Having worked on peace and justice issues for nearly three decades, I haven't felt this despairing since the early 1980s, when Washington castigated the Soviet Union as an "Evil Empire" and then played nuclear brinkmanship with Moscow. US President Reagan talked about winning a limited nuclear war in "the European theatre"; America armed and trained corrupt state and non-state terrorist forces in half of Latin America; the British tabloids demonized the "Argies" to justify an avoidable war in the Falklands/Malvinas; and in Britain, a rose-growing anti-nuclear campaigner, Hilda Murrell, was found murdered in very strange circumstances.
Now we have US neoconservative imaginings of "full spectrum dominance" against a widening "axis of evil"; arms control is derided and undermined, fueling a dangerous resurgence of nuclear ambitions, a destabilising push towards new types of high-tech weapons and the weaponization of space, and a corresponding search for asymmetric warfare capabilities. US President Bush talks about winning a war on terrorism; non-Americans, especially Muslims, are demonized; and in Britain, a conscientious whistle-blowing scientist, Dr. David Kelly, was hounded to his death in shameful, shaming circumstances.
When the 1980s turned away from the nuclear abyss, it took a combination of peace movement energy around the world and a (not unrelated) rethink by a new Soviet leadership, notably Mikhail Gorbachev, who showed an unexpected and brave willingness to listen and seek constructive ways to respond to the changes in expectations and aspirations rolling across Eastern Europe. In Poland and East Germany people had long been pushing against the oppression and narrowness of their lives, braving harsh punishment; as more Russians joined the calls for democracy, they began to see the possibility of moving forward without bloodshed. Western civil society, notably the peace movement, women's groups, progressive churches, and the fledgling environmental movement, helped widen the cracks, making increasingly frequent visits to the East and offering their visions of alternatives. Nor was the discontent and frustration on only one side. In the West, protesters, including the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, defied the might of the military machines to oppose the deployment of new and destabilizing types of nuclear weapons. They developed more coherent links between anti-war, anti-nuclear campaigning, and the "new" feminist, environmentalist, liberationist thinking, synthesizing the 1960s and 1970s to give a new spin to international aspirations for global peace, justice and environmental health and protection.
In the past twelve months, a massive outpouring of peace movement energy took to the streets, the airwaves and even the parliamentary debating chambers to try to avert another wrongly conceived war. For years before this, environmentalists and anti-poverty campaigners, misleadingly dubbed antiglobalization, had mounted powerful protests against the military-industrial juggernaut of the increasingly centralized, destructive practices of the Business Giants and their political gigolos. But where do we look for inspirational leadership, capable of responding constructively to the aspirations and challenges of the new generations?
The tasks that now confront us seem more complex than ever before. Nothing terrifies quite like the mysterious poisonings and apocalyptic destruction associated with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. For years we in the peace movement have campaigned to have such weapons declared illegal and eliminated, so that they can never be used. How strange then, to find that the threat of weapons of mass destruction has now become a justification for going to war, and even a justification for developing more flexible, usable "dial-a-yield" nuclear weapons. Faced with widespread domestic and international scepticism regarding their motives and intentions, the Hutton inquiry into the apparent suicide of Dr. David Kelly has exposed how Bush's neoconservatives and their partners in Tony Blair's discredited government exaggerated the imminence of the threat in order to frighten people into believing war was necessary.
Such deliberate distortion of enemy capabilities and intentions to justify an unnecessary war has many ignoble precedents. Used to silence those who seek political solutions and whip up jingoistic hysteria in others, it is the modern version of "eyewitness" stories of enemy barbarity, like the baby-bayoneting German soldiers in World War I, or indeed, Iraqi invaders unplugging baby incubators in Kuwait. Things that didn't happen, but, like Iraqi weapons of mass destruction 45 minutes away from attacking us, might have.
Like Iraq's imminent WMD threat, putative missile threats and proposed missile defence technologies are being dangerously exaggerated, at the expense of regional and multilateral diplomacy. Putting more effective resources into strengthening the disarmament, control and verification mechanisms under international law would do more to prevent the development and acquisition of missiles and also of the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that we are understandably afraid of (and which, if acquired, could be delivered by a range of means more accessible than missiles).
To garner support for his push to put US weapons into space, the hoary spectre of a "Space Pearl Harbor" was dramatically evoked by Donald Rumsfeld in January 2001 (shortly before the United States made pre-emption a central tenet of its national security strategy). Missile defences and weapons to control the "high ground" of space are presented as solutions, when such high-tech fixes are more likely to fuel a new arms race and breed greater insecurities. Yet again, militarists are trying to intimidate us by claiming privileged intelligence and demanding loyalty, riding roughshod over the misgivings of large numbers of sensible, concerned people.
So what can we do about all this? In more than 20 years of disarmament campaigning, I have been a grassroots activist at the sharp edge of militarism, a campaign organizer for a large, corporate environmental NGO, and an expert working within the system, with governments, parliamentary representatives, diplomats and officials. I've seen the conflicts, competition, and, not often enough, cooperation between these different groups and ways of working. And if there is one thing I've learned, it is that all are necessary. Like a troika, perhaps, we might seem to be pulling in somewhat different directions, but if we understand how the different issues are interconnected, then the different directions we are pulling exert collective pressure that makes it possible to move forward. To defeat the nationalistic dreams of full spectrum dominance, we need to develop full spectrum cooperation between the different strands and approaches in the peace, justice and human rights movements around the world.