The Independent View: We need to talk about peace building

temple of peacePrevention is better than cure has been the guiding principle of modern medicine. This simple mantra has for some become a philosophy of how to live better – we deal with problems before they develop, avoid potential issues through careful management and plan cautiously for an uncertain future.

Government policy has never been a big fan of prevention – there aren’t always votes in solving a problem before it escalates. A bigger problem is how you measure prevention – if the problem happens anyway you will be blamed for wasting money. If you avert the problem entirely you will blamed for wasting money. In the prevention game it can often be a no-win scenario.

Conflict prevention has proven itself to have real value time and time again. Civil servants and academics have been aware for some time that there are key metrics that suggest a country is on its way to becoming a failed state. The proliferation of small arms, violence against women and democratic illegitimacy all indicate a drift towards war.

Dealing with these problems is a difficult and dangerous process which could involve teaching people how to vote in Afghanistan or educating women against FGM in Mozambique. It might involve cracking down on crime lords in Sierra Leone or strengthening the police investigation capacity in Iraq.

Peacebuilding works – so much so that the government is tripling the resources dedicated to it over the next three years. Investing in a more peaceful world is something that appeals to the idealist in all of us – but something must be amiss if the government doesn’t want to talk about it.

The last annual report on the government “Conflict Pool” (the funds that support UK peace building efforts abroad) was commissioned in 2009/2010. All government policies must be reviewed in order to be effective – we are facing a whole parliament without a review of how the Conflict Pool is (or isn’t!) working.

Recommendations laid out by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact for improving the Conflict Pool have never been reported back on, and if you want to find out about individual projects financed by the Conflict Pool, good luck – most are considered politically sensitive and therefore classified – therefore we as citizens don’t know where our money is going.

What is the Conflict Pool funding? Appeasing a despot? Digging a well or buying arms? There’s a saying in management – if we don’t track it, it doesn’t matter. Peacebuilding matters and more must be done to make the Conflict Pool more transparent.

Potentially wasting public money is tragic enough – but when it costs lives, exacerbates extremism and dooms states to totalitarian rule or mafia states, Liberals everywhere should be screaming about it.

Foreign policy in the 21st  century won’t be the gunboat diplomacy of centuries past – it will be the building of stability, prosperity and influence through long-term peacebuilding.

The government should be shouting its commitment to peace from the rooftops. It’s an election year now and we need to talk about peacebuilding. Clearly the government doesn’t want to – and now we need to find out why.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Shaughan Dolan is Campaigns and Communications Officer for Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War

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  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jun '14 - 2:08pm

    I respect the author and the fact this is under “Independent View”, which I am beginning to think articles that are grossly against the party’s line should be, but I would like to try to help him on pacifism.

    Your link is to a group who say “our taxes shouldn’t be used for war”, but even if they are not interested in war, sometimes war is interested in them. We could use the same analogies with the police, should we not fund armed police and just plea with armed criminals instead? It just doesn’t work.

    I’m not saying things can’t improve, but I wouldn’t work with people who think we would have peace if we stopped funding weapons.

    Best wishes

  • Can’t we do both, ie have a proper well funded military that is genuinely feared, and promote peace??

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jun '14 - 3:43pm

    Hi Shaughan, I agree more preventionist and peaceful measures can be taken and I am sure this would be the case if we had a Lib Dem majority government, I was just providing some of the other side of the argument.


  • Daniel Henry 5th Jun '14 - 5:04pm

    Eddie, I don’t think Shaughan was arguing for a unilateral cut in defense spending.

    I think he was more arguing that “Peace-building” measures make war less likely to breakout in the first place, so will reduce our need for spending on war.

    And I agree – prevention spending in all areas is often “unsexy” to politicians, as success isn’t always obvious to voters, it’s the work that makes our world safer in the long run, in every area.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Jun '14 - 5:12pm

    Daniel, I know, I wasn’t entirely sure what the article was getting at, so I looked at the link. I think maintaining credibility on matters is important – it’s like when an ex Conservative defence minister says we should perhaps get rid of Trident, it has more clout than the usual pacifists saying get rid of it.


  • A Social Liberal 5th Jun '14 - 11:43pm

    I’m sure Neville Chamberlain was just as sincere when he waved those pieces of paper, and the students of the Oxford Union when they voted never to go to war a few years previously.

    When a dictator, a government is intent on things nefarious and is willing to visit violence on their own or a neighbouring country then it is beholden on others to stop them.

  • Phil Rimmer 6th Jun '14 - 8:00am

    @ A Social Liberal
    You are correct, of course, but the question is what tools do we use to stop them. Neither Neville Chamberlain nor the overwhelming majority of the students of the Oxford Union ever claimed to be pacifists or conscientious objectors. They were appeasers and I know of few pacifists who singed up to their distorted agenda.

    As a life long Liberal, a Liberal Democrat and a pacifist, I spent over twenty years working for Conscience, first as an employee and then as a committee member. None violent direct action, peace building and conflict resolution are the chosen tools of the pacifist ,as well as many none-pacifists, for the struggle against dictatorship and oppression. From the conscientious objectors of World War I, Ghandi, through Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, to the unnamed hero who stood in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, those of us who reject violence and killing continue to refine our chosen tolls.

    We’ve tried killing each other for thousands of years, we are still doing it. So, maybe it’s a bit early to reject peace building.

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