compliant. So they went along with him and gave him the message, intentionally or otherwise, that he was free to act as he wished – and that military might was the preferred method of dealing with disputes. There was no attempt to build a different relationship with him, in which there was critical engagement and in which there were clear parameters set for the basis of the relationship, such as respect for human rights. We see this in the award of the contracts for oil exploration or the supply of arms. Ironically if the alternative approach had been adopted, there would have been less control but more influence.

Interestingly, other people had relationships with Muammar Gaddafi that were not based on control, and they had the capacity to exert influence – for example, Hugo Chavez. When there was an offer of mediation by India, South Africa and Brazil, it was deemed unacceptable. They might be too close to Muammar Gaddafi. What were their motivations? But ultimately it was again a question of control – United States and United Kingdom could not control such a process and those states were outside the influence of NATO. But would it not have been better to let them try before the situations spiralled out of anyone’s control?

Clean Hands
It is also deeply troubling that the states most directly involved do not themselves have clean hands either in Libya or elsewhere in the world. They are the states that have supplied the Libyan forces with arms, many of those now being destroyed. They are the states which we have already noted gave Muammar Gaddafi mixed messages. And they are the states that continue to tolerate and condone the actions of other dictators and authoritarian regimes that still happen to be deemed useful.

Their moral justification for implementing the no fly zone and “taking all necessary measures” is “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas”. The contest between the Libyan government and the rebels was completely unequal and Muammar Gaddafi seemed a bully using his overwhelming fire power while he himself sat safe in his compound in Tripoli. But now the boot is on the other foot, and the coalition forces seem the bullies, using their overwhelming fire power while their political leaders sit safe in their national capitals. Where is the difference?

Long term impacts
But the deepest concern is that the present actions, taken under Security Council resolution 1973, is the long term message that is being given. It reinforces the idea that force is the preferred method of dealing with problems. That there is no need to take a principled stand or develop an ethnical foreign policy because at the end of the day powerful states can fall back on the military option when things get tough.

The lesson for dictators is not to get isolated as Muammar Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein became. Dictators in future may be more careful to keep a few friends and not alienate everyone.

It will be sad and a setback for world peace and the development of civil governance if those are the lessons of 2011. It is important to ensure that the lessons of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions speak louder and are learnt both by neighbouring countries which are still in a state of flux and the wider world watching and interfering but, to date, seldom helping the processes of change.

Copyright INNATE 2021