Let’s Give Diplomacy a Chance in Ukraine

February 8, 2015

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Ukraine, or Ukrainian-Russian social, historical and economic ties. I do recall after the break-up of the Soviet Union there was consternation in Ukraine, a country about the size and population of France in what Ukrainians consider to be the heart of Europe (it’s not “Eastern Europe,” that’s the westernmost part of Russia), that all anyone seemed to care about was the disposition of Soviet nuclear weapons there. Ukraine wisely gave up the nukes, returning them to Russia, but I recall a justifiably angry quote by a Ukrainian that the attitude of most of the world was “Give us your nukes and go to hell.” And of course Ukrainians still deal with the awful legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster nearly 30 years ago.

As the current situation in Ukraine devolves into an increasingly horrible war, we see an urgent diplomatic initiative led by Germany and France contrasted by contradictory “tough talk” by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and some in Congress advocating increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine while admitting there is no military solution.

So let’s just skip the field day for the weapons dealers and focus on diplomacy.

Here is a radio interview I did yesterday on the status of diplomacy and pressure for increased U.S. weapons sales to Ukraine on KPFA Pacifica radio. One part they didn’t use was my question about how anyone can justify the loss of life in this increasingly horrible war when the likely outcome is known now — some sort of de facto autonomous region for the Russian population of Eastern Ukraine, with assurances to Russia by the U.S., NATO, European Union and Ukraine that the country will not become the eastern-most outpost of U.S./Western European military/strategic/political economic neo-imperialism — whether it becomes a reality in a week, a month, or a year from now. How is this situation worth anyone dying over? (Host David Rosenberg replied that could be said of most wars, I wish they had aired that part of our exchange!)

And here is a letter to the editor I sent to the New York Times last week, unpublished.

February 3, 2015

To the editor:

Sending U.S. weaponry to Ukraine as the conflict there escalates is a horrible idea (“U.S. considers supplying arms to Ukraine forces, officials say,” February 1) unless the objective is to increase overall death and destruction there. Any moves that inflame the situation in Ukraine should be avoided. Apart from the situation in Ukraine itself, U.S. and NATO triumphalist policies since the end of the Cold War have needlessly and unwisely isolated Russia, at a time when the U.S. and Russia need better relations, not worse, for cooperation on a host of issues including nuclear weapons reductions, bringing peace, stability and security to the broader Middle East region and addressing violent extremism and global climate change.

U.S. arms transfers into regions of conflict are short-sighted and have a spectacularly bad record of blowback and unintended consequences against our country and our allies (in Iraq and Afghanistan, to note only two bitter and current examples). It’s hard to recall many instances where such transfers brought about peace and stability instead of worsening armed conflict. Let’s give renewed diplomacy involving the various actors in the region a chance instead.

Sincerely,

Kevin Martin

Executive Director

Peace Action

I’d be interested to know what readers of this blog think we, as U.S. peace activists, should advocate regarding Ukraine and specifically U.S. government policies toward the conflict.


Stop Militarizing the Police

August 15, 2014

The tragic death of Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson police is a reminder that the upsurge in violence is not restricted to the Middle East or any one place.  It’s right here in our own communities.

Like the Trayvon Martin killing two years ago, the problems of racism, easy access to firearms, and the assault on our civil rights are all, once again, in the spotlight. I suspect I don’t have to explain why peace activists are taking action, mostly in support of activists of color who are leading the organized response to this latest perversion of justice.  Anti-violence is at the very heart of our struggle.

In this case however there is another element that directly connects to our ongoing work to build a more peaceful and just future – that is – militarism.  It’s time to demilitarize our police.

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ‘wind down’ (though clearly not all the way down) the Pentagon has been offering surplus weapons to local police forces for free.  Tens of thousands of M-16’s, as well as mine-resistant trucks and other battlefield hardware have already been transferred to jurisdictions around the country – but the Pentagon still has lots and lots of free stuff to give away.

A bipartisan chorus has already begun to speak out in Congress against this practice.  Even Tea Party and right wing extremist Ted Cruz is raising alarm.

Tell your Member of Congress where you stand.

How much military hardware has been transferred to local jurisdictions?  It’s not easy to know as the Pentagon makes the trail difficult to track.  Most of the data available comes from local and state officials – like the State of Missouri which CNN reports has received some $17 million worth in transfers from the Pentagon.

I find, and I’m confident you do as well, the images of police in full military gear aiming assault rifles at unarmed protesters upsetting.  We can expect to see more and more of this in the future too, if we don’t do something about the economic terrorism visited upon the poor in our society at the hands of the 1 percent.

We know, for example, the Pentagon has in place plans for dealing with civil disorder brought about by economic or environmental disaster threatening the stablity of the government.  Arming local jurisdictions is a step in the wrong direction.

Since the 1980’s the US government has enabled the militarization of the police force as part of its so-called War on Drugs.  Post 9/11 politics opened the flood gates with grants from the federal government to prepare for the imminent terrorist threat.  Now, as combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended, the Pentagon is literally giving battlefield hardware away.

The militarism of policing – both in terms of weaponry and tactics – is a threat to our freedom as great as any coming from outside our borders.  It’s time to put it to a stop.

Write you Member of Congress today!

Please forward this message to your friends.


Move the Money, Crush the Slush Fund

May 3, 2014

Over 70 U.S. events and actions were held to mark Tax Day and the 4th Global Day of Action on Military Spending (GDAMS).  As you probably know, Peace Action was the US coordinator of GDAMS events for the 2nd year running.

With the 2014 elections just six months away, PAEF’s campaign to Move the Money from the Pentagon to our communities has never been more prominent in the national discourse.

Members of both parties in Congress are exploring military cuts as part of efforts to reduce deficits.  Predictably, vested interests are working overtime to preserve, and even increase where possible, the current, historically high, levels of military spending.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported the costs of major weapons acquisitions, like the F-35, have risen $500 billion above their orignial projected costs.  Congress loudly denounce cost overruns even as they look for ways to increase Pentagon funding.

Peace Action has renewed its fight against one of the ways the Pentagon hopes will permit it to restore funding for items left out – for the moment – to keep the Pentagon under budget control limits.  For example, Congress could allow the Pentagon to use funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), meant to fund military operations in Afghanistan, to restore eight F-35’s left out of the President’s budget.  The Pentagon has used the OCO as a slush fund to reduce Pentagon cuts this year to just $3.5 billion dollars while domestic spending was slashed by $15 billion – not exactly the shared pain sequestration was supposed to deliver.

Working with our allies, Peace Action is circulating a sign-on letter to Members of Congress from a host of organizations working in our Move the Money coalitions reminding them that: “According to the Pentagon, from FY 2013 to FY 2014, approximately 39 percent fewer personnel will be deployed to Afghanistan (with none in Iraq). Yet, in the FY 2014 omnibus spending bill, Defense Subcommittee funding in the OCO account will actually increase from FY 2013 to FY 2014.”

Call your Senators and Representative and tell them the Overseas Contingency Operations should not be used as a slush fund for runaway Pentagon spending.  Call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.


When Will They Ever Learn?

January 9, 2014
Peace Action board member, professor, activist and author Larry Wittner’s article published yesterday on CounterPunch 
JANUARY 08, 2014
When Will They Ever Learn?
The American People and Support for War
by LAWRENCE WITTNER

When it comes to war, the American public is remarkably fickle.

The responses of Americans to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars provide telling examples.  In 2003, according to opinion polls, 72 percent of Americans thought going to war in Iraq was the right decision.  By early 2013, support for that decision had declined to 41 percent.  Similarly, in October 2001, when U.S. military action began in Afghanistan, it was backed by 90 percent of the American public.  By December 2013, public approval of the Afghanistan war had dropped to only 17 percent.

In fact, this collapse of public support for once-popular wars is a long-term phenomenon.  Although World War I preceded public opinion polling, observers reported considerable enthusiasm for U.S. entry into that conflict in April 1917.  But, after the war, the enthusiasm melted away.  In 1937, when pollsters asked Americans whether the United States should participate in another war like the World War, 95 percent of the respondents said “No.”

And so it went.  When President Truman dispatched U.S. troops to Korea in June 1950, 78 percent of Americans polled expressed their approval.  By February 1952, according to polls, 50 percent of Americans believed that U.S. entry into the Korean War had been a mistake.  The same phenomenon occurred in connection with the Vietnam War.  In August 1965, when Americans were asked if the U.S. government had made “a mistake in sending troops to fight in Vietnam,” 61 percent of them said “No.”  But by August 1968, support for the war had fallen to 35 percent, and by May 1971 it had dropped to 28 percent.

Of all America’s wars over the past century, only World War II has retained mass public approval.  And this was a very unusual war – one involving a devastating military attack upon American soil, fiendish foes determined to conquer and enslave the world, and a clear-cut, total victory.

In almost all cases, though, Americans turned against wars they once supported.  How should one explain this pattern of disillusionment?

The major reason appears to be the immense cost of war — in lives and resources.  During the Korean and Vietnam wars, as the body bags and crippled veterans began coming back to the United States in large numbers, public support for the wars dwindled considerably.  Although the Afghanistan and Iraq wars produced fewer American casualties, the economic costs have been immense.  Two recent scholarly studies have estimated that these two wars will ultimately cost American taxpayers from $4 trillion to $6 trillion.  As a result, most of the U.S. government’s spending no longer goes for education, health care, parks, and infrastructure, but to cover the costs of war.  It is hardly surprising that many Americans have turned sour on these conflicts.

But if the heavy burden of wars has disillusioned many Americans, why are they so easily suckered into supporting new ones?

A key reason seems to be that that powerful, opinion-molding institutions – the mass communications media, government, political parties, and even education – are controlled, more or less, by what President Eisenhower called “the military-industrial complex.”  And, at the outset of a conflict, these institutions are usually capable of getting flags waving, bands playing, and crowds cheering for war.

But it is also true that much of the American public is very gullible and, at least initially, quite ready to rally ‘round the flag.  Certainly, many Americans are very nationalistic and resonate to super-patriotic appeals.  A mainstay of U.S. political rhetoric is the sacrosanct claim that America is “the greatest nation in the world” – a very useful motivator of U.S. military action against other countries.  And this heady brew is topped off with considerable reverence for guns and U.S. soldiers.  (“Let’s hear the applause for Our Heroes!”)

Of course, there is also an important American peace constituency, which has formed long-term peace organizations, including Peace Action, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and other antiwar groups.  This peace constituency, often driven by moral and political ideals, provides the key force behind the opposition to U.S. wars in their early stages.  But it is counterbalanced by staunch military enthusiasts, ready to applaud wars to the last surviving American.  The shifting force in U.S. public opinion is the large number of people who rally ‘round the flag at the beginning of a war and, then, gradually, become fed up with the conflict.

And so a cyclical process ensues.  Benjamin Franklin recognized it as early as the eighteenth century, when he penned a short poem for  A Pocket Almanack For the Year 1744:

War begets Poverty,

Poverty Peace;

Peace makes Riches flow,

(Fate ne’er doth cease.)

Riches produce Pride,

Pride is War’s Ground;

War begets Poverty &c.

The World goes round.

There would certainly be less disillusionment, as well as a great savings in lives and resources, if more Americans recognized the terrible costs of war before they rushed to embrace it.  But a clearer understanding of war and its consequences will probably be necessary to convince Americans to break out of the cycle in which they seem trapped.

Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com), syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “What’s Going On at UAardvark?” (Solidarity Press), a satirical novel about campus life.


Diplomacy advocate lectures congregation

September 26, 2013

The Island Now
Thursday, September 26, 2013
By Bill San Antonio

As the executive director of Peace Action, the nation’s largest grassroots disarmament organization, Kevin Martin said Tuesday he has seen firsthand the militarization of the United States’ foreign policy in the last decade.

But in his lecture at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation entitled “Endless War on Peace,” Martin said he was confident that America’s recent history of military strikes and occupations of nations seen as a threat to national security would evolve into a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy – particularly because of the recent diplomatic efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and the start of talks with Iran.

“At a certain point, we’re just not going to buy that anymore,” Martin said. “We’re just not going to buy that there’s a terrorist at every corner of the globe.”

Martin began the lecture, which was sponsored by the Shelter Rock Forum, the Great Neck SANE/Peace Action and the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, by calling out the names of 11 nations — China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, Brazil and South Korea – whose combined military budgets equals what the United States spends on its own military each year.

But for all its spending, Martin said the United States is ranked No. 99 on the Global Peace Index, tied with Papua New Guinea despite being known as the world’s last superpower.

“We can’t keep doing this, we can’t keep marauding around the world and trying to kill more terrorists than we create, because we will fail,” Martin said.

Martin said the U.S. spends approximately $600 billion each year on its military and $1 trillion on national security, and in the next 10 years will implement a $200 million arms refurbishment program.

“How do we have any credibility going to Iran or anyone else, saying they shouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction, shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, when we not only intend to keep ours, we intend to modernize them?” Martin said.

Martin also cited a University of Massachusetts study that said military spending is the worst way to create jobs and stimulate the economy, adding that the money America puts toward military spending could better serve the job market if it were used on education.

“Military spending does not help our economy in any way other than keep people employed,” Martin said. “If you can separate the nonsense about the economic benefits of military spending from the real security issues we have in this country, we can win that argument.”

Martin said the mainstream media has more recently played a role in more diplomatic measures in America’s foreign policy.

With Syria, Martin said the mainstream media took greater interest in covering the different angles toward President Obama’s recent request to Congress for a military strike on Syria after those who have been known to be pro-war were coming out against the strike.

Within a day or two, Martin said the media began covering what he called “better alternatives” to avoid the strike, such as sending supplies and weapons to those who are fighting off the Syrian army and rebel fighters who may have ties to terrorist organizations.

“That’s when I knew Obama was sunk, because he could try to scare us or try some fandango, but once better alternatives were out there, he lost control of the conversation,” Martin said.

Martin added that there could be a “spillover effect” from the diplomatic solution toward America’s approach to Syria that could impact future negotiations with Iran over the destabilization of its nuclear program.

“Now diplomacy seems like this limb we’ve learned to use again,” Martin said.

Martin said he does not think major arms manufacturers will continue to have a strong influence in lobbying the federal government into increased military spending, if better alternatives continue to present themselves in America’s foreign policy and people continue pushing for peace.

“If peace actually breaks out, you just can’t justify using such a huge percentage of our tax dollars on tanks and missiles and that $200 million over the next 10 years to refurbish our weapons,” Martin said. “You just can’t justify that anymore.”

If the United States opted for diplomacy more frequently, Martin said the short-term effect would be that other countries would fear and hate the United States less, though its history of invasions and military attacks would likely mean it would take longer for the world to “love us more.”

But the process of healing America’s reputation around the world starts with money coming out of the “war machine” and being put toward more “life-affirming functions,” and for people to “stand up for the values this country says its for” and be more vocal about a peaceful and diplomatic foreign policy, Martin said.

“We have hope, we have real solutions, we have better alternatives, we have better policies,” Martin said. “They have a lot of money and guns and weapons, but really all they have is fear.”


Wouldn’t it just be easier to change our foreign policy? (We could leave our shoes on at the airport!)

July 18, 2013

Published on Thursday, July 18, 2013 by Common Dreams

Wouldn’t It Just Be Easier to Change Our Foreign Policy?

by Kevin Martin

A passenger removes their shoes before passing through the passenger security checkpoint at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 8 on Oct. 22, 2010 in New York City. (Michael Nagle/Getty)

I hate having to take off my shoes to go through airport security, don’t you? It’s really annoying, time-consuming and embarrassing (if you are like me and have holes in a large percentage of your socks).

Then there’s the National Security Agency (NSA), doing its typical skullduggery, spying on everyone’s phone calls, emails, FaceBook posts and other online activity. Our tax dollars pay them to do this to us, supposedly to make us safer, but I don’t feel safer, I feel violated and disgusted, how about you? And the alleged trade-off between privacy and security was concocted by forces that want us to have less of both.

Wouldn’t it just be easier to change our foreign policy?

Think about it. We take off our shoes at the airport as part of the mostly palliative exercise in making our commercial aviation system safer from individuals and organizations that want to do us harm (you know, the “terrorists”). I mean no slight to the good folks at TSA, who are certainly sincere in trying to do their jobs to make flying safer.

Like you, I’m sure, I don’t think anything justifies trying to blow up an airplane, with a shoe bomb or any other device, nor do I in any way support violent political acts against civilians (“terrorism”).

However, recent U.S. wars and other controversial military and foreign policies have undoubtedly earned us enmity from people all over the world, especially in Middle Eastern and predominantly Muslim countries.

Blank check support for Israel’s illegal, endless occupation of Palestinian land and oppression of its people. Political, diplomatic, military and financial support for despotic governments when it’s perceived to be in U.S. “strategic interests.” Over 1,000 military bases around the globe. Our invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps these and other manifestations of our imperial foreign policy don’t endear us to the rest of the world?

Our tax dollars fund all of this, as well as our massive nuclear weapons arsenal, aircraft carrier battle groups, tank squadrons, countless exorbitant war planes, pilotless drone aircraft that rain death from the skies (often on innocent, unsuspecting civilians), spy and command and control satellites and other weapons systems and methods of unparalleled global power projection, to the tune of well over $1 trillion per year for the entire “national security” budget. (Last year, the Pentagon budget was equal to the total military spending of the next 11 countries combined, down from 15 countries in 2011, so I guess that’s progress!)

Adopting more modest, peaceful and just foreign and military policies, based on a real commitment (not the usual lip service) to widely held values — human rights, democracy, justice, international cooperation and sustainability — would serve the interests of the American people, and would make us safer. It would also save a lot of money, which could be invested in more life-affirming priorities like education, affordable housing and rebuilding the economy (as military spending creates fewer jobs and stimulates less economic activity than investments in any other sector of the economy). Also, we could help fund multi-lateral efforts to address global problems which cannot be addressed by one country alone…the climate crisis, access to clean water and nutritious, sustainably produced food, quality education and universal health care for all.

And it would lessen the supposed need to spy on Americans, which is unacceptable under any circumstances, but can only be sold with endless fear mongering about terrorism. So it’s a win-win-win, except for the corporations that profit from weapons, war and global violence.

Here’s an added benefit – people around the world would hate and fear us less, though it might take awhile for them to love us more.

And we could leave our shoes on at the airport, while making calls and sending texts not being monitored by the NSA. Doesn’t that sound good?

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and over 70,000 on-line supporters.


Egyptian coup should trigger broad re-examination of U.S. militarization of the Middle East

July 17, 2013

Op-ed published today by The Hill, an influential, widely read Capitol Hill publication

by Kevin Martin and Josh Ruebner

The Obama administration has engaged in astounding linguistic jiu-jitsu to avoid calling the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi what it most obviously is: a coup. The president refuses to dub Morsi’s overthrow a coup because doing so would automatically trigger a suspension of all U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, according to the Foreign Assistance Act. Cutting off weapons transfers to Egypt, which, at $1.3 billion per year is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid behind Israel, would, in turn, crimp U.S. efforts to further inundate the Middle East with weapons. To underscore the Obama’s administration’s contempt for this law, the Pentagon delivered four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt just days after its military placed Morsi under house arrest. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, President Lyndon Johnson wisely warned that “this last conflict has demonstrated the danger of the Middle Eastern arms race of the last 12 years. Here the responsibility must rest not only on those in the area – but upon the larger states outside the area…We have always opposed this arms race, and our own military shipments to the area have consequently been severely limited.” Yet, both he and his successors threw this caution to the wind, giving Israel and Egypt alone more than $100 billion in military grants and loans since then. While most of this money has been appropriated ostensibly to undergird the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, in fact it has directly impeded democracy in Egypt and especially freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinians.

Not only is the Obama administration clearly ignoring the law by keeping open the spigot of weapons to Egypt in the aftermath of the military’s coup; it also turns a blind eye to the law by providing Israel $3.1 billion in military aid per year, despite the fact that Israel clearly violates the Arms Export Control Act by using U.S. weapons not for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense,” but to perpetuate its 46-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip and to commit gross and systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians, such as the injuring and killing of civilians, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the illegal colonization of Palestinian land.

The problems, of course, go beyond U.S. military aid and weapons transfers to Israel and Egypt. The Middle East is one of the most heavily armed parts of the planet, which exacerbates the region’s conflicts. The United States is the top arms peddler to the world, and to the region, and thus is in the best position to exert leadership to reduce, or perhaps even establish a moratorium on, weapons transfers to the Middle East as did President Harry Truman in the 1950 Tripartite Declaration.

Instead, the Obama Administration, advancing what it perceives to be U.S. strategic interests (but in reality are the interests of the weapons corporations which pour tens of millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions each year) has sharply increased U.S. weapons transfers the last two years. In 2011 the United States set a record with over $66 billion in arms deals (over three-quarters of the global total), according to the Congressional Research Service, with huge sales of sophisticated armaments to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman driving a tripling of U.S. weapons transfers from 2010 figures.

There are other urgent reasons and opportunities to work to de-militarize the region. Concerns over possible chemical weapons use in Syria, Israel’s nuclear arsenal estimated at between 75 and 400 warheads, and possible future Iranian development of nuclear weapons underscore the need to establish a Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone (first proposed by Iran and Egypt in the late 1960s and reaffirmed by the UN resolution officially ending the first Iraq war in 1991, and by the 2005 and 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conferences).

Finland agreed to host a conference last year on such a zone, but the conference was postponed, hopefully to be convened this year. The United States has a key role to play in the success of such a conference, as one of the official conveners and as Israel’s benefactor, as surely it will have to lean on Israel to get it to participate in good faith. Ridding the region of unconventional weapons won’t be easy, but could hardly be more urgent, as the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction could devastate not only the peoples of the region, but possibly the global economy and environment.

While the current situation in Egypt justifiably holds the world’s attention, we should not miss the opportunity to ease tensions and act in the broader interests of peace for all the peoples of the region. Stopping the torrential flood of weapons into the Middle East would be a great place to start.

 

Martin is executive director of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund. Ruebner is National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/311451-egyptian-coup-should-trigger-broad-re-examination-of-us-militarization-of-middle-east#ixzz2ZKmiwCYp
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