Caroline Lucas: “Arms are now our #1 Export”

by Shaughan Dolan ~ October 26th, 2017. Filed under: News.

A review of our evening ‘In Conversation with Mark Rylance and Caroline Lucas’ by Conscience member Natalia Brown

It is always a delight to be invited to attend a Conscience event in London. They usually happen in a highly prestigious location, Portcullis House, on the bank of the River Thames, next to the Houses of Parliament. These are the offices of Members of Parliament, where debates and presentations take place on political issues of all kinds.

The ‘Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War’ agenda is always simple and clear. We campaign for a change in the law of taxation, to allow UK Conscientious Objectors, CO’s (people who oppose military interventions for religious or ethical principles), to redirect the military portion of their taxes to non-military conflict resolution strategies. 

Last nights sell-out event was a discussion and public debate hosted by high-profile actor and peace campaigner Sir Mark Rylance, interviewing the leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MP. The Green Party actively pursues a stable peace-orientated foreign policy and a shift away from nuclear weaponry and energy production.

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Some people believe that Conscientious Objectors (CO’s) views are well-represented already because the Military Service Act of 1916 made the UK the first country in the World to decree that it was no longer a legal obligation for CO’s to enter active military service. However, as hard-won a breakthrough as that was by the Quaker movement at the time, the nature of war has changed drastically in the last 100 or so years. To remain in integrity with our principles we are obliged to respond to the current conditions. These days, we are obliged to fund tremendous military interventions in foreign countries, often with scant information on how successful these interventions have been.

Furthermore, even though one might hope that modern technology would make civilian strikes a thing of the past, Caroline Lucas gave data that indicated civilian casualties are tragically escalating at an incredible rate, so the Conscientious Objector position is as important now as ever it was. As CO’s, our ethics and principles compel us to oppose any circumstance in which we are complicit in supporting violence, such as the on-going wars we are waging in the Middle East and the large amount of tax-payers’ money being paid to armaments companies to promote the sales of weapons annually. The last estimated budget spent on the promotion of weapon sales was £400 million. Yet, there is no budget allocated to promote peacebuilding initiatives.

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Sir Mark Rylance opened the debate with a presentation of Ethical Consumer Magazine, a publication that offers a points-based system to assess the relative ethical rating of companies and products. He alluded to how involved it can be to just ascertain the ethical status of a bunch of bananas. Therefore, the complexity of investigating someone who benefits from the arms industry, with its diverse political implications and undeniable vast financial profitability, is inconceivable.

Caroline Lucas noted that armaments now rank as Great Britain’s number one international export. Caroline reminded us that we are frequently exporting to countries with poor human rights records, that are using our weapons to persecute neighbouring minorities, such as the current humanitarian crisis in the Yemen caused by on-going bombing by Saudi Arabia. Despite the atrocities, Saudi remains one of the UK arms industry’s biggest clients.

The idea behind this Conscience event was to explore the possibility of creating/engaging a role for Minister for Peace and to define what that might mean. Caroline made the sentient point that whilst there might be a benefit in allocating this responsibility to an individual or a department, it would be of utmost importance to clearly define in what that might mean in terms of output. She also suggested that in the current political culture of irresponsibility regarding warfare, where even well-established decisions are ignored (such as weapons that have been banned, still appearing for sale at the arms trades in London), there would be a risk of MPs abdicating any responsibility for peace if it could be delegated to one specific Minister. She advised that a solution could be to integrate a ‘Representative for the Promotion of Non-violence’ into each Ministerial department with the view of shifting focus to a culture of peace.

A discussion on how receptive the established political and military personnel would be to a culture of non-violence ensued. Caroline reasoned that the campaign would face the very real argument of unemployment, which would arise from eradicating arms factories.

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The question of whether there had ever been a successful campaign of transition in which the Unions felt the workers had been adequately consulted and reintegrated into new occupational positions was raised. It was agreed that more research was needed to ascertain what skillsets were operating within the current arms industry and how it might be possible to redeploy them into other less controversial industries effectively. There was further talk about how to ‘take the existing personnel with us’ as far as engaging with the military in a manner that they appreciate. Some military generals are anti-nuclear for example – they see it as a waste of military budget. We need these voices in our campaign.

Caroline added that, in her view, one of the reasons the current government was pursuing Hinkley power station, despite its poor economic implications, was because they worried that downscaling nuclear energy might reduce the skilled nuclear personal currently in the UK capable of designing and developing nuclear weaponry. The audience also contributed in highlighting the hypocrisy of insisting that other countries cannot pursue a nuclear program, even whilst we continue to develop and grow our own indefinitely with little or no inclination to disarm.

Another contributor stated that education is a central area for grounding a new approach to non-violence, since we are a society that has sadly become saturated with images that glorify violence of one description or another. Mark Rylance revealed that the script of ‘Dunkirk’ presented a major ethical concern for him. Before accepting the role, he wondered if this would turn out to be yet another film that glorifies ‘German-bashing’ gung-ho violence or, as he had hoped, an intelligently handled production could potentially serve as a movie which cathartically releases the emotional desire for dramatic confrontation, whilst also hopefully providing an insight into the actual gruesome horrors associated with military conflict.

After exploring much of the complexity and challenges within this epic debate, perhaps surprisingly, most of the audience still put their hands up to indicate hope for a possible end to the war. The evening had proven to be an important occasion to gather in numbers and declare our commitment to exploring practical strategies for making global peace a reality for our country and the World.

All that remains is to express gratitude to Conscience for hosting the event and to acknowledge the valuable and inspiring contribution from Sir Mark Rylance & Caroline Lucas, MP, as well as the many passionate speakers from the audience. I hope we do not need to wait too long for the next event…meanwhile, remember to visit the website and join the campaign!

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