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Billy King


Nonviolence News



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

Issue 160: June 2008

Also in this editorial:

Challenges ahead
When President May McAleese spoke to the Church of Ireland General Synod in Galway in May, she spoke about Ireland standing at a ‘pivotal moment’.  She may have been thinking of community relations in the North and cross-border relationships but the important point to make is that we are always at a pivotal moment. At any point we can go in the right direction, the wrong direction, or sideways. Does Ireland simply lump itself in with the rest of western European capitalist societies or does it make a unique path and role for itself? Does it make itself closer to Boston or Berlin, and even if the latter were the case (which it is not), how does it seek to protect the weak and vulnerable at home and abroad?

The imminent Lisbon treaty referendum in the Republic is a case in point. Is democracy at an EU-level a meaningful concept and how does it become more meaningful?  Is it through the centralisation of power that democracy comes?  Hardly. And when people in Europe say ‘no’ – as different countries including Ireland have done in the past – is that listened to or ignored? Is ‘democracy’ only all right so long as it gives the answer people in power want?  That would seem to be the answer from the Nice Treaty referendum. And Ireland is being increasingly pulled into a NATO/EU military network.  Military neutrality has sometimes not been worth the paper it was not written on, as has been the case with Shannon airport; the ludicrous example of a supposedly ‘neutral’ state giving the world’s only superpower the only thing it wanted for its war efforts.  Current polls show people are concerned about a variety of issues about lack of information on, and understanding of, the Treaty, as well as concerns about identity, power, and neutrality.  It will be a close run thing.  If the “no’s” have it, will the result be accepted?  After all, nowhere else do the citizens have the opportunity to vote on it – and it is clear the citizens of some other countries would turn it down if they had the chance.

The trial of the Raytheon 9 in Belfast also logs up another issue.  What kind of employment are we to have? ‘Any’ kind? Or employment for socially useful and moral purposes? The issue is a difficult one because it pits ‘Jobs’ against ‘Morality’; and usually ‘Jobs’ wins.  But it is possible to argue that, in the long term, a moral approach is actually the best one when, for example, you consider the dependency of the arms industry on government assistance, and the fact that if Ireland is known as an ‘ethical’ country that is likely to be in its favour, in the long term.  It has been announced that the National Pensions Reserve Fund in the Republic will get rid of state investments in cluster bomb manufacturers, but this does not affect other investments in arms companies, alcohol and tobacco – without even beginning to consider a ‘green audit’ of its investments. Some kind of ‘ethical screening’, as suggested by Amnesty International, is the least that should be demanded.

The Republic of Ireland is now wealthy enough to be able to make some hard choices, if it so wishes, about the future, choices that were never previously thought of or indeed relevant.  To pay for these hard choices it needs to increase the tax take. But inhabitants of the Nordic countries get a very good deal by paying high taxes and having excellent services – whereas in Ireland, with relatively low taxes, the result is often mediocre services, and you get what you pay for.  Northern Ireland is in a different situation insofar as it does not control its tax budget and, indeed, has a very high economic dependency on the state. The corporation tax variability which was hoped for in the North, to help it compete equitably with the Republic for foreign investment, did not and is not going to materialise.  Initial economic policies within the powersharing government in the North have been cautious and quite conservative.  Perhaps in the future it may get more ability to deviate from the UK’s tax code but not at the moment.

More generally in Northern Ireland there is the continued need to bed down the peace process. Paramilitaries have been trying to reinvent themselves in various ways, and it is hoped that in terms of being included fairly they will succeed.  But there are the more general issues of division which the power-sharing Executive at Stormont has had to be pushed to consider; Northern Ireland remains an unhealthily divided society. No one may want to exploit that fault line at the moment, except for ‘normal’ party political reasons, but any society with this level of division remains a danger to itself in the longer term. One big shock could be enough to fracture that fault line with disastrous consequences, unless the necessary work is done to bring and draw people together.  This is not scaremongering; it is common sense.  Just because everyone is tired of violence and wants a new start currently does not mean people will feel the same in a generation’s time if divisions are maintained and avoidance is the norm. Paramilitary-type violence may largely have disappeared but the divisions remain.

The challenge of greening the whole economy and life in general is in a number of ways the largest issue which faces Ireland and the world at the moment. The danger is that green policies will cost the poor more than the rich whereas in a new and green economy only income redistribution can make up for the cake of national income staying the same or even declining.  But, if there is income redistribution and an opportunity for people to adopt more fulfilling and meaningful lifestyles, this will be a definite win win situation. Social inclusion and social justice are not optional extras. If the ‘greening’ of Ireland is adopted with the current, unequal, social model then the result will be disastrous for those who are not at the top or middle top of the tree.

Ireland has shown, though its joint leadership on the successful cluster bombs treaty, that it can exercise a useful role in the world without kneeling before the feet of the one, mighty superpower and other regional powers. And when it does exercise this role it reflects well on the country. And while image is not everything, in today’s world image is something that usually costs both money and effort, and will bring other benefits.

There are a huge number of challenges which lie ahead. The first step can take a long journey to arrive at.  But Ireland has thrown off the shackles of being a poor country, so it can achieve change, it can do what it wants to do. Whether it chooses to be part of the solution to its and the world’s problems, or prefers to remain part of the problem, we will have to work on and wait to see.

- - - - - -

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Empathy and Climate Change

Climate change and the host of other environmental problems we face could be said to be a result of ignorance, poverty and lack of empathy.

Much of what we do is based on ignorance, such as in not understanding cause and effect. An example is the release of grey squirrels into Ireland from North America and the consequent demise of our native red squirrel.

Some environmental problems are caused by poverty. For the one billion people who live on less than 50 pence a day every moment is devoted to the struggle to survive. Survival might mean destroying forests, trapping animals for the pet trade, or exhausting the soil through growing the same crops in the same field year after year.

Persistent mass poverty is not a result of laziness or misfortunate but of the structures of the global economy which exclude empathy and take no account of the role ecosystems play in human wellbeing. A study of the World Bank provides interesting insights into how the global economy works.

Lack of empathy for the poor, and nonhuman life, is not confined to those who have the power to make far reaching economic and political decisions. Most of us ordinary folk lack empathy and are too self-absorbed to care. If you doubt this take a look at the litter on the verges of our country roads and observe the enormous amounts of water people waste.

Litter, and waste of water, are not the only indicators of a lack of empathy. Another is our attitude towards food. A study reported in The Independent, 8 May, informs us that people in the UK throw away £10 billion worth of food every year. The food includes apples, bananas, pots of yoghurt, eggs, chickens, packets of crisps and ready meals.

This waste has environmental and financial consequences. Local authorities spend £1 billion every year disposing of food waste, a sum we all help pay for. There is climate change costs involved in growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food. In addition is the time and money we spend in getting to and from shops, choosing food, and keeping it in our fridge.

Part of the tragedy of food waste is that it occurs in a world in which hundreds of millions of people suffer from hunger. According to Newsweek, 19 May, hunger is the underlying cause of 3.5 million child deaths each year.

We have the resources, technology and organisational skills to enable humanity to live in a state of equilibrium with nonhuman nature, and for everyone’s basic needs to be met. It seems that what is lacking is empathy - ‘the power of understanding things outside ourselves’.

I would venture that our ability to feel empathy for those outside our small circle of concerns has being anaesthetised by the desire to have more than we actually need. This in turn is a misplaced - perhaps commercially corrupted - quest for meaning.

Cluster Bombs bomb…..

by Barbara Raftery
who represented Afri at the Dublin conference

An historic treaty banning one of the world’s deadliest weapons, cluster bombs, was agreed by 111 nations in Croke Park on Friday 30th May 2008.  President (of the conference) Daithi O'Ceallaigh called the draft an "extremely ambitious Convention text" representing the best possible balance of interests and compromise consistent with the Oslo Declaration.  Austria compared the agreement to a child “not perfect in every way not beautiful perhaps, but we are proud of it”. Belgium said that it clearly combined prevention with cure and that it was a “fair yet ambitious compromise”.  Laos a country where millions of cluster bombs still lie unexploded said that the treaty would help to “heal open wounds” caused by past use of the weapons.

It bans not just some cluster munitions, but all cluster munitions. It does not try to differentiate between good cluster munitions and bad cluster munitions, it bans them all. Cluster munitions that have caused so much human suffering in countries around the world will never be used again by States. These weapons are not only morally unacceptable but also now illegal under International Humanitarian Law. This is a convention with no exceptions for individual nations' own particular types of cluster munitions.

 It has very good provisions on clearance, transparency, and international cooperation and assistance, all of which are an improvement on the Mine Ban Treaty, taking advantage of lessons learned over the past decade.  It completely bans and requires the destruction of stockpiles of cluster munitions as a category of weapons, including all existing cluster munitions used to date. There is no transition period, which would have undermined the integrity of the treaty.

The convention contains excellent provisions on victim assistance, which are ground-breaking and historic in their own right. This will undoubtedly have a huge impact on the ground in improving the lives of victim and will save thousands and thousands of civilian lives for decades to come. 

The major disappointment in the new Convention, however, is the inclusion of a new Article 21 on the "Relation with States not parties to this Convention," or interoperability. According to Cluster Munitions Coalition (CMC), it is the only stain on the fine fabric of the treaty text. The language is not clear that foreign stockpiling and intentional assistance with prohibited acts are banned in all circumstances.

 Despite this potential loophole in the Convention, the scrutiny of the world will now be focused on States Parties participating in joint military operations and the international recognition that assisting others to use cluster munitions or allowing foreign stockpiling of cluster munitions on their territory in perpetuity, undermines the fundamental obligations of the treaty.

On the positive side, the article requires States Parties to encourage others to join the Convention, to notify Non States Parties of their obligations under the Convention, promote the Convention's norms, and make "best efforts" to discourage Non States Parties from using cluster munitions.

The UK, one of the countries most strongly opposed to a complete prohibition, endorsed the Convention, following an unexpected announcement from Gordon Brown that the UK would accept a total ban and destroy its remaining two types of cluster munitions - M85 artillery shell, which splits up into 49 bomblets, and M73 rockets fired from the Army’s Apache helicopters, contains 9 bomblets. Yet according to the Sunday Times June 1st 2008 the British government quietly excluded new anti-tank cluster shells that are not yet in service. The shell splits into two bomblets that descend on small parachutes, which make them particularly attractive to children if they do not detonate...  Britain, France Germany and Sweden which all manufacture or use similar weapons, pushed through amendments to exclude them because of their use and ability to self destruct.  They have never been used so it is difficult to how they will work.

Despite the absence of major cluster munitions users such as United States, Russia, China, Pakistan and India at the Conference, many states present in Dublin, felt strong pressure especially from the United States, not to support the Treaty at their peril! They said that the treaty could jeopardize US participation in joint peacekeeping and disaster relief operations, because most US military units have these kinds of weapons in their inventories. It is hoped the nations who signed will influence US from using these weapons in the future.  

Ireland is now obliged to pass national legislation giving effect to the treaty commitments. . It is the hope of the Irish delegation that this legislation will not be left but will be given priority in the months ahead and that it will be law before the official signing in Oslo in December 2008

More importantly we need to disinvest from the arm companies and manufacturers of cluster bombs. €500 million of Ireland’s Pension Reserve Fund is invested in companies that manufacture weapons of mass destruction, everything from missiles, rockets, to armour cars, guns and ammunition that are supplied to armies around the world including the US military and Israeli defence forces. The commission’s investment mandate was to invest the fund so as to secure the optimal financial return, provided the level of risk to the monies invested is acceptable to the commission.  The mandate is not qualified by any ethical investment criteria. Its priority is to maximise the returns on its cash

We have invested in every single one of the world’s top 10 arms producers, and in 43 of the top 100, as well as in smaller organisations that provide military related products or services.  Ireland has nearly €70m worth of shares in 7 of the main cluster bomb producing companies in the world

Minister Dermot Ahern said in a statement to the Dáil on 8th April 08;  “our National Pension Reserve Fund has some investments in a small number of companies that, amongst other things, may have some involvement in the manufacture and production of cluster munitions”.. Having €70m worth of shares in 7 of the main cluster bomb producing companies in the world is not an insignificant sum.

An Taoiseach Brian Cowen announced earlier that they were preparing to withdraw €27 Million from 6 international companies which are listed as being involved in the production of cluster munitions. This withdrawal has still not happened. Other European nations such as Norway have taken a moral stand and in February 2007 the Belgian parliament voted to pass national legislation prohibiting investment in cluster munitions.  We in Ireland do not have to sacrifice our morals for economic gain. This will be the test and it will show how serious we are to play our part to rid the world of these deadly weapons.
The status of various articles in the final text is as follows:

Article 1 now includes a definition of "dispensers," eliminating a potential loophole created by bomblets released from dispensers affixed to aircrafts, which although they have the same effects as submunitions, would not have been otherwise covered under the Convention as they are not released from larger munitions.

Article 2 on definitions includes new criteria on weight, for a total of five cumulative criteria for exclusion of munitions that do not have the effects of cluster munitions - weight restrictions, less than 10 submunitions, capability to detect and engage a single target, and electronic self-destruct mechanisms and self-deactivating features. The minimum weight criterion was reduced from 5 to 4 kilograms, but this does not allow the exclusion of additional existing munitions.

Article 3 on stockpiling and destruction permits the retention of a minimum number of cluster munitions for training, research, and the development of countermeasures. Within the article itself, however, is also an obligation for States Parties to report on the planned and actual use of retained cluster munitions

Article 4 on clearance of cluster munitions remnants kept "4.4" on user responsibility, but weakened the language to state that past users of cluster munitions are "strongly encouraged" to provide technical, financial, material, and human resource assistance, along with information on the type and quantity of cluster munitions used, and the precise locations of cluster munitions strikes. Despite the weakened language, the retention of 4.4 is a success. The deadline for clearance was previously extended from 5 to 10 years.

Article 5 on victim assistance is in many ways the highpoint of the Convention. The article was continually strengthened in discussions during the week, to finally include obligations to prove non-discriminatory, age and gender sensitive assistance, including (but not limited to) medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as providing for victim's social and economic inclusion, in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law. The article also requires States Parties to ensure victim assistance is developed and implemented in national laws and policies develop national plans and budgets for activities, and to closely consult and actively involve cluster munitions victims in carrying out victim assistance.

Article 6 on international cooperation and assistance contains an agreed on version of article 9b is on obligations for States Parties requesting assistance and specifically requires that States shall provide assistance for the implementation of victim assistance.

Article 7 contains many positive improvements to ensure the Convention's effective implementation. It makes obligatory reporting on cluster munitions stockpiles, the status and progress of cluster munitions destruction programs, clearance programs including measures to provide risk reduction education and warnings to civilians, and victim assistance. Significantly, it also requires reporting on the known amount of national resources, including financial, material or resources in kind, allocated for the implementation of victim assistance, clearance, and stockpile destruction programs
On Article 17 on entry into force, the President set the number at 30 ratifications - a compromise to appease the few countries calling for 40 instruments of ratifications as the majority of countries wanted 20.

The remaining articles of the Convention were mostly unchanged.


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