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.’