The Blue Paper Project

Canberra Quaker Meeting. Response to the Defence Review 2000

The Quaker Peace Testimony, which dates from the earliest days of the Religious Society of Friends, reflects the view that there is 'that of God' in all people, and that it is the duty of Friends to seek ways to draw out the Inner Light in themselves and others. It is therefore against the Spirit of God to kill others, and essential to work for the removal of the causes of war. George Fox, the founder of the Society, proclaimed publicly in England in the 17th century that he lived "in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of wars". This remains a fundamental feature of Quakerism today, and it informs our public statements on issues of war, violence, peace and justice.

In this context, therefore, Friends have difficulty with the assumption that violence is inevitable and that public policy must ultimately depend on the resort to violence as the basis of defence and security. To a very real extent, thinking is outcome. If we focus on violence as inevitable, it is a short route to the building of weapons to 'deal with' violence, and the need to use those weapons then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as their very existence generates in others the reaction we claim to be seeking to prevent (ie fear, suspicion, aggression). Such an approach also tends to become captive to the interests of arms dealers.

It is sadly true in our world that those who 'carry a big stick' are generally more noticed than those who work quietly for peaceful relations among people. The result is often that the counting of big sticks becomes the preoccupation of individuals and groups, and arms races develop almost unconsciously. A recent analysis of the Kosovo crisis, for example, has highlighted that fact that there were many segments of the Kosovar population working nonviolently over a long period for change, but they were largely ignored by the international community, whereas the emergence of the KLA as a military force brought immediate attention (Miranda Vickers, A History of Kosovo, Columbia University Press, 1998).

The Defence Review acknowledges that Australia does not face any threat in the foreseeable future. Instead of discussing how this situation might be encouraged and maintained by active government policies the Review paper proceeds from the existing assumptions that defence must be based on likely threats and must allow for worst-case scenarios. The inevitable result of such thinking is the ever-increasing build-up of military force to meet these threats. The level of threat becomes almost incidental, as other factors also come into play, eg the need to keep ahead of other countries in the region in our technical level of defence force capability. This route can lead only to further pressure to use more of the Federal Budget on defence-related expenditure, as the cost of equipment rises and the need for upgrading adds further costs.

Friends acknowledge the difficulty of determining an effective defence strategy, given the many changing factors in today's world. We see the priority of public policy as being to build the conditions that prevent war from breaking out. This involves a wide range of initiatives - government and non-government. It includes policies on - preventive diplomacy, confidence-building, peacemaking skills (eg mediation, negotiation), cultural and educational exchange, trade, immigration, aid and development, and people-to-people contact (eg, sport, travel).

Some specific examples that can be cited are:

Many Australians (especially those in official circles) tend to disregard the New Zealand approach to defence. Yet that approach has had the effect of challenging the assumptions about what is needed for effective security.

The move to a nuclear-free policy may not have been welcomed by the alliance partners of New Zealand, but it does not seem to have raised the threat level against New Zealand, and it has set an example of suiting one's defence policy to one's needs and resources rather than trying to follow grandiose policies that are expensive and mainly designed to suit alliance needs. More recently, New Zealand has indicated a priority for UN peacekeeping work by its defence forces, and this again sets an interesting example of an alternative approach.

Even if Australia ultimately decides against the specific policies of New Zealand, it should at least take the opportunity of the present review process to question the basic assumptions of defence policy, rather than sliding into 'more of the same'. An interesting point, for example, is that Australia's defence forces regularly engage in military exercises with allies, but never with other nations to practice peacekeeping skills. This reflects a preoccupation with traditional concepts of defence, and perhaps also an unwillingness to take a lead among allies.

There have been such initiatives as peace brigades and peace teams on a small scale in conflict situations. The Global Peace Force idea builds on these and envisages a network comprising:

This idea is well worth pursuing in greater detail and there is a network of NGOs and individuals around the world currently discussing the details. People with military and civilian experience are being consulted about the viability of the proposal and how it would relate to the United Nations and Governments

David Purnell August 2000