Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Don't mention the pot plant

Someone once suggested that the neglected pot plant on the window sill in the office could be described as a depleted geranium. I think it may be time to throw it away - the joke and the plant. But clearing up land that has been on the receiving end of depleted uranium ammunition is a far more costly, as we heard at a talk in Manchester last night. Dave Cullen, researcher for the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, gave an account of the findings from a fact-finding trip to the Balkans earlier this year. The report, "A Question of Responsibility - the legacy of depleted uranium use in the Balkans" was published just a month ago, says the following:

"The circumstances that always surround the use of DU (i.e. conflict) mean that we should never presume that states will be able to deal with assessing the problem, conducting studies or decontamination. In both the use of uranium weapons, and decontamination, a precautionary approach should prevail. There is a clear need for transparency over the use of uranium weapons, and for technical assistance with decontamination. International help with these matters should be targeted to increase capacity in the region and strengthen links between researchers. "

Campaigners have been working internationally for a UN Resolution on this issue, and there's currently a UK Parliament Early Day Motion (825) "calls on the Government to support the resolution to be put before the UN General Assembly this autumn calling on states to provide quantitative and geographical data on DU munitions use to the relevant authorities of the affected states. " Similarly, a Motion that has been put before the Scottish parliament echoes these sentiments.

And on Friday 12th November there is to be a protest outside the US Embassy in London, demanding transparency about where DU weapons have been used and of research into their health consequences.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Response to Strategic Defence and Security Review

Here's a piece that The Friend has just published

Is the Ministry of Defence even thinking about ‘Peacing together the world’?

Philip Austin of the Northern Friends Peace Board looks at the Strategic Defence Review

‘Peacing Together One World’ was the theme for last week’s One World Week. I don’t imagine the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had this in mind when they decided on the publication date for their National Security Strategy and their Strategic Defence and Security Review. These have been picked over and analysed by others – we all know the headlines of aircraft-less and oversized aircraft carriers, of fears of cyber-attack and so forth. I can’t have been alone, on hearing the headlines, in thinking that while there are some points of encouragement, so much remains ‘business as usual’.

Postponing until 2015 the decision about replacing Trident is welcome, although spending on maintaining the existing (if slightly reduced) nuclear weapons system continues at a high level. The next few years will be an important opportunity for Friends and others to strengthen the dialogue with decision-makers on the issue. While the empty aircraft carriers will be a very visible sign of the folly of much of the thinking in the review, a decision in 2015 not to replace Trident would be an inspiring breakthrough. Can our politicians be encouraged to take such a bold step?

Our peace testimony is about how we relate to one another, how we deal with conflicts without weapons and how we work for justice as a condition for peace. Much of the thinking behind the MoD’s recent documents seems to be shaped by what academics within the Oxford Research Group have called a ‘control paradigm’ – protecting the nation’s interests by making sure that others are kept at bay through use of power. The alternative, a ‘sustainable security paradigm’, views security as being founded on economic, political and environmental justice and on disarmament. Building these up is a long-term process. The government’s security strategy paper does indicate that environmental and resource issues are part of their national risk assessment. It is a pity, therefore, that so many of the recommendations are still based on exerting and asserting power rather than on foundations of security-through-interdependence.

I have been working with members of Northern Friends Peace Board (NFPB) on a statement of concern on sustainable security; we plan to support and encourage Friends in thinking about and taking action on this. NFPB is also working on building peace in our own communities, with the help of a Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust grant. The cost to our country’s social fabric of misdirecting resources to expensive and useless weapons whilst removing massive chunks of the welfare state and of voluntary sector funding is going to be painful and distressing for many. I am learning of more people facing such challenges locally each week.

Our communities and our world are made more secure when we focus on shared interests, on caring for one another and on just relationships, as our starting point and as our goal. We are facing difficult challenges; all the more important, then, to remind ourselves of William Penn’s encouragement to ‘Let us then try what love will do.’

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sustainable Security - statement of concern

NFPB members have been working on a statement of concern recently. The following is the text they have agreed and which we 'officially' released to the wider world last week. It is followed by some questions, which we hope will encourage discussion, reflection and action. And on our website (at ) are some links to a range of organisations and information sources for those wanting to follow this up in more depth.

Sustainable security
~ ~
A statement of concern

October 2010

We are in this world together but the way we are living is unsustainable; this makes the world less secure. Our consumption of consumer goods and our dependence on fossil fuels - using finite natural resources and producing ever-more waste - continue to grow. This in turn contributes to hugely destabilising climate change and to unbalanced and unfair economic relationships: where inequalities exist, conflict is inevitable. The interests of those whose power comes from the control of diminishing resources are protected by ever-more costly military and other technology as a mistaken means to building security.

Sustainable security means ensuring a secure future for all based on tackling the causes of conflict and insecurity: understanding the real threats and how they can be dealt with so there is peace and justice for everyone throughout the earth for the long term and striving for a balance with nature.

As Quakers, we have a respect for all of humanity and for other living things. The Quaker peace testimony has always been about seeking to address the causes of war as well as about how we respond to conflict without resorting to violence. Our testimonies to equality and simplicity are similarly about ensuring that all people be enabled to flourish and live.

We know that some conflict is inevitable. We know too that we can choose to develop understanding as to how we contribute to causes of conflict, and in how we respond to and deal with this. Do we accept the short-termist, market-driven approaches that drive resource misuse, inequality, instability and conflict?

It can be easy to feel despondent and fearful. But we can use these emotions in a positive way, to help motivate us in working together to develop a vision of alternative ways of being together on this planet. We depend on all life. It is vital that we recognise that all have the same rights to security and well-being, and that we change from a society driven by perceived wants and fears to one that addresses the real long-term needs of all. Our unsustainable way of living on this planet grows from a mindset; a change is needed to this mindset to underpin the many encouraging practical steps that people are already taking towards more sustainable and equitable ways of living.

We are called to ask questions to promote dialogue and action. We ask that politicians and others in positions of influence and power - including businesses and media organisations - recognise this moral imperative and work together, responding in words and in action to create sustainable security for all.

Questions for discussion, reflection and action:

  • What makes us secure in this world?

  • How can we move from a world driven by the struggle for power and control over the lives and resources of others to a world based on equality and respect for all life?

  • How can we support one another in building that alternative?

  • What resources can we draw on to help ourselves and others deal with pressures of change in ways that are peaceful and build sustainable security?

  • What are the political and practical consequences of this?

  • What opportunities can you take to raise these concerns with others and to take positive action for change?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Inspiring people - past and present

I learned today that Elise Boulding died in June, at the age of 89. It was my great privilege to be part of a three-day workshop she ran in 1991 on Imaging a World Without Weapons. This, and her book on "Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History" have inspired me in many ways since. More widely, she played such an important role in developing peace studies and in the peace movement generally- I think many of those who never met her also owe a great debt of gratitude. There's an interview with her here.

This past week I have also had opportunity to meet and be inspired by another brilliant thinker and actor for peace: Rajagopal P.V., founder and director or Ekta Parishad, the Indian people’s movement dedicated to non-violent principles of action. He spoke and led workshops at the QPSW conference on 'What do we mean by peace?' last week, and then at a packed meeting at Manchester Meeting House on Sunday afternoon.

Both combine/d vision, clarity of thought and passion with a wonderful humour, honesty and inspiring faith in the potential for humanity to make the world a peaceful and just place to live. Thank you too all those who inspire me in these and in so many other ways.

Friday, 26 March 2010

General election

We've produced our own short briefing for Friends and others in advance of the General Election, with suggested questions for candidates read it here: . It covers: Afghanistan, Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament, Building Peace in Diverse Britain, Resources and Climate Change and Young People and Peace. We've also created a page of links to other related election resources.

At our Representative's meeting last weekend we had a helpful reminder of how challenging it can be for candidates to respond in detail to questions put to them in the period leading up to elections - due to pressures of time and to the need to be properly briefed on the range of issues. We don't expect anyone using our questions to put them all to candidates, but rather to seek opportunities to ask for short answers to at least some of them. This may be face-to-face - at a hustings, for instance - or in a letter or email.

We hope that the issues mapped out in our briefing might also be a useful way into discussions with new MPs once they are elected - those who are new to the job might welcome dialogue with constituents who can provide them with information as well as asking challenging questions. NFPB will continue its own work, and at the same meeting last Saturday appointed new project groups to develop activities relating to these concerns.

PS: A footnote about comments - we were getting so much unwelcome 'spam' added to the comments section of this blog, that I have disabled this feature for the timebeing. If you need to get in touch with me, follow the contact details on the NFPB website: . Thank you.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Strategic defence review - a chance for genuinely fresh thinking

Today sees the publication of the Ministry of Defence's green paper "posing fundamental questions for the future of Defence ahead of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR)". In the press release, we read further that this "is the product of broad consultation within the Defence community." And therein seems to lie a difficulty - as has been said at various times, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then every problem can appear to be a nail.

A review of the role of military-based 'defence' in making the world a more secure place should surely look beyond the 'defence community' if it wants to ask really fundamental questions. A valuable publication that came out in the middle of January is "Security for the Common Good - A Christian challenge to military security strategies ", published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England and Pax Christi, the Catholic peace organisation. In this, they write...

• We call upon churches, dioceses, congregations, parishes, groups, and all individuals of goodwill, to join our appeal to build security for the common good where the pursuit of love and justice set the political, economic and social agenda.
• We call on the Government, as it undertakes its Defence Review, to use this opportunity for a radical evaluation of security policies. It is not enough to tinker with budgets, to choose between ‘boots or bombs’. Now is the time to redirect military spending, research and development into life-giving projects that address our real security needs today.
• We call on all political parties in the run-up to a General Election to reframe their approaches to defence and security in favour of security for the common good.

and conclude:

Today, in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis, we need to jettison narrow self-interest and ever-increasing military spending in favour of a sustainable security strategy that puts the people – and especially the poor - at its centre.

Can we hope that the MOD and the government of whatever political hue will take the opportunity to answer not only the questions that come from within the establishment, but also those wider questions of how to make the world more secure? The forthcoming general election would seem to be an ideal time to probe candidates' views on this.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

National peace networking event in Huddersfield

The Network for Peace is having its AGM outside of London for the first time. It's being hosted by Huddersfield Quakers ... see details below:

Network for Peace

Polling Day Plus One -
Where next for the peace movement?

Saturday 27 February
Public Meeting with guest speakers:

Lindis Percy (Campaign for the

Accountability of American Bases) and

Professor Dave Webb (CND Vice-chair).

Preceded by Network for Peace AGM at 1.30pm

(You are welcome to come at noon for a bring and share lunch)

Friends Meeting House, Church Street, Paddock, Huddersfield, HD1 4TR.


All welcome

Network for Peace, 5 Caledonian Road, London 9DY tel: 07794036602
email: website:

Rethink Trident

On Saturday, our the Exec committee of Northern Friends Peace Board agreed to add their name in support of the Rethink Trident statement

Rethink Trident!

With Britain facing its biggest economic crisis since the Second World War and much debate on public spending levels and priorities, the country can ill-afford to be spending in excess of £76bn on replacing Trident with a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Britain's security needs are not met by nuclear weapons which can do nothing to combat the threats posed by global terrorism or climate change. The more that countries such as Britain justify their retention and replacement of nuclear weapons on the grounds of an uncertain future, the more likely it is that non-nuclear states will seek to use the same rationale to justify developing their own weapons systems.

Instead of wasting tens of billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons there are many forms of socially useful spending to which the funds could be put; combating child poverty and youth unemployment, providing affordable homes, investing in education and mental and physical healthcare as well as addressing the climate crisis, to name a few. Whilst some are considering cuts to these areas, it is instead Trident that should be cut in their place.

We believe the Government should cancel the replacement of Trident. This would allow for the existing skilled manufacturing base to be reorientated towards providing for the needs of a post-carbon future, with the potential for significant investment in green jobs.

The Government must be a leading participant in current global initiatives to significantly reduce holdings of nuclear weapons, with the aim of achieving a nuclear-free world. Cancelling the programme to replace Trident would have a transformative effect on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May 2010, greatly boosting the chances of agreeing a timetable for multilateral global disarmament.