This excellent event took place in Edinburgh at the Friends Meeting House just off the Royal Mile, on September 20, 2016. We had come together to discuss two main things. Firstly, to support with the launching of a new book by author and peace activist Vijay Mehta, Author of The Economics of Killing, and Chair of Uniting for Peace. His new book is called Peace Beyond Borders and is a survey of the ways that the European Union has been helping preserve the peace both in European and in the wider world since it was launched back in the 1950’s. Secondly, we were invited to give our own contributions to the subject of how best Europe might best preserve and protect peace in the wider world in the future, especially int the light of the Brexit result int the EU referendum. Is it inevitable that the UK will withdraw from the European Union ? Is it desirable ? What are the legal and parliamentary ramifications of the EU referendum result ? What impact will it have on the makeup of the UK ? Is it possible that Scotland and Northern Ireland might be tempted to break away from the UK in order to remain in the EU ? And what are the problems and issues facing the EU that resulted in the Brexit narrow result for leave: if they were fixed, might a second referendum be called and result in a vote for Remain ? What position in all this should peace activists and all those who care passionately about the good that the EU has done in promoting peace, actually take at the present time ? What about the many problems that the EU has not been able to solve ? Why has it sat back and not helped stop the fighting in Ukraine ? Why did it do nothing to prevent the violent break up of former Yugoslavia and indeed seem to take sides with the revisionist elements inside Yugoslavia who were trying to dismember the country ? Why is it making sabre rattling noises and talking about creating a new European Army and military command structure to replace or challenge NATO ? Is this really the way to go for Europe, whether we are in or out ?
We addressed these complex issues from a variety of perspectives. As well as Vijay Mehta, speakers included the following: Brian Cooper, Churches Interfaith Secretary and Coordinator, Uniting for Peace. Founder, Christian East-West Study Network. Brian spoke movingly about the history of the moves towards European integration in the wake of the disaster that was world war two and the enormous suffering and violence that had been unleashed on European soil. He commented on the fact that many of the core founders of the EU project had been determined to create a structure of interlocking interests that would result in the continent never again being able to launch a continent wide maelstrom. He also spoke about the deep spiritual Christian faith that motivated many of these founders.
Another speaker was Rob Perkins, a Researcher at Control Arms, and editor of their journal the Arms Trade Monitor. He spoke knowledgeably about how the global arms trade is now converted by numerous treaties such as the recent ground-breaking Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which was adopted in April 2013, and which is the first global treaty to regulate the conventional arms trade. he explained that the Treaty creates a new global norm against which states’ practice will be measured, by other states and by international civil society. The Uk and 81 other States are Parties (full members) to the treaty and a further 51 are signatories. but Russia and China have done neither, and Israel and the USA are only signatories, so there is a great deal of work still to be done. The following countries, which includes the entire European Union, have ratified the treaty: Albania Antigua and Barbuda Argentina Australia Austria Bahamas Barbados Belgium Belize Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Burkina Faso Central African Republic Chad Costa Rica Côte d’Ivoire Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Dominica Dominican Republic El Salvador Estonia Finland France Georgia Germany Ghana Greece Grenada Guatemala Guinea Guyana Hungary Iceland Ireland Italy Jamaica Japan Latvia Lesotho Liberia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macedonia Mali Malta Mauritania Mauritius Mexico Monaco Montenegro Netherlands New Zealand Niger Nigeria Norway Panama Paraguay Peru Poland Portugal Republic of Moldova Romania Saint Kitts and Nevis Saint Lucia Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Samoa San Marino Senegal Serbia Seychelles Sierra Leone Slovakia Slovenia South Africa Spain Sweden Switzerland Togo Trinidad and Tobago Tuvalu United Kingdom Uruguay Zambia. The following countries have so far only signed the treaty: Andorra Angola Bahrain Bangladesh Benin Brazil Burundi Cambodia Cameroon Cape Verde Chile Colombia Comoros Congo (republic of) Djibouti Gabon Guinea-Bissau Haiti Honduras Israel Kiribati Lebanon Libya Madagascar Malawi Malaysia Mongolia Mozambique Namibia Nauru Palau Philippines Republic of Korea Rwanda Sao Tome and Principe Singapore Suriname Swaziland Thailand Turkey Ukraine United Arab Emirates United Republic of Tanzania United States of America Vanuatu Zimbabwe. The following countries have as yet done neither, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China. Rob explained that the EU may maintain peace within Europe but that it also exports weapons that fuel conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, with the UK the 6th biggest exporter of weapons globally. Rob wondered what will Brexit mean for the UK – and EU – Arms Trade? He outlined how the UK exports arms currently to a Saudi Arabian regime which is bombing Yemen and causing a disastrous humanitarian crisis. Post Brexit these exports will no longer be subject to EU restrictions so will the UK become an even greater arms exporter. Is that the kind of UK we want to live in ? Also, although it was not mentioned, there was a question hovering unspoken over the meeting at this point: were the intelligence services of some governments involved in swinging public opinion towards Brexit and “manufacturing consent” to give the impression that the UK had overwhelmingly voted in favour or Brexit (which they did not by any means) simply because certain powers (the military industrial intelligence elites) want to unshackle the UK arms industry from EU regulations ? More details on the work of Control Arms and their role in publicising arms control protocols around the planet can be found on their website at: http://armstreaty.org/
After Rob Perkins spoke, we heard some thoughts from Brian Larkin, who is Coordinator of the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, which sits right next door to the friend Meeting House in the centre of Edinburgh. Brian touched on the impact of Brexit on the debates on Scottish independence and Trident and the increased likelihood of a European Defense Force once the UK is out of the EU. Is this a good or a bad thing from a peace perspective ?
Next it was my turn to speak, and I gave a brief comment on the excellent book by Vijay Mehta, which I had been reading especially for the meeting, and whose contents I summarised for those who have not yet read it. I then spoke about my own IIPSGP project to launch a European Union Mediation Service and spoke about my own publication which explores this idea – and which is available here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/thomas-daffern/towards-a-european-union-mediation-service/paperback/product-4606169.html
I explained that the European Union Mediation Service would be a lasting solution to the ongoing problems of conflict on the borders of the European Union, and proposes that Europe establish a formal mediation service within its existing diplomatic structures, available in times of emergency, in all conflicts, great and small, that affect the lives of the citizens of the European continent as a whole, and not just members of the existing European Union. Similarly, I explained that the EUMS would be available as a neutral service to assist neighbouring non-European countries to resolve their disputes amicably and non-violently. I argued both that The European Union can afford to create this service and that the European Union cannot afford not to create it. This could be part of the peace dividend that we have all been waiting for ever since the ending of the cold war in 1990, and which the citizens of Europe have hitherto been tragically denied, especially in the Balkans. I gave some philosophical arguments in favour of creating such a mediation service and explained that in my role as coordinator of Philosophers for Peace throughout Europe I feel especially upset that too often politicians and bureaucrats are not listening to the visionary interfaith intellectual voices among us, who can see a way beyond the rival architectonics of failed ideologies and religious systems locked in eternal conflict. With spirit as a solvent, these conflicts can be healed and reconciled, I argued.
The meeting was ably chaired by Arthur Chapman, who also serve as Chair of the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre. Details of their excellent work can be found here: http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/ They have a meeting coming up in early October for my old Glasgow based friend George Paxton who edits the Gandhi Way and serves as a trustee of the Gandhi Foundation, and who has written a new book about Nonviolent resistance to Hitler’s Germany.
After we had finished our spoken contributions a lively debate ensured with many interesting questions from the audience and the meeting finished by 9pm, with our minds buzzing with ideas. Let us hope it generated some alternative energy to counter the sombre mood of the nation at present, when a minority opinion against the EU and all it has done for world peace and peace in Europe, has been artificially manufactured, in my considered opinion, by elements in the media (BBC, Murdoch and other behind-the-scenes media interests) to give the impression that the UK is overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit.
In fact, it is worth remembering that in the recent EU referendum in the UK, of all registered voters only 72% actually voted, which means that 28% didn’t vote at all for whatever reason. My own vote (postal) was returned to me and looked like it had been tampered with. I wonder how many others among the 28% were in this category ? Philosophically speaking, abstention is actually a vote for the status quo, which is to remain in the EU. There is also another worrying fact: of the millions of UK citizens currently living abroad, many of them in Europe, no one seems to have either registered or counted their votes, so there is no way of accurately saying how they voted or whether in fact they voted or not. I asked for this information under Freedom of Information legislation and was told “It is not available”. There was no time lag for counting the overseas votes, as there usually is in elections. It seems that something very odd was going on during the referendum and overseas voters often complained that their voting papers arrived too late to vote. This alone should be reason to hold a second referendum, but no one is even talking about this scandal. Of the 72% who actually voted, 35% voted to remain, and 36% voted to leave. This means that 64% of the total voters did not vote to leave the EU. Only 36% of voters voted to leave the EU. This doesn’t seem to me to be a resounding vote to leave the EU. Yet the Westminster bubble acts as if it’s a done deal, and refuses to countenance anything other than Brexit. This makes a mockery of our democracy in my considered opinion. If we are really going to pursue Brexit, there needs to be a second referendum to confirm that is actually the people’s will or not. I made this point in brief in the discussions and questions after our talks. It is worth repeating this – in any average room of 100 eligible UK voters, only 36 of them voted actively to leave the EU. Yet we are being told it was 52% / 48% as if this means 52% of the total population. In fact, it was only 36% of the voting population and an even lower percentage of the total population who voted to leave the EU.
Anyway, it was a fascinating night, and well worth attending. Thanks to the organisers and other speakers who attended and of course the audience who came out to support us on a rather mild and beautiful Edinburgh evening.
And Happy International Peace Day to everyone who wants to see Peace on earth rather than war and the business of war dominating the headlines.
Here is my own short talk recorded for those who were not there to hear in person: