2 May 2009
I feel like a veteran columnist today, as we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the One World Column! Five years ago, a small but determined group of local peace activists approached this paper for a space for anti-war voices, at the height of the Iraq war. This column owes its existence to the vision of EDP Editor, Peter Franzen, and the unfailing help of Pete Kelley. I take this opportunity to thank them for their patient support, which has enabled us regularly to raise issues as diverse as poverty, oppression, globalisation, resource wars, human rights, international relations and the environment.
Many changes have taken place in the world over the past five years - some good and some utterly disastrous. The pace of change is speeding up. Is our government learning from past mistakes? Or will we be asking in 2055 – like Peter Postlethwaite, looking back from his lonely perch in The Age of Stupid, – why didn't we save ourselves when we had the chance?
There is still time. Humanity and the planet would benefit from a sustained period of global peace and recuperation. But peace is not just the absence of war. For a lasting peace, we need to focus on human security rather than on the state security presently encouraged by the military-industrial complex. Britain has an unprecedented opportunity for a change of emphasis, allowing it to evolve in a more wholesome direction – like getting on with the world community instead of defending ourselves against it. Innovative thinking is urgently required, to move away from the concept of endless war requiring ever more vicious weapons.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm describes the mess we are in: "Britain deregulated its markets, sold its industries to the highest bidder, stopped making things to export and put its money on becoming the global centre of financial services and therefore a paradise for zillionaire money-launderers". He suggests a way forward: "The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals but widening the opportunities of all through collective action - a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British Government has yet envisaged."
Paul Rogers, Professor of Peace Studies in Bradford, has been looking at Britain's national security strategy. He too is concerned about the slow pace of change in Government thinking: "The indications are that British security thinking is still largely stuck in the past. Much of the emphasis, in terms of spending commitments over the coming decade, will be focused on heavy investment in a new strategic nuclear force and massive new aircraft carriers that will together provide a global expeditionary capability far in excess of anything Britain has had for nearly four decades."
The arms industry is a small part of the UK economy, contributing less than 1.5% of total exports annually. Military-export employment comprises 2% of UK manufacturing employment, yet the sector is heavily subsidised. Jeremy Corbyn MP, says: "We have to challenge the idea that British industry needs big arms contracts to survive and we should be promoting a serious arms conversion strategy." Media informers and politicians need to be convinced that security does not come from weapons of mass destruction, but from a process based on peace - which means preventing the government wasting up to £76 billion on a new nuclear weapons system - which, according to General Sir Hugh Beach, (former Commander-in-Chief of UK Land Forces), "is no bloody use".
There is an opportunity to debate military spending at a meeting on Tuesday 5th May at St Peter Mancroft Church's Chantry Hall, Chantry Road, Norwich (7pm), organised by Norfolk Campaign Against the Arms Trade.