If you’re anything like me, it wouldn’t be exactly revolutionary to declare that this century’s anti-war activism hasn’t been all that successful.
Similarly, it wouldn’t take a great leap of imagination to argue that, despite being the face of ‘benevolent interventionism’, NATO has been and remains a de-stabilizing and dangerous source of ruling class violence.
It was with both these facts in mind that a handful of activists in late 2008 in Edinburgh decided to put together the UK’s first Anti-Militarist Gathering. The event was intended to serve two purposes. Firstly, it would prepare the ground for anti-NATO mobilization in response to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly taking place in Edinburgh in November 2009. Secondly, it would create the much-needed space to iron out the considerable difficulties and differences that the different segments of the anti-war movement had variously encountered. For example, we planned to bring together groups as distinct as the Smash EDO campaign and the Faslane peace camp, and many others besides, with the hope of finding common ground. At the very least, it would be a beautiful disaster and fodder for future anecdotes.
Why NATO Should be Opposed
As is commonly understood, NATO was set up following World War II as Europe’s defensive bloc against what was perceived to be an aggressive Soviet Union bent on westward expansion. However, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has expanded east at a considerable pace, and now claims to be a universal beacon of peace, democracy, freedom and human rights.
What this narrative fails to mention, however, is NATO’s past and present involvement in oppression, human rights violations and destabilization. To demonstrate this it’s worth citing three examples. Firstly, after 1945, NATO operated secret ‘stay-behind’ armies in Europe. While they were officially charged with combating a potential Soviet invasion, in reality they became secret, US-backed paramilitaries. Sometimes this had disastrous and unconstitutional effects, as in Italy, or resulted in coups, as in Greece and Turkey. Secondly, the story we have long been told about the great ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Kosovo is in reality much darker. Not only did most of the deaths come after the bombing had begun, but, subsequent to Serbia’s defeat, massive ethnic cleansing took place in Kosovo as Serbs and Roma were similarly ethnically cleansed. Further, horrific violence took place, such as the organ harvesting allegedly undertaken by the Kosovo Liberation Army, the great allies of the West.
Thirdly, and finally, there is the matter of NATO’s nuclear weapons. Not only does it continue to refuse a ‘no first strike policy’, NATO also continues to place nuclear weapons in non-nuclear states, violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty and placing large parts of Europe in the shadow of a potential nuclear war.
So what did the Anti-Militarist Gathering achieve? For one, it has provided a bridge between the different anti-militarist campaigns. At least, this will mean more effective means of communication and co-organization when it comes to regional events. The combination of the May gathering with the latest Smash EDO/ITT demonstration, and the enhanced mobilization around Heckler and Koch in Nottingham after the the July gathering are evidence enough of this. At best, it will go towards providing that elusive ideal of a ‘community of differences’, that is, large, broad groups based around diversity as opposed to uniformity, that has long been missing within our movement.
Another aspect of the AMN is that it creates a space for the discussion and theorization of the issues surrounding both anti-war critique and anti-war activism. Far too often, the analysis of these problems has either been unduly shallow, abstract or subordinate to other agendas. Having a forum to move our critiques forward is invaluable.
Finally, and most importantly, the decision to focus specifically on a direct action campaign, and the move away from marching round in circles (no pun necessary) promises something interesting: post-legitimacy anti-war activism. What I mean by this is that, rather than the pressure to frame our concerns within a model of ‘asking Blair/Bush/Brown/Obama for x,’ we instead achieve what we want directly, having won the argument long ago. In this way, it might be that the AMN can become the vehicle by which, in a coherent and nation-wide level, the transition from protest to resistance takes place.
In the fortnight leading up to DSEi, in order to display their weaponry, the exhibitors have to transport it to London’s East End in the previous week and weekend. DISARM DSEi are calling on local groups to stop them. See www.dsei.org
Tuesday 8th to Friday 11th September, DSEi Arms Fair – Docklands - Take action against the world’s largest arms fair:
Tuesday 8th September – Destroy the Banks, Destroy the Investors, Destroy the Arms Trade – City of London, 12 noon, see www.dsei.org
for location and more details.
Week Beginning October 18th – Support the EDO Decommissioners Week of Action (Brighton and nationwide) – see www.smashedo.org.uk
12 - 17th November – Shut Down the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Edinburgh. See www.antimilitaristnetwork.org.uk