Year 2000 No.22, February 8, 2000

Tony Blair Acts to Inflame Passions over Decommissioning

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Tony Blair Acts to Inflame Passions over Decommissioning

International News:
Contradictions Intensify at International Security Conference in Germany

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Tony Blair Acts to Inflame Passions over Decommissioning

If we were to believe the Prime Minister, peoples the world over need to be saved from themselves. This too, according to Tony Blair, is the case with northern Ireland.

The logic of intervention or non-intervention, of self-determination or territorial integrity, in the hands of a Tony Blair is a very shifting concept. But wherever he is coming from at any particular time, his positions are presented with a halo of righteousness and an increasing weariness that the world is not yet worthy of the forces of progress which New Labour represents. Thus the most heinous acts, such as the bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia, or the most outrageous utterances, such as that the class war is over or that the role of the trade unions should be to enter into social partnership with the employers, are presented with what are claimed to be the highest ideals and the best of intentions.

Speaking on Sunday at the Local Governance conference in Blackpool, in what was reported as being an "emotional" and "impassioned" speech, Tony Blair declaimed that he was standing there as a Prime Minister in anger. He said that now was the time when it is needed to be known whether decommissioning is going to happen or it is not. He said that he was not asking anyone to betray anything they believed in but said, "from the depths of my heart," the chance of peace must not be let go, and that the "biggest betrayal" of all would be if all those involved let the chance of peace fall from their fingers. What could this be but to inflame the passions of those who are pointing the finger at the IRA as being the block to progress in the north of Ireland, as the ones seeking to wreck the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Assembly, and thereby take attention away from the role of the British government taking upon itself the right to suspend devolution and further the strategic interests of the English bourgeoisie in Ireland and elsewhere? As if on cue, a bomb went off in a hotel in County Fermanagh, though nobody was hurt in the blast. The agency reports now tell the predictable story that this has heightened pressure on the British and Irish governments to persuade the republican leadership to disarm.

In response to Tony Blair’s provocative remarks, Sinn Féin’s Mitchell McLaughlin pointed out that the current crisis was not about the arms issue. "It’s about the fact that there’s a unilateral threat to walk away from the political process and, in response, the British Government, it appears, is prepared to enter into default of the Good Friday Agreement to give cover to David Trimble," he said.

On Sunday also, Gerry Adams, writing in a Belfast newspaper, said it was his view the crisis surrounding the decommissioning issue could be resolved and the collapse of the process averted if matters were dealt with in a "commonsense and practical fashion". But he said the "ganging up" of Sinn Féin’s political opponents against them would not make decommissioning more likely. "On the contrary, it will have the opposite effect." He went on to say, "Armies as part of conflict resolution do have to deal with this issue, whether through taking of weapons out of the equation, the destruction of weapons, the disposal of weapons, the decommisioning of weapons or whatever term is current to describe this action." It was clearly something which was "do-able and manageable". But it had to be "do-able and manageable in the context of politics working". Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskie also said that a legal challenge was being considered by the party over the British government’s moves to suspend the Northern Ireland Assembly and power-sharing executive on Friday. He said, "We believe these decisions by the British government are very dubious and suspect in terms of the law and the [Irish] constitution."

There is no integral connection, particularly at this stage, of the disarming of the IRA and the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The government has recognised the right of the whole of the island of Ireland to self-determination and that the six counties are disputed territory. But right now, flying in the face of this, they are staking all on the decommissioning of arms by the IRA in the context of their aim to end all opposition to their plans to dominate Ireland economically and unite with the Irish bourgeoisie in preventing the Irish people carrying forward their project to build their nation anew.

The game the British government is playing is in the overall context of Tony Blair’s programme to "Make Britain Great Again". In this game, he is attempting to create divisions while claiming to be the biggest champion of opposition to all division. The specific unity he is attempting to bring about is that between the working class and all working people on the one hand and the rule of the monopolies in every sphere of the life of the country. The working class must call Tony Blair’s bluff and go for their own independent rights and interests.

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International News:

Contradictions Intensify at International Security Conference in Germany

Contradictions intensified between The European Union and the United States on Saturday, February 5, at the International Security Conference in Munich. At issue was the role of NATO, as the aggressive military alliance is mapping out its future strategy.

European defence ministers said that they wanted to make further progress towards building a regional defence "identity" and improve Europe’s ability to deploy forces quickly in what are termed crisis zones. However, US Defence Secretary William Cohen said he was concerned that those efforts were not backed up with sufficient funding and could end up diverting resources away from the alliance and create a bloated military bureaucracy. "Where are the resources to match the rhetoric?" he asked.

George Robertson, the former Labour Defence Minister who is now NATO’s Secretary General, said that last year’s 11-week NATO aerial bombing of Yugoslavia, while "successful", had yielded crucial lessons on how to improve the effectiveness of NATO’s forces. "Lesson one is crystal clear. We won," he told the delegates to the conference. But he added that the conflict had exposed NATO’s lack of agility in deploying forces quickly enough and in sufficient numbers.

The countries of Europe have some two million personnel under arms, but can only deploy around 40,000 of them at short notice, Robertson pointed out. Even though European military spending amounts to 60% of the US total, NATO’s European forces only have a fraction of the strike power at Washington’s disposal, he said.

It is reported that NATO military chiefs were sceptical of this argument. General Wesley Clark, NATO’s top commander in Europe, said that political constraints had limited the alliances’ military effectiveness in the Kosova conflict.

For his part, German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping said that the European Union was well on the way to building a common defence identity which, according to him, would complement, not undermine, the "transatlantic partnership" that underpins NATO.

At the same conference, in this context of growing differences over the European "defence identity", Britain was forging greater cooperation with the United States over arms procurement and protecting technology secrets in a move easing the way for more joint ventures and perhaps mergers with their respective arms industries. British Defence Minister, Geoff Hoon, signed a "Declaration of Principles for Defence Equipment and Industrial Cooperation" with the US Defence Secretary. It is reported that this is aimed at helping both countries produce and buy better and cheaper common weapons while bolstering their shrinking arms industries in a situation where defence budgets are being squeezed. Under these so-called "principles", cooperation will be stepped up in five areas: seeking common weapons and other equipment, assuring adequate supplies of arms, protecting export procedures, research, and rules governing cross-Atlantic industrial ventures and foreign ownership. Geoff Hoon said that Britain was also working with its European allies on similar agreements, to hit on countries where it could be accepted that high-tech arms could be sold at the same time as protecting industrial secrets. He said, "It’s the responsibility of governments to create the right conditions in which business can operate effectively. We are designing a more effective football pitch here and clearly it’s now a matter for the players to decide how to play the game." The US Defence Department had said last week that it had raised major security concerns with London over the government’s plan to privatise part of its arms research and planning agency in order to raise money for its military budget. This refers to the plan for the sale of part of DERA, which employs more than 12,000 people, to raise up to £250 million.

With the collapse of the bipolar world, the US has been increasingly talking about and taking action against what it terms the growing threat from "rogue" states. This issue was also raised at the Security Conference. In this context, the European states are worried about the US breaking away from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia. US Defence Secretary Cohen, however, threatened that neither Europe nor Russia should stand in the way of any project by the US to build a "missile shield", because, according to him, they also faced a looming missile threat from states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. Russia for its part has warned that if the US pulls out of the ABM treaty, it would threaten Moscow’s cooperation in nuclear arms reduction agreements such as START-1 and START-2. In reply, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher told the conference, "It is in the interest of Germany, Europe and the alliance to avert a handicapping of the arms control process. We should draw our conclusions collectively. Otherwise, it won’t just be the technological gap across the Atlantic that grows wider."

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