The door to the sleeping compartment was flung open just as my friend and myself were had managed to fall asleep. ‘Passports, please’. My friend, a fluent Spanish speaker, translated. It’s the Spanish police. They say Portugal’s borders are closed and we may be thrown off the train at the frontier because of the NATO Summit conference in Lisbon. Sleep was even more difficult after that as we rocked and rolled across Spain. In the event the police did not throw us out at the border, nor did they bother with our two new friends on the train, Swedish young women who belonged to a peace group dedicated to non violent direct action. On arrival in Lisbon, we rushed to the international conference to hear the opening speeches from Sandra Monteiro of Le Monde Diplomatique in Portugal and Vitor Lima from the host Portuguese group PAGAN. There were also contributions from the International Coordinating Committee, including Reiner Braun from Germany, Arielle Denis from France and Andreas Speck (War Resisters International) Jan Majicek from the Czech Republic and the NO Bases Network and Jo Gerson from the American Friends Service Committee. Extremely interesting was the contribution from Shams Arya from Afghanistan – sadly revealing how desperate conditions were now in Afghanistan and his straightforward opinion that the presence of the NATO foreign troops would never ease the situation.
The rest of the day was divided into three workshop blocks. Yes, it was long but well worth it. As the Summit was due to publish its new Strategic Concept, that is NATO’s policies for the next few years, the first block focussed on different aspects of this for example, NATO and Afghanistan and NATO, War and Global Crises.
I convened a workshop on NATO and the Military Industrial Complex for which I had prepared a paper. Among other facts, I wanted to show how NATO is swallowing money and resource for the military and war making. Greece, for example, has recently spent $2 billion on buying 20 F16C52S and 10 F16D52s military aircraft from the huge military manufacturer Lockheed Martin. More than one delegate mentioned the contrast between the billions spent by NATO on weapons and war by NATO and the lack of money and resource for the stricken children, women and men of Haiti.
The group from the UK, mainly from CND, including the Chair, Dave Webb and the Vice Chair, Jeremy Corbyn MP, were of course involved in all the discussion on NATO’s nuclear policies. Among other concerns of delegates were the link with and the militarization of the European Union and the agreement with the United Nations which breaches the spirit and the letter of the UN Charter.
On the Saturday, which was occasionally showery but with bright sun, a rainbow appeared over Lisbon. We wondered about the symbolism. Certainly the demonstration and walk to the central square was peaceful and good-humoured. However the march had been organised by a (well supported) Portuguese political party of the left and, regretfully, they did not want the international group at the front. Nonetheless, we knew that, although probably because there was no violence, we did not appear in the mainstream press of the NATO member states, we were certainly filmed and interviewed by media outlets such as the Japanese press, Al Jazeera and some local press. My well travelled CND (peace symbol to our overseas friends) beret from behind apparently featured in many a picture! 45 people were arrested for non-violent direct action and blockading a road outside the NATO meeting, but they were later released.
More than 250 participants from 21 countries attended the conference and discussed non –military solutions to conflict and the dangers of NATO’s expansionist military policies. Using modern technology the debates and speeches at the conference were live streamed on the internet which gave the discussion a much wider global reach.
In the final statement, the conference members called for a just world without war and without nuclear weapons. They called for an immediate withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan. There was also a strong call for the removal of the five NATO/US nuclear armed bases from Belgium to Turkey. Members were united in their determination to continue their international cooperation. They would expose and campaign against the dangers of the NATO nuclear armed military, an undemocratic body which is continually expanding, now with links to, among others, Israel, countries in Africa and around the Pacific. This is an alliance which promotes the arms trade not disarmament.
As Reiner Braun said, on behalf of the International Coordinating Committee, ‘We have made a small step towards the de-legitimisation of NATO. Wherever NATO meets, where armaments and war are promoted, the international peace movement will be there.’
Footnote: 150 peace activists were not allowed into Portugal, including a bus load of Finnish peace activists and the internet organiser from Germany. Our long standing friend, Ben Cramer, (he recently published the booklet, the ‘Costs of Trident’) who came to represent the International Peace Bureau, was questioned for three hours at Lisbon airport.
Rae StreetNovember 2010