As hundreds of local events and a massive media campaign get underway for the second Armed Forces Day, NGOs working for peace-building are urging government to invest in conflict transformation.
The prime minister, who has made support for the military a 'patriotic duty' in recent weeks, will take part in an AFD ceremony in Cardiff today (Saturday 26 June 2010), and local parades in Coventry and dozens of other venues will focus on the tragic loss of life in Afghanistan.
Peace and some veteran groups say that it is right to remember the deaths of all those involved in UK-backed wars, but that the best way to honour them is to seek to bring them to an end and to invest in alternatives to armed conflict - something government and opposition seem reluctant to acknowledge.
Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation are among those to speak out.
In a conversation with US President Obama, Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated that he wishes to withdraw UK troops from Afghanistan within five years, though there are doubts about the strategy to achieve this.
Armed Forces Day this year coincides with a highly critical United Nations Security Council report on the failure of recent attempts to use additional force in Afghanistan.
Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia, said: “Historically, governments that try to shift attention away from economic crisis and foreign policy flaws by whipping up patriotism, risk being seen as patronising the public and failing to recognise the real policy challenges. A different approach is needed.”
He continued: “In the case of Afghanistan, people remain rightly sceptical about a war on which Britain has spent £20 billion in the past nine years. The latest report from the UN monitoring mission on the Taliban confirms that efforts to extend Western control over new parts of the country have escalated rather than lessened violence, while the UK military’s death rate has been four times higher than the US army’s. All this despite spending nearly £2 billion per year on the Afghan conflict since 2004, on top of regular annual defence spending of £35 billion and a forward commitment of £10 billion on Trident replacement, while huge cuts are promised in public services.”
Ekklesia points to its ComRes-conducted national opinion poll last year, which indicated an overwhelming public desire to see peacebuilding, the huge cost of war to civilians and a recognition of losses on all sides as part of Remembrance, rather than jingoism.
The think-tank is also reiterating its six-point proposal to move government security strategy from armed force to conflict prevention and transformation.
“An effective Afghan strategy means drawing the different factions into a credible political process, involving the regional powers, and investing in economic and social transformation. Escalating armed force cannot achieve these things, and the Prime Minister’s attempts to whip up military fervour at a time of sobering news about the 300th fatality of the nine-year military campaign are misplaced. The flames of global conflict need to be addressed soberly rather than stoked right now,” says Barrow.
Ekklesia is calling on the government to make six clear commitments towards a new foreign and defence policy. These are:
1. Telling the truth about interventionist military strategies (not least the Iraq war), including their full financial, human, strategic and security costs to us and to others.
2. Supporting active peacemaking, including the allocation of substantial budgetary resources to policy development on war prevention; training and equipping conflict transformation professionals; promoting mediators and mediation processes; reassigning and retraining military personnel for non-military roles; and developing personnel to make non-violent interventions and responses in situations of conflict.
3. Taking responsibility with others for millions of refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan, and for rebuilding and reparation in the region.(2)
4. Caring for the families of service personnel killed in conflict, for disabled or traumatised personnel, and granting asylum to those in Iraq and elsewhere who have become targets by working with British forces as interpreters and ancillary staff.
5. Promoting multilateral coalitions for just-peace, rather than armed interventions determined by unilateral or bilateral national interests. This would include the reform of NATO into a new alliance for tackling conflict.
6. Supporting and improving truth, justice and reconciliation (T, J and R) processes and commissions as part of the transition away from confrontation in post-conflict situations.
* Alternatives for Armed Forces Day and beyond: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/12483