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banner Monday, 1 October, 2001, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK
Definitions of war
The rush of international events caused the Independent to ditch the original subject for its Labour conference fringe meeting on television for the far more timely issue of "War - what is it good for?"

Peter Mandelson, banished from the conference platform as a double-sackee from cabinet, was the main attraction.

This war is not a conflict being fought on behalf of one civilisation against another

Peter Mandelson
His co-star was a Labour MP with about as much chance of getting onto the platform as Mr Mandelson, the left-wing Alan Simpson.

Also speaking was Independent columnist David Aaronovitch, who kicked off the proceedings by declaring that he was neither a dove nor a hawk over the present situation.

But people were really only here to see the main act. Mr Mandelson said he was not "entirely comfortable with he use of the word 'war'" in the context of the title of the fringe meeting.

Definitions of war

But he would go along with it for the purposes of this debate, and so he began by detailing what "this war is not".

It was not "a conflict being fought on behalf of one civilisation against another".

We are not pursuing terrorism. We are pursuing a war against America's enemies

Alan Simpson MP
Nor was it "against a country" - ie Afghanistan. It was against "specific targets": terrorists, training camps, "terrorist machinery".

It was not about "telling the Afghan people how they should be governed and who should govern them in the future".

Having defined what it was not, he went on to what it was - "a humanitarian campaign, as well as a military one".

The former trade secretary also wanted to see a "Marshall plan" for the Afghan people themselves once it was over.

Democratising the world

But "in the first instance, this campaign is about bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice" and "shutting down" his terrorist network, said Mr Mandelson.

What had to emerge from the end of the long campaign was "the ideas and principles of the international community strengthened, and the United Nations strengthened" - and "a world which is a better place for everyone to live in, whichever continent".

The war was about "democratising the international community".

'Self-interest' the prime motive

Alan Simpson, who has been critical of the gathering US-led response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, opened with: "We have not bombed Afghanistan [yet] and nor should we."

Events and much of the reaction since 11 September showed "not only that it has changed the way we think, but that we have ceased to think coherently".

If planes had flown into somewhere like Canary Wharf or the Arndale Centre, "would we have threatened to bomb Dublin in Ireland because they failed to hand over the IRA?"

The Nottingham MP also wondered, if this is to be a war against terrorism, "where, within that war, does state terrorism figure?"

Did it include US-backed or trained forces who in recent decades had played their own part in highly controversial conflicts in past decades?

He could see no principles in the West's reaction to 11 September "beyond our self-interest".

'No bombing solution'

"We are not pursuing terrorism. We are pursuing a war against America's enemies."

As for the coalition being built, self-interest was again the driving force.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, was not in it for the global principles expressed. "What he wants is to be able to bomb the hell out of Chechnya!"

There was, he concluded, no "bombing solution" to 11 September.

The "incontrovertible evidence" cited by Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W Bush that Osama Bin Laden was behind the attacks should be put before if not the public in general, then an international panel of judges.

The US must also stop vetoing plans for an international criminal court.

And the "folly" of the US "Son of Star Wars" plans for missile defence had been exposed. The money being spent on developing the plans should instead be diverted to more useful ends via the United Nations.

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