The Guardian 28 May, 2008

The most dangerous place in the world

Denis Doherty*

The title "the most dangerous place in world" is hardly inviting but Omaha, Nebraska just coming out of its winter, did not seem all that dangerous. The bitter cold, overcast skies, strong winds and rain, sleet and snow seemed the greatest threat until the menace from the US Strategic Command (StratCom), located at the Offutt USAF base 15 minutes drive from Omaha, became clear. The Global Network against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (GN) held its annual conference in April in Omaha, opening the first day with a demonstration in freezing conditions outside StratCom.

StratCom was the secure underground centre from where a nuclear war would be directed. StratCom proudly displays a B-52 at the entrance to Offutt. B-52s were planes that would deliver nuclear bombs. They were considered so controversial that they were not allowed to land in Australia.

This changed after the 9/11 attacks. President George W Bush was rushed to StratCom and hustled underground to the underground control centre. Since then the command has been given eight new responsibilities or "missions". These include Space Command, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, Intelligence, and Missile Defence.

StratCom can attack any area on the planet just 60 minutes after a phone call from the White House.

GN conference

The 2008 GN conference, hosted by Nebraskans for Peace, a local state peace group, opened with a welcome from the Indigenous people of Omaha. Frank LaMere, a nationally known Native American activist of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, gave an impressive speech, which was followed by a Native American drumming group.

StratCom’s new roles were spelt out. Tim Rinne, from Nebraskans for Peace, stressed how important it is for people to know about StratCom’s transformation.

"StratCom is now command central in the US war on terror and for the US plans to dominate space militarily", he said. "This new StratCom is responsible for overseeing any Global First Strikes, the National Security Agency’s ‘warrantless wiretaps’ and Ballistic Missile Defence.

"StratCom today is the most dangerous place on the face of the earth. It is secretive. Its mission is destabilising. It operates outside the law. And its transformation has occurred so quickly, most of the world is completely unaware of its missions and dangers."

Tim reported that StratCom’s chief, Commander Chilton, had said the next war the White House gets us into, be it against Iran or geo-political rival China, will be planned, launched and co-ordinated from StratCom. Chilton recently told Congress he believes the name should be changed to "Global Command".

Other contributions detailed US plans to update and intensify its space weapons capability. Loring Wirbel from Citizens for Peace in Space, a Colorado Springs group, gave a detailed account of the latest military gadgetry.

War economy

Mary Beth from the Global Network spoke about the permanent war economy. She outlined the massive expenditure on the military since World War 2, amounting to almost half of US annual spending. When this is coupled with the trend of sending manufacturing offshore, the US no longer has the skills needed to provide and maintain its citizens’ way of life.

Civil engineers have carried out an infrastructure audit, finding much that needs to be urgently replaced or repaired. However, the US no longer has the skills to produce the metal fittings for bridge building because so much of its R&D and manufacture has been dedicated to the military.

Time and again speakers emphasised that the US has been and is the source of most of violence in the world. Well known US Catholic prelate and peace activist Bishop Gumbleton also stressed this point.

Among reports from "New Europe" (formerly called Eastern Europe), the Czech delegate spoke of the US establishing missile defence bases and the huge opposition to this by the people. He said only four people in his country believe US claims that the base is for peace but unfortunately these four are the most influential people in the government.

The Romanian delegate had a similar story. The Polish representative, however, never delivered his report. He was stopped at the border by Homeland Security and refused entry to the US. He had on his record a charge of attacking a US plane at Shannon Airport in Ireland. He told Homeland Security he had been found not guilty but to no avail.

The reports from Asia told a similar story of an aggressive US military beefing up its resources to threaten the peace of the Pacific. Ko Young-dae from SPARK (Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea) reported that "Countering this trend, China and Russia are increasing their military co-operation and are engaged in combined exercises such as landing on the Korean Peninsula. They are continuously engaged in combined exercises through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This suggests the US’s global alliance building may lead to a new Cold War."

Australian report

The Australian report stressed the historic importance of the defeat of the Howard government but pointed out that the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has expressed strong support for the US-Australian military alliance.

Defence Minister Fitzgibbon has promised annual increases of three per cent in military spending. New Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith is talking of involvement in the US national missile defence program, even though this breaches ALP policy.

The Australian report covered campaigns against missile defence, US bases, and opposition to US-Australian military exercises, as well as resistance to the US military build up in the Pacific by sponsoring a tour of the people of Guam.

The Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition has been a member of GN because of the valuable role the international network plays in co-ordinating actions against US plans to wage war from space and in space.

The Global Network brings together world citizens who will, for the first time, gather to shine a light on what StratCom has become. Building global awareness is essential if we are to get StratCom to back away from the brink, says a media release from the conference.

At times the resources of the military around the world seem overwhelming. However, there is no need for despondency for the world’s other superpower, the peace movement, is very much alive and well.

*Denis Doherty is Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition National Co-ordinator

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