Speech at Congress of Socialist International

"Let us build down nuclear weapons and invent new global institutions for 21st century"
23rd Congress of Socialist International
Athens, Greece, 1 July 2008

Mr President, Comrades,

It is a great honour to follow Fukishima-san, leader of the Japanese social democratic party. We need to learn from parties all over the world. The democratic left faces a few problems in Europe but in Australia and New Zealand as well as in Latin America, centre-left parties are showing a way forward.

I bring the best wishes of Gordon Brown, a newly elected Vice-president of the SI. He is kept in London by tricky parliamentary business but we are all proud at how he has found the money to double the share of British GDP going to overseas aid. Gordon has taken the lead in alleviating debt for poor countries and led at the G8 and in the EU for a commitment to eradicate illiteracy and lack of education in Africa. So his priorities are those of the Socialist International.

I want to invite the SI today to consider taking the lead in building down the level of nuclear weapons in the world and to reduce the nuclear menace that faces humankind.
It is strange that the main call for a reduction in nuclear weapons has come from American conservative Republicans like the former Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, who launched their appeal last year for the world to take new initiatives to reduce nuclear weapons.
There are still too many nuclear warheads scattered around the world. The USA has around 10,000 active and inactive nuclear weapons and Russia has an estimated 16,000.
These two major nuclear states need to build down their arsenals.
We have seen the positive examples of Libya and just recently North Korea, where active diplomacy involving Europe as well as the US, Russia and China have led those two states to renounce being nuclear powers.
But what can we do to stop India and Pakistan indulging their regional nuclear arms races? How can India, which has more citizens living in absolute poverty than Africa, justify its nuclear arms expenditure? How can India lay claim to permanent membership of the UN Security Council – which many of us support – while being in flagrant violation of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty?
And now there is the awesome menace of a nuclear-armed Iran. Make no mistake. From Mr El Baradi to every source of information inside Iran as well as all independent agencies, no one doubts that Iran is going as fast as it can to get a nuclear weapons capability.
The president of Iran has called more than once for Israel to be wiped off the map of the world. This is the language of extermination. I hope that the Socialist International, whatever the different views on the Middle East conflict, will be concerned, indeed outraged to hear again from the lips of a head of state the language of the extermination of the Jewish people.
An Iranian or Shia nuclear bomb would destabilise the entire region. How would Sunni Saudi Arabia or Egypt react if Shia Iran asserted its rights to have nuclear weapons? Would Turkey not seek its own nuclear shield if Iran gets nuclear weapons? So an Iranian nuclear bomb would launch a regional arms race.
And given the way Iran uses proxies like Hezbollah in Lebanon or Shia groups in Iraq to carry out its policies, can anyone be sure that a nuclear Iran will not be a conduit to terrorist groups for nuclear weapons or nuclear know-how? An Iran with nuclear weapons thus opens the way to non-state groups and fundamentalists being armed with nuclear weapons.
So as socialists we have to say to Iran: ‘Turn back from a new nuclear arms race in a region that need peace, not a new threat of nuclear Armageddon.’
And we need new steps from America, Russia, from China, India and Pakistan as well as from the European nuclear powers to build down current levels of nuclear weapons.
Let us develop Gordon Brown’s ideas of an international uranium enrichment facility to support nuclear power demonstrably only for civil and not military use.
The idea of such a new international body and the need to rethink and make work the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty is part of the thinking about new international networks and institutions relevant to the 21st century. The Socialist International, true to its values, should help develop this thinking.
We all hope that the next president of the United States does less war and more peace.
But the great issues of war and peace need new international architecture to achieve the latter and prevent the former.
We are still living within the architectural framework of supranational global institutions of the mid-20th century – the UN, Nato, GATT/WTO, the EU or G8.
Is this network of global bodies able to deliver what we, as socialists, want and the world needs?
I am a great supporter of the UN. But just in the last week we have seen the UN unable to condemn the tyranny, torture, murder and electoral fraud in Zimbabwe. The UN is unable to stop the genocide in Darfur; unable to implement its own doctrine of the responsibility to protect – R2P – in Burma; unable to get the Attisari plan for Kosovo accepted, or to get its own UN proposals for Cyprus accepted.
Walid Jumblatt told us in the morning, in the context of Lebanon, that the United Nations was in danger of becoming as impotent as the League of Nations. None of us want to see that happen but I believe the SI needs to look at whether the UN is fit for purpose for the new century. Instead we need to ask the question: What new networks, global institutions or groups of like-minded democracies may be needed to support fairness and social justice.
I began by regretting that it was a group of conservative Republicans in America who put forward the idea of reducing the world’s nuclear weaponry. Let us not make the same mistake of allowing the global right make the intellectual and policy argument on new institutions needed to promote democracy and human rights in the 21st century.
We need a global alliance of democracies to face down the rising tide of those justifying non-democracy – the concept advanced by thinkers who argue that all that matters is stability and prosperity and that democracy, freedom of expression, women rights and so forth are secondary issues.
Other speakers have denounced the neo-liberal Washington consensus but we might be facing a new danger of a neo-authoritarian Russian-Chinese-Singapore consensus, which puts the fake stability of political control in the name of economic accumulation ahead of core human freedoms, which the Socialist International has always upheld and insisted upon as non-negotiable alongside the fight for economic fairness and social justice.
So let us put on our thinking caps. There is a battle of ideas, of ideology unleashed in the world and we, as democratic socialists, have to engage in and win this debate. If not, the 21st century will see a victory for reaction and the dark side of humanity and the light shining from the hills of freedom which we seek to lead humanity towards will no longer be there to guide us.