The role of Europe in the Middle East and the need for its demilitarization

by Georgios Koukoumas *

On behalf of AKEL, we address a militant greeting to all the participants in today’s Meeting. We strongly emphasize the unreserved support of our Party, and we believe of all the people of Cyprus, to the struggle to turn the Middle East into a zone free from weapons of mass destruction. Although we come from a small country, we have undertaken a number of initiatives, utilising our presence in the European Parliament and the Group of the Left to forward, as much as we possibly can, the demand for a Mediterranean free from nuclear weapons. We, of course, incorporate this fight into the wider struggle for peace and justice in the region of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East.

2013-12-19 - AKEL Simbol

There are of course other, seven in fact, regional nuclear-free zones on our planet (Latin America, the Caribbean, South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Mongolia, Central Asia and Africa), but the Middle East, if it were to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), would not only have a catalytic geopolitical significance for world peace, but also for the struggle for global disarmament. Within this context we also point to the need for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Furthermore, we believe that this initiative should be accompanied by confidence-building measures in order to put an end to the arms race in the region.

The nuclear-free zone should also come with security assurances by the five recognized nuclear-weapon States (United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) that they would not threaten a nuclear attack on any countries within the zone- an important security requirement that would hinder the proliferation of nuclear weapons by removing a key argument for adopting nuclear deterrence doctrines. A legally binding protocol that will call upon the five nuclear powers to respect the status of the zone. That means that the transit of nuclear weapons by these states through the zones will be prohibited and they will have to abandon their general practice of not declaring whether nuclear weapons are aboard their vessels.

It is obvious that our goal is difficult, ambitious and interwoven with a number of unresolved international problems and conflicts. We firmly believe that the relationship of the United States with Israel and Turkey and the support it offered is a key obstacle in the struggle for disarmament, the de-escalation of tensions, and the solution of pending problems in our troubled and blood-stained region. However, we believe that the peace-loving and anti-imperialist forces in our neighborhood have a duty to fight for peace and especially to free the Middle Eastern from WMD. We must seize the opportunities during this phase.

The recent developments with regards Syria’s chemical arsenal and Iran’s nuclear programme have taken away any excuse and pretext from those who wanted to protect Israel’s nuclear monopoly. The immunity Israel has enjoyed for so many years in relation to its nuclear arsenal and the protection afforded to it by the US in the various bodies of the international community is unique worldwide. The various estimates about Israel’s nuclear arsenal range from 80 up to 200 nuclear warheads, whilst neutron bombs and biological weapons are also included in its arsenal. It is important to stress that these weapons are in the possession of a state that has still not signed the Non -Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty; a state that is responsible for the most numerous, systematic and brutal violations of International Law; a state that openly threatens another country – Iran – with a nuclear attack. However, the US and the EU are trying to find WMD in countries where it has not been documented that they possess such a capability. The tolerance exhibited by the international community along with the US position, and that of its allies too, pretending that they do not see the elephant in the room, cannot continue.

Dear friends,

On the part of the European Union there are a number of policy documents concerning the non-proliferation of WMD, with the main strategy being the Strategy for the Non-Proliferation of WMD that was elaborated in 2003, together with the European Security Strategy under Javier Solana. Indeed, the proliferation of WMD was defined as a potentially serious threat to European security. Thus, the EU declared that it would use “all instruments and policies at its disposal to prevent, deter, halt and, where feasible, cancel the WMD proliferation programmes.” Furthermore, the EU Common Position is in favour of the universalization of all the Treaties related to the restriction or prohibition of WMD. The EU budget has been an important source of financial support to the IAEA nuclear security programme. During the period 2007–13 the IAEA has received from the EU support worth roughly €110 million. The EU is also making intense diplomatic efforts in this field since it currently has a Special Representative on Non -Proliferation and Disarmament issues and a network of independent think-tanks that have been institutionalized in order to support the implementation of the relevant European Strategy.

However, when we talk about the European Union we must always look at what actually lies behind the words, promises and rhetoric. It should be noted that in the aforementioned documents of 2003, and more specifically in the European Security Strategy, the following EU strategic goal is recorded: to promote “the establishment of a ring of well-governed countries on the Eastern and Mediterranean borders of the Union.” This is extremely useful in order to decode the role that the EU played in developments in the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe over the last decade and the role it seeks to play today in North Africa and the Middle East.

So why does the policy of the EU set as its principal priority the prevention of the nuclear programs of the Democratic Republic of Korea and Iran (leading to the recent negotiations), but it remains silent about Israel’s nuclear arsenal? Why does it exhaust all its sensitivity on the dangers of a nuclear Holocaust from the existent or non-existent nuclear weapons of other countries, but cannot see what is happening on its own territory? Can it honestly play a constructive role in the troubled Middle East when it cannot distinguish the victimizers from the victims? Can the EU be a factor of peace and justice in international relations when it has organic ties to NATO? And finally, can a power contribute substantially to a struggle such as the one being discussed today, but also to the general struggle to deescalate global militarization, when it itself is a power of militarism, interventions outside its own territory and militarization of international relations?

The reality in relation to the Europe speaks for itself. Two states of the powerful core of the EU are recognized as nuclear powers. It is estimated that France has around 300 operational nuclear warheads and the United Kingdom 225 nuclear warheads, 160 of which advanced. In addition, there are hundreds of US thermonuclear weapons (150-250 warheads) deployed on European territory (Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy), targeting Russia and the Middle East. The leading power of the EU, Germany, has become a highly nuclearized country producing, storing and maintaining nuclear weapons, while the opinion polls illustrate that 97% of German public opinion is opposed to nuclear weapons. Turkey also has nuclear weapons on its territory, being both a NATO leading member and a candidate for EU membership.

In order to understand Europe’s orientation today, we should recall that the EU and its leading states have consented, or have participated in the American-NATO wars against Yugoslavia and Iraq where, it should be highlighted; the use of depleted uranium has caused untold humanitarian and ecological disasters. There was also a European involvement in the attack against Iraq and Libya, whereas in the case of Syria, the EU added fuel to the fire with its decisions such as with its decision to lift the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition etc.

In addition, we must recall that since 2002, the EU has intervened militarily/politically over twenty times in three continents. Today 14 EU missions are being conducted all over the world, four of which are purely military: in Mali, Bosnia – Herzegovina and two in Somalia. The creation of EU military formations, battle-ready and on high alert, the so-called “Battle Groups” which will be inter-complemented by the Rapid Reaction Force of NATO (NRF) has been completed. So far the EU has not made use of the “Battle Groups”, to the repeated regret of the elite of European officials. At the same time, the biggest Member States have set up powerful, rapid reaction forces (Euroforces), such as the land forces “EUROFOR” and “EUROCORPS”, the naval force “EUROMARFOR” and the European Airlift Group. Within the framework of the European Defence Agency, the EU is rapidly developing very expensive programs in the field of defence research and of military industry and technology.

Especially for our region, we must stress that the EU is deeply embroiled in the rivalries that are evolving today between the great powers of the planet for the energy reserves of the eastern Mediterranean. Through the so-called Maritime Dimension of the Common Security and Defence Policy, the EU is promoting, in the name of energy security, the militarization of the seas and of the Mediterranean.

Finally, it should be noted that 21 Member States of the EU are also NATO members. All the other European countries are participating in the NATO program “Partnership for Peace”. The only exception is Cyprus, where the people’s and peace movement are waging a constant battle to prevent the plans of the current Cypriot government to join NATO or its programmes. The EU as a whole however, especially after the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, is deeply tied to NATO which continues to have the overriding say on the continent’s security and defense. It is worth noting that at the same time when the peoples of Europe are facing huge setbacks in their living standards, when the homeless, the poor and the unemployed of Europe are measured in tens of millions, NATO is demanding from European states to increase their military spending.

With NATO’s New Strategic Concept which was adopted last year the organization is even more aggressive and with even more emphasis on the globalization of its activities, through the forging of partnerships with other states. This also includes our own region, since two such NATO programmes are focused here. We are referring to the so-called “Mediterranean Dialogue”, which includes Israel, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, and the so-called “Istanbul Cooperation Initiative” which includes Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. We must also add that parts of the NATO missile shield are deployed in Turkey, but also on ships in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, it has become known that the US is holding talks to expand the missile shield to the Persian Gulf, from India to Japan and Australia. We stress that the last Strategic Concept of NATO reaffirmed that “the supreme guarantee of the allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the alliance, particularly those of the United States. It noted that the strategic arsenals of France and the United Kingdom “contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the allies.” NATO also reiterated characteristically that “As long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”, but it will never take any step to stop nuclear weapons existing in the world, precisely because its aggressive nature needs such a lethal weapon.

As AKEL, we have also denounced dozens of times the interventionist and militaristic role played by the European Union in international relations by stating unequivocally that it is the very nature of the EU itself as a union of capitalist states that pushes it to be in a constant and growing economic competition with other strong centres of the world (US, Russia, Japan, China) and to pursue, either politically or militarily, an increasing share of the global market and geopolitical spheres of influence, in order to continuously expand the scope of its big business conglomerates.

The Group of the Left in the European Parliament and AKEL are categorically opposed to the orientation of the Foreign and Security and Defense Policy of the EU. GUE/NGL highlights, both inside and outside of the European Parliament, the demand for the denuclearization and demilitarization of the European continent with the closure of all the military bases and the dissolution of the NATO missile shield. We denounce the EU-NATO partnership and call for the dissolution of NATO. At the same time, we call for the reduction of the military spending and of the armaments of the EU Member States and oppose the military-civilian missions of the EU around the world. The Group of the Left is the force which is trying to convey the truth to the European Parliament about the situation in the Middle East and supports the struggle of the peoples of the region, of the Palestinian people, of Cyprus etc.

As AKEL, we are the force in Cyprus resisting NATO, given also the fact that our country is under semi-occupation and divided. Roughly 37% of our country’s territory, as you know, is occupied by Turkey, while there are two British military bases and spy/surveillance systems on our island as well. The people of Cyprus have always been worried and are still concerned about what kind of weapons these two forces store on our country’s the territory, but also about the dangers posed by the use of Cyprus as a launching pad for waging imperialist attacks. For this reason, we believe that the Cyprus problem is intertwined in our neighborhood’s many wounds that have to be healed with the demilitarization of our island.

Dear friends,

When in the 1930’s the production of electricity through the nuclear fission of uranium atom was announced, few could understand what that meant and what the real prospects and the potential dangers arising from this development were. It was not long before the planet realized that it was already at a historic crossroad: either nuclear power would become a tool for progress that could meet the planet’s energy needs with extremely low costs and a minimal intervention in the environment, or it would become a lethal weapon the like of which the world has never seen before, which could indeed destroy it entirely in just a few minutes.

The attempt for the peaceful use of nuclear energy was launched by the Soviet Union. The use of nuclear energy in war was launched by the US when it dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Neither one, nor the other was coincidental. Of course, life has proved that the peaceful use of nuclear energy also harbors great dangers for both humanity and nature. However, when compared to the nuclear devastation caused in August 1945 in Japan, we should bear in mind that this was very likely to be continued. Only after there was a balance in the nuclear correlation of forces between NATO and the socialist camp did the Americans cease to threaten with a nuclear holocaust and reject out of hand the Soviet proposals for mutual moves on nuclear disarmament. It was the titanic struggle of the world peace movement that forced the US to co-sign the SALT II agreement for reductions in nuclear arsenals, which of course later they refused to ratify. The dramatic upheavals of the 1990s and the dissolution of the socialist community have been a huge setback to the cause of peace and have led to the unlimited aggression of imperialism and to the increase in armaments.

The nuclear order that existed in the 20th century is history. Today humanity is at a crossroad. Either nuclear weapons will proliferate generally as a pandemic or a new Antinuclear Order will be established where nobody will have such weapons at their disposal. We believe that a mass struggle of the peace movement, of progressive parties and organizations, the scientific community and young people must again develop today in order to force all the powers of the Middle East to destroy the weapons of mass destruction and pave the way for a world without nuclear weapons.

 * Intervention of Georgios Koukoumas, member of the International Relations Department of AKEL at the international conference “For a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction” 5-6th December 2013, Haifa, Israel.