The Quaker Council for European Affairs was recently invited to participate in a meeting with the UN ‘Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order’, Alfred de Zayas. His role was created by the UN Human Rights Council, following concern of a group of non-European governments that they had insufficient influence in matters of international security.
Whilst QCEA only usually undertakes advocacy at the European level, Alfred de Zayas was interested in the perspectives of citizens of countries whose governments regularly exercise power at an international level. Mindful of the concerns of European Quakers and following QCEA’s 2013 briefing paper on militarism, this was an opportunity we did not want to miss.
During the meeting, QCEA called for an international order based on law and practice that enables peaceful social, political, and economic relationships. We said that Quakers witness for peace by seeking alternatives to governments’ dependence on military solutions. We explained the Quaker understanding of peace as more than just the absence of war and how its personal and community dimensions cannot be separated from its national and international dimensions. We pointed to the root causes of war in other issues such as inequality.
The new European Parliament must improve scrutiny of EU militarism
Our oral and written submissions focused on a recommendation that Member State parliaments establish specialist groups to review military expenditure and controversial military programs, such as remotely piloted armed drones. The consultation particularly considered how to overcome obstacles to meaningful public participation in decisions on government military spending. We emphasized the important role of robust parliamentary scrutiny.
QCEA used the example of the recent history of European Parliament decisions regarding expenditure relating to armed drones which highlighted the need for specialist parliamentary groups or committees. On 6 June 2013 the European Parliament voted 432 to 164 to encourage the European Commission to develop armed drones (a medium-altitude long-endurance remotely piloted air system, known as MALE RPAS). On 25 February 2014 the European Parliament voted 534 to 49 in favour of a motion of concern about the same drone project. The resolution called on the European Union to ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings and for the human rights implications of drones to be assessed.
In the intervening period between these two votes, European Commission subsidies approved by the European Parliament and worth 315 million Euro, had already been provided to the defence sector for drone development. How did the same Parliament have concerns about a project for which it had approved funding? This may have been due in part to pre-definition of policy objectives and outcomes in debates relating to research funding, together with avoidance of the usual ‘checks and balances’ such as consultation with the European Group on Ethics or the European Agency on Fundamental Rights. An approach coherent with the EU objectives of peace and human rights could be assisted by a European Parliament Group on Drones, perhaps similar to the group that already exists in the UK Parliament.
A just international order will exist when we learn to share security
The arms industry has technological, scientific, and business management skills that are much needed to address the world’s security challenges, but these are currently wasted on the production of weapons. And the system must change: European and global security is challenged by competition for resources, the scarcity of which is aggravated by climate change, nationalism, and militarism. Social and economic justice will help ensure security by addressing root causes of conflict. As Dutch Quaker Kees Neiuwerth has written:
‘The purpose is not so much military-industrial or energy safety, but economic and civil justice and the shared security that is the result. It involves the building of an international peace economy, a more equitable and just development within a strongly organized framework of international order. We know that reversing global warming and achieving equitable development of the world’s people is of upmost importance – and may in the long run be more effective to prevent future wars and genocides’. (See: Nieuwerth, K (2013) Just Peace: a Quaker perspective. Lecture Series at the Free University of Amsterdam).
A just international order will only be delivered through a shared security approach that also recognizes that change will not be top down. International processes need to include a broader range of Member States, but we also need more civil society inclusion, dialogue and reconciliation within states.
Europe has three main international organisations that claim to be working to benefit security. For the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) the word ‘security’ is synonymous with militarism and the threat of violence. For the less well known, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), security is a concept that encompasses the needs of individual citizens. As a result, the OSCE’s work includes conflict prevention, encouraging sustainable use of natural resources and the promotion of human rights. Lying somewhere in between is European Union security policy. The ambition for the EU should be to think more like the OSCE and less like NATO.