The Prime Minister is using Armed Forces Day to avoid difficult questions about war and security, according to a leading Christian NGO. The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) made the remarks after David Cameron told the British public that they should back the armed forces “more loudly and more proudly”.
The UK's second Armed Forces Day will take place on Saturday (26 June 2010), with a main event in Cardiff and other celebrations around the country. Speaking ahead of the Day, Cameron insisted the public had a “social responsibility” to support troops.
But FoR's Amy Hailwood said, “Armed Forces Day this year has provided David Cameron with a timely opportunity to promote support for British troops and the war in Afghanistan, as he hopes to stave off difficult questions about the defence budget in the midst of major public sector cuts”.
FoR point out that the current annual spend on the war in Afghanistan is estimated at around £4 billion. Although the government this week announced major spending cuts and a freeze in child benefit, ministers have indicated that the Ministry of Defence is likely to experience fewer cuts than most other departments.
Hailwood said that support for those who have lost loved ones is essential. She added, “the question that won’t be asked in the patriotic fervour of this military pageant is, does a military approach to national security actually work?”
Recent polls suggest that the majority of the British public are now less keen on military approaches than the leaders of all three main political parties. Two polls in recent weeks have shown over three-quarters of the public to be in favour of military withdrawal from Afghanistan within a year, while the majority also oppose the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system.
Hailwood cited a discussion in this week's episode of Channel 4's Dispatches, which included an interactive poll on spending cuts. Slashing the Ministry of Defence budget was the third most popular of the options suggested.
FoR is encouraging support for a five-day walk organised by the group Justice Not Vengeance. The walkers will demonstrate outside the Ministry of Defence on Saturday before walking to Colchester, where former soldier Joe Glenton is in a military prison for refusing to fight in Afghanistan.
Along with other campaigners, they are backing “counter-recruitment” events at military recruitment offices in London and elsewhere.
The Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, are urging the government to recognise the work done by the “unarmed forces” - those who promote and maintain peace without violence.
Sam Walton of Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) said that Quakers recognise the reality of “the inevitable tensions arising from international relations” but reject the notion that the only or best response is constantly to “train in readiness for war”.
He told the Quaker magazine The Friend that ministers could spend public money better by putting “resources into developing and training for non-military ways of solving conflicts and averting wars”.
Quakers have pointed out several examples of “unarmed forces”. They include Responding to Conflict (RTC), which provides training and support in skills such as mediation and conflict transformation. Other schemes include the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a project run by the World Council of Churches, who place volunteers to provide a protective presence and human rights monitoring.
The Christian thinktank Ekklesia has also questioned the government's promotion of Armed Forces Day, pointing out that the Prime Minister's enthusiastic comments came the day after a United Nations report highly criticial of the UK's military operations in Afghanistan.
“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,” said Ekklesia Co-Director Simon Barrow, “A different approach is needed.”
Ekklesia is reiterating its six-point proposal to move government security strategy from armed force to conflict prevention and transformation (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/government-urged-focus-conflict-resolu... ).