Weapons Free Middle East

UN Arms Trade Treaty, and Nobel Peace Prize for Bradley Manning?

Dear Virtual Editor:

Oh boy! Today we have an all too familiar story you can really jump on. Will the US launch a “limited” cruise missile strike on Syria to “significantly degrade” its chemical weapons capability?  The expert talking heads are pushing their way to the head of the hair and makeup line in TV studios all over the US, Canada, and Moldova.

C&H2.0CNN already has its neat computerized diagram up, showing the little missiles as they move from the little ships to the target areas of the “surgical” strikes.  You guys in the print media are preparing special inserts with your own full color diagrams.  Who cares if Ted Cruz is really a Canadian or Miley Cyrus got a little raunchy at the MTV Video Awards, this is hard news!

I do understand everyone’s enthusiasm, but if you have an intern you can spare, I would like to suggest three stories that might merit a bit of coverage on the back page. There is a unifying theme to all three, so it can really be one story if need be.

First, suppose the greatest military spender on the planet decided that instead of choosing sides and trying to control events in other countries, it would use some of its military might in service of making the Middle East a weapons-free zone.  Instead of pondering who to launch missiles toward, or which country should have “no fly zones” enforced, if the US simply must have something for its military to do, how about an effort to prohibit importation of weapons by anyone in Egypt, Syria, Israel, Palestine, etc. ?  Of course such intervention would not work perfectly, but there is absolutely no better country to give it a try. In addition to having the only military capable of undertaking such a mission, the US is the world’s leading arms merchant.

I said there was a unifying theme to these story ideas. This is it: saving civilian lives.  Concentrating on geopolitical factors, “power balance”, “stability”, “vital national interests” and the like provides talking heads and intellectually challenged lawmakers with a nice living but it definitely has not made the world a safer place.  What such concentration has done is cause the needle on our moral compass to spin quite erratically.  Can we permit Syria to use chemical weapons, as we happily allowed Iraq to do thirty odd years ago when it was at war with Iran and we didn’t like either side?  In the name of stability, and fear of a Muslim organization that has never invaded anyone, shall we keep arming, and training in the US, an Egyptian army that overthrew a democratically elected government and murdered hundreds of its citizens? What if we ditched the geopolitical mindset and oriented the compass toward not aggravating the harm to civilians?  They suffer enough anyway.

What it comes down to, dear editor,  is that there is no such thing as a surgical strike. Nobody, including the US, engages in them.  The CNN computerized diagram should at least add little stick figures coming apart from the impact of the little missiles coming from the little ships.  Civilians, without being asked if they wish to die, are always killed. No amount of prattle about “every effort to minimize collateral damage” can change that.  Missiles kill civilians. Drones kill civilians. Bombs kill civilians.  It does not have to be that way, and it has not always been so. Some of your history buffs may know that general acceptance of killing civilians in war dates only from World War I.

I get that it may seem a radical idea to suggest that if folks in the Middle East want to kill each other, they should have to do it with their own stuff.  Here is another to go along with it: If a military action is being contemplated, but civilians will be killed if it is carried out, don’t do it. No killing civilians. No exceptions.

I also get that, in addition to those who have a vested interest in a more dangerous world, there are good hearted, reasonable people who will think these proposals naive.  To them, I would say: “We have been doing it the geopolitical justification way for decades now. How is that working out for us?”  Do you think the families of the missile strike victims, and the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, are going to rally around and help make the world a better place? Who is naive?”


Another related back page story with a radical idea would be one about ratifying the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) . The what?  On 2 April 2013, the UN General Assembly passed an arms trade treaty—not an arms control treaty—by a vote of 156-3 with 22 abstentions. The no votes were Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Nations sign onto a treaty and then send it to their governing bodies for ratification. Fifty ratifications are required before this one goes into force. (I know, I know. Not as sexy as the moving cruise missile diagrams.)

Contrary to the howling already emanating from the NRA, the treaty does not restrict types or quantities of weapons that may be bought, sold or possessed by individual nations. Neither does it affect domestic gun laws. What it does do is establish a monitoring and reporting scheme in support of prohibitions on exporting arms in violation of UN embargoes, and more importantly, in those situations where the proposed exporter has knowledge that the arms will be used, among other things, for grave violations of the Geneva Conventions,  attacks directed at civilians, and other war crimes. No enforcement teeth. Just transparency.  Not much, but it’s a start.

The ATT was opened for signatures in June. As of mid-August, 84 nations had signed on and four had already ratified. The US has not signed, though Secretary of State Kerry has indicated that it will do so. Canada initially objected, but in the face of international criticism seems to have come around and will likely sign. The UK, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan have signed.

Ratification is quite another matter. At the moment, the treaty has no chance of getting through the bad running joke that is the US Senate. The combination of the NRA and automatic Republican opposition to anything the administration proposes short of National Christian God and Motherhood Appreciation Day will ensure that the US lands on this where Iran, Syria and North Korea have been from the jump.  Besides, the Republicans have been certain for a long time that the UN itself is a giant, sovereignty sucking, one-world conspiracy. Prospects in Canada cannot help but be a little better, though the current regime has shown little respect for the United Nations in recent years.  Nevertheless, a little press couldn’t hurt.  The treaty in operation would save some civilian lives.  Please have the intern start with www.armscontrol.org.


Finally, dear editor, the intern might have time to look into the story of the Nobel Peace Prize for Bradley Manning, recently sentenced by General Court-Martial to prison, dishonorable discharge, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, and forfeiture of all pay and allowances.  Pretty severe, but look on the bright side. The conditions of confinement to which he has been subjected for the last three years are like to improve considerably.

Bradley ManningYou may have noticed that Manning has already been nominated for the prize. In itself, that is no big deal. There are about 300 nominations every year. Among several who have nominated Manning, however, is Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who herself won the prize in 1976 for her reconciliation work in Northern Ireland. She has continued that kind of work and recently visited Syria, where she warned that “Extremist groups from around the world have converged on Syria, bent on turning this conflict into one of ideological hatred.”  Good luck to the missiles in sorting that out.

According to the former winner, Manning’s qualifications for Nobel consideration include efforts to save civilian lives.  She marks his transformation while stationed in Iraq to an incident where he was ordered to turn over fifteen non-violent demonstrators to the Iraqis. He knew they would be tortured, and questioned the order. He was told to go out and get fifteen more.

A really fresh angle for the intern would be to report on what Manning disclosed, rather than on the guy himself.  Most of the coverage of Manning and the other whistle blower, Edward Snowden, has been around the question of whether they are heroes or traitors—as if those were the choices.  For example, on the day this week that Snowden leaked evidence that the US is bugging UN Headquarters in New York, the first expert who was asked to respond to the story began: “I think Snowden’s motive in this is…..”  They are eavesdropping on the United Nations Headquarters, for God’s sake! Who cares about Snowden’s motives!

The reporting about Manning has had essentially the same focus. Sex change trumps civilians. In the video posted here, thanks to Manning, you get to see not CGI diagrams, but actual civilians actually being killed. They include two journalists, carrying cameras, not AK47’s. Fortunately, the two children injured in the attack survived.  Manning supporters title this video “Collateral Murder”.  I am reluctant to call it that, but it does not matter. At the very least, it is machismo run amok, attacking people in a densely populated area, without knowledge of who they were or what they were doing.  It is certainly not “making every effort to minimize collateral damage”. While Manning serves his sentence for bringing this truth, the airmen are presumably going about further advancing their careers. They were cleared by a cursory military inquiry.

In fairness, the video did get some initial coverage. But a lot more that Manning disclosed did not. Why not?  No one was killed or harmed by his action. Manning was properly acquitted of aiding the enemy, although it is reasonable to assume that disclosure of war crimes by one side likely aids the other. Manning also disclosed truths about Abu Graib and Guantanamo that were undoubtedly featured in Al Qaeda recruiting pitches.  Kudos to the court-martial panel for recognizing that this is not the kind of aid that should be criminalized.

One additional disclosure was particularly interesting to me. I have always been a bit unhappy that military casualties in conflicts are tallied meticulously, while civilian deaths are only estimated—so there can be arguments about how few there really were.  As it turns out, however, the military did count civilian deaths in Iraq. The civilian total was 66,081, substantially higher than the military total, and more than twenty times the number of 9/11 civilian deaths.

Maybe Bradley Manning should get the Nobel Peace Prize. Maybe he should not. Remember, the standards have been lowered in recent years. They gave it to Barack Obama.  I really don’t care. I do care about anyone killing any number of civilians in my name anywhere and for any reason. I would appreciate it if your intern could help focus a little attention on that matter.  Dissenting arguments should be respectfully considered, but the current silence is deafening.

No need to alter your entire direction. I am aware of the merger of news and entertainment. There will still be plenty of column inches left to keep the public informed on essential matters like whether the One Direction tour will be cancelled or Jennifer Aniston’s biological clock will run out. Thanks for considering my bizarre story proposals. I will be happy to volunteer assistance to the intern.

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