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General election 2019: Quaker analysis of peace and disarmament in party manifestos

Our fourth blog post looking at whether Quaker concerns are reflected in general election 2019 manifestos. Here, Daniel Jakopovich and Sahdya Darr review policies around peace and disarmament.

There is a general rejection of the disarmament agenda in party manifestos. Image: Michael Preston for BYM
There is a general rejection of the disarmament agenda in party manifestos. Image: Michael Preston for BYM

Quakers seek to live out their commitment to peace and social justice in different ways and at a variety of levels. The main ways in which Quakers work for peace include challenging militarism, working to end the arms trade and campaigning for nuclear and general disarmament.

Here we have provided a brief overview of the major policies relating to peace in party manifestos and examine whether these align with some core aspects of the Quaker peace testimony.

1. Ending the use of military force in foreign affairs

The Green Party manifesto promises to replace the Ministry of Defence with a Ministry for Security and Peace, making the promotion of peace a major foreign policy objective. It does not specify how it would promote peace, other than mentioning that they would 'encourage fair and peaceful resolutions to conflict', prioritise support for the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, work to 'build bridges not walls' and 'empower people in the Global South to control their futures'.

The Labour Party has pledged to use the UK's global influence to end the 'bomb first, talk later' approach to security. The Labour manifesto, which provides significantly more detail on issues relating to war and peace than the other manifestos of the major parties, states that 'Labour will always do what is needed to protect the security of people in the UK', but also that international peace and security would be a primary objective of a Labour government's foreign policy.

Citing Libya as an example of failed UK military interventions, the Labour Party pledges to introduce 'a War Powers Act to ensure that no prime minister can bypass Parliament to commit to conventional military action', to conduct an audit of the impact of Britain's colonial legacy, and invest £400 million extra in UK diplomatic capacity.

It also states they would promote the UN system and 'democratisation initiatives', invest in developing local capacities for peacebuilding, and act immediately to urge negotiations towards a political resolution to conflict wherever it arises.

The Liberal Democrats state in their manifesto that 'despite efforts to prevent violent conflict, sometimes military intervention is necessary. The UK should only intervene militarily when there is a clear legal or humanitarian case, endorsed by a vote in parliament – working through international institutions whenever possible'.

The Conservative Party only seems to be referring to military interventions indirectly in its very general National Security segment of the manifesto, where it states 'we will stand against terrorism and extremism around the world'. There is nothing in the manifesto that would indicate a change from its existing military interventionist approach.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not address the issue of the use of military force directly in its manifesto. Plaid Cymru's manifesto states that any 'decision to go to war should require the support of all four UK nations', and that a vote should be held in the Welsh Assembly prior to any UK-supported military intervention in foreign affairs.

2. Ending the arms trade

Quakers work to end the arms trade because a peaceful society is incompatible with the trade in the machinery of death and destruction.

The Green Party's manifesto states that it would close down the government's arms sales activities and end all subsidies and support for the UK arms industry's exporting of weapons and systems that fuel conflicts, violence and suffering across the world.

The Labour Party pledges that it would immediately suspend the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and to Israel for arms used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians. The manifesto also adds that a Labour government would 'implement UK arms export controls to the highest standard, putting an end to exports where they might be used in violation of human rights or international humanitarian law.'

The SNP has promised to continue to put pressure on the UK government to immediately halt arms sales to regimes that commit human rights abuses and violate international humanitarian law.

The Liberal Democrats have said that they would 'suspend UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to their consistent targeting of civilians'. They also state they would improve control of arms exports, including by introducing a policy of 'presumption of denial' for arms exports to countries listed as Human Rights Priority Countries by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

The Conservative Party manifesto makes no mention of the arms trade.

3. Nuclear disarmament

The Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats support the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons. The Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru have pledged to scrap Trident.

The SNP hope to achieve this by building a cross-party coalition. Plaid Cymru describe nuclear weapons as 'ineffective and unnecessary'. According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, replacing Trident would cost at least £205 bn, which the SNP has argued would be better spent on investing in public services such as hospitals and schools. The Liberal Democrats have not declared they will get rid of Trident as a whole, but they have committed to reducing the number of Trident-carrying Dreadnought submarines from four to three.

As partners in national and international campaigns for nuclear disarmament, Quakers continue to raise awareness of the destructive effects of nuclear weapons as well as lobby the UK government to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, agreed in 2017.

Only the Green Party has committed to joining this nuclear ban treaty and working within the framework it provides to achieve global disarmament. The SNP has said 'we want to see a world free from nuclear weapons, and with independence, Scotland can be an advocate for disarmament on the global stage.'

4. General disarmament

The Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have all committed to maintaining the NATO target of at least 2 per cent of GDP being spent on the military budget, thereby expressing commitment to the maintenance of a large UK militarist system.

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to boost 'defence' spending by a predicted £3bn extra throughout parliament. The SNP manifesto pledges support for the retention of existing military bases and regiments in Scotland, says they will 'press for investment in conventional defence' and commits to promoting the delivery of Royal Navy contracts in UK shipyards. The Labour manifesto expresses commitment to 'procurement that supports UK defence manufacturing'.

The Conservative manifesto also pledges to continue exceeding NATO's 2 per cent of GDP spending target on the military budget, and to increase the military budget by at least 0.5 per cent above inflation each year.

The Conservatives also pledge to 'improve the capability of our Armed Forces and intelligence agencies', and would set up the UK's first Space Command. The manifesto pledges to support the UK's 'worldclass defence industry' by building new frigates in British shipyards and new armoured vehicles, also in Britain.

There are very significant differences between the party manifestos on some issues related to peace and disarmament, including on issues relating to military interventionism, the arms trade and the issue of nuclear disarmament.

There are also strong similarities and continuities in the party manifestos, especially on the issue of the retention of existing militarist structures and the general rejection of the disarmament agenda.

Nonetheless, the way the electorate votes is likely to have major implications for the future of militarism across the UK and for the prospects for peace domestically and globally.

Read analysis of Quakers in Britain's other key priorities for the election:

Learn more about Quaker work on peace