Prime Minister's address to the nation on the war in Iraq - March 23, 2003
THE WAR IN IRAQ: ISSUES FOR OUR NATION
Address to the Nation by
The Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Kenny D. Anthony
Sunday 23rd March 2003
My Fellow Saint Lucians,
Since Wednesday March 19th 2003, we have witnessed on our television screens on a daily basis, the full drama of the horrors of war as the armed forces of the United States and the United Kingdom supported by their coalition partners engage in military action against Iraq. This war has brought into sharp focus the full consequences of manís inability to commit himself to the ideals of peace and mutual co-existence. There is no doubt that these events have challenged each of us, personally as individuals and collectively as a civilization. They have forced us to fundamentally rethink and to reflect on our hope that present and future generations will not relive the horrors of war suffered by past generations.
No war is ever popular. Some wars are more unpopular than others. This war has attracted demonstrations throughout the world, even in the countries which lead the offensive against Iraq. These demonstrations are as much a powerful statement about the integrity of democratic values in these countries as it is about the fear of war, its horrors, pain and anguish. Just as we share the agonies of the people of the United States and the United Kingdom, we must also reach out to the people of Iraq, in particular the women and children, who are bound to be innocent victims whether or not that this war is justified.
As a Government, we are forever mindful of Saint Luciaís historical and economic ties to the UK and the USA, the two countries which are most committed to the use of force against Iraq. We also have rich historical, cultural and diplomatic connections to France, which is the European power most vocal in its opposition to the war. In essence, two of our closet friends the United States, and the United Kingdom are at war with Iraq , while another close friend France, has vehemently opposed it. Saint Lucia can only hope that the diplomatic fissures which have resulted will be quickly healed. In the aftermath, every opportunity will have to be taken to return to an atmosphere of peace and normalcy among nations. Without peace and goodwill among men and nations there can be no global prosperity.
THE ISSUE BEFORE US
The issues before us in this debate are clear. As a Government, a small country, and a region committed to peace, stability and economic prosperity, we are opposed to all weapons of mass destruction regardless of who possesses them. Humanity can only be the richer for the dismantling and destruction of these deadly weapons. Future generations can only hope that these weapons will never be used in offense or defense, whatever the circumstances. To accept anything less is a telling statement of our failure as human beings to boast of a civilized humanity. Those who do not have these weapons should never be allowed to obtain them and those who have them must engage in an international effort to get rid of them.
Along with the rest of Caricom, Saint Lucia, has already joined the universal condemnation of terrorism and of countries that support terrorist activity. We remain steadfast in that condemnation. We have also argued that no state should promote the development of weapons of mass destruction in any form including chemical or biological agents.
We regret that no heed was paid to Caricomís exhortation that diplomacy and peace should have been given every opportunity to work, and that the use of military force should have been avoided.
Together with the rest of Caricom, we have declared our reaffirmation of the principle that the United Nations through its Security Council is the sole entity that is charged with the legal and moral responsibility for maintaining peace and stability. We have argued that global governance must be based on multilateralism and not on unilateralism. Whilst as a small country we continue to battle against the injustices inflicted upon us by multilateral institutions such as the WTO, we however remain steadfast in the belief that the price of unilateralism will be far heavier. We also believe that the United Nations is still the best option to arrive at a collective approach to solving the problems which face humanity and our civilization. We must strive to preserve the integrity of the United Nations system and promote international confidence in the multilateral process.
We must also remember that the existing global institutions have been relatively successful in maintaining World Peace since the end of World War II. It is these institutions and structures which assured our independence and which thus far, have safeguarded the sovereignty of all nations, weak and strong alike, but particularly the weak. We must ensure that these structures are not set aside at the whims of powerful nations.
GEO-POLITICAL ISSUES CONFRONTING SAINT LUCIA
The current conflict in Iraq is one of the occasions when small states like Saint Lucia must speak on the basis of principle. Despite our smallness, our openness to all cultures and peoples and our commitment to peace and stability give us the moral authority to use our voice in the furtherance of justice, the respect for the sovereignty of nations and the adherence to the rule of law.
THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNGA
Indeed, this war comes at a particularly critical time for Saint Lucia, as it coincides with our preparation to assume the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly in September of this year. We must therefore be ever mindful of this awesome responsibility in all our deliberations and statements. We will assume the Presidency of the General Assembly at a particularly crucial time in world history. This war will leave in its wake, unimagined turbulence and insecurity among nations, peoples and religions. The leadership of Saint Lucia at the General Assembly of the United Nations will surely be tested. In a curious way, the world may very well need Saint Luciaís Presidency of the UN General Assembly since our size, history and political traditions may provide us with some unique insights and the impartiality to guide the UN during this most difficult and delicate period. I wish to assure all Saint Lucians, and all our friends in the international community, that Saint Lucia stands ready to assume this responsibility.
Let me now turn to some domestic issues.
THE IMPACT ON OUR ECONOMY AND SOCIETY
We were painfully aware that whatever the motives of the action taken by the US and UK forces, we would all suffer the consequences of another war. Just when we seemed to be climbing out of the stranglehold of another global recession, we are witnessing the resurgence of global events over which we have little control and which threaten to reverse the gains that we have managed to secure.
Every sector of our economy is likely to experience severe strain. This is a period therefore which will take the strongest resolve and commitment of Government, the fullest support of the private sector and the understanding of every St. Lucian.
On February 25th and 26th of this year, at my request, the National Economic Council met with a wide cross section of civil society to explore the possible impact of a war in Iraq on Saint Lucia. The reflections of the NEC indicate the possibility of a period of immense economic difficulty for Saint Lucia. The NEC has observed that following on the heels of nearly two years of economic stagnation as a result of the world recession and the September 2001 attacks on the USA, a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Iraq could be a matter of economic life or death for several Caribbean nations.
Unquestioningly, this war has very serious implications for us and for our economy. The fear and reality of retaliatory attacks against US and British citizens, and further deterioration in the global economy as a result of the war, are expected to have a sharp and negative impact on the tourism industry, which itself has not fully recovered from the events of September 11th 2001. Understandably, there will be a greater reluctance to travel, particularly by US and British citizens, who are Saint Luciaís main source of tourism revenue. On the other hand, if the war is short, we may well see a dramatic increase in travel, particularly from the United States.
The impact of the war on the price of fuel is another issue which causes us grave concern. Indeed, prior to the formal commencement of hostilities there were clear indications that the rising price of fuel was placing a severe burden on Governmentís finances as we have continued to cushion our citizens from the fluctuations in world oil prices. The commencement of hostilities has nudged reductions in the World market price of oil, but it is unclear whether these reductions will be sustained in the near future. Despite these reductions, Government continues to subsidise the price of fuel though at a reduced rate, since the price reductions have not reached a point below the levels existing prior to the increase in the 2002/2003 budget. Any increases in energy costs will have consequences for the cost of goods and services in nearly every sector. The cost of manufacturing activity, electricity, transportation and other services are all expected to come under increased pressure if the war eventually leads to another cycle of rising fuel costs. We will continue to closely monitor the movements in the price of fuel on the market place.
Notwithstanding, we should make a more determined effort to be more frugal in our use of fuel and energy. We should not take the availability of fuel for granted.
IMPACT OF US AND UK SECURITY MEASURES
I also wish to take this opportunity to remind all Saint Lucians to expect that more stringent restrictions will be placed on persons traveling to North America and the United Kingdom. This is a period when you will encounter increased scrutiny and delays as you seek to visit Europe and North America. I therefore urge you to be cognizant of these realities and to exercise greater vigilance and care as you embark on your travels.
SAINT LUCIANS IN THE US and UK ARMED FORCES
Fellow Saint Lucians, the impact of this war on our lives cannot be measured only in its economic consequences or in the increased difficulties we will face when we travel. Sadly, we are also directly connected to the conflict through the scores of young Saint Lucian men and women who have enlisted in the British and US armed forces over the past few years. I wish to take this opportunity to assure the families of all Saint Lucians whose sons and daughters are serving in the armed forces of North America and Britain that they remain continually in our thoughts and our prayers. By now, it is well known that in recent times nearly three hundred young Saint Lucians joined the armed forces of the United Kingdom. The Government will maintain close contact, particularly with British officials, in order to be kept informed about the welfare of these young Saint Lucians. We wish them well. Their safety and well-being remain our primary concern and further compels us to urge a quick and speedy resolution to the conflict.
Saint Lucia therefore joins the majority of countries and people on the world in looking forward to a speedy and urgent return to peace. We pray that the current conflict results in the minimum loss of life and destruction. We also hope that the world can soon focus on the other burning issues which have undermined the validity of the international community, and that the same commitment can be shown by all states to resolving these issues. After the action in Iraq, the world will still be haunted by poverty, AIDS, debt, the survival of small island developing states, and the continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I wish to assure you that Saint Lucia will be using its voice in the United Nations to assist in the search for solutions to the problems that confront all of humanity.
I bid you good night, and an evening of peace, of rest and Godís richest blessings.
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