France: What mobilizations for peace?


An article in L’Humanite (translated by CPNN)

Panel discussion with Paul Quilès, President of IDN, former Minister of Defense and former Chairman of the Defense Committee of the National Assembly, Patrice Bouveret, Director of the Armaments Observatory, co-host of Ican France (International Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons) and Roland Nivet, vice-president of Mouvement de la Paix.

Background facts. With the exacerbation of tensions in Asia, the question of peace is urgent. As part of the International Day of Peace, a call for demonstrations everywhere in France on Saturday 23 September was launched by a collective of more than 50 organizations.

A renewal of international tensions seems to be observable since the inauguration of the new President of the United States. Is this situation irreversible?

Paul Quilès
Donald Trump is not solely responsible for what you call the revival of international tensions, even though his foes and his changing and aggressive attitude tend to destabilize the international scene. Beyond the excitement of a news that the media make us live minute by minute, we must put the developments in their context in the long term. Our multipolar world is crossed by many conflicts of interests and potential confrontations. The reduction of tensions can only be achieved if there is an international will of the great powers to dialogue, which is irreconcilable with systematic defiance, radical antagonism and threats.

The new arms race that we are witnessing is making this dialogue even more difficult. It is regrettable in this respect that France, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is not meeting its commitments and is preparing to substantially increase the budget for nuclear deterrence. As for the official discourse of the atomic weapons powers (including France), it is similar to that of the North Korean leader in an astonishing way, justifying the possession of this weapon by the need to defend the “vital interests” of their countries ! The agreement negotiated two years ago with Iran shows that even in a very complex context, a strong political will and persevering diplomatic work can open the way for a less conflict-oriented world.

Patrice Bouveret
The renewal of tension began before Trump came to the presidency of the United States, although his way of managing his country’s relations with the rest of the world resulted in an acceleration of certain ongoing crises. Effectively, we have to get out of the short media time to take into account, on the one hand, the root causes of the current international disorder – mainly the reinforcement of inequalities – on the other hand, the main threats we face, climate change and weapons of mass destruction. History has taught us that no situation is irreversible. Everything depends on the ability of different civil societies to seize this or that topic to shake up the game of states and their leaders – both internally and within the international community. In this regard, the adoption of the UN treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons last July is a good example of what mobilization of associations can achieve when they group around a specific objective and find relays among a majority of States. The fierce opposition of the nuclear Powers, the pressure they have exerted on many States, underlines, if need be, the shock caused by this development.

Roland Nivet
Trump multiplies irresponsible decisions and contributes to creating a climate of fear to justify massive increases in the US military budget, a source of profits for the military-industrial complex. It will be increased to $ 600 billion in 2018 (+ $ 54 billion). It fuels the arms race ($ 1.8 trillion worldwide in 2016), the militarization of international relations, and perpetuates the logics of domination. The policy of NATO encircling Russia, the Korean crisis, etc. strain tensions. These policies accentuate the uncertain and dangerous character of the present period. The situation, especially in the Near and Middle East, shows that war is always a failure, leads to chaos and engenders monstrosities like Daech. It is never the solution. On the other hand, the political resolution of the Iranian crisis, the peaceful transition in Colombia and the adoption of a treaty banning nuclear weapons in the United Nations show that political solutions are possible and that nothing is irreversible.

The United Nations voted a nuclear-weapons treaty on 7 July. How can we get out of the era of nuclear terror?

Patrice Bouvere
By bringing this treaty into force so that the nine current nuclear powers – the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom, plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – find themselves forced to participate, not only by stopping to modernize their arsenal – as planned in particular by France – but also by eliminating their nuclear weapons in a controlled, transparent and irreversible way. This implies, of course, a complete change in their strategy, which is currently based on the threat of mass destruction, a strategy not aimed at ensuring the security of the population, but their domination on the international scene – or the regime’s “impunity” its national space as for North Korea or Israel – at the risk of total destruction of the planet! Yet, as Mikhail Gorbachev noted in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, “everyone must ensure the safety of the other”. It is exactly the opposite way that is being implemented with the nuclear threat and the increase in military budgets.

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(Click here for the original version of this article in French.)

Question for this article:

Does military spending lead to economic decline and collapse?

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Paul Quilès
This requires demonstrating that nuclear weapons are useless in current and future conflicts, that they are in themselves a cause of nuclear proliferation, that they are very costly, and that they are terribly dangerous. The world came close to the catastrophe during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, not to mention the dozens of accidents or possible misinterpretations that could have led to the outbreak of nuclear war. Tomorrow, a technical error, a cyber attack, a terrorist attack could threaten global security. Even limited use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic environmental impacts on a part of the planet, resulting in the devastation of agriculture, cold and famine through a “nuclear winter”. The treaty that has just been voted at the UN is to delegitimize nuclear weapons, as has already been done to eliminate other weapons of mass destruction – biological, chemical – antipersonnel mines, submunitions, to prohibit nuclear testing and even to reduce nuclear weapons stocks (from 70,000 in the late 1990s to about 15,500 today). It is the indisputable proof of the will of a majority of States to overcome the era of nuclear terror, despite the strong contrary pressures of the “endowed” states.

Roland Nivet
The UN treaty of July 7 states that atomic weapons pose a major risk of humanitarian catastrophe. It prohibits any State from engaging in the development, testing, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession or storage of nuclear weapons and prohibits any commitment to use or threaten to use weapons nuclear. This is another historic achievement in the actions that, since the 1950s, have mobilized tens of millions of people for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction, without undervaluing the determination of the military-industrial complex and of the nine States, which possess a total of 18,000 nuclear bombs (184 states do not), to delay its implementation. But the principle of the illegality of nuclear weapons being confirmed, it is the timetable for their elimination which is now on the agenda. The register of ratification of the treaty will be opened at the UN on September 20, 2017. There is urgency to get together in action to win ratification of the treaty by the maximum number of states, including France, but also the immediate freeze modernization programs, for which it is planned to double the expenditure on nuclear weapons in France in the years to come, when so many resources are lacking to meet social needs (health, education, employment).

What can be the role of popular mobilizations to promote peace as a goal of international relations?

Patrice Bouveret
War is above all the result of a political choice. So it is obvious that the mobilization of the various civil societies and the establishment of strong solidarities between them, are paramount. It remains to define what is meant by the word “peace”! We are witnessing a global pacification of our societies. The number of deaths due to armed conflict is decreasing. Except that in parallel, the number of migrants, the violence they suffer, is exploding; the climatic catastrophes have dramatic human consequences that are becoming more and more important, to take only the two most glaring examples … Except that this pacification takes place with a reinforcement of the militarization of our societies, through the development of various tools social control, the reduction of individual freedoms, etc.

Peace is not only the absence of war, but must be accompanied by freedom and social justice. It must be shared by all of us, no matter where on the planet we live. It is indeed the whole issue of the nuclear-weapons treaty that concerns the right of non-dominant states to say precisely the right, a binding right for all.

Roland Nivet
A global convergence of forces for peace is brought about by the mobilization of the peoples (trade unions, NGOs, parliamentarians, mayors, International Red Cross, feminist, pacifist and environmental movements, associations for the defense of human rights, social forums …) with the action of the United Nations. It is this convergence that has won the prohibition treaty and seeks to build peace through projects such as the culture of peace and the objectives of sustainable development (SDO). In this context, the collective “En marche pour la paix” was founded in France, including more than 120 different organizations working for human rights, against racism and xenophobia, for gender equality, for the decrease in armaments expenditure, for peace education, to deal with the climatic emergency. In this dynamic, 53 organizations of this collective have co-authored a white paper for peace, which formulates concrete alternative proposals for a policy of peace. This white paper is meant to be a tool for the debate and the popular mobilization of all those who intend to come together so that the right of everyone to peace and human security is the primary goal of international relations. Believing that “none of our differences of belief, belonging or philosophical, political, religious, trade union or other sensibilities should hinder the expression of our common will to live in peace in a world of solidarity, justice and fraternity”, this collective calls, within the framework of the International Day of Peace, to organize, all over France, Saturday, September 23, marches for peace to express this common will. These marches will also contribute to the global wave of peace launched on 6 August 2017 in Hiroshima

Paul Quilès
This mobilization would be desirable and certainly effective, even if the leaders do not always listen to the people! It would still be necessary for the latter to be able to express himself or herself and to be provided with the information needed to assess what is happening when a conflict spreads. For example, the alarmist and sometimes caricatured statements about the Korea do not help understand the distant origin of the confrontation between North Korea and the United States, the interests involved, and the role of China. By suggesting warlike responses (bombardment of Korean nuclear sites), evoking the hypothesis of a third world war, or suggesting that France might be at the mercy of a Korean missile fire, to prove to public opinion that there is no other answer than military, this is inaccurate.

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