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A historic moment for peace
February 25, 2003
February 15 produced what has been called the world's Second Superpower: global public opinion. This has emerged as a force far more powerful than any state or grouping of states. It holds the potential to tame the First Superpower, the United States -- if only President Bush has the wisdom to listen to conscientious citizens, record numbers of whom marched in London (1.5 to 2 million), Rome and Madrid (2 to 3 million each), Berlin and Paris (500,000 each), New York (250,000), and in 750 other cities.
This mobilisation was historic -- unprecedented anywhere since World War II, and the greatest-ever in cities like London. It announced civil society's assertive intervention in decisions relating to security, war and peace -- areas which have hitherto been the State's exclusive preserve.
I was lucky to be in London on February 15, having been invited to join a panel discussion with Professor Amartya Sen on Militarism, Nationalism and the Bomb at London University a day earlier. Participating in the march was an altogether thrilling and moving experience. A sea of humanity filled central London, exuding positive and humane energies. Here was multicultural pluralism at its most developed: people from 100 countries, of all colours of skin, including seasoned activists as well as "apolitical" youngsters repelled by the 'War for Oil.' Their principal slogans were: 'Not in Our Name' and 'How Many Iraqi Lives for a Litre of Oil?' Less reverent ones said: 'Bush is Proof that Empty Warheads can be Dangerous.' The march, winding into Hyde Park, was a huge mela, a festival of peace.
There was drumming, singing (All You Need is Love being the favourite) whistle-blowing, and of course, speeches by political stalwarts, peace activists, citizens representatives, including Bruce Kent, Jesse Jackson, Tariq Ali, Mo Mowlam, Ahmed Ben Bella, Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn, Bianca Jagger. I have never seen so many different shades of the human rainbow in one place: Gentile and Jew, Black and White, Arab and African, Hindu and Muslim. The inspiration was not just opposition to a war on Iraq, but the goal of a just, peaceful world free of weapons of mass destruction and testosterone-driven bullies -- and poverty and want.
The marches came one day after UNMOVIC [United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission] chief Hans Blix reported to the UN Security Council that conditions had improved for weapons inspectors and that they found no WMD in Iraq. This knocked the bottom out of the US-UK case for early military action, and widened the Atlantic Divide as never before. France, whose foreign minister was cheered -- a rarity in the sedate Security Council chamber -- for his passionate plea against war, has decided to veto any Anglo-American attempt to introduce a second resolution explicitly sanctioning the use of force so long as Iraq doesn't obstruct the inspectors.
A French (or Russian) veto would humiliate the US. America can still choose to go to war -- unilaterally, bypassing the Security Council. It has repeatedly said it reserves that 'option.' But going it alone (or with loyal poodle Britain) would only show that America cannot carry the world with it, it's not the world's leader.
The real debate worldwide is no longer about disarming Iraq. It is about the US. Iraq is a tactical issue. The key strategic question is how to tame America's overbearing might. Faced with unprecedented resistance from its allies and the global public, the US has two options. Either it defers to the UN and drops its invasion plans after mobilising 200,000 troops in the Gulf. Or, it unleashes a war without UN authorisation.
The first course would expose America's macho, hawkish leaders as 'wimps,' a term they hate. Mr Henry Kissinger cynically summed up the logic: 'If the US marches 200,000 troops into the region and then marches them back out, the credibility of American power will be gravely, perhaps irreparably, impaired.' So, US leaders want to save face, not human life.
The second course would mean the war lacks a moral and political basis. Such a war will be extremely unpopular even in the West, including the US -- where a majority of people wrongly believe that Iraq and Al Qaeda are linked. It will inflict terrible cruelties upon the Iraqi people, without necessarily unearthing and safely destroying such WMD as Mr Saddam Hussein may have stashed away in hard-to-find places.
Apart from human suffering, at stake here is the structure of multilateral global institutions, including the UN, built painstakingly over two centuries. It has not been easy for nation-states, devoted as they are to the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), to accept reduction or limitation of absolute state sovereignty. It has taken countless wars, and the horrors of Hiroshima, to evolve international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, and above all, disarmament treaties. The US is threatening to undermine that very structure, unleashing forces that weaken the rules, norms, and restraints that govern the world order. This will legitimise the use of force as the preferred or 'normal' method of resolving disputes. It will reward the mighty at the expense of the weak. The consequences will be profoundly undemocratic for the whole world.
Various reports of UNSCOM [The United Nations Special Commission] and UNMOVIC themselves put a huge question-mark over the claim of a 'just war' on Iraq. There is no conclusive evidence that Iraq has WMD or isn't cooperating with UNSCOM's inspectors. It has even allowed its scientists to be privately questioned and U-2 spy-planes to reconnoitre its territory. (Imagine the US, even India, agreeing to this!) Former senior US officials like Warren Christopher and Brent Scowcroft disfavour the war option. Even former US generals like Norman Schwarzkopf, Anthoy Zinni and Wesley Clark have all expressed serious reservations about declaring a 'disarmament war' on Iraq. Gen Zinni says of the pro-war hawks: I am not sure which planet they live on, because it isn't the one that I travel".
It is absurd to imagine that Mr Hussein is about to attack the US or even his neighbours. His air power is pretty much crippled, and his Al Samoud-2 missiles (range 150 km or so) have been proscribed. There is no casus belli or rationale for war. True, Iraq is no benign democracy. But it's not a recklessly expansionist power either. In 1980, Mr Hussein attacked Iran after its Islamic-fundamentalist government tried to assassinate Iraqi officials, conducted repeated border raids and tried to topple him. The 1990 Kuwait invasion was over a dispute over war debts and oil prices.
Even pragmatically, it makes more sense to disarm Iraq -- if that is indeed the objective -- via tougher inspections and continuous UN engagement. Some 150 inspectors will probably be more effective at a cost of $100 million than 250,000 soldiers at a cost of $200 billion-plus.
However, the US's intentions go well beyond disarming Iraq. They have to do with oil, Islam and Israel. Oil is the greatest motive: with new discoveries, Iraq is believed to have added 200 billion barrels to its reserves over its proven 115 billion barrels -- making it richer in oil than even Saudi Arabia. Some 40 Western companies are rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of war. The US also wants a regime change in Iraq as part of its plan to reorganise the entire Middle East -- favouring 'moderate Islamic' (read, pro-US) states.
These US goals are parochial, self-serving and unworthy of support. Their pursuit will gravely destabilise the Middle East. An unjust war will be seen as vengefully anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim and will produce enormous resentment among South Asian, in particular Indian, Muslims, adding to communal tensions already aggravated by the Sangh Parivar. Neither political principle nor India's national interest is compatible with supporting an unjust war. The longer US troops stay in Iraq to supervise regime change -- and there are plans for 18 to 24 months -- the greater the damage.
This makes it imperative that the Indian government reject pro-war pressures from Hindutva's extreme-Right and from pro-US hawks who claim 'there's no option' but to side with the likely winner, America. New Delhi has so far vacillated between two positions: there should be no war; and the more cautious view that military action must only be taken within the UN framework. Going by his latest pro-peace pronouncements, Mr Vajpayee seems to favour the first view. But other ministers have diluted this stand and rejected a proposed Parliament resolution on Iraq. The government is under US pressure and won't shift to a more independent stand -- unless public-spirited peace --minded citizens take to the streets. So far, there has been very little mobilisation, barring an impressive 7,000-strong demonstration on February 10 in Delhi, and vigils and marches in other cities on February 15. The tempo must be stepped up.
Yet, we must not allow Hindu or Muslim communalists to hijack the anti-war platform and convert it into an anti-Western or anti-Islamic plank. It is vital that the people are mobilised energetically on a rational, humane, and pacifist orientation. The demand for WMD disarmament must not be confined to Iraq. It must apply universally to all states, including the US. Employing double standards here means asking for trouble -- and compromising global security.