Podium: Michael Bartlet - How to prevent the outbreak of wars

From a speech by the political secretary of the Society of Friends at a Quaker meeting house in Maldon, Essex
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The Independent Culture
I WOULD like to start by offering you a quote by Kathleen Lonsdale, from Quaker Faith and Practice.

"Friends (Quakers) are not naive enough to believe that an appeal to God in a nation which is in an aggressive mood will necessarily be successful in converting the tyrant or preventing aggression. Christ was crucified; Gandhi was assassinated. Yet they did not fail. Nor did they leave behind them the hatred, devastation and bitterness that war, successful or unsuccessful, does leave. What can be claimed, moreover, is that this method of opposing evil is one of which no person, no group, no nation need be ashamed, as we may and should be ashamed of the inhumanities of war that are perpetrated in our name and with our support".

The Ethical Foreign policy aims of Robin Cook seemed like a breath of fresh air in 1997. Since then there have clearly been positive achievements. The process has begun of indicting President Pinochet for his crimes. There has been work on an international criminal court, adopting the Highly- Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, rejoining Unesco and the work on EU Code of Conduct on Arms Trade - all steps in the right direction.

This, however, rather pales into insignificance when considering the current international situation. Nato has stumbled into the first Euro- pean war since its foundations. It is a war quite outside Nato's mandate of self-defence, Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Speaking in December 1998 French Foreign Minster Hubert Vedrine stated: "As regards the basis on which non-Article missions involving the use of force have to be carried out, it has been agreed at Heads of State level that these missions must be "placed under the authority of the Security Council". This is a fundamental rule of our foreign policy."

From the point of view of a Quaker, or indeed anyone committed to non- violent change, there is perhaps no better guide to an ethical foreign policy than the Talisman of Gandhi: "Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless person whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him, will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his life and destiny?"

If we bear this in mind, has the war conducted by Nato in Yugoslavia - or indeed the 50,000 death toll of sanctions against Iraq - achieved anything worthwhile.

The problems in Kosovo had been foreseen since the death of Tito. The UK has supplied weapons to Iraq. The potential for ethnic conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in Africa was recognised by the human rights group Africa Watch as early as 1993.

Surely what is needed to prevent such recurring bouts of violence is pre-emptive diplomacy - the justification is clear in economic no less than humanitarian terms. The cost of one cruise missile has been cited as from pounds 1m-pounds 10m - damage caused might double the cost but just think what such resources could have achieved if applied as a preventive measure prior to the conflict? For the cost of each missile a school or small hospital could be paid for.

A major fallacy in reasoning about the recent Balkan war has been to argue from the need to do something in the face of appalling ethnic violence to the need to do anything, and then respond with bombing. Violence is not the way to check violence. Sustained diplomatic effort incorporating Russia could have done far more to achieve a settlement under the auspices of the UN and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Violence is inherently unpredictable and may have outcomes quite different from those intended. Just think of Sarajevo in 1914. Once a cycle of violence has been unleashed it may be uncontrollable by even those who wish to limit it.

Preventive diplomacy can create a virtuous cycle of peace. Boutros Boutros- Ghali as Secretary-General of the UN pointed out the need for such pre- emptive action with confidence-building measures, regional arms agreements and the strengthening of the International Court of Justice.

Such an agenda for peace presupposes a strong, efficient and independent international civil service whose integrity is beyond question. It would be cheap, but if we wish to pre-empt further deadly conflicts it is a price worth paying.

What the UK needs to do is to use its resources and connections to create a foreign policy which no longer envisages security in purely military terms but seeks to redress the international injustices that are so often the causes of war.