What is the purpose of the campaign?
- To raise awareness of the huge and excessive amounts of public money spent on the military system all over the world.
- To build a community that can have some impact on the budget decisions made, especially at national level, so that resources can be reallocated to human and environmental need.
But don’t we need the military? Aren’t these budgets necessary?
Opinions differ widely on the usefulness of the armed services and indeed if there is a need for them at all. In our movement we have some people who feel that peacekeeping operations (under UN mandate) are necessary and important. To staff and equip them, there has to be some kind of military system. There is a case for a standing force run by the UN, but right now we are not at that stage. Others in the GCOMS movement are pacifists, ie they do not believe in any military force. They say conflicts must be solved by peaceful means and if necessary by police forces but not by armies and soldiers.
However all are agreed that the current spending level ($1700 billion per annum) is grossly excessive, and in particular we are totally opposed to spending on weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, in several regions we must counter the tendency to engage in an arms race/vicious spiral in which states justify their increased military spending to counter that of their neighbours…
The issue is one of priorities and political will. Many countries, while maintaining/increasing their military spending, are reducing their social budgets (education, health etc), and international humanitarian, peace building and development efforts lack necessary resources.
Understood…but nowadays people are fearful about terrorism (esp. Islamic State (IS)), and about the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Nigeria, East Asia, and indeed many other places. Surely we don’t want to be weakening our defences at this time?
Let’s take Islamist terrorism first. The problem is that most military leaders and their civilian chiefs have failed to understand that Western attempts to deal with Al Qaeda in the years since 9-11 have simply made the problem worse. Each bombing run, each drone attack, each occupation of a Muslim country increases the sense of persecution, of a ‘crusade’ against Muslims, and drives more young people into the arms of the jihadis. We need a very different approach.
The realisation of this by western leaders is the main reason why they drew back from attacking Syria (at least until ISIS came along) and why even now there are voices urging caution as to possible new attacks on IS in Libya.
Now Ukraine and Russia: it’s a complex problem but it isn’t going to be solved by pouring weapons into Ukraine, sending in NATO troops, or (heaven forbid) putting nuclear weapons on (even higher) alert. There is no substitute for getting all the parties round the table and hammering out a deal – as they did just recently. If ceasefires break down, you have to try again, and again…until you can reach a political settlement. The idea that this conflict will be solved by the old-fashioned deterrence politics is absurd… and therefore simply increasing military spending to obey NATO diktats is completely misguided and even dangerous.
As for East Asia: this is not a simple set of issues either. The main bones of contention seem to be about access to resources, esp. hydrocarbons under the sea-bed; and assertions of nationalism and aspirations to regional dominance that have deep historical roots. The answer is not more war and beefed up defences. It has to be a combination of diplomacy, resort to legal arbitration (after all, that is what the World Court is for), and increased economic and environmental cooperation, in order to develop the spirit of shared stewardship of scarce resources.
Going back to the jihadis: is a dialogue possible?
In every conflict there is someone you can talk to – if you persevere you can find them. See Jonathan Powell’s interesting book Talking to Terrorists, in which he argues from experience that even the toughest opponents at some stage will be open to discussion. In the Islamic world there are all kinds of possible intermediaries. Our argument is that there is no magic recipe for resolving this problem. It has deep roots. But we prefer to bet on diplomacy and non-violent solutions – but they must be massively funded! – rather than pour billions more into a military system that has visibly failed.
So what are the non-violent solutions?
Nonviolent alternatives are abundant, morally superior, drastically less costly, far more appealing to the great majority of people in most countries, and thus strategically more effective. They should not be mistaken for inaction or capitulation in the face of oppression or terror.
IPB supports immediate strong steps including:
Active pursuit of meaningful diplomacy – engaging other governments and other institutions; using more effectively multilateral institutions like the UN and its agencies, regional bodies like the OSCE, ASEAN etc.
economic sanctions on ISIS and its supporters and serious efforts to cut off the flow of money;
support for local civil society, including refugees;
greatly increased humanitarian assistance;
use of international courts for the prosecution of war criminals and the arbitration of disputes.
Longer-term steps include:
withdrawal of U.S./western troops from occupied lands;
reducing dependence on oil imports from the Middle East;
tackling economic and social inequalities and injustices;
encouraging people-to-people contacts across the divides;
developing a respectful dialogue with Islamic leaders and communities (including in the West), and between moderate scholars and the radicals;
building democracy from below, rather than trying to enforce it from above.