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Billy King


Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Number 250: June 2017

[Return to related issued of Nonviolence News]

Non-offensive defence

It is difficult to deny that the world is in something of a state of chassis. The refugee problem is the worst since the Second World War, there is an unstable US President, in Europe most of the continent is at loggerheads with Russia (and/or Russia is at loggerheads with most of Europe) and there is NATO and Russian belligerence, Western military interventions in Islamic countries has created a situation where militant, military Islamists seek revenge, while the more-than-looming issue of global warming threatens massive global destabilisation.

It may not be intended by any one party to be a brutally explosive mixture but it is. It is not perhaps yet a tinderbox but it is certainly getting more flammable. In the longer term, the population shifts required to cope with global warming, and areas becoming uninhabitable through flooding or drought, threaten massive disruption to any possibility of civilised responses to the problems the world faces. There will simply be too many people on the move for societies to cope in any meaningful and reasonable way. If we think the current situation is chaotic, well, we ain't seen nothing yet.

One of the problems in the whole situation, for a variety of reasons, is militarism and the thinking which goes with military and 'security' responses. At best, the militarist approach denies badly needed resources from social and economic development. At worst, a militarist approach creates the breeding ground for further conflict and misery.

This is true even of what might be thought classic 'defence' strategies. NATO sees itself currently responding to Russian belligerence in the region, the takeover of the Crimea and unofficial takeover in eastern Ukraine, as well as Russia flexing its military muscle after a period when, following the collapse of communism, it could do little or nothing. Russia on the other hand is a country which has been repeatedly invaded by western European countries (most recently following the Russian revolution and then by Hitler in 1941). Assurances which were given to Russia following the collapse of communism about NATO not coming right up to its doorstep have been ignored. And then 'the West' stupidly destabilised Ukraine and helped overthrow a democratically elected but corrupt government in what amounted to a coup; Russia took advantage of this situation to seize the Crimea and de facto invade eastern Ukraine, both of which had majority Russian ethnic populations.

What we had here was each side taking narrow strategic advantage where it could, and each side's 'defence' stratagems being interpreted as 'offensive'. This is typical. This is how arms races start, and many wars. We do not support either NATO developments and exercises in relation to Russia, nor Russian takeover of parts of Ukraine.

While we would support a wholly unarmed defence strategy – explored in the 'Readings' section of this issue - there is a concept of "non-offensive defence" which is at least a step forward from this. A non-offensive defence does a number of things. Firstly, it relies on the cooperation of the 'home country' for its defence, it needs to be a cohesive strategy and thus a cohesive population. Secondly, it seeks to deny any gain to an invading force. Thirdly, there may be a 'defensive' military element which cannot be interpreted as offensive, i.e. it cannot be 'attack as the best form of defence' or of an order which might indicate the possibility of unilateral military intervention outside its own borders.

Within the military tradition, Ireland (the Republic) has since the 1950s been involved in military peacekeeping in a number of contested situations around the world. In its context this has been significant and at times costly (in casualties) but it could not have happened in the same way without Irish neutrality. But it has been in the service of the United Nations, not the EU or NATO, and we must avoid situations where Ireland becomes embroiled in wars which NATO and the EU seek to engage in.

Ireland can be part of the problem or part of the solution. If we head further down the military alliance path then we will definitely to part of the problem. If we reject militarism, stick to neutrality, and work ceaselessly for peace then we can be very much part of the solution. EU developments have been sucking Ireland into the NATO web. It is time for Ireland to make a stand for peace.

No government once again

The period coming up to the British general election (8th June) has put paid in the mean time to any meaningful discussion about a new power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Whether serious discussions will resume afterwards, or in the immediate future, remains to be seen, and it is up to the DUP/Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, as the two largest parties, to break the logjam.

Sinn Féin have been relatively quiet about what their core demands would be to resume an executive government at Stormont beyond not going back in while a question mark hangs over Arlene Foster's role in the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal which has seen scarce funding going up in smoke. Recriminations extend all ways and some suspect Sinn Féin's continued reluctance to form a government may be at least tinged by an unwillingness to have to make difficult budgetary decisions. However the DUP came out with (31st May) what it stated are its 'tests' for any agreement, including whether the agreement is likely to increase support for Northern Ireland's constitutional place within the UK, if it is fully consistent with Northern Ireland remaining a full and integral part of the UK and whether it is it fully compatible with British citizenship.

While some of this may be 'optics' in relation to showing the DUP is strong on 'the Union' – and therefore worthy of unionist votes – and the DUP is entitled to decide what its parameters are, the helpfulness of this is debateable. The prime questions for all parties should be – Would a deal be good for the people of Northern Ireland and will it move things onward towards peace?

Of particular relevance is having a government in place while Brexit trundles on over the next number of years, and especially in the next couple, aside from any questions for services, civil society and the community sector in the North about the implications of having no Stormont government. The irony of having the Irish government being perhaps the most effective spokes-body for the interests of Northern Ireland in the Brexit situation, with the absence of a Stormont government, should not be lost on the DUP.

Happy Birthday to us

INNATE is thirty years old this year. And this is issue 250 of Nonviolent News (which began as an occasional newsletter in 1990, becoming monthly in 1994). An article in this issue looks back over the 30 years, including both successes and also some disappointments.

However we are very aware that we are only as good as our next project, or next issue. To this end we will be conducting both questionnaire surveys and personal interviews between now and the autumn or early winter, to see what we can most productively be doing. We hope you will respond, and if you don't receive a personal invitation to express your views, and if you have feedback or suggestions to make we very much hope you will communicate them to us. is the easiest way to do so but the postal service, phone, or in person are also good.

Larry Speight brings us his monthly column –

Guardians of the Biosphere

"Writers often say: "Show, don't tell." Likewise, if you have something to teach your children, show them, don't tell them. Don't insist that they be kind and honest, be kind and honest yourself. Don't tell them to treat people with respect, treat people with respect. Don't give them lectures about healthy relationships, show them a healthy relationship."

(Tim Lott, The Guardian, 27 May 2017)

The first two-weeks of May saw morning to evening sunshine across the island of Ireland. Given that grey skies and rain are widely considered the norm and tend to keep people indoors one would have thought that the sunshine would be an occasion for large numbers of people to find delight in the wonders of nonhuman nature. Many did and without doing it any harm. Children played in gardens and parks, adults tended organic gardens and vegetable patches. Some used bus, train and bicycle to get to places free of air and noise pollution in order to enjoy the solitude, sounds, sights and scents of seaside, moorland, lake and wood.

While many enjoyed the fine weather in peaceful ways others engaged in an orgy of ecological destruction. Referring to Rossnowlagh beach the front page headline of The Donegal Democrat, 11 May 2017, read 'Beach like a "landfill"'. The report by Mary Britton informs us that:

"On Sunday last there was an estimated 5,000 visitors on the beach. Local councillors have complained that a trail of rubbish was left behind, including bottles, cans, barbecues and sanitary items. Even deck chairs and items of clothing were found discarded."

Given the trashing of Rossnowlagh beach and recent scientific studies revealing the astronomical amount of plastic in the marine environment, (The Guardian, 15 May 2017), it would be of no surprise to learn that all the accessible beaches around the coast of Ireland were left in a similar state by visitors. Another assault on the local and global environment during the same period were the high number of gorse fires. Victoria Leonard writing in the Belfast Telegraph, 10 May 2017, reports that:

"Between May 1 and May 9, the NI Fire and Rescue Service handled 2,290 calls and mobilised sources to 1,282 incidents. Of these, 583 were gorse-related – of which 523 were started deliberately."

With reference to the fire in the Slieve Beagh-Mullaghfad-Lisnaskea Special Protection Area, Leonard quotes a Forestry Service spokesperson as saying:

"These fires could totally wipe out the wildlife, everything could be lost. This is a major area for hen harriers, which are an endangered species, and we are in nesting season at the moment, so it couldn't come at a worse time. I am disgusted at this."

Michael Viney in The Irish Times, 13 May 2017, informs us that in the Republic there were 40 major fires. Reporting on what such fires mean in terms of their effect on wildlife Viney writes:

"Furze is a favoured nesting place for little birds (linnets, warblers, stonechats) and food and home for insects. A blazing furze bush is a furnace of wildlife. The sweep of fire across open land … adds hares, badgers, lizards, frogs, mice, beetles and more to the victims."

Gorse and forest fires are not only catastrophic for wildlife but cause air pollution which leads to ill-health and can cause premature death in the vulnerable. They also mean the loss of carbon sinks which mitigate the warming of the planet.

The question that should concern all of us is what motivates people to wilfully turn beaches into rubbish dumps and land into blazing infernos. A creditable reason is that eco-vandals put their perceived self-interest and desire for gratification before the common good. They are able to do this through the absence of a sense of affinity with their natural surroundings, regarding it as valueless on the basis that is not a human made entity, has no price tag, brand name and is shared by everyone. In keeping with this self-centred view what concerns them, and is perhaps the nub of their behaviour, is being perceived through their indifference and destructive recklessness as meriting one of society's highest accolades that of been considered 'cool'. (How to be Cool, Thomas W. Hodgkinson, 2017).

The view that nonhuman nature is an externality, existing solely for human ends is the vocabulary and grammar of modernity. Many pre-industrial societies, such as the Kayapo of the Brazilian Amazon, would consider this perspective emotionally and psychological impaired as it not does not recognise that nonhuman life has interests, intrinsic value and a reciprocal relationship with humankind.

Most of the fires in the Republic had nothing to do with being 'cool' but were lit by farmers creating foliage for grazing as well as aiming to qualify for payments from the EU for keeping land in "good agricultural condition". According to the rules supervised by the Department of Agriculture fire should not be used to clear land of unwanted foliage. In spite of this, as Harry McGee informs us in The Irish Times, 13 May 2017, not a single farmer "has lost payments as a result of setting fires." This suggests that farmers and state agencies see nonhuman nature in terms of its instrumental value and as with eco-vandals put perceived interests before the common good.

As government sponsored campaigns against smoking, and driving without due care, have had a large measure of success the same approach should be taken in promoting the idea that we are all responsible for the biosphere and are its guardians. As guardians we should role-model how we would like others to behave. Many who might otherwise treat nonhuman nature in an instrumental way will, as is the way of herd animals, be encouraged to follow our eco-sensitive example.

Copyright INNATE 2021