As I begin to write, it is Armistice Day when we honour the dead on both sides of the conflict. The best way to honour all those who lost their lives in the Great War and subsequent wars would be to commit to end war for good. In her book Scilla Elworthy shows us how this can be done. Her key message is: War is past its sell-by date.
This is a marvellous book both visionary and, as the title implies, hard-headed and pragmatic. It’s based on years of practical experience of peace-making and the prevention of violent conflict.
At the heart of this book is the belief that humans have the capacity to evolve and become more humane. There is a growing change of consciousness centred in Europe and much of North America. Thus peace and a future without mass violence is possible. Journalists on the whole tell a different story. There is a lack of balance. BBC and other media do not balance their reporting of violence with enough stories of those who prevent or reduce terror and courageously carry out other humanitarian acts. There is a need for media education. Terrorism should be deprived of the oxygen of publicity. However the media serve us by confronting us with the horror of what is happening to families, just like ours, suffering bombardment in the rubble of Syria. Every time I see this I think of my precious little two year old grandson. How can we be so inhumane?
At the centenary of the ending of World War 1, we are reminded of the horrors of the then new military technology that provided a massive killing machine in which millions of young men slaughtered each other for no good reason. Total deaths included from 9 to 11 million military personnel. The civilian death toll was about 8 million, including about 6 million due to war-related famine and disease.
The belief that it is necessary to hold massive weapons to prevent war dies hard. Significantly, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, USA, Russia, China, France and the UK are the top arms sellers. USA accounts for approximately half this expenditure. Britain is the second biggest arms dealer in the world . These exports are said to be “essential for our security and prosperity”. But in fact they fuel war and contribute to the increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West. Far better to address the causes of war.
What astonishes me in Scilla’s book is the vast amounts spent on violence, and the money to be made from it, compared with the total underfunding of peace. In 2015, the economic impact of all violence was $13,600,000,000,000. Most of this is government spending on military and internal security. Useful sources of information include the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2017 which measures the relative peacefulness of nations and regions and The Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP). There are two divergent tendencies: richer countries tend to become more peaceful, poorer countries more violent.
The Economic losses from conflict in 2015 were $742bn compared with total peacekeeping $8.3bn. If the international community doubled peacebuilding over the next ten years the yield is calculated as $2.9 trillion. Currently we spend $9 billion annually on ice cream. A 2.5 percent tax on current annual arms sales – $94.5bn would yield about $2,360,000,000 that could be invested in addressing the root causes of conflict.
Vast sums are made from war: War makes a few extremely rich. Global military expenditure in 2016 was $1,686, 000,000,000 rising to $1.700, 000,000 in 2017 . According to the UN it would cost $340,000,000,000 to provide primary and secondary education to every child in the world and $28,400,000,000 per annum to provide basic water and sanitation services by 2030. Leaving an ample $1,317,600,000,000 for all other sustainable development goals. If we spent such sums on dealing with the causes of armed conflict, and preventing wars, we would have a very different world. Or, for example, training 40 million unemployed youth and educating 27 million not in education in the Middle East (World Economic Forum ).
There are two divergent tendencies: richer countries tend to become more peaceful; poorer countries become more violent.
Switching from war to peace. For example, Lockheed Martin in partnership with BAE Systems building a Joint Strike Fighter was estimated to cost in 2013 $400bn. BAE Systems and similar companies need to switch investment from fossil fuels to renewable energy would do far better to turn its attention to sustainability . The Lucas Aerospace Plan – The fight for useful work at Lucas Aerospace 1976 is a model for the world that was unfortunately not supported by the management or the Labour Government of the time. We now need a major campaign to accelerate widespread divestment from harmful activities into innovative financing linked to renewable energy, beneficial individuals and communities.
“If you want peace, don’t talk to your friends. Talk to your enemies.”
The need now is for dialogue and the skills to bring peace about. This was tried and tested successfully in South Africa following Nelson‘s release from prison. So we know it is possible. The basic principles are dialogue, prevention and early intervention. Western countries are perfectly capable of intervening with such an approach if they were so minded. The major obstacles are: disbelief in this possibility, mind-sets, fear, aggression, competition, and greed – and the vast sums to be made from war. Underlying violence is often a sense of humiliation or injustice.
Preventing violence at source – a software approach. The case of Syria offers an example of how a software approach could have worked. Protests began in January 2011, calling for democracy, an end to the state of emergency in force since January 1963 and an end to corruption. On 15 March a “Day of Rage” took place, considered to be a national uprising. The terrified Syrian regime became violent. Scilla describes how a different scenario could have developed. If the Syrian regime had shown willingness to listen a different scenario would have developed. Expert mediators could have worked with all parties to understand their demands and fears, then a series of meetings then propose terms for a series of meetings between the regime and leadership of protests, upholding the principle of respect for all sides.
Women are needed. This is not surprising. Scilla says research for this book has shown how vital is the work of women in stopping people killing each other. Example after example demonstrates their innate skill. Crisis Group has found that a peace agreement is 35% more likely to last at least 15 years if women participate in its creation, yet until recently women made up only 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements. Thousands more women are needed at every level. Peace-building cannot succeed if half the population is excluded from the process.
Reversing climate change and the destruction of Planet Earth. However what I also find astonishing the low priority given to reversing climate change and the destruction of Planet Earth, our home. This other existential threat is already having disastrous consequences for human beings, rich and poor, and all life on the planet.
The Structure of the Book
The structure of the book is systematic: Part One. The Problem of War. Why it is in global interests to stop war. The costs of warfare to amounts spent on human needs. The drivers of war. Why war continues, whose interests it serves, how policy makers think, why people love to fight.
Part Two. How can war be stopped? Basic principles – dialogue, prevention and early intervention. Understanding motivation and how dialogue can begin. Basic strategy for building peace, the most effective methods, local, national and international. Costing the business plan for peace, first ever assessment of what a ten year strategy would cost, applying it to Syria as an example. The rise of citizen action, what works and what does not. What you can do. The qualities of people doing it and the skills you will need. Finally, a useful toolbox.
What you can do:
- Be an activist.
“Activism is my rent for living on the planet.” Alice Walker
- Listen to Peace is Possible.
- Support the Oxford Research Group.
- Support Peace Direct
- Sign up to Human Rights Watch
- Support the Campaign Against Arms Trade https://www.caat.org.uk/
- Lobby your MP – get a group together to do so.
- Lobby politicians; write in social media.
- Sign petitions and march for peace.
Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness http://www.brucenixon.com/21stCenturyRevolution.html . It was Oxford Book of the Month November 2016. Bruce gives participative talks on transforming UK Democracy. You can sign up for my occasional newsletter here http://eepurl.com/cOCHKD