Challenging the rhetoric and the actions which underpin Nato. Photo: Getty
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Nato stands for bombed-out Afghan schools, not Obama grinning for photo-ops

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, explains why she has been protesting the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport.

If you’ve been in Newport and Cardiff over the past week, you might have thought you’d entered a warzone.

As Nato warships drifted ominously into the harbour and US Osprey and Nighthawk helicopters thundered in the sky, above mile after mile of steel fencing, disgruntled residents were left taking to Twitter to complain about their desks shaking at work. "The amount of helicopters I have heard today makes it sound like we’re at war,” one said.

Here in the UK, we can view this dazzling array of weaponry with whimsy: with sardonic takes on social media.

But the sophistication of this security apparatus in Wales is a world away from the carnage in Afghanistan: a country left in ruins by a Nato-led force. Here, these same helicopters really do fly over a war zone. They fly over a country which has seen tens of thousands of its men, women and children killed. They fly over shattered institutions, a foundering security force, a state rocked to the point of collapse.

And that is what Nato stands for. It’s not Barack Obama grinning for a photo-op in a Newport school – it’s the bombed-out ruins of an Afghan school providing the only playground for local children.

Formed in 1949 as a "defensive" alliance, Nato prompted the creation of the Warsaw Pact. But while the end of the Cold War in 1990 may have meant the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, it was the beginning of a new era for Nato.

This "defensive" alliance decided to take on "out of area" operations. Sometimes "the best form of offence is defence", isn’t that how the saying goes? Defence through killing tens of thousands in Afghanistan? Defence through the bloody chaos in Libya, where militias compete in an all but lawless land? Few can now argue that these interventions have contributed anything to global security.

And of course there is Ukraine, which is set to be the primary item on the agenda at the Nato Summit in Newport. It is clear there is no military solution for the Ukraine crisis – from whatever quarter it comes. But few can deny that Nato’s insatiable expansion into eastern Europe has contributed to heightening tensions around Russia and Ukraine, raising the spectre of a new Cold War. Is it any surprise that Russia feels threatened? Do we really need to spell out how the US would react to a Russian-led military alliance pulling up at the border in Mexico?

For the past week, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has been working with partners in Europe and beyond to not only protest the arrival of the Nato Summit in Newport, but also to challenge the rhetoric and the actions which underpin it.

The No To Nato Counter-Summit was held in Cardiff and Newport last weekend. It saw peace campaigners and activists from across Europe, the US, and Russia come together to discuss alternatives and diplomatic routes towards true global security.

And the weight of the peace movement has been never been clearer. A potentially disastrous bombing campaign in Syria was averted last year, when more than a decade of protest against wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond hung heavily over the Parliamentary vote. A humiliated David Cameron was forced to abandon military action. The atrocities of the civil war in Syria are all too clear, but let’s not delude ourselves that bombing in favour of the rebels would have solved anything. Many of those who called for bombing in August 2013 are now telling us that we should be aligning with Assad to counter the barbarism of Islamic State. What a difference a year makes.

Back in Newport, the peace movement today prised open the gates of Fortress Nato. A delegation from the No To Nato protests was allowed through the steel fence to hand-in letters and messages of opposition to Nato. A symbolic act, of course, but one which shows the real strengths of the peace movement and its ability to actually shape politics in our country.

Tens of millions around the world oppose Nato’s interventionism, its expansionism and the fact that US/Nato nuclear weapons are hosted on European soil – in countries with staunchly anti-nuclear public opinion like Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. It is only through persisting with campaigns which call for political solutions over military actions, for diplomacy over air strikes, and for peace not war, can we hope to achieve real and lasting global security.

Kate Hudson is general secretary of the CND

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.