By Bernie Holland – Film Correspondent and Journalist for Uniting for Peace
This session was held in the Norcroft Lounge at Bradford University. Proceedings were opened by Richard Outram, of Bradford University Peace Department, who organised this event in collaboration with Uniting for Peace. Richard reminded us of World Book Day and of the issue of Vijay Mehta’s latest book “How Not To Go To War”. Having introduced both Vijay and Fabian Hamilton, Labour MP for Leeds and prospective Minister for Peace under a government which could be led by Jeremy Corbyn, Richard invited those present to put questions to the panel which would be addressed in a Question & Answer session at the end of the presentations.
The first to speak was Vijay Mehta, founder of Uniting for Peace who welcomed the students as actors who are at the heart of this movement for a more peaceful world. Vijay offered his sincere thanks to the students and the faculty for arranging this event and to Fabian Hamilton for his tireless efforts towards peace-building.
Vijay turned to the core message of his book, which asserted that war has become institutionalised and as a result of this, society has been normalised to belligerence as an unquestioned reality of geo-politics. As the world’s fifth largest economy the UK can set an example for many other countries to follow. The institutionalisation of peace can bring government leaders, civil servants, charities, businesses and individuals together to take concerted action, not only for peace from this moment on, but also to foster reconciliation and harmonious relationships amongst peoples of all countries of this world.
Vijay mentioned the £39 million sent annually to the EU and compared this to the £52 billion spent on the military in there interests of maintaining a military presence in too many countries across the globe, none of which is in the interests of a lasting global peace. Too many young lives have been sacrificed to war by those who prolong the cycles of war and military expenditure towards that aim. This book, “How Not To Go To War”, explores the psychological underpinning of military expenditure and questions the reasons why taxpayers are willing to pay millions, even billions of dollars in support of such military structures, even when their own country faces no realistic treat of invasion. As of 2018, global military expenditure was estimated at $1.73 trillion and yet we are not involved in any major world-wide conflict.
Vijay charted a brief history of the institution of the Peace Department and the pitfalls it has suffered. Proposals date back to the days of Thomas Jefferson with proposals that were in accord with the constitution but came to nothing. After the 2nd World War the campaign for a US Department of Peace intensified. Between 1955 and 1968 no less than 85 bills were presented to Congress calling for the establishment of a Peace Department. In October 2003, John McDonnell (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer) introduced a 10 minute rule bill for the establishment of a Ministry of Peace with cross party support. This bill emphasised the need to create an infrastructure designed for peace-building following a model already established by five nations- the Soloman Islands (2002) Nepal (2007) Costa Rica (2009) South Sudan (2011) and Ethiopia (2018) to counter the culture of militarism by finding trust, acknowledging our commonality and diffusing the tensions that lead towards conflict. A Minister of Peace will be a voice in government to speak up for non-violence and conflict prevention based on sound policies which embrace economic and social concerns through programmes of education and training. In 2018 a total of $1.7 trillion was spent, yet all this military hardware has failed to make this world a safer place. The cost of violence, in global terms, approaches the staggering sum of $14 trillion which could be invested in green technologies and economically viable systems of governance . Furthermore a Department of Peace offers the advantage of sustainability in light of the fact that, as an institution it can outlast the very people who created it in the first instance.
Vijay next drew our attention to the New Economics Foundation which publishes, each year, a “Happy Planet Index”. Costa Rica tops this table with a nation that promotes peace, equality and prosperity, and environmental protection thus creating the best conditions for human happiness which is promoted through its own Department for Peace. The happiness of 14 million people of the Central American countries is a model that is open for emulation by all nations of this world.
Using Costa Rica as a ‘case study’, Mehta informed us that Costa Rica abolished its military as long ago as 1948, allowing it to spend more on health ands education. Its University of Peace was established in 1980 in the preparation of future leaders in conflict resolution advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons on a global scale, allowing no exceptions.
We must develop the confidence to work together, gathering momentum in solidarity with like-minded people in the interests of establishing a Department of Peace whose initiatives are central to government policy. Vijay concluded by offering a quotation from Costa Rican Nobel Prize Laureate Oscar Arias Sanchez who said “ Peace is to a dream -it is an arduous task. We must start by finding peaceful solutions to everyday conflicts with the people that surround us everyday. Peace does not begin with the other person – it begins with each and everyone of us.”
Our second speaker was Fabian Hamilton who commenced by expressing his dismay at the way the US administration, under Trump, had withdrawn, unilaterally, from the INF Treaty, a document that had taken years of diplomatic negotiation to complete. He reminded us that it was the events of the Greenham Common Womens’ protest that had brought about implementation of the INF Treaty which resulted in the Pershing II missiles being removed from British soil. He added that even if Russia is not abiding by the terms of the INF Treaty, it serves no one for the US to just walk away the there is a necessity for further dialogue to ensure that the treaty is maintained intact.
Prefacing his talk with the maxim “Peace is a Global Public Good”, Fabian reminded us that, according to the office of the Global Economic Forum it was ascertained that, as of 2015, the annual global economic impact of war was the loss of $13.6 trillion which accounts for more than the entire GDP of China.
He continued by stating that a Labour Government will recognise that foreign policy should be tempered by the values of International Law to contribute towards a more peaceful, progressive and inclusive world. Whist looking towards the future we must reflect on the mistakes of the past by never forgetting how our colonial legacy has itself contributed to the dynamics of modern conflict.
Strong leadership is of the essence if we are to set an example whereby peace building becomes a cornerstone of government policy across the global spectrum.All this forms the basis of a doctrine of peace and prosperity which will be central to the policies formulated by a Labour Government in developing a Ministry for Peace, the first of its kind in the history other UK.
Fabian concluded with the words of Bertrand Russell “The only thing that will redeem mankind is co-operation and nothing is more important to us today”.
This event was concluded with a question and answer session from the students and the members of the faculty who have already committed themselves to peace activism. These worthy individuals are already developing the tools for research and analysis in furthering a doctrine of peace which is both inclusive and consultative and which by benefitting from the input offered by individuals, activists, students and from wider civil society, will create the conditions under which we can all work together and make further advances in the quest for the world peace.
15th March 2019