Military bases in the spotlight
David Mackenzie reports • Several hundred folk from at least 35 countries gathered in Dublin on 16-18 November for a conference about US and NATO military bases worldwide. Over the two days there was much for Scots to digest, ponder and act on.
Appropriately we began with three Irish parliamentarians highlighting the fact that thousands of US troops pass through Shannon airport (in nominally neutral Ireland) on their way to bases and battlefields to the east.
In the UK the radar bases at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill are disguised as RAF units. In Europe Italy has a surprisingly large number of US bases, almost completely normalised as far as most people are concerned.
Perhaps less well known in the West is the “Pacific Cold War” theatre where the US bases ring the Chinese mainland.
Among the numerous bases in Japan are the massive units at Iwakuni and in Okinawa, as well as the missile interception radar arrays near Kyoto.
Jeju in South Korea hosts the US Aegis destroyer fleet at Gangjeong. The US is also building up its military presence at Darwin in northern Australia.
It has a massive presence in Africa via AFRICOM and in fact military bases in 80 countries worldwide.
On top of the central issue that these bases are crucial to the conduct of war worldwide by US/NATO there is significant social disruption, criminality (including sexual assaults on local women) and long-term environmental and related health problems.
Alongside the grim fact of this malign global network there are inspiring stories of ongoing resistance. There are ongoing protests Germany’s at the Buchel and Ramstein bases in Germany and at Shannon airport.
The popular resistance in Okinawa around the new base at Henoko has particular resonance for Scotland. This new base is backed by the Tokyo government but universally opposed by Okinawans, including elected politicians.
We also learned of continued direct action and court cases against the expansion of the base at Vicenza in Italy. In the Czech Republic, consistent public resistance to a Bush/Obama plan to site US missile defence systems led to the decision being shelved.
The environmental devastation caused by base construction at Jeju may be complete, but is still vigorously resisted daily, as are similar developments in the Philippines.
In the broader sweep of militarism Frank Keoghan of the People’s Movement in Ireland gave a disturbing account of the rate at which the European Union is progressing its plans for a European defence structure.
Already signalled in the Lisbon Treaty, the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), aimed at the structural integration of national forces, was initiated in practice last year and involves 25 countries.
It is unlikely that Brexit will remove the UK from PESCO since the arrangement allows for involvement on non-EU countries.
The aim is to add a military dimension to a significant global economic player – a new tooled-up power bloc, possibly even with nuclear armed-status in view. This has sharp significance for Scotland, both presently within the UK and as an aspiring independent nation.
At the opening of the conference, Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire set all this aggressive posturing in the context of the need for addressing human needs, for active peace-building and learning skills for conflict resolution a theme unfortunately not developed in the plenaries.
The identification by platform speakers of the US as a major contributor to war-making and war-planning is amply justified by the facts, but in general the conference failed to set that threat in the appropriate context of the general and over-arching threats to the planet.
Climate breakdown had only a marginal mention and there was no acknowledgement that there are nuclear-armed states and expansionist aims which are not part of the US hegemony.
There was no articulation of the likely interplay between threats (e.g. climate breakdown to increased conflict to increased risk of global war to nuclear annihilation, OR regional nuclear war to hemispheric climate change to starvation to increased conflict to global pandemics).
The conference’s limit in scope also meant that there was little emphasis on the potential of large-scale institutions to effect improvements.
There was, for example, no formal mention of OSCE as a positive player on the European scene, nor the role of the EU Parliament and only minor attention (and that in some cases rather dismissive) to the Treaty on the prohibition of Nuclear Weapons although the Italian campaigners, for instance, were inspired and hopeful about its value and progress outside of the formal sessions.
The focus on solidarity between base resistance movements in different parts of the world makes that omission perhaps more understandable but fails to take on board the fact that grass-roots resistance movements can and do feed into and even initiate large-scale institutional change.
Also, despite the presence of strong and articulate women there was little opportunity for them to present the essential feminist critique of the discourse of hegemony.
• These links may be useful – for Henoko in Okinawa: dw.com/en/thousands-in-okinawa-protest-us-marine-base-relocation/a-45046501 – for Shannon: worldbeyondwar.org/protest-us-military-use-shannon-airport and shannonwatch.org
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