No Star Wars - An International Conference to Keep Space for Peace

SGR Conference and AGM 2001
(Part of a conference organised by Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and Yorkshire CND)

Leeds University; 4-6 May 2001

Summary by Patrick Nicholson, Philip Webber, Alan Cottey and Yunus Yasin

 

Introduction

The conference was part of a weekend of events to give academics and peace activists an opportunity to discuss the proposed US National Missile Defence (NMD) system and UK involvement with the system.

Lectures covered a range of political, technical and legal aspects relating to NMD. Speakers included Atsushi Fujioka, Bruce Gagnon, Karl Grossman, Regina Hagen, Bruce Kent, Dave Knight, Edward Appiah-Brafoh, Hilde Varney, Cheong Wooksik, Stacey Fritz, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Bahig Nassar, Lindis Percy, Alice Slater, Dave Webb, Philip Webber and Alla Yaroshinskaya.

The conference included workshops on

  • Campaigning and working to halt missile defense
  • Echelon, spying and civil liberties
  • Globalisation and corporate involvement
  • Space research and ethics
  • Space nukes, mining the sky and space law
  • Science Fiction Imagery: fact or fiction?

Summary

This conference, which took place in Leeds on May 4-6th, was the latest in a series of meetings of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. Yorkshire CND were the (very able) hosts, and SGR was pleased to co-sponsor the meeting.

The Global Network has been meeting every year since its founding in 1992, bringing together activists working on space issues. The organisation aims to be a clearing-house for information, and to facilitate the building of an international citizens’ movement.

Traditionally GN meetings have included a public demonstration of some kind. The Leeds conference was no different, beginning on Friday May 4th with a coach trip to the radomes of Menwith Hill guided by Lindis Percy of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. A well attended and colourful demonstration then took place in Leeds city centre.

The next day saw 200 delegates from 20 countries gathering at Leeds University for the main conference programme.

Following introductory comments from Bruce Gagnon of GN and Dave Webb of Yorkshire CND, the first session entitled “Space Control and Domination” commenced with a packed auditorium. Professor Karl Grossman, fresh from speaking to British MPs, concentrated on an analysis of recent US military documents explicitly detailing out plans for the wider militarisation of space over the next 20 years. Bahig Nasser suggested that Star Wars could be seen as essentially a shield for capitalism, and that thought should be given to linking up with the anti-globalisation protestors of Seattle. Dave Webb gave a lucid presentation on the Space Based Laser. Finally, Philip Webber of SGR spoke on the problems and prospects for ‘BMD’. These last two presentations are reproduced elsewhere in this newsletter [NL23].

The second morning session dealt with “Global Responses to ‘Missile Defense’”. Delegates from as far afield as Ghana and Australia spoke about concerns in their respective countries. Alla Yaroshinskaya (Russia) posed the hypothetical question of whether the US would agree to a Russian missile defence system covering Alaska. Professor Atsushi Fujioka (Japan) described the pressures being applied to encourage Japan to participate in Theater Missile Defence. Lindis Percy (UK) described how the nature of the two recent Space Based Infra Red System radomes at Menwith Hill was only uncovered through a chance discovery at the Planning Office. She suggested that democracy has gone out of the window in favour of the US-UK “special relationship”. Stacy Fritz (USA) outlined the way in which Alaska is being increasingly militarised in the push for NMD and Star Wars.

Half a dozen workshops were run during the afternoon, and reports from two of these in which SGR was represented follow immediately below.

The final session dealt with “Alternatives to War in Space”. Dave Knight of CND considered some alternative visions of security including reform of the UN and the need for regional solutions to deliver regional security. He spelt out some unilateral steps that the US could take now to increase security including ratifying the CTBT, cutting warhead numbers, withdrawing tactical nuclear weapon from Europe, and signing up to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Carolyn Lucas MEP suggested that around a quarter of the $800 billion currently spent worldwide on arms could solve our main health and poverty problems. Bruce Kent gave a hugely entertaining talk combining humour and insight. on “Overcoming the Obstacles”. Finally, Bruce Gagnon of GN drew proceedings to a rousing end with a review of the day and a call to further action.

A Saturday evening social took place with inspiring music from Seize the Day, and the conference wound up on Sunday May 6th with the AGMs of the Global Network and of SGR.

Workshop on Globalisation and Corporate Involvement

The strong current concern about this topic was reflected in the number of workshop participants - more than 40. Themes which recurred in the many contributions to discussion included:

  • the manner in which lobbying and donations by large corporations undermine democracy
  • the lack of a basic structure for democratic accountability in the UK, where Parliament and even the Cabinet is not involved in important military ('defence') policy decisions
  • the continued erosion of traditional academic values in universities in favour of the economic and military agenda of the largest corporations and the most powerful nations
  • the injustices caused by rapid transfers of capital, by lack of wealth redistribution, and by unfair trade relations between the economically strong and the economically weak. The new 'Star Wars' programme is, in essence, the military 'defense' of this indefensible situation.

Some suggested actions, which can be made by individuals, small groups or large groups, include:

  • invite retired astronauts to come out in favour of space for peace
  • support the few journalists who do expose militarisation of space and related moves toward global domination
  • support alternative news media
  • deconstruct the crafted language (Missile Defense; stewardship; rogue state; security; deter; threat; ...) put out by the proponents of Star Wars and related programmes
  • embarrass corporations implicated in militarisation of space, by publicising their activities
  • prevent company AGMs from turning a blind eye to their disreputable activities and connections.

Workshop on Space Research and Ethics

This workshop began with a discussion of the "Make Space for Peace" statement from SGR and the "Criteria for the Assessment of Future Space Projects" produced by the Darmstädter Friedensforum. The common ground between the two was explored, but there was insufficient time available to achieve any new synthesis.

Subsequent discussion was broad, and included:

  • the European Space Agency and military space projects
  • European arms companies involvement in NMD/BMD
  • differences in perceived target audiences (scientists, lawmakers, faithcommunities, etc) for information about space research ethics
  • the need to build contacts with UK space scientists

Some specific ideas which came out of the dicussion were:

  • that production of a summary of the key points from the Darmstadter document would be useful
  • some examples of "good" and "bad" space research (weather, verification, solar panels etc. on the "good" side) would show that we weren't totally opposed to all development in space
  • our emotional relationship with the stars is important; this is how most people relate to the stars; many react to the idea of war in space with a feeling of desecration of "the heavens"
  • that it could be a useful course of action for SGR to engage scientists working at the European Space Agency (ESA) as this institution now had a new role in relation to military systems (Galileo, Geo Positional Systems of Russia, USA and Europe)
  • to work with Ghanian Govt for a new Outer Space Treaty (via Edward Appiah-Brafoh)

Clearly if this work is to be carried forward even in part there is a need for coordination of effort and time commitment from various people to undertaking various tasks.

 

(This summary is from SGR Newsletter NL23)