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ON the day that Andrew Fisher called for the Stop the War Coalition to disband, Lord George Robertson was named Dundee University chancellor. As Nato’s 10th secretary-general, Robertson oversaw the organisation’s imperialist intervention in Afghanistan and supported Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq.
Robertson’s ascendancy to “nominal head” of Dundee University should remind us of the urgent need to combat militarism’s creeping influence on our campuses and throughout public life. To dissolve a mass anti-war organisation, with thousands of fee-paying members, makes this task infinitely harder.
Despite Fisher’s claim that the war on terror as we know it is over, the military-industrial complex’s influence endures. The Scotsman revealed recently that more than 900 US military planes refuelled at Scotland’s government-owned Prestwick airport in 2022.
Last week, London hosted the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) as arms traders lined up to profit from human suffering. This is all before mentioning the reported return of US nuclear weapons to RAF Lakenheath. It’s against this backdrop that Fisher argues that Stop the War should pack it in.
I cite these examples because the context in which Fisher calls for one of Britain's few anti-imperialist institutions to stand down is noticeably absent from his piece.
The basis of Fisher’s argument is instead that Stop the War’s stance on Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has “hollowed out” the organisation. Campaigning for peace, calling for “Russian troops out” and condemning Nato has “marginalised” Stop the War, argues Fisher.
The TUC’s vote to support GMB’s motion on Ukraine is cited as evidence. The fact that the FBU, BFAWU, RMT, NEU and UCU did not back the motion is ignored.
Fisher is not wrong though. Persistent attacks on the anti-war movement have left Stop the War as one of the few organisations standing for peace. That makes it worth defending. So too does the total absence of political leadership on questions of militarism.
Keir Starmer’s commitment to Nato is “unshakeable” and next month’s Labour conference will see events sponsored by arms manufacturers, like Boeing and Babcock International.
In Scotland, the SNP too embraces Atlanticism and has awarded £8 million to arms companies exhibiting at the DSEI. This uniformity should make rebuilding the anti-war movement, as opposed to tearing it down, a priority.
Cluster bombs, said the US ambassador to the UN last year, “have no place on the battlefield” and “are banned under the Geneva Convention.” This was, of course, before the Biden administration agreed to send these indiscriminate, inhumane weapons to Ukraine.
Their arrival from the US was followed by a deal this month to supply Ukraine with depleted uranium. The effects of the “chemical and radioactive toxicity” from this ammunition have been linked to a spike in cancer rates wherever it has been used.
Once again, Fisher’s article fails to mention the introduction of these cruel munitions into the war – or that Stop the War is among the few organisations highlighting their presence.
By arguing for Stop the War to disband, Fisher offers fodder to those who seek to eliminate the space for a nuanced critique of the British state’s foreign policy. There is no recognition of the damage that the removal of voices for peace and against Nato would do to the fate of anti-imperialist politics.
Rather, Fisher’s piece draws a line between the legitimate and illegitimate left, casting those who question Nato as cranks. The DSEI’s attendees will be delighted that it is those who call for peace rather than the warmongers in the crosshairs of left columnists.
Fisher implies that the Stop the War Coalition no longer “makes sense.” Apparently, Britain no longer starts aggressive wars around the world. Besides the faith this statement places in the ruling class, the drum of war sounds ever louder.
According to Rishi Sunak, China “represents the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security… this century.” Any honest appraisal of increasing international tension demonstrates the importance of growing the peace movement.
The devastating collapse of Libya’s Derna dam has now claimed as many as 20,000 lives. Far from a “natural disaster,” this crisis is intrinsically linked to Nato’s destabilising 2011 intervention.
This catastrophic bombing campaign left the country in ruins and the state unable to tend to its infrastructure. With the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan after two decades of the “war on terror,” now is no time to further ostracise Nato’s critics.
If Fisher thinks Stop the War is wrong regarding Ukraine then he should argue his point, rather than launching wholesale attacks on pro-peace organisations in the national press.
In the week that Lord Robertson took up his place in Dundee University’s boardroom, staff members from Unison, Unite, and UCU were out on the picket line. “Welfare Not Warfare” has long been the rallying cry of Stop the War and there are few more prescient examples of the continued need for an anti-war movement.
Coll McCail sits on Scottish Labour’s executive committee. Follow him on Twitter @MccailColl.
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