Report of the International Anti-US Bases Conference

01 January 2004
Article
 

Report of the International Anti-US Bases Conference
World Social Forum, Mumbai, India 17 and 20 January 2004

This report was prepared by Andres Conteris, Ben Moxham, Herbert Docena and Wilbert van der Zeijden. For more information, please contact Herbert Docena.

See also Report by Naima Bouteldja and Oscar Reyes Transform! newsletter, March 2004

Contents

  • Annexes
    • List of Participants
    • List of Speakers During the Speak-Out Session
    • Notes form the Speak-Out Session
    • Complete Text of Joseph Gerson's Report
    • Text of Invitation to Join E-mail Network
    • List of Conference Working Group Members
    • Call of the Social Movements and Mass Organisations
    • Related Press Clipings
    • Pictures

By many accounts and according to the feedback from many participants, rhe international anti-US bases conference during the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai was highly successful and very promising. It brought together 125 participants, including many long-time and new anti-bases campaigners, from as many as 34 countries. It provided a space for people to share their experiences living with US military presence and present their own local struggles to confront it. More importantly, the conference gave them an opportunity to put their heads together and begin thinking about a joint and collectively coordinated global campaign against US bases. Held during the WSF, an annual gathering against corporate-driven globalization and war, the conference allowed the activists to contextualize the anti-bases movement as part of a broader global movement against neo-liberal globalization and imperialism. With this conference as the first step, the potential from bringing together anti- bases activists around the world is now being realized.

Highlights

  • The conference is a continuation of the process of initiating and launching an international campaign against US foreign bases.
  • It gathered 125 participants from 34 countries, with many community-based anti-bases campaigners as well as representatives from other movements and campaigns such as environmental and human rights groups, anti-IMF-WB and anti-debt campaigners, as well as from the women's movement.
  • The conference had two sessions: The first cast the issue of US foreign military presence and   the campaigns against as part of the larger process of corporate-driven globalization and the resistance to it. In this session, the US' motives for stationing troops and military hardware abroad was assessed. Twenty panelists from around the world shared their experiences struggling against US bases over the years.
  • In the second session, the group began discussing what the objectives of the network should be, what specific projects need to be undertaken, and how best to work together.
  • As priorities, it was suggested that the group refines the meaning of 'US military presence,' continue to monitor US bases around the world, as well as map the growing resistance to them. For the network to mobilize more people, a website was deemed necessary and the list-serve must be expanded. Participation in the March 20 Global Day of Action was highly encouraged. The best date for an International Day of Action against US Bases is still being debated.
  • Certain political and operational questions began to emerge: To what extent should the campaign focus exclusively on US bases? Should the perspective be anti-imperialist or anti-militarist? Would it be strategic to focus on key sites of struggle? What would be the value-added of an international network?
  • thresh out these issues and to plan further, a larger and longer gathering was proposed to continue the process of launching an international campaign.

Background

The 'war on terror' and the invasion of Iraq has highlighted the role of the US' global network of military bases in protecting and advancing the US' interests to the detriment of peoples around the world, among them the hundreds of local communities directly affected by US military presence in its 702 bases worldwide. With the emergence of the global anti-war movement came the growing realization that in order to prevent the US from waging its illegal wars, its network of bases must be targeted. An international community of anti-bases activists, it was felt, could be a powerful campaigning force against empire. In Jakarta last May 2003, at an international gathering of anti-war coalitions, NGOs, and social movements plotting the next moves of the global anti-war movement after the invasion of Iraq, the idea of launching an international campaign against US bases was proposed as priority plan of action, as affirmed in the 'Jakarta Peace Consensus.' An open international working group (see list below) was constituted in the succeeding months to prepare for the anti-US bases conference during the WSF.

Program Participants

The conference took the form of two seminars/workshops among the 1,200 self-organized events during the 5-day WSF. The first, held January 17, 9 AM to 12 NN, at tent A12, was an educational and speak-out session. The second, held January 20, 1 PM to 4 PM, at tent, C88, was a planning and strategy session for discussing how the group should move forward.

The conference attracted a total of 125 participants who attended one or both of the two sessions. (See complete list below.) There was a sizeable presence of anti-bases activists who have been campaigning against US bases in their own communities and countries for years. That many delegates came from various backgrounds ­ from the anti-debt and anti-IMF-WB campaigns, to environmental and human rights groups to women's movements ­ helped situate the bases issue in the bigger picture.

The delegates came from the following 34 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kyrgyz Republic, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Seychelles, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, UK, US.

A Morning of Sharing: The 'Speak-Out Session'

The first session was for analyzing the roles of the US' foreign military presence in its strategic and economic objectives. It was also a morning for sharing how different people from around the world have experience living with and struggling against US bases in their own localities.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee and editor of the book 'The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign US Military Bases' outlined the historic link between the US' need to expand markets and the role of US military bases and how this nexus operates today. He briefly discussed the impact of US bases, including on hosting communities and governments, highlighting the problems of civilian harassment, social and economic problems and the loss of sovereignty.

The geopolitical purpose of US bases is to strategically control resources; to act as staging posts for future interventions and to project power over base host countries and the region. The Bush/Rumsfeld proposed realignment of US bases aims to diversify their facilities, particularly in Asia and the Global South. This policy emphasizes flexibility, political influence and speed for pre-emptive attack. (See complete text of his presentation below.)

Beverley Keene of Jubilee South and Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas (CADA) discussed how the US is using debt relief and trade negotiations to leverage governments of Latin America to host military facilities. Andres Conteris (Nonviolence International) pointed out the important victories for the movement in Vieques, Philippines and Panama as inspiring examples that this conference can draw on.

During the speak-out session, twenty speakers from fifteen countries gave a rich snapshot of their experience and struggles with US bases:

  • In Vieques, Puerto Rico, the military base has dominated their lives, leading to a serious decline in the community's standard of living. They occupied their base for more than one year as part of a campaign which eventually removed the military from their soil.
  • The Latin America perspective showed the creeping influence of the US military in regional affairs especially in the Owar on drugs' and the political moves taken by the US to expand military facilities.
  • The European experience was one of bases being used for the recent war against Iraq and the secret housing of US weapons of mass destruction on their soil.
  • Representatives from Diego Garcia, in Mauritius shared their experiences of forcible eviction from their homelands and the social and economic problems that now affect their communities.
  • In Kyrgystan, the US rapidly entered the country with little public debate. The human rights situation there has deteriorated - contrary to US. rhetoric - as the US military is effectively propping up a repressive regime.
  • For the Philippines, the speaker touched upon how the no bases movement famously evicted the US but also the many military access agreements now in place and the current pressures to reestablish facilities there.
  • Both the speakers from Korea and Japan detailed the long history of a large and damaging US military presence in their countries. There, military abuse of civilian populations has gone largely unpunished; Land has been confiscated and contaminated. The history of local resistance was also shared.

(See notes below for more details. Parts of the session were recorded and available for downloading from http://india.indymedia.org/en/2004/01/208751.shtml)

Moving Forward: The Strategy Session

The second session was devoted more for discussions on how to proceed from the conference, what concrete and feasible projects should be undertaken given the constraints of the emerging network, and how best to eventually implement these projects.

Projects and Priorities

Most of the proposals fell under  1) Research / Education, 2) Communication / Outreach, or 3) Actions / Campaigns / Solidarity Building

Research/Education

  • Sharpening our Definitions ­ what constitutes bases, installations, other kinds of major and minor US military presence?  Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic US military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries. Of these, some 120 are prominent US bases in about 40 countries.  The US has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories.
  • Monitoring the impact of US military bases ­  in terms sexual oppression, prostitution, sexual harassment and violence, trafficking; environmental impact on the biosphere - flora, fauna, land, air, water; health impact on humans; role of municipalities and host governments, violating national sovereignty, and bases as tools for empire building and as a tool for colonialism; follow-up to the closure of bases with campaigns on decontamination and social economic development
  • Monitoring the US role in the militarization of space
  • Success Stories ­ what factors bring about the closure of bases? What are the best practices in the struggles that empower people's movements to close bases? What strategies worked and didn't? How do we use model campaigns in other struggles? How can we offer campaign materials on website and elsewhere to socialize ideas for strategies.
  • Linking US bases to other issues in the wider movement for global peace with justice ­ the anti-corporate led globalization movement, demilitarization, disarmament, arms trafficking, use of bases in drug trafficking.
  • Why our own governments agree to host US bases ­ how does the US use economic pressure to force countries to host the US military presence? (Wilbert van der Zeijden is already pursuing research along these lines.)
  • Mapping the Resistance ­ Ben Moxham of Focus on the Global South is the point person for mapping US military bases/installations as well as mapping the resistance to this imperial presence.

Communication/Outreach

  • Website: It was proposed that the group immediately launches a website to provide information on US bases as well as on this emerging campaign. The website should be in different languages and should have good visual and exciting content. The website should seek to publicize the existence of this effort to the outside world ­ especially to the anti-war and anti-globalization movement ­ in order to mobilize support and participation. Each base-affected community should prepare concise history to be placed on the website. Links to other struggles as well as a calendar of events should be listed. The victims of US bases should be given prominence.   Content of website can include the US launching bases which create terror.  Bibliographic and other educational resources should also be put on the site. Another suggestion was to have an updated tracker to monitor movement of US troops or ships around the world. (Scott Ludlum of the Freemantle Nuclear Group volunteered to coordinate this.)
  • List-serve ­ The e-mail network was thought to be one of the most effective means for building the network. It should be maintained and expanded. (Herbert Docena will continue to act as moderator while everyone else is requested to send out the invitation to their networks. Cora Fabros volunteered to be the point-person for reaching out to anti-bases communities worldwide.)

Actions/ Campaigns/ Solidarity Building

  • International Day of Action against US Bases ­ July 4th was the date proposed by many participants as a date to focus on as an international day of action to close US bases. This was because it was felt that it is important to highlight at the anti-bases language in the US Declaration of Independence and to use it against the US government. Some reservations were expressed, however, and it was agreed that the question be opened to all the members of the e-mail network, with the second week of February set as the deadline for comments. (Everyone is asked to comment on this question. Nikki Hardwick of Globalise Resistance volunteered to coordinate the international day of action).
  • Participation in the March 20 Global Day of Action Against War ­ It was agreed that the group should support the March 20 global day of action against US war and occupation.  Some countries will have actions at US bases. Some said the network should not want to divert attention from the main demonstrations that might be taking place elsewhere. Others said calls to close the US bases should be prominent during marches. It was suggested that the date of the international day of action against US bases be announced on that day. (Everyone is strongly urged to mobilize on March 20 and to highlight the connections between the occupation of Iraq and the US' network of bases.)
  • Peace Flotilla to Diego Garcia ­ To expose the plight of the Chagossians who were evicted from Diego Garcia to make way for US bases three decades ago, it was proposed that a fleet of ship proceed to dock and protest in Diego Garcia. (Martini Gotje of the Chagos Support Group agreed to be the coordinator of this direct action.)

Issues Requiring more Discussions
During the course of planning, several important issues came to the surface..

  • Should we only target US bases? How do we relate with the foreign bases of other countries?
    This was the most recurring question during the strategy session. There was a strong consensus that the US should be the primary focus of the campaign but there were also questions as to how exclusively this focus should be. On the one hand, it was thought that targeting the US would give the campaign a sharper concentration. On the other, it was felt that the campaign could not, for example, ignore the presence of French foreign military bases. At least one participant said his organization would be forced to withdraw from the network if it will eventually be decided that only US bases should be targeted. In the end, the body agreed to add the subtext to the provisional name of the network so that it now reads 'No US Bases: Close all Military Bases Worldwide.'
  • What should be the perspective of the campaign, anti-imperialist or anti-militarist?
    In a way, this question is related to the previous one. An anti-imperialist campaign, it was pointed out, would only call for the closure of bases of imperialist countries. An anti-militarist campaign, on the other hand, would support the closure of all military bases ­ even the non-foreign military bases of one's own country.
  • Campaign-wise, would it be effective to select a few key bases as strategic sites of struggle? If yes, which ones should be chosen and what should the criteria be?
    Among those suggested so far were the bases in Diego Garcia, Okinawa, Seoul, Vieques, Iraq, and a base in Latin America. A base in the North such as Thule, Flyingdale, or Pine Gap was also proposed. Targeting the School of the Americas as another form of military presences was also raised.
  • What structure would best serve the objectives of the network? What are the next steps in the process of forming this network?What kind of entity are we forming? A coalition? A loose network? What should be our ways of working? What are the requirements for forming this structure?
  • What value-added can an international network provide for local anti-bases activists?
    If getting involved in the network is to be worthwhile for its members, it should provide them with much more than what they already have and do more than what they are already doing. How can this network ensure that it compliments and supports rather than compete with the efforts of community-based activists?

A Larger, Longer Meeting

Having identified a priority a set of projects and having begun to confront certain political questions, it was felt that it would be very crucial to hold a bigger and longer meeting in the future. This gathering is envisioned to have more participants ­ especially those who have yet to join the network ­ and to last for 2-3 days. In this meeting, the participants should have more time to discuss further the group's bases of unity and possibly come up with a founding document that would be used to articulate the group's positions and reach out to more members. It should also be an occasion for more extensive networking, sharing of strategies, further brainstorming, more in-depth planning.

In choosing the occasion and the venue of this meeting, the objective is to maximize political and symbolic impact, on the one hand, and to minimize costs, on the other. Thus, it would be best to hold the meeting in a place and at a time where we can extract maximum political mileage and/or when there will also be another related meeting to be attended by many prospective participants.

So far, the following have been suggested:

  • G8 Counter-Summit: Georgia, US, June 2004
  • International Network on Military Activities and Environmental Justice meeting: Seoul, Korea, July 2004
  • Boston Social Forum/ meeting of the European Network for Peace and Human Rights: Boston, US, 23-25 July 2004
  • Americas Social Forum: Quito, Ecuador, 25-30 July 2004
  • Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Summit: Mauritius, 30 Aug ­ 3 Sept, 2004
  • East Asia-US-Puerto Rico Women's Network Conference: Manila, Philippines, 23-27 November 2004
  • European Social Forum: London(?), November
  • Vieques, Puerto Rico, anytime
  • Greece, anytime (?)

(Everyone is encouraged to make suggestions or comment on existing ones. Herbert was volunteered to explore the possibilities further. Since the only obstacle to holding this necessary meeting is funding, everyone is urged to also help share contacts of possible interested funders or, better yet, approach them with this idea.)

Other WSF Events

In an attempt to make connections with the larger movement, participants to the conference also attended and made strong and well-received interventions at other events during the WSF. Lindsey Collen spoke at both the General Assembly of the Anti-War Movement and the Activists' Assembly to appeal for support to the international campaign. She argued that the campaign against bases will provide continuity to the anti-war movement beyond the US' chosen wars. Lindsey, Andres Conteris and other sympathetic friends strived to ensure that the issue of US bases was given prominence in 'Call of the Social Movements,' an important document that comes out during the WSF every year. (See copy below.)

Interim Coordination

It was suggested that the working group which organized the WSF conference act as interim coordinators of the network. E-mail discussions will proceed and conference calls will be scheduled as the need arises ­ subject to availability of funds. Anyone else who wishes to be part of this open coordinating group should contact Herbert at herbert@focusweb.org.   (This report was prepared by Andres Conteris, Ben Moxham, Herbert Docena, and Wilbert van der Zeijden. For more information, please contact herbert@focusweb.org).