Thursday, 16 August 2007

The meaning of peace?

'Peace Mission 2007' - sounds good eh? But this mission seems a very long way from the kind of peace-making that many of us recognise. Rather, it is the just-concluded joint military exercises of the SCO. The initials here stand not for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but the Shanghai Cooperation Council, the security alliance forged in 2001 by Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Read here an interesting account both of the Mission and of SCO and its growing role in challenging the US spheres of influence around the globe. And a New Statesman piece focussing on the summit they are just beginning

Another bit of heavy-duty military-based "peace building". This time in the form of a massive commitment (30 billion US dollars) by the Univted States to continue providing military aid to Israel. According to a BBC report
[US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns] called the aid package an "investment in peace", saying "peace cannot be made without strength".
"Needless to say, given Israel's predicament, living in a region that is very violent and unstable, its military edge is of interest to our country, and we've committed to that," he said.
The money must be used to purchase military equipment from the US defence industry, although Israel will also be permitted to use 26.3% to buy equipment from local companies.

To be honest, this really sounds more like an investment in the US weapons industry than an investment in peace. Now what would $30 bn buy in non-military peacebuilding capacity? If only someone with access to that sort of money asked themselves the same question.

Friday, 10 August 2007

A loss for South Africa

I was sorry to read in the press today that Quaker politician Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge has been sacked from her post as deputy Health Minister for South Africa (see Independent article). Apparently there was some mix up about her attendance at a conference on Aids in Madrid. But many people are particularly distressed about her departure as she had been a well-placed critic of President Thabo Mbeki's ostrich-like approach to Aids, which is having such a devastating effect on southern Africa. I hope she will find some other outlet for her obvious political and moral contribution - read an interview with her here, for instance.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

DESO - reasons to be cheerful?

In an earlier entry, I expressed scepticism about the planned closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation, DESO. The fact that the arms industry is so upset about it (Fury as DESO is scrapped - Telegraph) is perhaps an encouraging indication that, although the government will continue to promote arms exports (along with other exports through its "UK Trade and Investment" agency), they won't be given the massive helping hand that has been so disproportionate over DESO's 40 years of operation. I note that CAAT will be having a celebratory party, and quite right too, but I hope they will also keep a close eye on what happens next.
Some useful links:
UK's DESO Done In
Faith and peace groups wecome DESO closure
Export department closure leaves defence firms out in the cold

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Of missiles and Menwith

The decision, noted in an earlier entry, of the UK government to give the go-ahead for the US to use Menwith Hill as a component in its missile defence system is generating a growing amount of disquiet and concern. The system as a whole is damaging international relations, is costly and doesn't seem to work very well. But more than that, in spite of the UK parliament's own defence committee criticising the government for the way in which it mishandled the earlier decision on Fylingdales, the current ministerial team seems to have learned from that only that it may be simpler (for them) to avoid consulting parliament at all. Now 20 or so MPs have signed a letter criticising this decision, and comment has come from CND (as well as a useful briefing from them) and BASIC , amongst others.

The latter commented:
'The decision in December 2002 to accede to a US upgrade at Fylingdales set a poor precedent in terms of process, transparency and accountability. The Defence Committee "strongly regretted the way in which the issue had been handled by the Government". This latest announcement is a further escalation in Britain's missile defence commitment without public debate or parliamentary scrutiny.'

MPs may be enjoying a recess from parliamentary duties, but perhaps this will give them more time to deal with correspondence from constituents on the matter. Can't find a pen and paper? Why not contact yours via

One small step...

As David comes to the end of his epic cycle ride, I received an email today reminding me of the extraordinary walk for peace being undertaken by Canadian Jean BĂ©liveau, who set of from his home in Canada on 18th August 2000. He passed through the UK not so long ago, and I was sorry not to have a chance to meet him. The latest news is that he is walking through Iran. His purpose? is to walk around the planet to promote "Peace and non-violence to the profit of the children of the world" and aims to complete the entire walk within 12 years.

Another venture just reaching its conclusion is the Footprints for Peace interfaith walk from Dublin to London, which has stopped at Faslane, Menwith Hill and Aldermaston - amongst many other places - along the way. A number of Friends have met with and joined the walkers for different stages of their journey. This group says that … "Through our actions we create the opportunity for multi cultural interfaith prayer and ceremony to deepen our spiritual, cultural and environmental awareness and understanding that All Life is Sacred. To empower, raise awareness and inspire individuals and community. Creating peaceful change through action."

Walking and making journeys in this way seems to be both an outward and an inward act – I recall many years ago hearing about Satish Kumar's long Ghandi-inspired peace walks in the early 1960s, and he is certainly one who sees such initiatives in this way. It seems to be about making oneself vulnerable and open to being in contact both with the earth but also a wide range of people in many different circumstances. An antidote to sitting on air-conditioned high-speed trains with head phones plugged in as I was just last week, and perhaps a simple reminder of our need for one another, our common humanity.