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
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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?