1980s >> 1986 >> no-977-january-1986

Letter From Europe: Greenpeace killing

When he visited the French nuclear testing site at Mururoa in the middle of the Pacific Ocean last October the French Prime Minister. Laurent Fabius, who was there to witness an underground nuclear explosion, described the opposition of ecologists and the population of other Pacific islands as ‘irrational”. What! Which is more rational: to participate in an experiment designed to develop a nuclear bomb that will kill people without destroying property; or to protest against such a patently obscene form of human behaviour?

Clearly Fabius has a warped sense of rationality, but what are we to think of the mental state of the newly-appointed French Minister of Defence, Paul Quilès who, asked what he felt just after the test explosion, replied “happiness” (bonheur) and “pride”? And Fabius and Quilès have the insolence to call themselves socialists! Not even Tory Ministers in Britain defend nuclear bombs in these terms, preferring to justify them as a necessary evil, the world being what it is.

In a sense, this is right. The world being capitalist, states need to arm themselves with the most destructive weapons they can afford in order to deter other states from encroaching on their interests and enter into negotiations on all sorts of issues with a strong bargaining hand. Mitterrand who accepts the logic of capitalism explained this very well in answer to Gorbachev’s proposal to include French and British nuclear weapons in the farcical disarmament talks currently going on between Russia and America. The French nuclear arsenal, he said, is already at the minimum level to be credible and so can’t be reduced without undermining France’s vital interests. A few weeks later Thatcher made the same point in answer to the same proposal.

The simple fact is that, under capitalism, no state can agree to disarm. On the contrary, all states are obliged to arm themselves and to go on arming themselves to keep up with the latest techniques of mass killing and destruction. This is why disarmament is impossible under capitalism and why so-called “disarmament talks” in Geneva and elsewhere are a cruel trick played on world public opinion. At most there might be an agreement to scrap some obsolete weapons so as to be able to concentrate resources on other, more efficient rockets and bombs. If capitalism continues, it is inevitable that more and more states will acquire nuclear weapons, so increasing the probability that they will sooner or later be used again.

States which want to develop nuclear weapons have however one problem: they need some isolated area in which to carry out their tests. This presented no problem to America, Russia, China and India with their vast land areas, but did to densely populated Britain and France. Remote Scottish islands may be alright for testing chemical weapons, but not for nuclear tests. So at first Britain used Woomera in Australia and now carries out its tests in America (hence the so-called “special relationship” between Britain and America, the complete dependence of the British state on the American state for its nuclear weapons). France, which developed its bomb later than Britain, had at first thought of using the Sahara desert in Algeria but a colonial war and the subsequent withdrawal of France from this area put an end to this idea and Mururoa, a remote Pacific island seized by French imperialists in the last century, was chosen. Here from 1963 to 1975 France carried out nuclear tests in the atmosphere, even though it had by then been scientifically established beyond a shadow of doubt that the fall-out from such tests was biologically harmful. Since 1975, however, having caught up with the three nuclear powers – Russia. America and Britain – who had signed the (atmospheric) Test Ban Treaty in 1963, France too now only resorts to underground tests. But for over ten years the French government was responsible before future generations for knowingly polluting the world’s atmosphere with Strontium 90 and other radioactive substances.

Mururoa, then, is vitally important to the French capitalist state as the place where it develops its “credible” nuclear weapons in line with the advances in mass killing techniques. Indeed, keeping Mururoa is basically the only reason France wants to maintain a colonial “presence” in the Pacific area. For, despite assurances by the French government that its underground tests are perfectly harmless to people and the environment. there is no question of it carrying out such tests in France itself, say in some remote area of the Massif Central. There would be far too, many “irrational” people around to protest (as they did over the conventional weapon testing ground at Larzac. for instance), while the protests of South Sea islanders and outside ecologists can easily be brushed off . . . or dealt with in other ways.

It was because Greenpeace – and New Zealand – were protesting so much against French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and because such tests were so vital to French capitalist interests, that the French government decided to send in a team of hired killers to sabotage the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour. There is still some controversy as to exactly who in the French government gave this order; it was probably the former Defence Minister. Charles Hernu (who was quite as mad as his successor, his fetish being to dress up in combat uniform and be driven around in a tank or an armoured car whenever he could), but may even have been Fabius or Mitterrand. Hernu was eventually forced to resign over the affair, but this has not harmed his political career. Far from it. He was given a standing ovation at the French “socialist” party’s recent Congress in Toulouse and has been chosen to head the party’s list in the Lyons area in next March’s general election. He has even been giving interviews hinting that he might be a presidential candidate in 1988 — as well he might be, as long as he keeps well away from New Zealand, where the two members of the French state terrorist gang who didn’t get away are serving a ten-year sentence. Incidentally, despite declarations by Mitterrand and Fabius at the beginning of the affair that those responsible for the blowing-up of the Rainbow Warrior and the killing of one of its crew would be punished in France if found to be French citizens, the rest of the terrorist gang — whose names are known — have gone scot-free and are continuing their training as hired killers in the service of the French state. The only members of the French Secret Service to have been put in prison over the affair are those who leaked the truth to the press.

This double standard when it comes to terrorism is typical of the dirty business of administering a capitalist state. Denunciation of private-enterprise terrorist groups or of terrorist groups controlled by other states, but excuses for your own state’s terrorist activities. There is even a diplomatic word for this: raison d’Etat in French. Realpolitik in German. The fact remains that the biggest terrorist organisations in the world are the various armed states into which it is artificially divided. They kill, maim and torture many, many more people than the IRAs, the ETAs and other such maniacs. It is the task of the socialist movement to sweep away all states, with their willing servants like Mitterrand. Fabius, Hernu, Quilès and other such grotesque non-entities — and establish a world stateless community in which weapons of war. conventional as well as nuclear, will not exist because they will not be needed.

Adam Buick (Paris)