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Last Updated: Monday, 8 March, 2004, 02:06 GMT
Resolving conflict without a war
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Tank crushing small arms   Working Group for Weapons Reduction
Getting rid of the weapons in Cambodia
Wars can sometimes be avoided by means which are cheaper, spare people's lives and actually produce effective results, two UK peace research groups claim.

In a report, Cutting The Costs Of War, they praise the UK government for its recent initiative to prevent conflict.

But they say subsidies for British arms sales are a feature of defence policy inconsistent with trying to stop wars.

They urge ministers to set up a civil peace service to harness the efforts of people working to resolve conflicts.

The report is published by the Oxford Research Group, which promotes non-violent methods of working for change, and Peace Direct, a group committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict.

Joined-up thinking needed

It salutes the UK government for setting up the Global Conflict Prevention Pool, which it calls "a unique initiative".

The GCPP gives an annual budget (74m this year) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development to foster the prevention of conflict using non-military means.

This is not to say that military intervention is never useful or necessary, but... the value of non-military measures has been insufficiently recognised
Cutting The Costs Of War
The report says: "The Ministry of Defence is quite right to emphasise the importance of conflict prevention activity, as it now frequently does. This emphasis however reveals a fundamental inconsistency in British defence policy.

"It is not coherent to vaunt effort 'focused on countering the threat from the proliferation of conventional arms' when at the same time spending some 426m to subsidise British arms sales."

The report lists a number of ways which it says can help "to prevent or resolve conflict and in some cases to understand its root causes. Some have succeeded and some have failed, often through lack of support."

The methods include:

  • peacekeeping: the British army has good and hard-won experience
  • civilian protection: in Colombia the Peace Brigades International teams protect human rights activists
  • arms embargoes or sanctions on areas of conflict, so long as they are made effective
  • incentive schemes to collect weapons: one successful example saw 10,000 weapons handed in El Salvador
  • bringing warlords and paramilitaries under control: in Mozambique the Community of Sant' Egidio, supported by the Vatican, helped to broker a comprehensive peace accord between government and rebels
  • "back channels" diplomacy: individuals working behind the scenes, like "the sustained relationship built up by a British intelligence officer with Libyan officials, leading to an official statement renouncing weapons of mass destruction".

Other methods the report advocates are support for locally-based opposition to dictators, which helped to unseat the ex-President Milosevic of Yugoslavia, and providing independent sources of information.

Slower but safer

It says detailed proposals for removing Saddam Hussein non-violently from the leadership of Iraq were presented to the US and UK governments before the 2003 war.

The report says: "These proposals would undoubtedly have taken longer... and would have posed plenty of difficulties.

"But they would have resulted in few civilian or military casualties, little physical destruction, and none of the current bitterness and hatred for the occupying forces."

It urges the government to build on its "forward-looking" Global Conflict Prevention Pool by setting up a new initiative to develop policy for post-conflict reconstruction in countries like Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan.

The report says: "This is not to say that military intervention is never useful or necessary, but... the value of non-military measures has been insufficiently recognised."

Image courtesy of Working Group for Weapons Reduction.


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