Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The new 'the other'?

I can't be alone in my sense of alarm and dismay at the US / Russia big-power posturing that has suddenly come to the fore, after a very welcome long break. This was where I came into peace work, with growing East-West tensions in the early 1980s. But at the same time, those of us who have been trying to persuade the UK government that support for the US missile defence system was unhelpful have been saying for a long time that a shield is more often than not accompanied by a sword. This is obviously what some people in Russia feel, whether or not there is any foundation to their fears. What is clear is that Russia has been wounded over the last 15 or so years, and now wishes to assert itself again on the World stage. An ever expanding US sphere of influence pushes all the wrong buttons in that context. And UK adherence to the US policy agenda (including the request earlier this year to host some of their missile defence interceptors) does nothing to promote the possibility that the US is mistaken in its conviction that this military policy is dangerously provocative.

21 years ago, Mary Lou Leavitt gave a talk to Northern Friends Peace Board on the spiritual challenge of SDI/ 'Star Wars' , as the earlier envisaged missile defence programme was nicknamed. We published this as a booklet from which I quote...

"In answer to the proud vision of SDI - that impermeable shield for the good guys at the expense of the bad guys (or the third world guys who don't count) - Friends have a vision of a world where all are equally valued: a world where I am as valuable as the most powerful, most wise, most expert person I can name; a world where all others - the least of these my brothers and sisters - are as valuable as I; a world where, together, we can learn to trust the Seed of the Spirit in one another. In place of a process which trusts technology and mistrusts humanity, we must learn and live out a process that builds trust between people and their institutions."

The splendid OpenDemocracy website has this week published a series of articles arising from the Nobel Women's Initiative, in the latest of which Ann Carr concludes:

"I believe that honest dialogue, no matter how difficult, is the cement that holds societies together. By hearing one another we create new possibilities. We share, we learn, we realise that the creation of a shared society, where we can all belong, is possible. ... There comes a time when people lose their fear and things are never the same again. That is the moment when the foundations of a brighter future have been secured - and the real work can begin."

I don't imagine the G8 summit will produce a lot of reasons for optimism, but there are enough people now who do know that another way is not only possible, but also necessary and effective in building lasting peace. It may not be present at big summits, but its implementation by small groups and individuals throughout the world can make a difference. Let us hope.