Government urged to embrace conflict resolution not aggression

By staff writers
28 Jun 2009

As Cardiff was officially announced as the host city for the second annual Armed Forces Day celebrations in 2010, the UK government is being urged to develop a defence policy focused on conflict resolution.

Peace groups and NGOs involved in non-violent conflict resolution have criticised the government for using the new Armed Forces Day, marked for the first time across Britain yesterday, as a way of exonerating itself for the disastrous war in Iraq and other non-productive examples of military interventionism.

But they stressed positive calls for a new approach to global conflict and to the importance of 'unarmed forces' - ignored wholly in government pronouncements - rather than simply criticising those involved in the Day.

The Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) and others have called for recognition of those who seek to promote alternatives to armed conflict. And the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia has called for major investment in alternative, non-violent initiatives to tackle escalating global conflicts.

It points to recent research suggesting that for every dollar spent globally on conflict prevention, two thousand are spent on military initiatives.

Following concerns that the Iraq war inquiry will not address the major issues raised by the public, civil society groups and families of military personnel, 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. According to the latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are 2.8 million refugees from Afghanistan and 1.9 million from Iraq. Together they account for 45 per cent of all refugees under UNHCR's responsibility.

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 through 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 from confrontation in post-conflict situations.

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and other civic groups have pointed out that the scrapping of the Trident nuclear weapons programme, which many defence analysts say is unnecessary and counter-productive, would provide billions of pounds for investment in alternatives.

Meanwhile, official news coverage of Armed Forces Day from the major outlets and agencies has ignored the voices suggesting a major re-focusing on the event.

The BBC, which refused to broadcast a charitable appeal for Gaza because it was deemed 'political', has thrown its full reporting weight behind the government-sponsored event.

This year's national Armed Forces Day event host city was Chatham, Kent, while other events and services were held across the UK.

The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown gave his backing to the day last year, when he said it should be "a special day of celebration".

The idea for such a day was also supported by senior military commanders and by some families of service personnel killed in war - while others were concerned or angry at the way their loved ones' lost lives might be being exploited to defend the government's war policies.

Around 30,000 people turned out at the dockyard in Chatham.

But for British troops serving in Afghanistan it was a day like any other, said the Herald newspaper in Scotland.

Some 40 special Armed Forces Day flags flew at British bases across the country.

Members of the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC) based in Kuwait gathered early for a parade to beat the heat of the day.

The AFD event in Glasgow was led by the Veterans Associations, followed by serving military. There was then a short service, before a Nimrod flyover.

Ekklesia produced a compendium of resources for Armed Forces Day, stressing alternative perspectives and possibilities: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/resources/armed_forces_day

It will later be developing its ideas for a new foreign and defence policy.

Christian Peacemaker Teams UK (http://www.cptuk.org.uk/ ), an Ekklesia partner, is currently looking to recruit more people from Britain to work for non-violent change in situations of conflict.

More on Armed Forces Day from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/7063

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