Tuesday, March 22, 2005

...from my cold, dead hands Mr. Annan...

I spent a big chunk of my Saturday this week at a workshop on the control of small arms at Birkbeck, as part of my International Security course. Dan Plesch led the lectures and workshop as another battle in his long struggle against peace and security as a CND activist, advocate of impeaching every UK prime minister from Thatcher to Blair, anti-war actvist and, according to a recent Sky News caption "Iran Expert". I stuggle to overcome my suspicion of academics who operate under the label of "peace studies", as if moral virtue is its own reward, independent of the harder facts and darker insights into human nature that other academic disciplines and the pragmatic experience of war and turmoil brings. While I soon became intensely riled by the unjustified atmosphere of sanctity that reminded me of my primary school religion classes, there were, however, some very interesting points made.

The activists seemed keen to replicate the Ottowa treaty process that led to an an incomplete ban on landmines. This treaty, with which Princess Di was much taken during the later stages of her life while not blowing Egyptian coke-heads, didn't take into account useful applications like sowing the Korean DMZ to stop the North Koreans sweeping south or the guarding of other frontiers such as those in Cyprus or Israel. Given how the UN disarmament process has been symtied by inertia and the veto-wielding powers, they thought that "civil society" i.e. the usual swarm of NGO pondlife and their journalist camp-followers who seem to be the main halo-polishers of the modern world, decided to act directly on governments, many of whom, responded. Those Atlases that carry the world's security burdens unaided on their shoulders, Canada and Belgium - remember Rwanda anyone? Mark Steyn does, and seems to be the only person condemning UN commander Romeo Dallaire. Needless to say, the US isn't a signatory. I thought, isn't exactly this same logic applicable to Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the democratically elected leaders, in conjunction with their legislatures, took up the baton of stopping genocide in Iraq from the deadlocked UNSC?

Newton's law of civil society - for each NGO, there exists an equal but opposite NGO, also reared its ugly head. The main opposition for these people was the US National Rifle Association. Indeed, the focus of the organisation's work seemed to be on accomplishing, by way of UN bureaucracy and international treaty what the Bill of Rights and public opinion prevents, what I've christened elsewhere as the Held fallacy, after the LSE political philosopher who addressed my class late last year.

Neither do these people ever recognise that control shows state control is worse than the outcomes of the market: all the licensed guns and most of those in the hands of the security forces were there available to defend and protect the Unionists and not nationalists in a crisis such as that of 1969 and are a key weapon in the arsenal of those threatening the "Protestant backlash" - remember Paisley's torchlight eighties rally of men waving gun permits?

Nobody seemed to have the facts as to where the weapons were coming from, as distinct from pushing the concept of another evil capitalist conspiracy, although verbally beating it out of them seemed to produce a tentative consensus that the FSU and Chinese arms are mainly to blame. Apparently, modern guns made for the US market, as almost legal production now is, are too expensive to interest the global black market, where weapons are sold well below manufacturing cost, not surprising given the deadly legacy of stockpiled weapons left over from the Cold War period. Remember how the IRA got its weapons shipped wholesale from Libya, while smuggling from America was sporadic and tiny in scale (according to Ed Moloney's book).

One researcher commented on how Kofi Annan had introduced and most of the NGO community perpetuated completely arbitrary and false statistics about the problem. The landmines campaign had said that there were 500 million in circulation, so the Secretary General said in a speech that there were 500 million small arms, but no sources were available to back this up.

Finally, a German academic, Peter Lock commented on the role of crime, not just in supporting, but increasingly, in driving the politics of civil conflict - a sadly appropriate theme!