Letter: Eliminate wars without armies

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The Independent Online
Sir: George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, is wrong to assume ("Why we still need strong armed forces", 30 July) that rejecting military action implies taking no part at all in making the world a better place, and leaving the problems to others. I am appalled that he can think of no way other than armed combat or the threat of it ("negotiation from strength" as it is called) that might be worth considering.

During the years since 1939 there have been few, if any, periods during which there has been no armed conflict somewhere in the world, despite enormous increases in armed forces and advances in weapon technology. These conflicts have sprung from disagreements over religious, political and moral beliefs, ethnic traditions and acquisitive ambitions. It is doubtful that wars ever eliminate the desires or beliefs that lead to them. Does the defeated party ever, as a result of defeat, decide that it was mistaken in its belief or merely in its estimate of the enemy's strength?

Have any of the leaders of the great powers ever considered devoting some of the billions now spent on defences to exploring other possible long-term means of tackling the problems Mr Robertson has in mind? This would no doubt involve looking far into the future and not hoping for "quick fixes", looking for likely sources of aggressions, poverty and famine, relying on education, willingness to listen to reason and accept compromises, economic aid and sanctions, and so on, without even the threat of force. It would help if those involved had no connection with, and drew no profits from, the manufacture and supply of lethal weapons, since the proliferation of arms itself creates enemies.

I cannot take pride, as George Robertson wishes, in my country's skill in killing and maiming people, usually innocent ones, destroying cities and communications, and devising and profiting from the techniques for doing such things. How can one take seriously those who seek to eliminate or prevent war by warlike action or respect those who profit from the supply of the means, unless all other possibilities are exhausted?


Farnham, Surrey