When Conscience Met The Minister for Peace

by Shaughan Dolan ~ January 11th, 2018. Filed under: News.

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It was a packed house in the Vauxhall Tea House Theatre, on the cold night of November 28th, 2017. Conscience members, EC members, and the general public alike braved the cold to come and hear what a Minister for Peace & Disarmament would really do, what their role would consist of, and suggest their own thoughts on what the Minister’s remit should be. Given that a Minister for Peace is a Labour policy, we sat down with the Shadow Minister for Peace & Disarmament, Mr Fabian Hamilton, MP for Leeds North East, for a cup of tea and a chat.

In his introduction Fabian made the excellent point that we should consider the cost of renewing our Trident nuclear weapons system (£2.5 billion annually), as opposed to the cost of providing clean drinking water and basic sanitation for the entire planet (estimated by Sir Richard Jolly as being ‘$10 billion and the will to provide it’).

Conscience’s first question for Fabian was simply, ‘what do you think are currently the biggest challenges in foreign policy?’ Fabian’s answer was also fairly simple – Syria, Yemen, The Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, are all trapped in their own respective cycles of perpetual violence, conflict, and the resultant poverty. He is also concerned about Iran’s attempts to export their fundamentalist religious revolution.

But what would be different from the development, diplomacy, and peace-building that the UK already engages in? Fabian suggested that a demilitarised approach that focused on the causes of conflict, rather than its effects, would be the main difference. He also said that we need to pay much more attention to the proliferation of small arms, and proposed greater utilisation of the Wassenaar Arrangement as the primary means of doing so.

When asked about the militarisation of the development budget, Fabian shared our concerns. He pointed out how educating women in Somalia had unexpected economic benefits, and how earthquake-proofing Nepalese buildings had saved lives, time, and money, after the recent quake. It is difficult to see how NATO activities could have similar benefits. Prevention, Fabian reminded us, is always better than cure.

Conscience campaign manager Shaughan asked Fabian how he feels the UK can constructively move down the nuclear ladder, and how we can encourage other states to do so. Defence diversification was the key element of Fabian’s answer. He said we must work, in concert with trade unions, to enable the skills and knowledge of our current arms exporters’ employees to be transferred to life-enhancing products, rather than weapons designed to kill and maim. The example was given of heads-up displays, currently used by fighter pilots, being transferred to cars and public roads. If we start now with a Shadow Defence Diversification Agency, by the time of the 2022 election they will be ready to hit the ground running.

Conscience’s last question for Fabian was, ‘why does London host DSEI, the largest arms fair in the world?’ He hopes that any future Labour government would tell the organisers to take their death merchants elsewhere. He said, very firmly, that Britain cannot hold its place in the world, post-Brexit, via arms sales.

During the question and answer session, we were lucky enough to have Sir Richard Jolly ask two excellent questions – how does human security compare to military security, and how can the British government make real use of so-called ‘soft’ power? Fabian noted that we still have real influence in South Africa via soft power. Use of tools like the British World Service and the British Council has maintained the image of Britain abroad, primarily as diplomats. However, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office needs a lot of diversification, as their make up is not reflective of the UK population, and has also faced 40% cuts to their budget under this government. If we focused on human security instead of military security, for example by following the Dutch model of a national housing investment bank, we could revolutionise not only housing but also employment, health & education.

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Another question asked was regarding the political and security problems that the UK would face if it scrapped nuclear weapons for good. Fabian pointed out that nuclear weapons do not stop spy planes, ground invasions, or terrorists. They are a product of failure, not a success. Japan, Germany, and many other successful, first-world, nations do not feel the need to own, develop, or covet nuclear weapons.

At the end of the evening, Fabian reminded us that we can use the time between now and the next election to create the prerequisites for a Ministry of Peace & Disarmament. We simply must use our foreign aid budget for development – we cannot fall into the trap of aid for trade. We can use our armed forces for peaceful purposes – just look at the response the army mounted to tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Britain can lead by example, we can use our history, our culture, our language, to be a force for global peace.

Thank you again to all those who attended – we are aware it was VERY cold – to Fabian Hamilton MP, and to the Vauxhall Tea House Theatre for the venue and a lovely cuppa to warm us up.

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