An open letter to Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety of Ottowa

Vic Toews
Minister of Public Safety
Suite 306
Justice Building
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada
K1A 0A6

 Minister Toews,

 As a public official, you must act in an ethical manner whenever possible, and your action in the case of Omar Khadr’s request for a media interview neither serves the interest of public safety nor the people’s will. Omar’s case is that of a child combatant who was illegally imprisoned – and tortured by being held in solitary confinement. His case is not unique, and that is why it’s so important for all of us that he has access to the media to tell his story. Your decision to overrule the warden’s approval of Omar’s application for a prison interview is unfortunate, a decision that is highly unusual and stretches the bounds of your authority. Only recently you reassured Canadians that decisions related to the future of Omar Khadr would be determined by Correctional Services Canada independent of government involvement. Political interference in the judicial process threatens the foundations of our democracy, Mr. Toews. I therefore urge you immediately rectify your actions by:

 1. Allowing the warden’s decision to take precedence and allow media access to Omar Khadr.

 2. End the complicity of Canadian government officials in the ongoing violation of Omar Khadr’s human rights that are protected by international law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 Almost 800 years ago, The Magna Carta was signed, condemning imprisonment without trial. Omar entered prison as a child combatant, and was held in prison for years before signing a confession under duress – a threat of indefinite imprisonment. His supposed guilt is meaningless under any definition of modern law since the Magna Carta, since he had no due process. Omar – and any other child combatant from that period – should be freed immediately and given recompensation for his illegal imprisonment at the hands of the US military. Anything less undermines people’s faith in their governments and the people sworn to public service such as yourself. The Canadian government’s complicity is also a shameful matter. Your own complicity in the continued undermining of Omar’s basic rights is unfortunate.

Sincerely,
Brian Russell

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Are we deluded to think that armies will agree to disarm?

The other day I was talking to a friend who is a seasoned activist for Carbon Trade Watch. They have lots of heartbreaking experiences of failures of the international community to address some of the real and very important issues that endanger humanity, so as I was describing the ambitious strategy of the worldpeace2025 campaign, which includes a signature campaign in which we hope to get as many as one billion people to sign, my friend asked a very valid question: What makes you think that armies would disarm even if you got SIX billion signatures?!

Noam Chomsky, in Understanding Power, talks about the failure of signature campaigns to effectuate change:

Well, there are plenty of groups around that are doing things I don’t think are very constructive, even though I’m often a member of them and give them support and so on. Take the nuclear freeze campaign, for exam­ple: I really thought they were going about it the wrong way. The nuclear freeze campaign was in a way one of the most successful popular organiz­ing movements in history: they managed to get 75 percent of the American population in favor of a nuclear freeze at a time when there was no articu­late public support for that position-there wasn’t a newspaper, a political figure, anybody who came out publicly for it.3 Now, in a way that’s a tremendous achievement. But frankly I didn’t think it was an achievement, I thought the disarmament movement was going to collapse-and in fact, it did collapse. And the reason it collapsed is, it wasn’t based on anything: it was based on nothing except people signing a petition.

I mean, if you sign a petition it’s kind of nice-but that’s the end of it, you just go back home and do whatever you were doing: there’s no continuity, there’s no real engagement, it’s not sustained activity that builds up a community of activism. Well, an awful lot of the political work I see in the ‘ United States is of that type.

I agree. I think my friend is right that signatures alone will not stop the governments in their addiction to war. Whatever people sign, it has to get people involved, even if it just means getting a large platform together that can move on certain tactics in order to achieve the movement’s strategic aims.  Change.org has a great set f tools for this type of activism. And of course, tactics must include civil disobedience, such as war tax resistance.

The same is also true of demonstrations. Unless there are huge number of people, they can be ineffective, and sometimes even huge numbers don’t bring results.  Strategies and tactics must be carefully chosen to ensure that a popular and lasting movement for peace is built.

The agreement must be designed so that it gives some teeth (nonviolently of course) to push governments to actually meet up to the agreements and through public pressure and media campaigns, to encourages holdouts hostile to the peace accord to sign. How to pay for such massive campaigns? Let’s take it out of the war budgets. When parties sign, initially a small amount of their usual defense spending is diverted to peace movements in potentially hostile countries which have not signed the peace accord, say like a .01% of what they would normally spend on their standing army. Once two nations are on board it will rise to .02%, until it reaches 100 nations and is at 1% of each nation’s initial military budget as of the signing. All will have to spend a growing percentage on funding peace campaigns in surrounding nations. The UN general assembly will authorize peace groups that can and can’t receive these funds, and must distribute them to a great variety of different groups, reaching every corner of the country, every language group, and every social group in society. Groups themselves will decide what to do with the funds. Of course, if the campaign grows big enough, this may grow to be an incredible amount of money to manage, but peace is of course the reason why the UN was created.

Of course, in each country the situation may be different, and peace campaigns may require a variety of tactics to achieve wide support or to knit a movement that can effectively slow and stop the war machine from producing weapons and filling body bags

Will it succeed? There is no way of knowing until we try, as long as we have no delusions about the difficulties which we face…. But even if it fails to gain widespread support or outreach, a failed campaign may still reap great rewards.  By asking for the truly ambitious goal of complete global disarmament – the dismantling and retirement of every standing army – it may help make other important campaigns, like nuclear disarmament seem more realistic. I think it will be of great benefit even if we only succeed in raising consciousness of one simple point – That the only moral justification for having a standing army is that your neighbours do too, and so by extension, if your neighbours get rid of their armies, you can also do the same. What a relief it will be for future generations.

In order to save huge costs, governments would be wise to fund the global popular movement for disarmament

Many nations get by just fine without an army at all. One argument used for keeping a standing army despite the incredible costs is that you are more likely to have peace if you are prepared for war. The truth is, many of the best armed nations wind up having many more armed conflicts than less armed nations. One reason for this is that military strategists argue that in order to be ready to fight wars, one must actually fight them – that drills and mock battles cannot replace combat experience.  Of course, since the nuclear nations and their allies are far too dangerous militarily to be attacked without risking a nuclear conflict (and all of humanity’s future, for that matter), in order to get combat experience they attack or force a conflict with weaker, nonnuclear opponents. This is one reason why military strategists in countries with little to gain from the invasion of  another small nation may push to fight alongside the US Armed forces. And it means humanity will only live in peace when we do away with armies for good.

So ten of millions of dollars are being wasted every day on this endless nightmare, which will never bring safety or national security. Indeed, it will guarantee that wars perpetuate themselves. If the goal is safety, why not spend some of this money on the peace movement? These are the people who are most likely to reduce the power of the military in the countries of potential enemies. There are already popular initiatives for military reduction in almost every country, with financial support they could push for a far safer world for future generations. We pay for spies who operate in foreign nations, isn’t it a bit suspicious that military advisers do not allocate funds for peace activism in enemy powers?

The answer is of course that armies and weapons manufacturers are NOT interested in the safety of the people they have the duty to protect if it conflicts with their own economic interests. They are far more interested in swelling military spending, a greed which endangers all of us. We must demand reductions of the armies worldwide, especially  in those countries addicted to war.  A few nations are waking up out of this nightmare because the military is an unbearable economic burden, others have long moved down the path of peace. One of our demands even for those willing to reduce their arsenals should be that a portion of military spending should go to redirected to financial and logistical support to popular movements for peace in those countries where militarism is more deeply ingrained. Campaign to reduce militarism in every nation will save us all a fortune and countless lives.

“Mommy, Daddy, what was war?”

When I talk of strategies for peace within a generation, some skeptics raise the question:

What makes you think world peace is possible? People have been fighting wars for thousands of years!

Similar arguments were heard in the 19th century to argue that the abolition of slavery was impossible.People argued that slavery was natural, that it had always existed, that every society had slavery, that it was in the slaves’ best interests, that freedom would bring misery and low birth rates leading to extinction, that freedom would result in bloodbaths and chaos, that abolition was foolishly utopian or impractical, and that improving enslavement was the best way to deal with the problem.

Much like slavery, war has no moral or biological basis, and the fact that it has been an institution for thousands of years is no reason not to end it. If we resist defeatist and simplistic arguments, future generations of children will likely be gifted with peace. This question will be music to the ears: “Mommy, Daddy… What was war?”

The Strategy to World Peace 2025

We the people of the world are fed up with war and the economic, ecological, and social costs of maintaining a military.  Since the main argument for having armies is that you need one if your neighbors have them, by the same argument, it makes good sense for every country to simultaneously downsize and eventually do away with its military, as long as all of the other countries play along. Until we are free from are organized groups of armed men, powerful leaders, generals and war profiteers who stand to gain from sending others to fight but risk nothing themselves, war is inevitable. And civilians, children, and future generations get the worst of it, often the same civilians these armies have sworn to defend. We need to make sure that no-one gains from warfare, and the strategy we are proposing is the simultaneous and gradual dismantling of each and every one of the armed forces and arms industries in the world over a decade, if possible, as soon as 2025.

Our plan:

  1. Almost every sane person wants peace, and we will show broad support for the idea that peace is possible, by collecting a thousand million signatures by 2015. With at least the participation of 10% of the people in every country of the world. This will include children, since they have not been spared the horrors of war. The goal is to show once and for all that standing armies are no longer necessary or wanted, and that nations can and must for the good of all humanity find nonviolent means to solve their conflicts. Large-scale support will also make the strategy proposed to achieve it possible
  2. All of the governments of the world will have six months to sign an agreement which will insist on gradual demilitarization over the decade from 2016-2025, in cuts of at least 10% of ALL of the following in all of the branches of the military:
    • Military personnel must be retired, and given reasonable compensation, such as 60% of their pay rate for the same number of years they have been in the service. Armies may continue to recruit at reduced rates, the combined total of servicemen and women must not exceed the percentage for any given year. Overseas bases must be the first to close and soldiers stationed overseas must be the first to be retired.
    • Defense spending must be reduced by percentage of GDP. For example in a country, where 10% of the GDP is military spending, in 2016 defense spending must not account for more than 9% of the GDP, in 2017 they will receive a maximum of 8%, and so on. The military must not sign any new contracts for weaponry and reduce its existing contracts for weaponry by at least 10% per year. Defense contractors’ employees who are laid off should also be given early retirement.
    • 10% of all weapons need to be destroyed and delivered for inspection to independent observers each year, until there are no weapons left by the end of 2025. Ships, trucks, and other forms of transport must be provided for public transport.
    • Exports of weapons must also be reduced by at least 10% per year to all parties.
    • The entire budget of the country must be transparent by the end of 2016, so that any weapons hidden in nonmilitary governmental budgets are also reduced every year.
    • Intelligence services must release all of their documents, including strategic documents, to signing neighboring powers by the end of 2016. Once all of the nations which have a standing army have signed, it must also be released into the public domain.
  3. Governments which do not sign the treaty by january of 2016 will be subject to large-scale civil disobedience until they concede to the planet’s desire for peace. We will demonstrate via peaceful marches on the bases of power, the parliaments, the congresses, the military bases, embassies, and demand military downsizing, and refuse to pay taxes and support any government which does not agree to peacefully disarm. Tax payments will instead be given directly to schools, hospitals, and other peaceful organizations doing good things in the society, with documentation. Over the next decade, any government or military which does not cooperate with the agreement will be subject to civil disobedience. For example, if at the end of the 5th year, any government which has not reduced its military to 50% its original size will be subject to tax strikes, and other types of civil disobedience until they comply with the will of the world’s people.
  4. Governments which do not sign the treaty by january of 2016 will be subject to external pressure from other governments until they concede to the planet’s desire for peace.  Cooperating governments will work together by peaceful means to ensure that the rest of the world’s governments cooperate by refusing to trade anything other than essential supplies with neighbors refusing to follow the agreement.
  5. An independent commission with representatives from over 10 countries will be formed in every country to make sure no-one is hiding weaponry, documentation, or cheating on the agreements.

If you think world peace is a good idea, and agree with our strategy to get there, then please sign the petition (it’s still not created yet, we need to check in with change.org and avaaz.org to make sure they have the infrastructure necessary for a campaign of this size).

Why world peace?

Because there is no greater gift we can give our children and grandchildren.

The typical argument to have a standing army is because your neighbor has the same. But having large organized groups of armed men has not led to a peaceful society. It’s like everyone keeping a bomb in your home because there are bombs in the neighborhood and insist that you are safer for it. Let’s get these bombs out of our homes, all of them.

Because it’s possible, practical, and can benefit of almost everyone on the planet. Peace and military downsizing is:

  • Good for the environment. Far from their intention to protect, the world’s armed forces are some of the biggest polluters on the planet. They are responsible for huge amounts of carbon emissions, nuclear and depleted uranium contamination, superfunds sites, and many other environmental problems.
  • Good for the economy. Huge amounts of the worlds GDP goes to military spending. Militaries waste huge amounts of money. Even mercenaries who recieve huge salaries can safely outbid the army, due to its ineffeciency.
  • Good for art, cultural heritage and architectural treasures. War and military conquest have destroyed many of history’s greatest artworks.
  • Good for children. War is an everyday reality for millions of children. They are killed, disabled, left homeless, or orphaned by civil war, guerrilla insurgency, or ethnic cleansing. They become refugees or displaced persons, often separated from their families. Many die or suffer from starvation, malnutrition, or lack of medical care. Many children are traumatized by witnessing brutal deaths and by being surrounded by violence, fear and hardship. Let’s give future generations the greatest gift they can know – world peace!
  • Good for mental health. Mental and substance abuse disorders are prevalent among veterans.
  • Good for racial and gender equality. Genocide and systemic rape has often occured during wartime. Militaries have a poor record of prosecuting rapists within their ranks during peacetime as well.
  • Good for democracy. The military is the most important, most violent and most influential organization in the modern world. If people are to have more say in their lives, the military must be downsized. Historically, the military has been the greatest threat to freedom and democracy; for every revolution by liberals there have been five coup d’etats by a military or general.

Human kind can do so many more interesting things than fight! We can find adventure in nature, in poetry and song, and in making love, not war! Most people support the idea of peace, but few viable strategies are proposed for achieving it. That is the goal of this blog, to propose and highlight practical strategies that over the next decade, can make human wars obsolete.