Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Medact


  1.  For several decades the UK and the USA have had a close and co-operative relationship, which has been to the benefit of both parties and which we would wish to continue. However, recent activities on the part of recent US administrations, and in particular during the 9 months of the Presidency of George W Bush, give cause for concern. We hope that Honourable Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee will share these concerns and convey them to Her Majesty's Government. They relate to:

    1.  The Administration's attitude to international treaties and conventions.

    2.  Plans for National Missile Defense and for militarisation of space.

    3.  Response to international terrorism.


  2.  Since WWII, a network of international treaties and covenants has come into being, which we believe provides the basis for a just, peaceful and sustainable world order based upon the United Nations. Some of these treaties are bilateral, most multilateral, and many are in effect part of the UN system. All depend for their effectiveness on the full co-operation of many States Parties and in particular of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including of course the UK and the USA. However, the UN is not highly regarded by the USA, which has been persistently late in paying its dues until very recently. Recently the US has increasingly disregarded the UNSC, for instance in bombing Yugoslavia. It has withdrawn from or threatened to withdraw from several important treaties and refused to sign and/or ratify others. These include:

  3.   Kyoto Protocol on carbon dioxide emissions. The US, with 4 per cent of world population, is responsible for 25 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Without its participation atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to rise and lead to major environmental damage.

  4.   Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The US is one of the States which must ratify this treaty if it is to enter into force. Without its participation others, including India and Pakistan, will not sign up, and sooner or later nuclear weapons proliferation will resume.

  5.   Verification Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. The GW Bush Administration has refused to accede to this protocol, which was due to be agreed at the BWC Review Conference next month. Without this protocol, effective enforcement of the objectives of the BWC is impossible, as has been demonstrated already by the case of Iraq.

  6.   Ottawa Landmines Convention. The US is among several states that have refused to sign this Convention, delaying the elimination of a group of weapons that do immense damage to the environment and cause serious injury and death to many thousands in the developing world.

  7.   International Criminal Court. This court will come into being when ratified by 60 states, and we are delighted that the UK is in process of ratifying its Statute. The US does not currently intend to do so. Were the court in being, those responsible for the recent terrorist attacks on New York and Washington could have been tried before it.

  8.   Convention on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms. If it comes into being, this convention will eventually greatly reduce the toll of the many conflicts that afflict the developing world. In July, the US prevented the establishment of a binding convention for at least five years. It is not unlikely that, as a result, illegally traded arms will be used against UK and US forces that might not otherwise have been available to the combatants.

  9.  We urge the Committee to advise HMG to ask the US to review its attitude to these and other treaties. Among other benefits, this will significantly reduce the hostility to the US that we suggest is among the factors underlying recent terrorist attacks in the US. Similar attacks could occur against the UK if it continues to give uncritical support to the US.


  10.  Perhaps the most controversial of current US policies is the plan for National Missile Defense, perhaps to be part of a multi-billion dollar scheme for "full spectrum dominance" to extend to weaponising outer space. Such plans must be another contribution to the resentment of the US that many of its citizens seem unable to comprehend. NMD in particular is open to several objections.

  11.   It may not work. Two tests have failed, two others have "worked" but under such conditions as to bear no resemblance to responding to a genuine attack.

  12.   It is inappropriate. Most western commentators are sceptical that a missile attack on the US from "states of concern" is a serious possibility for many years. We trust that informed members of the Committee share this view. Rogue states and non-state actors are—as shown by the 11 September atrocity—likely to use other methods of attack not preventable by NMD. Missiles can be tracked back to source, and a missile attack would bring massive retaliation. Chemical and biological weapons could be scattered from light planes or lorries. (Crop spraying was suspended in the US after 11 September.)

Plutonium scattered by a "conventional" lorry bomb could make a city centre uninhabitable. Yet the Government has licensed the MOX plant at Sellafield, which will depend upon plutonium being transported across the world—an obvious target for terrorist capture.

  13.  The recent loss of a Russian airliner may be a warning of a further danger, that of false alarms and missiles going astray with disastrous consequences.

  14.   It will be highly expensive. If the US wishes to increase world security, and not just retreat into a laager, it should increase its overseas aid— one of the lowest among OECD countries—at the expense of its inflated arms spending and in particular the USD 100 billion which NMD may cost.

  15.   It could trigger a new arms race. If the US abrogates the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to proceed with NMD, Russia may withdraw its ratification of START II and the CTBT. This could bring negotiations towards nuclear disarmament (to which the UK and US are committed under Art VI of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) to a halt. China will increase its nuclear capability, resulting in a race for weapons of mass destruction throughout Asia.

  16.  For all these reasons, we hope that the Committee will advise HMG to take no part in missile defence programmes. Many Honourable Members have already signed an EDM expressing concern about NMD, and some may be members of the committee or give evidence to it.

  17.  The use of Menwith Hill and Fylingdales would be a key part of any but the most minimal NMD programme. We ask the Committee to strongly advise the Prime Minister and Secretaries of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs to state clearly that these facilities must not be used for NMD.


  18.  The Committee will share in the almost universal condemnation of the 11 September attacks, grieve for the dead, and join in condolences to their loved ones. Some aspects of the response to the attacks have been covered above. We would add:

  19.   A Military Response will Fail. While we understand the anger felt in the US in particular, and in other countries whose nationals died in the World Trade Center, we ask the Committee to urge that military action be avoided until all other avenues, diplomatic and legal, are closed, for two reasons.

    1.   More deaths will result; and no matter how carefully any attacks are targeted, "collateral damage" a euphemism for civilian, including perhaps child, casualties—will occur. These will be regarded as martyrs, further acts of terrorism will occur in revenge . . . and so the cycle of violence will go on.

    2.   Afghanistan is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, as the Secretary of State for International development has made clear. This has already been made worse by the threat of bombing. Actual bombing will turn this into a major disaster; hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, could die of cold and starvation. Nothing could please Osama bin Laden more than the chance to blame the US and UK for all this.

  20.   Diplomacy and Law. The actual perpetrators of the atrocity are beyond the reach of human justice, but others behind them are clearly guilty of conspiracy to murder. Bringing them to justice will be difficult and take time, leading to protests that nothing is being done. It took years to bring two men to trial for the Lockerbie jumbo jet crash, but only if justice is done and seen to be done will US claims to be on the side of freedom and justice be justified. Many will doubt if those brought to trial can receive a fair trial in the US, and European countries that do not practise the death penalty may not extradite them. An ad hoc tribunal, analogous to that trying war crimes in former Yugoslavia, or trial under US law at The Hague, are possibilities.

  21.   Long-term measures. The only long-term solution to terrorism is to eradicate its causes. We suggest that there are two principal causes, and that the US in particular, but also the UK, can help in this.

    1.   Resolution of territorial disputes. In the case of Islamic terrorism, settlement of the Arab/Israeli dispute is essential. Only the US can bring sufficient pressure on Israel to achieve this, and we hope that the Committee will commend Pres. Bush's statement that a Palestinian state is inevitable. The issue of the settlements in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem must be resolved, and a solution will have to take into account that they are widely believed to be illegal under international law.

    As a member of the Commonwealth, the UK is better placed than the US to mediate in Kashmir, another source of terrorism.

    2.   Eradication of Poverty. The DfID is committed to halving world poverty by 2015. We commend this initiative but to turn the call into deeds rather than words, the UK must speedily increase its contribution to overseas aid from the present 0.32% to the UN target of 0.7%. As already noted, the US must also be asked to increase its overseas aid, now only 0.1% of GDP. This aid must be in such forms as debt relief and promotion of health and education facilities and must not involve public expenditure cuts through the Structural Adjustment Programmes hitherto favoured by the World Bank and IMF, nor of course as military aid. We agree, as health workers, with the case put forward by Richard Horton (The Lancet, 6 October 2001, vol 358 pp 1112-1113) that promoting health will do more than any other measure to defeat the terrorist threat. Afghanistan, the Occupied Territories of Palestine, Peru and Colombia are all among the world's poorest countries and also homes for terrorist groups.

  (Medact is the UK affiliate of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War: which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.)


October 2001

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