Wey Forrit – Reflections
In the week beginning 11th March 2019 a series of meetings were held in Glasgow and Edinburgh featuring European visitors and discussing peace-building opportunities and challenges in the context of Brexit, the future of NATO and the militarisation of the European Union. A detailed compilation of their presentations over the three meetings is below this article.
At first glance the contributions of the four speakers to the meetings could be seen as diffuse, with no obvious unifying theme. Given time to digest the inputs, the messages are both coherent and relevant.
One element in the meetings was represented by two speakers from small countries, Scotland- sized but independent, Anne Palm from Finland and Roger Cole from Ireland. Both nations, in tension with that independence and a good track record on positive international diplomacy, have behaviours that place them firmly in one or more of the world’s major power blocs and with dubious connections to global conflict. Ireland has the notorious Shannon airport contradiction and is content to play its part in the militarisation of the EU. Finland provides intelligence to NATO and has a significant arms exporting record, some of it to dubious regimes. There is a marked difference between Anne and Roger on the EU. Ann sees the EU as a positive institution and feels the military plans do not amount to much while Roger reckons that the EU has imperial ambitions that it is increasingly ready to back up with a genuine war-making structure.
Many will feel that tension within their own take on the EU and on Brexit, responding on the one hand to the early post-war European vision for peace across the continent and the EU’s institutional frameworks for human and workplace rights and for environmental standards, and on the other to the realistic recognition that the Union operates as a global trading bloc on neo-liberal economic principles, making it highly plausible that it will aspire to a fully-fledged military identity. It also seems highly likely that Brexit will serve to accelerate that process, given that the UK has been resistant to a clear EU military identity on the grounds that it will undermine NATO and reliance on the US for military security.
All these questions and suggestions are sharply relevant to a Scotland moving towards independence. Those of us who want our country to be for peace will interrogate such options as we will have. This will include looking twice at any EU membership option and exploring whether Danish-style military opt-out protocols are possible. Can we be genuinely non-aligned or do fail to set our ambitions beyond a fudge in which our bloc alignment actions are covert or simply downplayed? On the positive side will we match Ireland and Finland in contribution to genuinely inclusive international institutions? Will our concept of security be limited to conventional military threat-related perspectives or based (as Anne Palme proposed) on real human needs?
The scrutiny of the future options also impels current action. There is much that we can do right now to contribute to the inclusive international institutions by seeking assertive and imaginative ways to participate on the basis that so much of our aspiration for a peaceful world is subverted by being formally represented through the narrow channel of the UK.
There are the tricky but inescapable challenges in Scotland’s arms exporting and the support the Scottish government give to it. There’s education, formal and otherwise.
Then there is the question of whether we will have any future at all. Dave Webb’s presentation of one of two (known) existential threats we face was stark He made it clear that our response needs to be global in its perspective, in the way it works at solidarity, in the way it links the grass-roots with the governmental and diplomatic, in the requirement to work together worldwide to provide the essential counter-narrative. Working for the TPNW covers all these elements.
Ann Paterson’s contribution took us to the heart of the dynamics of violence and of peace. Her warning that internecine violence can break out at a moment’s notice is to be heeded. We are aware that our social and political discourse has become more and more polarised. We need to balance our commitment to good and just stances with the ability to cross the boundaries and identify common values. In the peace movement we have the resources to hand to do this but we have to give this part of the work greater prominence and status within our programmes and personally.
David Mackenzie February 2019
Dave Webb, chair of UK CND, has a science background and at one time worked for the MoD on assessing Soviet threats in space. Appalled by the confrontational “worse-case scenario” approach of the planners he got involved in politics during the mass movements of the early 80s. The possibility of intermediate range nuclear weapons coming back into Europe is alarming. NATO has completely reneged on the agreement it made at the time of the break up of the Soviet Union that the Alliance would not seek members among those states physically closest to Russia in order to have a buffer zone. Acknowledging that there was currently no such mass movement confronting the current perilous situation but there is hope that one can now be built, especially given the grass-roots impetus behind the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The SNP in changing to a pro-NATO policy has made a serious error given that the UK’s nuclear weapons are allocated to the alliance and how the NATO military infrastructure is designed to be inter-operable with US systems to the benefit of US arms corporations. In this scenario the UK cannot fail to have a first-strike nuclear policy since that is the NATO stance. As regards the increasingly militarised EU, do we leave or stay in and attempt reform. We should bear in mind that there are three forms of violence, direct, structural and cultural and all need to be resisted. Co-operation and negotiation has to be the way forward.
Ann Patterson of Belfast Peace People. In Ann’s experience most people are peace people. The roots of her own pacifism was the accounts of the Holocaust told her by her Jewish teacher. Ann worked with the Quakers and was aware of their good reputation in Ireland. On one occasion amidst the anger of a big protest against the release of 3 convicted British soldiers her Quaker minibus was let through the crowds by protesters who said that the Quakers had saved so many during the Famine. She had engaged in prison education in the infamous H Block. The horrors of ISIS and Syria recalled for her the terrible state of NI during the troubles. The founding of the Peace People resonated very deeply across the polarised and divided community, and very quickly resulted in the formation of nearly four hundred small but vociferous and active groups forming and demonstrating locally every week, eventually this included together travelling to London where together they filled Trafalgar Square.
Ann showed a moving film about the NI Troubles and the widespread revulsion at one particular tragedy that led to peace-making across the boundaries. There was the sense that the community had lost its soul and that the violence had to stop somehow. The Brexit threat to the open border between north and south is very worrying since violence can break out so very quickly in an apparently calm and stable situation.
Ann Palme, of the Finish Wider Security Network (formed 2015) spoke of the Finnish view on peace. The Network operates in an integrated way with Finnish Government rather than just as a pressure group.
Finland has not been involved in armed conflict since 1944 and is currently at No 7 on the Global Peace Index. Current concerns are the Trump unpredictability, Russian aggression, the general descent into power politics and Brexit – all indicating a decline in international co-operation. Ann was very positive about the EU and the need for a common security and defence policy. In her view the European army was hardly a reality. She said that Finland has stayed out of all alliances and plays a big part in peace-keeping via the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Finland only became independent in 1917 after being part of Sweden and then Russia with whom it shares a 1340 kilometre border. Finnish people just want a quiet life! Finland has not signed the TPNW due to its NATO alignment and says that the NPT is the important treaty in regard to nuclear weapons. added that the main parties in Finland wanted to stay out of NATO, a stance affected by Russia’s proximity, but still remain closely co-operative with it. Peace-building and mediation are essential and we need more women and young people to be active in these fields. In its mediation activities, Finland pays special attention to measures that enhance the role and ownership of women in peace processes in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, “Women, Peace and Security”. Finland has its own National Action Plan for the implementation of Resolution 1325, and Finnish experiences have been shared with partners in countries such as Kenya and Afghanistan.A big advantage in Finland is government funding, without strings, for NGOs. Scotland could play a significant part in peace-building and mediation. The Finnish have the word “sisu” (stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness) to describe their national character, a term similar to the Scottish “smeddum”!
Roger Cole of the Irish Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA). PANA is committed to Irish independent operation in the context of the UN and was instrumental in initiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Roger spoke of the growing militarisation of the EU and the recent mentions by Macron and Merkel of the European Army. Based on its concerns about neutrality PANA had campaigned at a series of referenda on Europe, including successfully at the first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The plan for developing the EU as a military power is in the Lisbon Treaty leading to battle groups and the 2017 EU Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence Organisation (PESCO), and it could involve nuclear weapons. It is notable that Denmark in joining the EU did so on the basis of protocols which excluded it from the the military dimension. As things stand for Ireland membership of the EU and involvement in the military aspect mean that the Irish have given up their loyalty to their own country in favour an external union. PANA is in favour of an economic partnership and does not advocate leaving the EU. Independence and neutrality are key. Irish neutrality is of course critically compromised by the use of Shannon airport for regular transit of US forces. Most Irish people, though against the never ending wars, know nothing of this – it is not reported in mainstream media and we have to harness the power of social media to get the story out. PANA now has the support of 52 Irish parliamentarians and 70% of the population is against the US use of Shannon. While stressing neutrality and independence Roger was clear that PANA’s is not a “Little Irelander” stance and it supports independence for others, such as currently Venezuela.