Towards the peaceful use of national resources in the 21st Century

Five expert speakers addressed the above topic at a meeting organised by the Arms Reduction Coalition/ ARC on February 27th in the House of Lords.

First Stuart Parkinson, Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility/ SGR. He spoke of the extensive links between UK science, engineering and technology/SET and the military sector, including government departments and multi-national corporations. His organisation has managed to document how military involvement pervades research, development, teaching and science communication across disciplines from engineering and the physical sciences through life and social sciences. Nearly a third of public R&D spending goes to the Ministry of Defence/MOD and 40% of government scientists and technologists work for that Department.

As the military sector has a narrow interpretation of security issues, the result of their involvement is a largely weapons-based R&D agenda. SGR argue that a much broader mindset is needed, with greater emphasis on addressing the roots of conflict. We need much greater efforts to achieve disarmament, peacebuilding and reconciliation, and effective measures to reduce social injustice and poverty and to protect the environment. (For a detailed account, see SGR’s report Soldiers in the Laboratory (2005), ISBN 0-9549406-0-1;

The need for a broader approach to security issues was a theme of all speakers. Vijay Mehta, Chair of ARC spoke of poverty as "the defining challenge" of the 21st century. In order to eradicate extreme poverty, money must be diverted from what Oscar Arias described as "the single most significant perversion of worldwide priorities", the global arms trade. A situation where 20% of the world’s people use 80% of its resources is unsustainable. We need "a holistic approach" to peace and human security. (For a full copy of this talk, go to

Diana Basterfield, Co-Founder of UK Ministry for Peace explained how the role of the proposed new Ministry would be to act as a Beacon for Peace across all government departments, monitoring the effect of their policies and programmes with the aim of redirecting military spending to the tasks of non-violent conflict resolution and sustainable development. They also envisage a Commission of civil society people outside parliament working with the Ministry to achieve the common aims. To encourage "new ways of thinking", Ministry for Peace works closely with Transcend, a Peace and Development Network that specialises in training in non-violent techniques. (See

J Paul Dunne, Co-ordinator of Economists for Peace and Security-UK, spoke of the need to get disarmament back on the agenda, following the 64% rise in military expenditure in the last ten years. He warned against accepting generalisations in this field as they hide important complexities. For example, a UN study on the effect of reduced military spending in developing countries showed that it produced no economic crises (a good thing) but no good alternative development either. A long list of complicating factors includes a lack of jobs for demobilised combatants and the ambivalent impact of the World Bank, the IMF and development aid. He concluded that there is growing recognition of the importance of economic factors and transparency in achieving human security. (See Economics and Disarmament an on-line journal.).

Richard Jolly, Co-Director, UN Intellectual History Project focused directly on Human Security, seeing it as "a frame for rethinking arms reduction and development." He traced its development from the mid-1990s, as decision-makers were increasingly persuaded that security should really be about what made people in communities feel insecure and how they could be protected. An analysis of 13 countries has been done from that perspective, and the conclusion drawn that this approach could result in many more Costa Ricas, where children learn that the fact their country has no army explains why their health and education is something to be proud of.

Alison Williams