Western immorality and paralysis in the face of violence

drone image

Western immorality and  paralysis in the face of violence,

Kevin P Clements

President Obama is right to express moral outrage at the mass murder at  Umpqua Community College, Roseburg Oregon. Similarly   people and politicians all around the world are right to  condemn the gratuitous violence of  extremist groups like ISIS or the State sponsored violence of  Basher Asad in Syria.  Everyone was shocked hearing about a 14 year old boy  in Manchester, England trying to persuade  Sevdet  Besim in Melbourne Australia  to kill a random  policemen last ANZAC day. All of these violent actions are unjustifiable, immoral and  becoming all too common. It is right that our political leaders, and opinion leaders, and religious leaders condemn all this heinous behaviour.

The problem is that the people  pointing the finger are themselves complicit in the promotion and perpetuation of violence and neither lead by word or example.  In the UK, for example, there has been criticism of President Putin’s launching of air strikes against targets in Syria but no criticism of US  or Australian air strikes in the same region.  “Our” airstrikes are are apparently  more accurate, more  justifiable and more likely to deliver “positive” outcomes than  the Russians’.  One would have thought that Russia’s intervention would have given  pause to David Cameron’s desire to seek parliamentary approval  for RAF airstrikes in the same region. But no, he is just waiting until he is sure that he has a  parliamentary majority in support of air strikes and. once given, the RAF will be in there as well.  Nobody seems to think about the physical and human damage being done by all these strikes. Nobody seems to worry about the millions more people who will be forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Somehow , “Our” violence is justified and theirs is not.

It is impossible for  our political leaders  to exert any moral or political authority on these issues  when they are incapable of acknowledging their own ferocious and  pointless violence over the past 20 years and longer.

“The West ”  is very good at blaming everyone else for external instability and violence but never acknowledges the negative consequences of  its own violence  and preparations for violence.

Here  in the UK, for example, hospitals and schools and local authorities  are being starved of  funds but the Ministry of Defence has paid £1.2 billion for  drones that  have flown for 146 hours. Although justified in terms of surveillance, these machines are also capable of targeted extra judicial executions. The  direct and indirect  costs of these  don’t figure into the production and deployment costs.

Or to take another topic issue the replacement of  the Trident nuclear submarine system.

Replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapons system will cost at least £100 billion. The lost opportunity costs of this are enormous.  This money could pay for: (i) Fully funding all A&E services in hospitals for 40 years (ii)Employing 150,000 new nurses (iii) Building 1.5 million new homes  (iv) Tuition fees for 4 million students  or (v) Insulating 15 million homes.

Instead of  seeing this social expenditure as a guarantee of security the British public and many  politicians from all sides of the political spectrum  do not wish to give up the nuclear deterrent and other weapons of minor or mass destruction. Instead of worrying about the negative consequences of their deployment and the catastrophic consequences of their use the British public in large numbers says it gives them “peace of mind”.

And in the United States, its hard for President Obama to persuade the National Rifleman’s Assocation  of the wisdom of gun control when he is willing to deploy his military guns, drones, planes, submarines and aircraft carriers  to kill anyone who threatens or appears to threaten the interests of the United States.

The reality is the West is morally corrupt and impotent to  take a strong stand for a less violent world as long as it is so reliant on violence. What is very obvious  when moving from New Zealand ( where there are high levels of skepticism about the utility of the military and coercive power) to  the UK where the opposite prevails is that this “love in ” with violence is deeply engrained in a political system  that is highly hierarchical, highly entitled and where the military is elevated to a determinant position in the UK moral and political order.

A recent (December 2014) You Gov, poll, for example, found that something interesting. There is a growing mistrust  with political leaders on issues of war (among other things), but there is no corresponding trust in peace  organisations that exist to oppose it.

Only about one in four British voters say they trust the leaders of anti-war groups to tell the truth when it comes to debating military action (23%), compared with a large majority who don’t (64%). On the other side British popular views of military leaders is almost the exact reverse: 60% say they trust senior members of the UK Armed Forces in debates on military action, versus only 29% who don’t.

So obedience to authority and obedience to military authority is deeply engrained in the British Psyche. This is the challenge for the 21st century. How do western political leaders committed to the use of violent means for political purposes begin changing their mind sets and practice to behaviour which it much more ethical and consistent.  If they do not they will be doomed to impotence in relation to all those individuals and groups and other states who choose violent means for their own purposes.

Until western states can  acknowledge their own violent imperial past and    present  and commit to some  principled non violent alternatives. They will have no effective moral authority    in relation to interpersonal, inter group, or inter state violence.  All that is needed is some political courage and a willingness to stand up against the crowd….


About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
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