by Carmen Lawrence (January 16 2003)
Standing off the coast of Western Australia, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln is a stark reminder that the United States is preparing to attack Iraq, almost certainly without United Nations approval.
After a short stay here over Christmas for R&R, the vessel (and its battle group) returned unexpectedly to anchor off the Port of Fremantle, a city accustomed to hosting the warships of our allies. Despite this familiarity, many local people are alarmed at its presence, as much for what it symbolises as for the heightened risk associated with U.S. war readiness. As I've taken my regular evening walk along Port Beach with the aircraft carrier in full view, many have stopped me to express their alarm at the presence of the vessel, representing as it does, Australia's potential involvement in a war they believe to be illegal and unjustified.
The carrier's presence and its silhouette also remind us of the unparalleled fire power which the United States now commands. This battle group is but a tiny fragment of U.S. forces arrayed all over the world. U.S. Defence Department statistics reveal that of the 189 countries which are member states of the U.N., there is a U.S. military presence in 100. It is almost impossible to estimate the current U.S. expenditure on arms, but we do know that they funnelled billions of dollars into the anti-soviet forces in Afghanistan, including the dreaded Osama bin Laden.
For good reason, given our recent century of war, the United Nations has spent years debating and devising means to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons and biological and chemical weapons - though not, it must be said paying much attention to so-called "conventional" weapons.
With the end of the cold war, many of us hoped that we would see and end to the expansion of these weapons stockpiles. Instead we are seeing further proliferation and the collapse of agreements which had some capacity to limit their development and expansion.
According to the Bush administration, war against Iraq is justified by the alleged build up of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. And they have accused Iraq of damaging the weapons' inspection system - which may be true. However, there is plenty of evidence that the U.S. has done a great deal to undermine the inspection system and has avoided scrutiny of its own weapons. As George Monbiot put it in the Guardian:
There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Mr Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has done in twenty years.
It has scuppered the biological weapons convention, while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test ban treaty.
As William Blum has also pointed out in his excellent treatise, "Rogue State":
"Washington officials are careful to distinguish between the explosives the U.S. drops from the sky and "weapons of mass destruction" (WMD), which only the officially designated enemies are depraved enough to use."
He points out that the U.S. government (add the Australian Government to that) speaks sternly of WMDs which are used indiscriminately, as opposed to the precision cruise missiles, cluster bombs, depleted uranium weapons and landmines - which it must be said have no other purpose than indiscriminate damage to civilians.
Cluster bombs, used in the recent bombing of Afghanistan, are apparently described by the Pentagon as "combined effects munition" and by the manufacturer as "all-purpose, air delivered cluster weapons system". They are, in reality, indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction, and anti-landmine campaigners have requested that they be placed on the list of banned weapons under the Geneva Convention. Reports from Afghanistan confirmed that these weapons are particularly lethal for children who are attracted to the colourful devices. It was reported that they were the same yellow as the packages of food dropped by the U.S. to signal their compassionate concern for the starving Afghan people.
The rhetoric of Bush administration invites us to believe that they are good international citizens, interested only in bringing democracy to downtrodden people and preventing the development of weapons of mass destruction. Sadly, neither is true. And the United States has reserved to itself the right to act as it chooses. The Howard Government not only endorses this stance, but angered our neighbours when Howard recently indicated that he believed he would be justified in bombing our neighbours in order to hit terrorist targets.
Anyone who's paying even the slightest attention to the unrelenting propaganda emanating from "Pax Americana" will be aware that the Bush administration has no intention of waiting for the U.N. weapons inspectors to complete their work or to accept their findings. They reserve the right to attack without the endorsement or restraint of the international community. The build up of troops on Iraq's borders, the unrelenting pressure on reluctant players such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia testify to their determination to conduct war with impunity.
The momentum appears unstoppable and it's my impression that many Australians have been lulled into a false sense of security about the Howard Government's real intentions.
That's why yesterday, at the invitation of a group of young anti-war activists (the Fremantle Anti-Nuclear Group), I joined upper house Green MP, Jim Scott, an international law expert and an environmental scientist to "inspect" the weapons on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. We wanted to make the point that the U.S. is prepared to bomb the people of Iraq (estimates are that hundreds of thousands died as a result of the last conflict) with weapons, which will certainly be indiscriminate in their effect and cause " mass destruction". We also wanted to underline the fact that we do not have freedom of movement in our own waters and that the U.S. navy never allows inspection of its own "weapons of mass destruction".
There are some who clearly disapprove of such direct (although lawful) action, but they appear unconcerned about the accelerating pace of war talk and the fact that we're being seduced into accepting the Howard Government's reassuring utterances about going along with the U.N., when it's obvious that the moment George W snaps his fingers, Howard will jump and we'll all suffer the consequences. It seemed to me that we had to seize every opportunity to voice our opposition to the conflict before it is too late.
Perhaps some of my anxiety stems from the fact that the anti-war movement was so slow to mobilise in response to the U.S./Australia "adventure" in Vietnam which killed so many in our region, producing decades of misery and conflict. Over thirty years ago I spoke at an ani-war rally and urged the young men who'd been drafted to tear up their draft cards. They did. Whitlam was elected on the wave of anti-war sentiment and Australia withdrew from the horror that was the Vietnam war which ended soon afterwards.
Perhaps, as some have charged, my actions in drawing attention to the double standards employed by the U.S administration are "juvenile". But I know where I'd rather be today - supporting the young enthusiasts - those juveniles - who actually believe that peace is possible and that we all have an obligation to alert the community to the vile consequences of an unprovoked attack on the people of Iraq and the possibility of "blowback" on the Australian people.