What is this blog?

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The purpose of this blog is to allow me to record my journey, the formation of the No New Wars organisation (whatever form that may take), the Eleven Eleven Twenty-Eighteen campaign and the supporting resources and networks of people and organisations.

This idea crystallised for me in 2012 when I decided it was not enough to be angry about wars being started in my name (that is, by my government) that I could not prevent.  Instead I would do something.  Not march with a banner, or send a letter to my MP, or write to the embassy of the enemy state, but instead stop the war in the first place.

I realised that I could not stop foreign countries starting wars.  But I can do something to influence my own government.  I could start a movement that makes it clear to our politicians that we do not want war, and that we will make them pay if they start one.

In a democracy we have only one tool available: our vote.  If enough of us pledge to remove our vote from any politician promoting an unjust, illegal or unnecessary war and to instead give that vote to an opponent, then we can make the politicians and major political parties too frightened to want to start a war.

It does not even need many of us to sign up to this.  In many constituencies it would only take about half of the MP’s majority to take the pledge to make the MP realise their next election might be their last.  And if people who do not vote – which is most of us – sign this pledge saying we will turn up and make a protest vote, it will make the political parties sit up and think about the consequences of the actions of a few war mongers.

I haven’t done the sums in detail, but if this campaign had been in place by 2003 when the 2nd Gulf War started, and if just 1% of the electorate had signed this pledge, then 170,00 non-voters voting against Labour plus 1% of Labour voters voting for either of the other major parties, would have resulted in Labour losing the 2005 General Election.

Between 750,000 (Police figures) and 2,000,000 (organisers’ figures) people marched in London alone to protest against the 2nd Gulf War.  Just 400,000 registered voters making a pledge would have more effect.

We actually can stop wars from starting by targeting the real cause: politicians who want to start a war.  By telling them we as voters will end their political career and wreck their party’s future prospects of power at the same time.

Would you consider war prevention a big enough cause to change your vote, or to make you go out and vote?

The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Outcome Delivery Plan: 2021 to 2022

In the FCDO’s Outcome Delivery Plan 2021 to 2022 there is some quite exciting stuff.  I’ve cherry-picked the bits I like best:

Foreward

Our ambition for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is to maximise our global impact in the service of British interests and values – working together with our partners and allies as a force for good in the world.

We want to see a world that is safe for open and free societies to thrive, where we benefit from technology while maintaining our security and freedoms, where countries come together to tackle the biggest global challenges for the benefit of everyone.

We will be a force for good in the world, getting COVID-19 vaccines to the poorest countries, shifting the dial on climate change, tackling poverty, giving girls in the poorest countries a proper education, and standing up for democracy, freedom and human rights when they come under attack.

A. Executive summary
Vision and mission

The FCDO will pursue our national interests and project the UK as a force for good in the world. We will promote the interests of British citizens, safeguard the UK’s security, defend our values, reduce poverty and tackle global challenges with our international partners.

C. Priority outcomes delivery plans

Outcome evaluation

The outcomes are linked to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Priority Outcome 1: Shape the international order and ensure the UK is a force for good in the world by supporting sustainable development and humanitarian needs, promoting human rights and democracy, and establishing common international standards

This is aligned with these SDGs:

  • SDG 1: No Poverty (Target 1.3)
  • SDG 2: Zero Hunger (Targets 2.1, 2.2, 2.5)
  • SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being (Targets 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, 3.7, 3.8)
  • SDG 4: Quality Education (Target 4.5)
  • SDG 5: Gender Equality
  • SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy (Target 7.a)
  • SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth (Target 8.4)
  • SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (Target 9.5)
  • SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities (Target 10.2)
  • SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (Targets 11.5, 11.b)
  • SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production (Target 12.2)
  • SDG 13: Climate Action (Target 13.1)
  • SDG 15: Life on Land (Targets 15.5, 15.a)
  • SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Targets 16.1, 16.2, 16.3, 16.7, 16.10, 16.a, 16.b)

Outcome strategy

The FCDO will play a critical role in strengthening international security and making the UK safer and more resilient to global threats. Our capacity to prevent, deter, respond to and mitigate most threats relies on our relationships and influence abroad. We will coordinate the delivery of activity and relationships overseas to protect and promote UK resilience and a resilient global system.

We will develop clearer areas of UK specialism in addressing conflict and instability, better aligning our tools and capabilities. We will lead and contribute to effective international efforts to prevent, manage and support transition out of conflict, as a force for good.

That is only one part of the much larger plan.  And this is the part I find most exciting – something I would like to be a part of.

Understanding International Relations Theory

I’ve just completed and passed a 12 week course “Understanding International Relations Theory” on Coursera run by the HSE University, Moscow.  It was written four years ago, so well before the invasion of Ukraine. It has been on my To Do list since I completed my Masters in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies, essentially an international relations course, but I wanted the perspective of a Russian university on the subject.  I got round to doing it when I did because a small number of people were saying the invasion of Ukraine was inevitable and were predicting the nation of its escalation of not addressed.   I also felt it was predictable and based on Russia feeling unheard in its objections to Eastward NATO expansion, not being heard on the world stage beyond its power of veto at the UN and its objections to how regime change was being conducted by the West.

Anyway, the theory is just the same: Realist, Liberalist and Marxist paradigms of interpreting international relations, with their modern neo- versions to accommodate their failings, and the special theories like Democratic Peace Theory, Regime Theory and the delightfully named Liberal Transnationalism or Complex Interdependence Theory.  Also, the critical theories of Constructivism, Postmodernism and Feminism. As expected, it starts with the Peloponnesian Wars, goes through the philosophers like Hobbes and Locke and the Westphalian view of state sovereignty, the League of Nations, the Great War, WW2, the United Nations, the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and almost up to the present day.  All as expected.

But the interesting bit was toward the end: the analysis of Russian foreign policy.  It is entirely a Realist policy, so very different from how the West operates.  And using the Realist paradigm of a desire to balance power, of great powers operating in a ‘concert of nations’ and Russia expecting to be the most influential state in its region, the behaviour of Russia was indeed entirely predictable.

While many were saying Putin is mad, that he intends to invade and conquer Europe, that it is all to do with internal Russian politics, had got it wrong.  The invasion of Ukraine is – like most violence at any scale – all about humiliation.  Russia resents being treated as insignificant on the world stage, resents the encroachment by NATO and the EU into its sphere of influence, resents not being involved in decision-making about world issues such as the Arab Spring (hence its involvement in propping up the Syrian regime to show that it can) and that it was not defeated and eliminated when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Russia wants to be seen as what it sees itself as and has been for centuries: one of the great powers in the Eurasian zone.

All conflicts end with communication.  And communication starts with listening.  We need to stop treating Russia as a defeated opponent or an enemy to be crushed by an ongoing unofficial Cold War and try listening.

Soft power and boat people

There are three main forms of power a country has internationally: military, economic and soft power.  The latter is the power over minds or the power of propaganda.

Soft power works by, for example, showing your country as attractive for its ideals, lifestyle, freedoms or opportunities for economic prosperity.  People in other countries see these and demand the same sort of things in their own country.  In this way ideas and values and social norms are spread from one country to another.

But what happens when the people in the other country have an economy that is so weakened that it cannot offer those things, or are in a failed state where the government has been weakened from outside or broken by war?  In these cases, the citizens see attractiveness of the other country and no opportunity to achieve this at home.  They then become economic migrants.

When the first country, the attractive one, does not want those people it attracted to its shores, then a problem ensues about what to do with those “illegal migrants” or whatever term is used to brand them as ‘bad’ and unwanted people.

The solution is to help the countries they came from provide the same sort of attractive benefits that their citizens would like.  Not to impose sanctions or criticise or add to their burden, but assist them in improving the lot of their citizens.

Using military power + soft power against lesser developed states, or economic power + soft power against them, without providing support and aid and trade and opportunities just creates more problems.  Using soft power can hurt both sides; it is then just another form of international warfare.  I wonder if this is what is sometimes meant by ‘cultural imperialism’?

Why is conflict resolution not as recognised as it should be?

Why do we expect politicians to be all-knowing multidisciplinary people?

This was asked on LinkedIn by one of my fellow students at Lancaster University, someone I was very impressed with, Pilar Perez Brown.  The context was President Macron attempting mediation talks with Putin, despite not having the necessary academic background or training to do so.

Mediators that comprehend the full political and strategic reality of the war are needed, people that know the best ways to guide this conflict and the relations in it. We need economists and strategists that can explain the depth of both sides’ demands, as well as many other specialists who are equally necessary despite not being politicians.

A discussion began.

Conflict analysis and responses have changed enormously this past few decades.  There are far more options and interventions available to prevent conflict, transform conflict and resolve conflict than most people are aware of.  Somehow, we need to get conflict resolution recognised and given a much higher profile in diplomacy and international relations incident management.

Exactly! Thank you for your insight. Indeed the nature of conflict has changed, and so the analysis of it has enhanced, therefore presenting more opportunities to transform and resolve conflicts, as you mention.
Why do you think these processes are not as recognised as they should be?

I think these are some factors:

  1. The nature of the media.  “If it bleeds, it leads“.  War is exciting and attracts readers / viewers so it is the lead story (to help sell advertising and raise revenue for the media).  Peace is not exciting: there is no blood, no blown up cars, no crying children or other images to bring in the readers.  So the media do not cover peace.  Hence people do not know peace-making is happening all the time.  This makes people assume war is the natural outcome of conflict.
  2. The warring leaders do not want to look weakAll conflict ends by talking.  When powerful people who publicly say they hate each other come to meet and compromise, they do not want their supporters to know they are doing so.  They think it makes them look like they are backing down and are weak.  So negotiation talks are kept secret.  Hence people do not get to hear about them.  When the outcome is a peaceful solution, even then the conflict resolution talks are not mentioned.  So people do not get to hear about how conflict resolution was involved and worked.
  3. Sometimes powerful third parties are involved in the conflict who want their involvement kept secret.  When it becomes politically or economically expedient to have this conflict resolved, it is not necessarily desirable to have the rest of the world see into the detail of the conflict.  Revealing their involvement in the peace process could reveal their role in causing or feeding the conflict, or appear hypocritical because of what they are doing somewhere else.  So they do not want any media coverage of the process of resolving the conflict.  It just quietly fizzles out, without the rest of the world noticing a process was followed.
  4. Revealing the presence of peace-making mediators makes them a target and can cause more conflict.  Some people will not want the conflict resolved and may attack the mediators.  Once mediation has been successful, knowing they were involved could make them vulnerable when they get involved in a later conflict.  So their involvement is never revealed.  This can be high profile individuals or specialist mediation agencies.  Again, the conflict resolution process does not get talked about, this time for reasons of mediator personal security.
  5. Historical precedent.  One view of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler was that it bought the rest of us a year to re-arm and prepare for the inevitable war.  But he has gone down in history as a weak man and a failure.  I suspect politicians are frightened of ending up in the history books for the same reason.  However, if you fight a war and lose, you can still be recorded as the brave hero who refused to give in.  It may seem better politically to go into a war and risk losing, then go into mediation talks that might fail and result in war anyway.  So a guaranteed war is actually more attractive than the risk of one.  Hence getting involved in peace talks risks losing one’s political credibility, so there is no interest, and no desire to have anyone know if they do so.
  6. President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex and how they have a vested financial interest to influence public policy toward fear of conflict.  Governments and academia get added to this mix, depending on the theory.  I cannot imagine NATO or Lockheed Martin lobbying to have their funds are reduced and diverted to investment into conflict resolution research and promotion.  Mediation specialists have small budgets for advertising and little need to do so to the general public.  The arms industry and the military and their activities get plenty of coverage for free.  That normalises conflict for the public.
  7. The immaturity of International Relations Theory.  It is still based around the Realist / Liberalist / Marxist tripartite.  The Realist theory is simplest, oldest and most embedded in our culture as “might is right” and international relations being anarchic, amoral and all about survival.  Liberal theory has had to be modified many times to try to match current affairs, making it look weak and reactive and so of little use as a theory.  Marxist theory is a political non-starter.  When people have studied international relations theory, it has typically been this academic view, one which is not about conflict resolution.  Instead, it is about studying how war is just and inevitable, based on past experience.  However, that does not cover what actual practitioners have been doing in reality, nor count the times a war was avoided.  Huge progress has been made in understanding how people are motivated and how to achieve change painlessly and so that it sticks.  These practitioner fields and their modern techniques are not taught so much as IR Theory in generalist politics degrees.
  8. But I blame the media foremost.
    Create a cease-fire in a war: it’s an editorial on page 7.
    Slap someone on TV for mocking your partner’s medical complaint: it’s front-page news and it fills social media (about 4,810,000,000 results on a Google search!)
    Violence increases sales and increases advertising revenue, conflict resolution does not.

Career questions

  • What are the job titles for peace practitioners?
  • What should one search for on Jobserve / Civil Service Jobs / etc.?
  • What is the sector called?
    • Conflict resolution / transformation / prevention?  Stability?
  • What are the professional bodies?
  • What are the vocational qualifications?
    • MA in Peace Studies or Conflict Resolution
    • What else?
  • What does it mean to be a “peace professional”?
  • What is the peace profession?

also

  • Who are the research bodies?
  • What are the research institutions?

 

Nuclear weapons threat, end of German pacifism, NATO expansion and the arms race and censorship

I went to bed reminded of living as a child of the bomb, not expecting to reach adulthood because of the permanent threat of nuclear war and obliteration.  No point working for the school exams or planning a future, because there would not be one.  And now there are news stories looking breathlessly at nuclear escalation as an exciting prospect.

This is why we should have got rid of nuclear weapons by now.  We are still living in fear of total destruction which is supposedly there to protect us.

So the post WW2 constitutional attitude of Germany being a peaceful nation in Europe is over.  It feels like we’ve gone back 90 or more years in European peaceful negotiation and concepts.  Once again a militarised Germany in the centre of Europe, throwing its weight about.  And providing the arms for a war in another country: great way to get back into the game, Germany, by supporting a proxy war.  Start out at a low level, why don’t you?

And Germany has committed to providing 2% to NATO, so NATO’s budget goes up as a result of Russia’s actions.  Well done NATO for coming out the winner in this.  The most powerful state in the world with a national flag, national anthem, guaranteed budget paid by taxpayers elsewhere and with no democratically elected leaders.  Amazing.

Lots of countries are promising to send weapons of various sorts.  Russia is on the outskirts of Kiev.   By the time they have been found, ready to be boxed up, it will all be over.  But the contracts and orders with the arms manufacturers will still go ahead.  It is just throwing money at the arms industry that will have no effect.  What are they going to do with them when they are ready for shipment in a couple of months – send them to the Russians occupying Ukraine?  “Oh, these are items in the stores!”.  They have to be gathered up, boxed up, transport arranged, receipt arranged, training booked, maintenance arranged, documentation provided … it won’t happen.

And the censorship has begun.  During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan I found it very interesting watching the mainstream news and listening to the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Moscow and comparing the different versions of events.  By tracking what each was saying about the front moving back and forth in my school atlas, and keeping track of the losses and gains reported on each side, I was able to work out which was utter bobbins and which seemed reasonably accurate, albeit with some spin.  The Voice of America was utter bonkers fiction; the others were generally aligned.  Fake news and lies in the media are not a new thing.  Censorship in the West is.

What an unpleasant weekend.  How quickly politicians will re-instate a Cold War and military escalation when given the opportunity, rather than trying to sort their problems out.

Welcome to living with fear.

Ukraine – prevention

I feel that if there were more money and effort spent on building international relations and conflict prevention, this (the invasion not just of disputed territories but the whole of the Ukraine by Russia) need not have happened.

The criticism of NATO’s continued existence as an offensive military organisation (as opposed to a mutual defence treaty) once the Warsaw Pact had collapsed is not a new one. I can understand Russia’s concern about it. And I have seen many suggestions being made for diplomatic solutions which could have addressed or at least challenged Russia’s demands for not having NATO on their borders. For example, a buffer alliance of East European states not in NATO or Ukraine joining an alliance of neutral states.

Our own national posturing and feeble threats did nothing to prevent what has happened. Nor have our sanctions spread to a whole list of things that any geezer down the boozer could come up with: impounding their ships and aircraft; expelling the 900 Russians who bought an express UK citizenship; banning all trade with Russia; confiscating any containers or goods bound for Russia; instructing every investment house to freeze the assets of every Russian investor or risk being struck off. I’m sure there are many more people with more knowledge can think of, especially for dealing with the Russian supply chain.

Photos of UK politicians wandering around Kiev wearing a furry hat (on a day when it was warmer than Manchester) might get votes but has absolutely zero impact on reality.

It’s another case of a country with some demands (going back 30 years) being ignored and challenged as if to say “We dare you”. But Russia has a cultural tradition of strong and brave leadership: they would respond with a strong and brave response. Which they have. Big surprise. Not.

There’s also the cultural issues in the region which go back a thousand years. The history is really complex and we learned during the Paris Peace Conference a century ago that self determination is really important. If people in a region feel they do not want to be governed by a different peoples, then that needs to be listened to or it will eventually escalate. Since then, and especially in the past 30 or so years, we have learned an awful lot about conflict de-escalation and how to create societies with imbalanced powers that actually work. Instead of waiting for this to go horribly pear-shaped, like we did when Yugoslavia fell to bits, we (European states, mostly, but also the UN) could have done more to help resolve the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation by thinking of the people, power structures, how to reorganise society and the history instead of nation state politics.

I don’t think international politics or relations is easy. Well, it is if you ignore it and wait for it to go belly up and wait for it to be a military problem, I suppose, rather than dealing with it. I don’t suppose it is any easier for a national politician in the UK to go and say “Can we help?” than it is to get involved when the neighbours are shouting at one another in the street. It’s easier to draw the curtains and hope it goes away.

But I thought the point of the United Nations was to stop this sort of thing, to create a safe environment to settle issues. Maybe that is where to look for the failure here. In what way does the UN need to change?

And where the heck were the UN peacekeepers? Instead of NATO posturing and behaving like a belligerent nation itself with its leader making threats and demands on the world stage (did you vote for him? I didn’t.), NATO could have offered to provide the peacekeeping force to the UN. To protect the border, from invasion, not as a NATO attack force but a UN peacekeeping force. They have the resources and money for a war, surely they have the resources and money for not a war?

Yes, it’s sad. Unimaginative and weak leadership, more concerned in posturing and local votes than making the world a better place. But then, isn’t that politicians the world over? Me, me, me, me, me.

It does not take a strong person to start a fight. It takes a strong one to stop one. And that strength could come from investment into further research into conflict management, raising awareness of the methods, publicising success when it works and promoting its application when the neighbours are having a falling out. Hmm. I wonder where the money could come from to pay for that?

How about starting with the management of NATO. Scrap NATO as an organisation – but leave the sensible mutual defence pact Treaty in place – and use the money saved for managing international relations in a peaceful way?

Useful resources – disroot.org

Looking for a non-commercial alternative to Zoom?  Want a particularly secure search tool?  Need office automation tools suitable for private collaborative working?  Consider looking at the services of the Dutch organisation disroot.org.  They provide a variety of useful online services, including videoconferencing, that seems to be aimed at activist type organisations and they use a pay-what-you-want model.  They host everything themselves and, where they can, make it secure and private.

One needs to register to use some of their services, but not the Jitsi Meet video conferencing.  That seems to have all the functionality one might desire: chat, hand-raising, recording, screen sharing and so on.  It runs from the browser so works on most anything.  https://calls.disroot.org/

The other functions on disroot.org also look very useful: document and spreadsheet collaboration, fora, shared cloud storage, polls, project Kanban boards and chat.

Registration takes a couple of days to be processed.  I’ve just started the process for myself so I can have a play with what they provide.  But some facilities are available for anyone to use.

Mail.  You get a something@disroot.org email address.  So it is associated with them, but it is free.

Cloud.  Online storage.  This is horribly expensive through most providers but starts at free with Disroot for 2Gb of data.  54Gb of shared storage is merely about £82 per year!  They use NextCloud, which is the same solution as I settled on for the Conscience cloud-based file-sharing solution (although that does not use the cloud; I host it).

Forum.  Can be used as an online public or private forum or as a discussion mailing list.  We have a Conscience forum of our own now anyway, since the last EC meeting.

XMPP.  This is an instant messaging protocol.  Remember instant messaging?  Where you have an app open on your desktop and you can immediately chat to colleagues / friends and see when they are online?  Mostly replaced by social media sites now but still useful for chatting confidentially with others online.  This is what I was looking for: an IM server as I use Pidgin to communicate between my PCs.

Pads.  Online collaboration for shared text documents.  This looks like a really useful tool for working on something together when online.  Here’s an example.  One could write something in draft in advance, then share the link, then agree a time to finalise its content together.  This does not require an account.  The document stays for about six months before being deleted.

Calc.  Same thing as Pads, but for a spreadsheet.  Does not sound so useful, but is a good way of capturing lists.

Upload.  For sending a document to someone securely.  You drag the file to the web page and it is encrypted before sending and stored on the server in encrypted form.  It provides you with a long code to retrieve the file which you send to the recipient to download the file.  You can add a password to de-encrypt it, and set it to auto-delete once it has been downloaded.  Can be handy just for sending something to yourself that you don’t want anyone else to see, or files that are too big to send by email.

Polls.  Make your own polls, completely customisable.  For sending out to people asking their opinions, selecting choices, etc.  This does not require an account.

Project Board.  Similar to Trello; looks like it requires an account.  Trello might be better, but Disroot is secure.

Calls.  This is Jitsi Meet video conferencing and it works.  It seems to have all the functionality one might desire: chat, hand-raising, recording, screen sharing and so on.  It runs from the browser so works on most anything.  This does not require an account.

CryptpadApparently, an “encrypted collaborative office suite… allows you to create, share and work together on text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, whiteboards or organize your project on a kanban board”.  That seems to be the overarching name for the solution they use for their office tools.  If someone was setting up a small campaigning organisation, this looks like a potentially good solution for collaborative working.

They’ve other functionality too, such as managing software source code and audio conferencing.  One can also pay a nominal sum to make use of your own domain name with their email.  You could register OurCampaign.co.uk and use Disroot’s email services with that domain name.

So there are a few useful things there.  Some of that functionality might give ideas for other ways of working, especially remotely.  And as a package, it might be very useful for any small campaigning organisation.  And the price is very competitive!

What do you think?

11/11/2018 – end of

In 2012 to 2013 I developed the idea of preventing wars by forming a one policy campaign organisation whose membership would commit themselves to the idea that if the government started a war, every member would be pledged to turn up and vote for any other party at the next local, national and European election.  That is, if they start a war (as opposed to a defensive action), they lose their jobs.

The goal was to have this in place within five years, by the hundredth anniversary of the Great War on 11th November 2018.

I set up a web site and started recording ideas and statistics.  In my haste and keenness, I did not set up a backup regime for the site.  So when a Drupal exploitation occurred, some stupid child hacker trashed the site and replaced it with some pro-Islamist pro-war bollocks.  I lost all the content – all the thinking and planning I had done.

The 11112018.org.uk domain has finally expired and the web site disappeared.

It takes a lot of time, energy and planning to set up a campaign.  I could not find sufficient to make mine happen.  Life gets in the way.  Meanwhile aid is being cut and military spending significantly increased.  It all feels so futile.

The No New Wars organisation web site – no more

By the end of may 2013 I had formed an idea to create a No New Wars organisation.  A membership organisation that would bring together the entire UK peace sector’s organisations and sympathisers with one common goal: to prevent any new wars.

Herding cats would be much easier.  They have predictable common goals.

The domain and web site have finally expired.

Oh well.  I tried.