The consolidation of an international network for the abolition of foreign military bases marks an important advance for the global peace and justice movement.
On the perimeter fence of the Eloy Alfaro air base in Manta, Ecuador hangs a sign, â€œWarning: Military Base. No Trespassing.â€ Since 1999, the base has been used as a â€œforward operating locationâ€ by the
On March 9, about 500 visitors showed up at the baseâ€™s main gate. One of them walks up to the fence and pastes a bright blue and red sticker saying â€œNo Bases!â€ on the warning sign, a broken rifle forming the diagonal line with the letter â€œoâ€ to make the universal sign of prohibition.
It is a small, symbolic act of trespassing for a newly formed international network with a big goal: the closure of all such military bases worldwide. But with the successful convening of a conference that launched the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases (No Bases) in
Perhaps the largest gathering against military bases in history, the conference drew over 400 grassroots and community-based activists who are at the forefront of local struggles from as far away as Okinawa, Sardinia, Vieques,
But even the final tally of those present probably underestimated the extent of participation in the conference: In the networkâ€™s e-mail list on the eve of the conference, an anti-bases activist from Iceland wrote to say that their absence in Ecuador should not be taken to mean that they are absent from the movement. The range of groups that made it to the conference â€“ both in terms of where they come from geographically and politically â€“ demonstrate just how broad the movement against bases has become.
International conferences are sometimes dismissed as talk-fests where nothing gets done. But getting together and talking to each other is often an important first step in building a community. In various panels and self-organized seminars, film-showings, and forums, participants deepened their understanding of the role of military bases in global geo-politics, the various forms and guises that military presence takes, and their impacts on local communities and the environment. They also exchanged lessons about strategies and approaches to more effectively campaign against bases back home. Even the Pentagon has taken note of the growing domestic opposition to their bases and it is these grassroots campaigns that are foiling their plans.
But this was not all. What was significant about the conference was that the participants went beyond talking about how bad bases are and why we should all oppose them. They rolled up their sleeves and, in one intensive workshop after another, set out to establish a network, articulate the bases of unity, agree on a higher level of coordination, and decide more concrete plans for common action.
That task proved to be daunting yet illuminating. As the participants tried to clarify what exactly brought them together, potentially divisive but fundamental questions soon rose to the surface: Should the network just target foreign military bases or also domestic bases? Since they all have military and war-making purposes, shouldnâ€™t all military bases â€“ regardless of whether they are the
These proved to be important questions because the answers to them touch on the values and identity of the network. Underlying them are broader questions that define some of the diverging â€“ but also overlapping â€“ currents within the network and, perhaps, within the larger anti-war movement.
Broadly â€“ and perhaps crudely â€“ categorized, there are those within the network who oppose bases from what could be called an â€œanti- imperialistâ€ perspective. They see foreign military bases as both the instruments â€“ as well as the visible manifestations â€“ of imperialism.
They are against US bases on foreign soil but will defend
These debates also raise questions about the nature of â€œnationalismâ€
and â€œsovereignty.â€ In many contexts, mainly but not exclusively in the South, opposition to foreign bases draws from a deep nationalist well, with bases seen as â€œexternalâ€ incursions against â€œsovereigntyâ€
and with â€œnationalismâ€ seen as a necessary bulwark against colonialism. In other contexts, however, â€œnationalismâ€ and â€œsovereigntyâ€ have become bad words, used to rally public support for wars against â€œthe otherâ€ and to justify repressive measures against â€œforeigners.â€ Cautiously, the network treaded the fine line between self-determination and chauvinism.
After ten hours of spirited but cordial deliberation, the draft declaration presented in plenary was widely commended as a sharp but nuanced formulation (see full text below) that succeeded in drawing the approval of both anti-imperialist and anti-militarist positions.
(Or at the very least, it was not expressly rejected by either.) What may have clinched the day was the broadening of the target of the network to include not just foreign military bases but â€œall other infrastructure used for wars of aggression.â€
The formulation thus takes a more sophisticated understanding of the complex configuration of military bases by allowing for the inclusion of domestic military bases inside the US, as well as in NATO and in other countries. It appealed to those who insisted on a strong focus on foreign military bases â€“ most of which are owned by the
In contrast to the right-wing, chauvinist opposition to bases, the declaration makes it clear that the networkâ€™s objection to bases is not premised on what analysts call the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) logic â€“ i.e. foreign military bases are fine as long as someone else bears the noise, the waste, and the crimes â€“ but on the NIABY logic (not-in-any-oneâ€™s backyard), i.e. foreign military bases are bad because they â€œentrench militarization, colonialism, imperial policy, patriarchy, and racism.â€ In light of the influence of the right-wing objection to bases, the networkâ€™s opposition to all bases â€“ and not just those in oneâ€™s locality â€“offers a global counter-pole premised on internationalism and solidarity.
For an incipient grouping still struggling to define its purpose and to sharpen its focus, the importance of clarifying and reaching agreement on the networkâ€™s bases of unity should not be underestimated. As Helga Serrano, one of the conference organizers concluded, â€œThe ideological and political bases of unity of the network is more consolidated than we had thought.â€ It is true that the subsequent session for planning concrete actions and strategies proved to be less clarifying: only a grocersâ€™ list of ideas emerged, not a clear set of priorities. But without coming to an agreement on its common vision, the network could have been paralyzed by unresolved contradictions and confusion. The articulation of collective principles lays the foundations for future actions.
Carrying out these actions requires, in turn, a certain degree of organization. On-guard against threats to their autonomy, wary of centralizing tendencies, but keen to achieve their objectives, many delegates stressed the need to combine openness and horizontality with strategic and organized action. As Joel Suarez, a participant from
Put this way, the dilemmas faced by the network is little different from that faced by other networks that have emerged in recent years. Accepting the need for closer interaction while cautious of rushing the process, participants in the end reached a consensus to remain as a loose grouping but with a higher level of coordination. A process was set up for putting in place an open international coordination committee with a clear but circumscribed political mandate and a defined set of responsibilities for carrying out collective projects.
Still, there are significant hurdles to overcome: The network still has to reach out to so many more local anti-bases activists, especially from West and Central Asia; the issue of bases is still not high on the agenda of the anti-war movements; the network lacks resources because the issue is seen as too radical even for sympathizers; and even within the network, there is uneven access to resources and capacities; translation remains to be worked out more efficiently; and so on.
Despite all these obstacles, the network has come a long way. The conference is a milestone in that it marks the consolidation of the international network as both a space where the broadest grouping of organizations, coalitions, and movements can come together and as an organizational vehicle which can carry out globally coordinated campaigns while providing continuing and sustained support to local struggles everywhere.
But itâ€™s more than this. The networkâ€™s development could also be seen as evidence of the consolidation of the anti-globalization/anti-war movements that emerged in the last decade. While the idea has been germinating before, the birth of the network could be traced back to a gathering of anti-war/anti-globalization activists, shortly after the invasion of
A group of organizations in that meeting then carried the idea forward through various World Social Forums, local and regional social forums, and other activist gatherings. As Wilbert van der Zeijden, an activist who was among those who steered the network through the years, said, â€œThis would not have been possible without the World Social Forum process.â€ While the concept remains debated, the â€œopen spaceâ€ provided by the social forum process provided opportunities for networking, information-sharing, and organizing that would have been too difficult or too expensive had the space not existed. The consolidation of the network proves that the movement is capable not only of uniting around a proposal but of actually seeing it through.
Also often underrated and unreported is the degree by which the movement has been getting more efficient at organizing. While there were a few of the usual glitches and some internal disagreements, it felt as though the conference and the run-up to it was, on the whole, better organized politically and logistically than similar projects in the past. International conferences of the scale that activists had been organizing in the last few years require a high level of organization and coordination but, with very limited human and financial resources, and activists are stepping up the plate. As one participant remarked, â€œFive years of organizing the World Social Forums and other meetings and weâ€™re learning.â€ Ecuadoran organizers of the network conference themselves acknowledge that they have gained confidence and valuable experience from organizing the Americas Social Forum and other international meetings in the past.
What is remarkable â€“ but often taken for granted â€“ is how activists â€“ who are not trained and salaried professional events organizers â€“ have succeeded in realising ambitious projects for a small fraction of the cost that corporations or governments spend on similar meetings. That the movements are learning and becoming more proficient heralds their development and growing capacity for organized action.
More than anything, the consolidation of the anti-bases network demonstrates that the movements have become more deliberately strategic. The network is a â€œsingle-issueâ€ campaign focused on the issue of bases. And as Lindsey Collen, an activist from
Rather than being divisive, the emphasis on bases brings together a much more holistic understanding of the ways in which the coercive and corporate sides of militarized globalization come together to perpetuate structures of dispossession and injustice. As Joseph Gerson, an activist-scholar on bases, put it â€œBases perpetuate the status quo.â€ The decision to zoom-in and focus on the issue of bases in a coherent and consistent manner comes out of an objective assessment and a compellingly simple logic: without foreign military bases, wars would be so much more difficult to wage; without wars, the pursuit of geo-strategic and economic interests over democracy and self-determination would be so much harder. As Corazon Fabros, a veteran anti-bases activist from the