The following was written by Edward Horgan, coordinator of VFP Ireland and International Secretary of the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance. Edward will be speaking about neutrality at our AGM on Friday 9 November. (Veterans For Peace UK).
First of all, feel free to criticise and challenge what I am saying. Issues of war and peace especially are so complex and so controversial that there are no easy or definitive answers. What I am saying is intended to open a discussion on neutrality rather than be proscriptive or even claim to be an expert opinion. No one knows what is going to happen into the future, but it is wise to be prepared for likely eventualities. Based on centuries of history it is very likely that in any future European war, Britain will be involved and given the likelihood of use of weapons of mass destruction, tens of millions of British citizens could be killed.
We are being told almost daily by NATO and European Union sources that Europe including Britain is facing serious security threats from Russia and Middle East terrorists. The reality is that there is no likely threat to Western Europe from Russia, and any threats from Russia to its Eastern Europe neighbours have been provoked by the US and NATO threatening Russian sovereignty and Russian strategic interests by expanding NATO needlessly right up to Russia’s borders. Any terrorist threats to Western Europe are due almost completely to Western European states participating in unjustified US-led resource wars in the Middle East. If we stop bombing and overthrowing governments in the Middle East and North Africa, there will very likely be no further blowback terrorist attacks on western Europe.
Most people will adopt the attitude that there is nothing you or I as individuals can do about such international and national matters, but it is vital that you do not underestimate what you can do on such matters. What many of you individuals have achieved in setting up Veterans for Peace UK is a good example of what individuals and groups such as VFP can achieve. You will not succeed in making Britain neutral in just a few years, but by VFP UK even daring to suggest that Britain should consider being a neutral state, this will force the media and even government officials to rethink what they are doing. If you do not attempt what seems impossible you will never know what is possible.
First let’s consider what being a neutral state means in terms of international law, and some of the practicalities involved. The Hague Convention V on Neutrality 1907 is the foundational document on neutrality.
Some states such as Austria, Finland and Switzerland have neutrality enshrined in their Constitutions and others such as Ireland and Sweden are neutral as a declared matter of Government policy. Once a state declares itself to be a neutral state it is obliged to comply with international laws on neutrality. One of the expert opinions on neutrality is that any country that is not an active belligerent in a particular war, is considered to be a neutral state by default with regard to that war, and should comply with international rules of neutrality. Constitutional neutrality is by far the best option because where neutrality is just a matter of government policy, then governments can easily change their minds and involve their countries in wars. One of the difficulties for Britain achieving constitutional neutrality is that Britain does not have a written constitution – the British Constitution has evolved from legal custom and practice.
The following sections of the Hague Convention V 1907 on Neutrality are important.
The Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers
Article 1. The territory of neutral Powers is inviolable.
Article 2. Belligerents are forbidden to move troops or convoys of either munitions of war or supplies across the territory of a neutral Power.
Article 11. A neutral Power which receives on its territory troops belonging to the belligerent armies shall intern them, as far as possible, at a distance from the theatre of war.
There is also an implied prohibition on neutral states being members of military alliances.
However, a state can declare itself to be neutral just in a particular war, and then revert to being a belligerent in other wars, because the status of neutrality only strictly applies in time of war. However such limited neutrality is of limited value towards the avoidance of getting dragged into wars. It is far better for a country to adopt a long term policy of neutrality and better still to have such neutrality enshrined in that country’s constitution as is the case with Austria, Finland and Switzerland. In these countries it would require a referendum by the people for its politicians to go to war with another state. The only real exception for neutral states becoming involved in a war would be genuine self defence in the event of that country being attacked. In recent years it has also been considered acceptable for neutral states to engage in military actions in support of United Nations peacekeeping operations, but this provision has been very seriously abused also in cases such as the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011, ostensibly in compliance with a UN resolution to impose a no-fly zone for so-called humanitarian reasons. Supposedly neutral Sweden had eight fighter jets supporting the bombing of Libya, and this was in gross breach of international laws on neutrality regardless of any UN resolutions. Also, the UN resolution did not and could not allow NATO and its allies to overthrow the government of Libya, as any such action is a clear breach of the UN Charter, yet NATO and its allies did overthrow the Libyan government, and also of course overthrew the Afghan and Iraqi governments and almost did the same in the case of Syria.
If the citizens of Britain need no other reason for becoming a neutral state, then avoiding participation in the unjustified killing of millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa is more than justification enough.
All the lies that were told to justify these wars included the necessity to deal with the terrorists who committed the 9/11 attacks on the USA, yet none of the attackers came from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria. 15 of the 19 were citizens of Saudi Arabia, 2 were from the United Arab Emirates and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. Three of these countries, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, are close US allies. With friends and allies like that, who needs enemies? And of course we had the lies on Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction. 636 British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq because of these wars and these lies, and because of the liars who told these lies.
The laws on neutrality are in fact very loose. For example Art. 7. Of the Hague Convention states: “A neutral Power is not called upon to prevent the export or transport, on behalf of one or other of the belligerents, of arms, munitions of war, or, in general, of anything which can be of use to an army or a fleet” so even if Britain becomes a neutral state, the military industrial complex can continue to profiteer on wars. Of course a more active type of neutrality could and should also impose severe restrictions on arms exports.
Next let’s consider whether neutrality for Britain is a crazy idea, or a good idea.
What are some of the advantages of British neutrality?
1. It would remove Britain as a primary target in a nuclear war
2. British soldiers, like all of you folks were, would no longer be just collateral damage when being killed or wounded in totally unjustified wars.
3. Britain and the British people would no longer be targeted in blowback attacks by those individuals and groups that Britain has been bombing since the end of the Cold War.
4. Britain would have more money to spend on health, education, social housing etc.
5. Your children and grandchildren would avoid being victims in future wars
6. Britain and the British forces could change its overseas policies from destroying the world and killing thousands of innocent people to becoming involved in genuine humanitarian and peacekeeping missions. This would mean that British neutrality would be Positive or Active Neutrality rather than just self-serving or negative neutrality.
7. The damage to the global environment would be significantly reduced by the reduction in military activities
8. The rate of veterans’ suicides would eventually be significantly reduced due the reduction in PTSD.
9. British neutrality could help to restore the United Nations to its primary role in maintaining international peace, and Britain could take the lead in transforming the UN into a genuine humanitarian organisation.
Disadvantages of Britain going neutral:
1. Britain would lose its status as a world power?
2. British generals could no longer strut around on the world stage as if they were Julius Caesar showing off all their war campaign medals
3. NATO might fall apart! It makes no logic for Britain to remain in NATO if Britain is leaving the EU.
4. US military bases in the UK would have to be closed down costing many British jobs.
5. Britain’s nuclear power industry might also have to be closed down, because one of the justifications for the continuation of the nuclear power industry is the need to provide fuel and expertise for the nuclear weapons industry. (some might say this is an advantage, but what about all those nice folks who work in these dreadful industries??).
6. Britain might become a genuine welfare state, at enormous expense to the banking and financial sectors.
In reality I cannot think of any genuine disadvantages for the vast majority of the British people if Britain went neutral. It would be a WIN WIN situation.
During the twentieth century Britain lost a huge proportion of its young men in wars that should never have happened. Some will argue that World War 2 was justified, but this is not valid when you consider that World War 2 only happened largely as a result of or even as a continuation of World War 1, which was totally unjustified. The politicians and the generals who lead their countries into wars are seldom counted among the casualties. The fatalities and those suffering catastrophic injuries are predominantly the squadies, the privates, troopers and gunners, the non commissioned officers and the junior officers. Of course I don’t need to tell any of you folks that – many of you have lost good friends and colleagues in recent wars that Britain should not have been involved in. Even this alone is a very good reason for considering neutrality. Tony Blair’s children, George Bush’s children, Bill Clinton’s daughter, or their grandchildren will never have to serve in military forces. Bush and Clinton were both draft dodgers.
However there are also very good larger strategic reasons for considering neutrality in this twenty first century. Different countries have different reasons for considering neutrality.
Let’s face it, the reason for having a government at all is that the government in a democracy should act as all times in the best interest of the vast majority of its people, and not just in the best interests in its elite, including its bankers, big business and especially in the interests of the Military Industrial Complex.
Protecting the lives of its citizens in the most basic and most important duty and responsibility of any government.
Britain needs to have a good military defence force, but in this 21st century it does not need to have a military organised for fighting foreign wars of aggression.
Britain like Ireland is an island and its geography is its best asset for its defence. The British Empire no longer exists and the gunboat diplomacy of the past is no longer needed. Britain should never have become involved in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and should not be supporting Saudi Arabia in its war against Yemen. None of these wars was remotely in the interests of the vast majority of the British people. How many of the I80 British soldiers who died in Iraq and 456 who died in Afghanistan, would now agree that their deaths were justified? A recent report suggests that as many as 75,000 British soldiers were injured physically or mentally by these wars.
The British people as a whole have gained nothing from these wars, apart of course from those few who financially benefitted from these wars. What do generals do when they retire? Many of them join the armaments industry.
But there are even more serious strategic reasons why Britain should consider neutrality in the interests of the British people, and these are connected with the real risk of nuclear war. Britain’s possession of a small number of nuclear weapons provides no defence for the people of Britain in the event of a European war. On the contrary, they are a real liability, making Britain a target for a nuclear strike without any defence advantages. Wikipedia says that:
“The delivery system for British nuclear weapons consists of four Vanguard-class submarines based at HMNB Clyde in Scotland. Each submarine is armed with up to sixteen Trident II missiles, each carrying warheads in up to eight Multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs). With at least one submarine always on patrol, the Vanguards perform a strategic deterrence role and also have a sub-strategic capability.”
Wikipedia also states that “as of 2018, the Russian Federation possesses 7,850 nuclear warheads, of which 1,600 are strategically operational”. Up against those sort of odds Britain’s Trident nuclear missiles are a huge liability to the security of the British people. Having such a small supply of nuclear weapons makes Britain a real identifiable target in any nuclear war. These five nuclear submarines are sitting ducks, four of them usually sitting at their naval base in the Clyde in Scotland so four of them will be vaporised in the first few minutes of the nuclear war, and maybe London vaporised also just as a warning to other countries not to behave so stupidly.
The first step therefore for Britain towards becoming neutral should be to get rid of all its more or less useless nuclear weapons. They are not a deterrent, they are just a very convenient target. In the old days if you were to be shot at dawn, they pinned a white target patch on your chest. The Clyde nuclear submarine base is the equivalent of that execution target patch.
Ireland is in a similar situation geographically to Britain, and this geographical location enables Ireland to maintain a status of neutrality since 1939, unlike countries like Belgium and the Netherlands whose geography meant they were quickly overrun and occupied in two world wars. Britain’s geographical location also will enable Britain to be a neutral state. While Ireland does not have nuclear weapons or even nuclear power, we are becoming too closely associated with NATO, and with a European Army or Battlegroups, and the new PESCO, Permanent Structured Cooperation. We are being told that we must increase our defence spending up to 2% of GDP, which means buying a few squadrons of tanks and fighter jets, all for the benefit of the armaments industry. All these tanks and fighter jets would last just a few minutes if any major power attacked Ireland. Look what happened to all the tanks and fighter jets Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi had. Ireland’s only credible defence strategy would be to immediately go into guerrilla war mode if attacked. Of course our Government and defence chiefs say that our defence policy is to defend Ireland by conventional military means, which means in reality sacrificing ninety percent of our soldiers. Just as well we only have 9000 soldiers to sacrifice in this stupid way.
Should Britain then also abandon most of its military capability? I believe not. Ireland has less than five million people as compared to Britain’s 62 million. Britain does need a big army to defend its territory and more importantly to defend its people and it has the resources to do so, but Britain does not need the military capacity to wage foreign wars, so does not need expensive aircraft carriers, which will also be sitting ducks in a major war, and does not need nuclear weapons, so large savings are possible in its military expenditure.
Our Irish politicians are telling the Irish people that our membership of the European Union means we have to live up to our responsibilities to be prepared to defend fellow members of the EU if they are attacked. So if one of the Baltic States foolishly provokes a war with Russia, Ireland will be expected to send Irish soldiers to defend the Baltic state and attack Russia. Fortunately we do not have the transport means to get our soldiers to the Russian Front! The same will apply to Britain because of its continued membership of NATO, as the Baltic States are also NATO members. (One for all, and all for one, etc).
No country can win a nuclear war, and at best only three countries could possibly survive a major nuclear war, at least in the short term, and these in my view are USA, Russian and China. Apart from their large nuclear arsenals these three countries are large enough to make it difficult to wipe them out in a first strike, but the one who launches a very major first strike has the best chance of winning. Of course all three and the rest of the world will suffer possibly totally catastrophic damage in the long-term. This is where the M.A.D Mutually Assured Destruction theory is supposed to prevent nuclear war. However this MAD nuclear theory does not make provision for some genuinely mad individuals being in charge of the nuclear arsenals. Countries such as Britain and France have so relatively few nuclear weapons that are very easily targeted, that these nuclear weapons far from giving security or protection to the British people, will ensure that the British people will be one of the first targets especially in any war between NATO and Russia. Because England especially is so heavily populated, and quite small geographically, the fatalities in England especially will be colossal.
The suggestion that only so-called small tactical nuclear weapons may be used is a dangerous one. The motto of US civil war General Forest on how to win wars still applies: “get there firstest with the moistest”, and will unfortunately apply in a nuclear war.
Humanity is now facing a coming together or confluence of crises that could destroy humanity and our living environment on this very vulnerable Planet Earth.
The existing or impending crises in possible order of priority include:
1. The real risk of nuclear war
2. Climate change and catastrophic damage to our environment
3. Unjustified conventional wars causing millions of deaths and infrastructural and environmental damage
4. The resulting refugee and migrant crisis
5. The economic chaos being caused by destructive neo-liberal global economic systems
6. Political upheaval across the world
If VFP UK does make proposals that Britain should eventually become a neutral state, this will initially be received with incredulity and possibly some shock, but just like planting an acorn that will likely grow into a large oak tree, likewise with neutrality. It may fall on rocky ground, but it may also grow into a very significant movement. Either way, in my view you have nothing to lose. I am convinced that in this age of probably nuclear wars, neutrality in the only sensible option for very many countries.
We must all find ways of working together peacefully to resolve these interconnected threats to humanity. Neutrality is one of the ways forward, for countries such as Britain, but it must be combined with nuclear disarmament, less wasteful and damaging military spending, and the need to spend any such money saved on promoting peace and environmental protection.
In 2017 the world’s countries spent at least 1,700 billion dollars on military spending and Britain’s spending was in excess of 47 billion dollars.
These costs do not include the massive costs of destruction caused by wars waged by military forces. For the most part these costs are deliberately not calculated in case the countries damaged by our armies might decide to come after us for war reparations. Likewise, “we don’t do body counts” (except for our own soldiers, and even then we don’t count the war related deaths of our soldiers after they have retired or been medically discharged).
If the US and its NATO allies were forced to pay for the damage and deaths they caused in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, they might think twice before destroying further countries. Money talks.
Common sense should tell us that in this age of weapons of mass destruction, war is no longer a safe or sane way of conducting international affairs. Unfortunately, common sense has become very uncommon these days.
Lets give Peace and Neutrality a try – it cannot do any harm, and it might do a lot of good.
To sign up for updates on the Neutral Country campaign please visit: NeutralCountry.UK
For information on our Annual Gathering taking place this weekend in London please visit: Annual Gathering