A Europe that refuses war? Antimilitarism and the European Social Forum

The European Social Forum in Paris in November 2003 stated in its final document: "We march for a Europe that refuses war". At the same time, many European countries - Britain, Poland, Spain, the Netherlands, to mention just a few - were contributing troops to the "coalition of the willing" occupying Iraq, and the heads of the European Union were discussing a new "EU constitution", with a heavy military component, which would mark a major milestone in the militarisation of the European Union (see article below).

A Europe that refuses war? Hardly.

But we can be a bit more optimistic. On 15 February, more than 10 million people world-wide followed the call of the European Social Forum 2002 in Firence and marched through the streets of Europe and elsewhere - probably the biggest simultaneous anti-war demonstrations ever. At the World Social Forum in Mumbai in February 2004, Arundhati Roy remarked: "It was wonderful, but it was not enough. February 15th was a weekend. Nobody had to lose as much as miss a day of work. Holiday protests don't stop wars."

Resistance to the occupation of Iraq

Arundhati Roy went on: "This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It's not good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our resolve, it's important to win something. In order to win something, we need to agree on something. That something does not need to be an over-arching pre-ordained ideology into which we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves. It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another form of resistance to the exclusion of everything else. It could be a minimum agenda.(...)

So if we are against Imperialism, shall we agree that we are against the U.S. occupation and that we believe that the U.S. must withdraw from Iraq and pay reparations to the Iraqi people for the damage that the war has inflicted?

How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let's start with something really small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance in Iraq against the occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes the resistance. (Are they old Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic Fundamentalists?)

We have to become the global resistance to the occupation."

If we - wherever we live, but especially here in Europe - want to be the resistance to the occupation, then it is not enough to look at the U.S. as the "source of all evil". It is important to be aware that the occupation of Iraq is supported (and only possible) because of the active support of European governments, militaries, and corporations. Part of the "Multi-National Division South-East" in Iraq, which is led by Britain, are troops from Norway, Romania, Denmark, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Portugal and Lithuania. Other countries include Poland, Macedonia, Georgia and Azerbaijan, to mention just a few. Although smaller in number, these troups play a crucial role in the U.S. attempt to internationalise the occupation of Iraq.

War profiteers - beyond Iraq

Besides the military, private companies play a crucial role in the occupation of Iraq - well beyond oil companies interested in the exploitation of the Iraq's oil. It is known that Private Military Contractors (PMCs) have more personnel in Iraq than the UK Armed Forces - second only to the US military. PMCs deal with everything from supply to the military, or maintenance of military equipment to data analysis for the front line. The U.S. companies Halliburton or DynCorp became famous for the misconduct in Iraq, but European companies increasingly get into a growing market of services for European armed forces. Companies like Serco (Britain), EADS (European), or Saab Training Systems (Sweden) - again to mention just a few - make more and more profit from "outsourced" services to the military. Serco estimates that the British "market" alone will more than double by 2010 to £8 billion (EUR 11.5 billion) - and Serco wants go get its share. Similar developments can be expected in other European countries.

At the WSF in Mumbai, Arundhati Roy went on: "Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially impossible for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. It certainly means that in countries like India and Pakistan we must block the U.S. government's plans to have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent to Iraq to clean up after them.

I suggest that (...), we choose, by some means, two of the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq. We could then list every project they are involved in. We could locate their offices in every city and every country across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them down. It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question of the desire to win."

War Resisters' International is presently preparing an international campaign on war profiteers, which will take up Arundhati Roy's call, but will also go beyond Iraq. This for two reasons: we believe that a successful campaign needs to be rooted in the local circumstances, and that it is therefore important to not only choose U.S. companies, but to point to the complicity (and profit) of European companies and governments in the occupation of Iraq.

Secondly, the occupation of Iraq is only one more step in the "war on terrorism", with others to follow - Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Somalia - who of us knows the next victim? The provision of services for military operations by private corporations, and the process of the militarisation of the European Union (with the EU constitution as one landmark) will lead to more European involvement in future wars - something we need to act on now, if we want to prevent it. For us as antimilitarists and war resisters it is also important to be clear about our objectives when we campaign against war profiteers. "Take the profit out of war" is not sufficient - we are opposed to war profiteers, because we are convinced that war is a crime against humanity.