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The Third World and the Third World War

Matthew Clark — February 1984

One of the issues discussed at the Strategies for 1984 Conference hosted by the Toronto Disarmament Network on December 10 and 11 was the connection between the disarmament movement and the anti-intervention movement. The discussion was given special point by the recent U.S. invasion of Grenada and the real possibility that the war in Central America will be escalated, perhaps with greater direct involvement of U.S. forces.

I think that everyone at the conference agreed that interventions, such, as the U.S. invasion of Grenada, should be opposed, and a large majority felt that the disarmament movement should be part of that opposition. However, some participants maintained that the nuclear disarmament movement should stick to its single issue. Some people would perhaps go further and argue that the Canadian movement should limit its focus to the cruise. And I suspect that in the movement generally the single issue approach is more popular than it was among the conference participants. There may also be those who are opposed to the testing of the cruise but who are not particularly sympathetic to the anti-intervention movement.

I am not an impartial reporter on this matter. I believe that the connections betwoen the two issues are real and important, and that both should be addressed by a movement concerned generally with peace.

Nuclear weapons are not an isolated madness in an otherwise healthy world. Whenever” they exist” they are part of a system — political, economic and, military. If we eliminate nuclear weapons, all other relationships within that system will change. Conversely, changing the system may aid our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

A few statistics may indicate the extent of the problem. In the world today, 870 million adults cannot read or write, 500 million people have no jobs, 130 million children cannot attend primary school, 450 million people suffer from hunger or malnutrition, 12 million babies a year die before their first birthday, and 250 million peole live in urban slums or shanty-towns.

The rich nations of the world are fifty times richer than the poor nations, and people in the rich nations live, on the average, 22 years longer than people in the poor nations. In the maintenance of this system, and the failure or refusal to change it, is not an accident, it is a choice. This system is maintained by economic control; it is maintained by political repression; it is maintained by secret military operations; it is maintained by conventional war; and it is maintained by the ultimate threat – the threat of nuclear war.

Of the 125 or more conflicts which have occurred in the world since World War II, 95% have been in the developing countries. In most cases, foreign forces have been involved; and western powers have accounted for 79% of all the interventions. Out of eleven specific instances we know of when the U.S. government has considered or threatened the use of nuclear weapons, nine occurred in connection with a U.S. intervention in a Third World country. (The other two concerned Berlin.)

There are two aspects to the deadly connection between nuclear armaments and intervention. On the one hand, nuclear weapons are the extreme end of a repressive political, economic and military system. On the other hand, if nuclear war occurs, it will most likely develop out of a conventional war, a war of intervention. The process of eliminating nuclear weapons will surely take many years, and during this period, we must prevent any crisis which could lead to their use.

In addition to the very real material connection between nuclear weapons and intervention, I think there is also a moral connection. Nuclear disarmament is not merely a matter of self-interest. Although only a minority, perhaps a small minority, of those active in the disarmament movement are pacifists, still I arp sure that all of us would like to see a world where war is unnecessary, a world in peace.

Today North America and Europe live in a sort of peace; but in Southern Asia, the Middle East, Central America and Southern Africa there is no peace. We should not be a movement for peace in the north only, or for whites only. We should be a movement for peace.

Many of those who favour a single issue approach to disarmament believe that by involving other issues the movement will lose its impact. The existence of nuclear weapons, however, is deeply rooted in our entire social structure. An effective campaign should be based on ail understanding of all facets of the problem. Closely related campaigns will then reinforce each other. The movement against the war in Vietnam gained impact as it involved related issues, and I believe that the disarmament movement will gain through an alliance with the anti-intervention movement. By opposing nuclear weapons, we are removing one of the tools of intervention; by opposing intervention, we are removing a justification for the nuclear arsenal.

Some people fear that a stand against intervention will alienate some supporters of the disarmament movement. I think this concern has some point, since some who oppose cruise testing do not agree that

the issues are closely connected. The movement will surely lose support if it gets too far from its base. The ability of the movement to oppose interventions may be limited by a lack of information and understanding within the movement, but the need may be accelerated by events, if the wars in Central America and the Middle East escalate. We should anticipate events through education. Some disarmament groups may not be ready to undertake anti-intervention actions, but I hope they will debate the issue, and then take that debate to the public.

Some who favour the single issue approach argue that the disarmament movement could get lost in the anti-intervention movement. The disarmament movement of the late ’50s and early ’60s, they say, almost disappeared during the movement to end the war in Vietnam. But the disarmament movement of that time was in decline before the anti-war movement got going. If anything, the anti-war movement revived the disarmament movement, and surely it helped to prevent ap. actual nuclear war. If the specific issue of disarmament was temporarily overshadowed, it was only because the actual ongoing war became the dominant political event of the time. Many anti-war activists strongly wished that widespread opposition to the war had begun years earlier, so that the massive U.S. military commitment could have been stopped before the fact, rather than opposed after the fact. Today, the likelihood of direct and massive U.S. military intervention is quite high. Do we want to act now, or, a few years from now, wish that we had? If we allow these wars of intervention to escalate, the disarmament issue may again be overshadowed, and we may again be forced to work not for disarmament, but against a nuclear war.

Matthew Clark is a member of the Co-ordinating Committee of the Toronto Disarmament Network.

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