A platform for humanity - The UK's Bath experiment

Positive peace is more than the absence of war. Groups campaigning to advance the causes that are vital to building it would find greater synergy if they recognised their interdependence. A local experiment confirms this.

Diana Francis
28 June 2010

In the run-up to the recent UK elections, the Bath Stop the War Coalition convened a meeting of Bath activists from the four relevant sectors: peace, economic and social justice, human rights and democracy, and environmental protection. In the event, nineteen separate organisations, covering all these four sectors, were represented and the decision was taken to hold a pre-electoral public meeting, under the banner of a ‘Platform for Humanity’.

Our united efforts in publicising the meeting produced a packed audience for the five electoral candidates who accepted our invitation. Appointed representatives outlined the policy demands of our four different sectors: the demilitarisation of UK foreign policy and the scrapping and non-replacement of the Trident nuclear weapons system; a more responsible approach to global economic relations, in terms of trading and aid, along with measures for social and economic inclusion in the UK; a fair electoral system at home;  international solidarity for human rights around the world; and serious measures to address the mounting environmental crisis, within Britain and internationally. One by one the candidates responded at length to these proposals, explaining their policies on issues that typically receive little attention in British general elections.

Platform members have since met and decided on future action: to use a common website; to arrange a public meeting in the Autumn to hold our elected MP to account; and to organise a joint fair or ‘market’ later in the year, at which all the Platform’s organisations will set their wares and engage with the public. We will all be on the lookout for new organisations to join the Platform, the only criterion being that they subscribe to our four common values and want to work cooperatively.  The cooperation between organisations will give us all a wider constituency and greater influence. It will not drain energy from our own particular endeavours, but rather invigorate them.

Peace means two things. One is the absence of violence and the other is the presence of the positive conditions and relationships in which human beings flourish. Violence is an expression of the domination model of power. Positive peace requires cooperation, on the basis of interdependence. Thus far the conflict transformation field has acknowledged positive peace as a goal and recognised its absence as a cause of conflict, but I believe we can and should go further.

Violence takes many forms and is expressed not only as assaults but also as deprivation. Johan Galtung elegantly and incisively defined it as ‘avoidable insults to basic human needs’. The things that will need to be in place to meet these human needs can be grouped in four broad categories: peace, as in nonviolent approaches to conflict, cooperative relationships and physical security; democracy, as in human rights and the freedom to participate in political life; justice, as in economic and social inclusion; and planetary protection to create and preserve a healthy environment. All four of these elements are under attack, from governments as well as from individuals and groups, within the prevailing eat or be eaten paradigm.

While for many reasons old socialist models failed to deliver on their promise, unfettered capitalism and the tyranny of the economically powerful have only increased the gulf between rich and poor. Neo-liberalism has meshed together with violent means of control, including war,  and is related to an instrumental approach to people and planet alike, with consequences to our environment that are likely to prove cataclysmic. Indeed, the destruction has already begun.

The military-industrial complex is strong. While the grievances associated with poverty and marginalisation are often causal factors leading to war, war itself is all too often used to maintain and extend economic and political dominance.  Its outcome is not only suffering and death on a terrible scale, but the further exacerbation of poverty with all the misery and deprivation it entails, through the disruption of lives and livelihoods, forced migration and the destruction of infrastructure.  Similarly, while pressure on scarce resources and the desire to exploit and control them is increasingly related to violent conflict, war and preparations for it constitute in themselves a monumental waste and diversion of the resources necessary not only for the peaceful resolution of conflict but for poverty’s eradication. They also destroy, degrade and pollute our planet. War’s environmental footprint is gigantic.

Illegal and immoral acts of war have recently been presented (after the event if not before) as ‘regime change’ justified by the suppression of human rights. And at the same time the wholesale assault on human rights constituted by war is paralleled in some societies by the endemic practice of arbitrary arrests, disappearances and imprisonment, torture and execution, as the means of perpetuating arbitrary and selfish power and preventing political participation. And the violence of regimes is accompanied by culturally ‘normal’, systemic violence against women, and their social and economic exclusion.  All too often international solidarity with the victims of violence is limited at the governmental level by considerations of what is perceived as being in their own national interest and a desire to maintain advantageous trading and political relationships. In the meantime, in those countries that are relatively safe and internally democratic, materialism and disaffection combine to allow political participation to atrophy, so undermining the democracy of which such countries boast. While they assume a position of moral and cultural superiority, they operate on a ‘might is right’ basis internationally, so deepening the chasm of anger that is growing between ‘the West and the rest’.

Thus assaults on these four aspects of positive peace are inextricably enmeshed with each other and mutually reinforcing. Their combined impact threatens to overwhelm our vision and will for change. Yet, by the same token, change in one part of this quadrant can support change in another. And this synergy can encourage the cooperative approach that will be vital to transforming global relationships and addressing the problems that threaten our common future.

Recognising the essential unity of the different elements of peace, and the efforts of those who are working for them, can encourage us with a greater sense of a common movement for change.  It can also strengthen the case that we make for own particular goals, and the synergy of our joint efforts will increase.  This is vital, in view of the radical reorientation that is so urgently needed for global policy, and where better to begin than locally?

Such local efforts are essential to an urgently needed global ‘movement of movements’ for positive peace. They must be accompanied by cooperation between national and international organisations working for the aspects of positive peace  - economic justice and development, human rights and democracy, and the protection of the planet.  If they too could create a Platform for Humanity, mutually enriching the way they conceptualise and present their work and pursuing a common policy agenda, the impact, on the ground and on governments, would be immense.

The conflict transformation field could take a lead in this. The connections are already there, for instance with aid and development agencies now going beyond incorporating conflict analysis in their thinking and beginning to work actively for peace. Scilla Elworthy has made a rousing and realistic proposal for action to reduce military spending and build the peace sector: one that could be supported by organisations in the other three sectors. Likewise, peace workers can lend support to policy initiatives for economic justice, environmental protection, human rights and political participation. What is needed is for all four sectors to come together in a united, visionary policy platform and campaign for a sustainable future, grounded in the values of respect and interdependence, which constitute our greatest strength. The forces of violence and greed are extremely powerful. They must be matched and transformed by the united powers of all those who are working for the future of humanity and our planet.

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