New technology to assist peace deal negotiations, conflict prediction and information gathering

February 21, 2020

The UN estimates that though more than $27bn is spent each year on peacebuilding initiatives around the world, as many as two-thirds do not lead to any durable resolution and conflicts are often resumed two or three times after an agreement is signed.

Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN under-secretary-general responsible for digital co-operation explains that the UN needs a new system which reflects the aspirations of those most affected by conflict.

Helen Warrell, the FT’s defence and security editor, reports that a new technology has been developed by UN officials working with the New York start-up Remesh and will be rolled out within the next year.

Mass polling before and during peace deal negotiations will attempt to gauge how whole communities feel about negotiations.

This Remesh platform will be a “real-time” dialogue, carried out with simultaneous translation.

The UN will issue both online and physical invitations to individuals, who could answer questions and respond to polls on their smartphones. The mediator could also interact directly and have a conversation with the population to find out whether what they were working on resonated. All responses would be analysed in real time to present insights to the UN team.

To guard against hacking, the algorithms are designed to minimise the impact that either lone malicious actors or “swarms” of bots can have on results, and have warning systems to detect participants who are behaving suspiciously.

Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs (right), said the plan would give a voice to people who wouldn’t normally have one.

Other developments include:

  • an SMS conversation platform under development for populations without good internet access;
  • an AI tool developed by London-based Alan Turing Institute, said to be 94% accurate in predicting the location of new conflicts a year in advance and
  • a project using virtual reality to brief Security Council members voting on operations in unstable states which are too difficult to visit, such as Yemen.

An interactive map from an American perspective: updated this month

Effective mediation and peacebuilding is needed in many of the world’s regions. All but those seeking profit and power from armed conflict hope that these innovations will help to bring about peace in these troubled areas.










The 2020 PSC AGM 20/20: A LANDMARK

February 5, 2020

Noel Hamel’s report*, summarised 

I attended the 2020 AGM of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign this landmark year to report back to Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP). The PSC executive was astute and professional; Kamel Hawwash a competent chair, a role formerly Jeremy Corbyn’s.

The mood of the AGM reflected the icy climate for Palestinian campaigning. Trump bulldozed accepted wisdom and common sense by defying international law condemning illegal occupations in Jerusalem, the Occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

The Annual Report is full of laudable aims about membership, campaigning and funding. There is commendable effort to engage with many campaign and faith groups and a vital need to redress false perceptions. Prejudicial treatment has been unfairly discriminating against PSC activity in a viciously hostile climate in the UK and USA, partly generated by ‘straw-man’s’ unfounded antisemitism (AS) accusations.

On the brighter side: should revulsion become the norm in response to current prejudice and negative propaganda, it may energize popular support for Palestinians. If court hearings and parliamentary debate attract national and international interest then attempts to muzzle Palestinian rights campaigns could be frustrated. Let’s hope so. Much also depends upon branch and activist dissemination of information through stalls and demonstrations, appealing for public support for a just cause. 

PSC has pledged to campaign: 

  • against settlements,
  • against arming Israel,
  • against anti-ethical-choice ‘Johnson’ laws,
  • against child imprisonment,
  • for the end of Gaza’s siege,
  • against Puma’s support for Israel,
  • for the removal of the Jewish National Fund’s charitable status,
  • and for support for BDS and the cultural boycott.

PSC membership has grown despite the hostile climate, almost doubling to 6500 since 2015. The ambition is more growth, trade union involvement and a coalition of support from across faiths, NGOs and charities.

*Noel’s report may be read in full here, with added reflections.





Will Palestinian and Israeli children grow up knowing nothing but fear, violence and division?

February 1, 2020

On Tuesday, the Trump administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was announced in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

In the mildest paragraph in a startlingly outspoken Haaretz article, Chemi Shalev writes: “Trump’s plan abandons the usual diplomatic rule that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. It allows Israel to seize its spoils immediately, while the Palestinians have to spend years proving themselves by jumping over hurdles and going through loops, with no guarantee whatsoever that they’ll get anything in return: Israel has the final say whether Palestinians have passed or failed”.

Andrew Woodcock points out that Mr Johnson stopped short of giving his endorsement to the Trump plan, but said Palestinians should be ready to engage with the US president’s ideas. He adds that Johnson’s expression of support for the process came as he sought to restore good relations with the US president after defying his demand to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from the UK’s 5G telecoms network.

Despite the US president’s plan confirming the illegal annexation of settlements across the occupied West Bank, the expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian residents and the fragmentation of Palestinian areas, Boris Johnson said the plan has “the merits of a two-state solution.”

Rivals Hamas and Fatah held a joint meeting in Ramallah on the West Bank to plan a series of protests against US President Donald Trump’s long-awaited peace plan

In the Commons today, Bethany Rielly (sic) reports, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the proposal “destroys any prospect of an independent, contiguous Palestinian state”, insisting: “This is not a peace plan, it is a monstrosity and a guarantee that the next generation of Palestinian and Israeli children, like so many generations before them, will grow up knowing nothing but fear, violence and division.”






Calls for Britain to stop recruiting adolescents to the armed forces

December 30, 2019

David Collins, a Committee member of the Movement for the Abolition of War of Friends of Le Monde Diplomatique and of Veterans For Peace UK, recently got in touch and has been added to our mailing list.

A search revealed a video on VfP’s website, “Made in the Royal Navy”, published by Child Rights International Network (CRIN). The film charges the British army with intentionally targeting young people from deprived backgrounds for the most dangerous front-line jobs. It plays on the natural anxiety in boys and young men about how they are going to become a man and go out into the world. Its message is that the Navy will remake the raw youth into a heroic version of the inadequate boy that they once were.

The actual experience of most of these youngsters is set out in a report published in August 2019: Conscription by Poverty? Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK.

This is a long-standing concern of many on our mailing list. In 2011, Britain’s child soldiers – 2 reminded readers that, twelve years earlier, the BBC had reported the British Army was being urged by the United Nations to stop sending young soldiers into war.

Following Symon Hill’s work in The Friend, the Ekklesia website, and a Nato Watch article, an article by Michael Bartlet, Parliamentary Liaison Secretary for Quakers in Britain, pointed out that “with the exception of Russia, and apprentices in Ireland, the British Army is unique in Europe in recruiting at the age of 16. Of 14,185 recruits into the army last year, 3,630 or over 25%, joined under the age of 18 . . . Deprivation and army recruitment in the UK . . . Those joining the army at the age of 16 often come from the poorest and least educated backgrounds. Some have reading ages of a child of half that age. They lack the confidence to seek a change in their career in the same way as those training for professions.” 

Ian Davis, the Director of NatoWatch, sent a reference to the post by Symon Hill, now placed on its website. He added that the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England are calling for the Armed Forces Bill to be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18, a call backed by Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association.

Five years later Quakers in Scotland and ForcesWatch presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament calling for greater scrutiny, guidance and consultation on the visits of armed forces to schools in Scotland. Over four-fifths of state secondary schools in Scotland were visited by the armed forces in a two-year period, according to a 2014 ForcesWatch report.

A 2016 report by public health charity Medact found that soldiers recruited aged 16 and 17 were twice as likely to be killed or injured when in combat compared to those enlisted when aged 18 or over. Medact also found that they were more likely to commit suicide, self-harm, abuse alcohol and develop post-traumatic stress disorder than older recruits

In May this year, the BMI Journal reviewed an article: Adverse health effects of recruiting child soldiers, published in February. It rejected the main justification resting on fears of a ‘recruitment shortfall’: saying that given the extensive harms described in its report, to put recruitment figures above the health and well-being of children and adolescents seems misguided and counterproductive for both the Ministry of Defence as a governmental body and wider society.The second justification alleging economic and occupational benefits to recruits, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds was also rejected:

“(W)e have seen that it is precisely child recruits from disadvantaged backgrounds who are at highest risk of adverse outcomes in the military. Furthermore, figures from 2017 show that those recruited under the age of 18 constituted 24% of those who voluntarily left the Armed Forces before completing their service—this also increases the likelihood of lower mental health outcomes”.

It supported the views of those of the fourteen organisations mentioned here, recommending that the UK end its practice of recruiting adolescents to the armed forces.






America’s Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

December 8, 2019

A Cwyllynfell reader has drawn attention to Daniel Bessner’s interview with historian Stephen Wertheim. Stephen is Deputy Director of Research and Policy – a co-founder and non-paid Fellow of the Quincy Institute. for Responsible Statecraft: the first modern think tank to devote itself to a policy of “military restraint” and diplomatic engagement.

Its mission is to promote “ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace”.


Daniel Bessner – the Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Associate Professor in American Foreign Policy, University of Washington – explains that almost all national security think tanks share a bipartisan commitment to the notion that world peace (or at least the “national interest”) depends on the United States asserting preponderant military, political, economic, and cultural power. After giving a brief history of America’s influential think-tanks from 1946, Daniel Bessner discussed the institute and its prospects with Stephen Wertheim.

Vietnam Veterans Against the War in 1970

Wertheim (below right) points out that recently significant numbers of Americans have come together around campaigns to stop the invasion of Iraq, campaigns to support the nuclear deal with Iran, and campaigns to end U.S. participation in the war in Yemen, adding: “But what has been missing is a larger effort dedicated to transforming U.S. foreign policy wholesale, not only in particular ways and at particular moments. That’s where the Quincy Institute comes in”.

Quincy could make a significant contribution simply by offering to the public a systematically different world role for the United States. Its point of view counters the consensus on the use of force.

The institute wants to make peace the norm and war the exception. Its members don’t think the United States needs to be the world’s indispensable nation, especially if that means using military force to overthrow or antagonize regimes that don’t threaten us

Wertheim believes that grassroots activism is essential and has no patience with experts who look down on activists and ordinary people; though he agrees that some parts of the left fetishize the grassroots, he points out that others fetishize experts as well. His position is that the grassroots and experts need one another”. Two reasons are given:

  • Experts who are taking on the status quo are going to be effective only if people ultimately stand up and raise hell (or politely call their members of Congress).
  • In turn, ordinary citizens don’t have the time or the expertise to build a comprehensive program for foreign policy. This isn’t an easy task even for people who are specifically trained and paid to do it. A democratic public requires experts and leaders to crystallize alternatives and facilitate debate.

We need better experts and a more informed and mobilized public, not one or the other.

Wertheim says that the foreign policy conversation in Washington and in the mainstream media is dominated by elites—some real experts and some not—who are more hawkish than many actual scholars of foreign policy. Those who are prominent in the media and roam the halls of power in Washington are deeply disconnected from where most American citizens stand – far more enthusiastic about the use of military force than the public. Foreign policy professionals are discouraged from criticizing the status quo and demanding change. Most think tanks depend on funding from the defense industry and governments—the U.S. government and, shockingly, foreign governments:

“There’s far less money in peace, not because most citizens and businesses wouldn’t benefit from peace, but because most donors and lobbyists benefit from war or permanent mobilization for war. To preserve a career in the small world of national security professionals, it’s safer to maintain friendly relations with everyone”.

Daniel Bessner (left) poses this question: “Let’s say the institute succeeds, and in ten years the United States no longer takes military primacy as the sine qua non of its global role and has closed most of its 800-plus military bases. What then? Are we returning to an era of great power competition in which China has its sphere of influence, Russia has its sphere, and the United States has its sphere? Or are we looking at something new, a post-national politics?”

Wertheim responds: “I take your point, but Quincy’s is as positive an agenda as you’ll see in a foreign policy think tank. In fact, I think it’s more genuinely positive than the establishment stance of fetishizing military force as the essence of engagement in the world.

“Force isn’t engagement. It ends human life. It is the ultimate negative. Military restraint is the prerequisite of a genuinely positive vision”.

He continues: “Climate change and neoliberalism pose bigger challenges to the American people than any rival nation-state. Our foreign policy should reflect those priorities. We are not going to address the climate crisis unless we tamp down military competition, ramp up investments in green technologies and reach a legitimate bargain both among the major polluters—China, the United States, Europe, India, and Russia—and between the Global North and the Global South . . . None of this can be accomplished if we continue to pursue global military hegemony, which exacerbates rather than mitigates the climate crisis and the neoliberal order, and consumes more than half of the federal discretionary budget”.

Obama and Trump, in their different and partial ways, expressed interest in moving away from militaristic policies, Wertheim notes, but each struggled to find advisers and appointees who could give form to their instincts. As a result, U.S. foreign policy remained largely unchanged. If personnel is policy, Quincy can change policy by training personnel who are prepared to staff presidential administrations, building a cadre able to answer technical questions of foreign policy while simultaneously addressing larger questions concerning the nature of power, governance, and sovereignty in the twenty-first century.

Bessner responded that connecting these two realms—the technical and the philosophical—would be a significant achievement – the most important long-term function of the Quincy Institute.

To read the interview in full click here.






Richard Reeve: “Britain should reconsider its costly and futile military presence”

December 4, 2019

Rethinking Security was formerly known as the Ammerdown Group, taking its name from the Ammerdown Centre, where the network has met to review and plan its work. It is a network of academics, activists and those UK-based organisations of which many readers will be members. From its website:

“We work for a just and peaceful world, based on approaches that address the underlying causes of conflict and insecurity. We have a shared concern that the current approach to national security in the UK and beyond often hampers efforts for peace, justice and ecological sustainability. We are committed to building a much richer understanding of what security really means, and of what is required to build sustainable security”.

Richard Reeve its co-ordinator recently wrote to the Financial Times which published his letter under the title: “Britain should reconsider its costly and futile military presence”. He opened with a statement which may surprise many:

From Belize to Brunei, the UK remains second only to the US in its number of overseas military bases.

He then pointed out that against such threats as climate change and inequality the UK’s rising global military presence is futile, costly and dangerous.

  • new facilities have opened in Oman and Bahrain since 2018,
  • a base in the Caribbean is mooted,
  • scraps of empire from Ascension Island to Diego Garcia via Cyprus and Gibraltar remain dedicated to projecting British and US military influence,
  • though British diplomats are becoming concentrated in London, British troops and equipment are increasingly “forward deployed” beyond the UK,
  • HMS Montrose was permanently stationed in the Gulf in April and
  • there are plans to base a second frigate in Asia to resecure for the Royal Navy a permanent presence in the Pacific.

He describes the navy’s new aircraft carriers as “four acres of sovereign territory”, noting that last week HMS Queen Elizabeth was promoting UK arms exports and hosting the chiefs of the US and Japanese navies in Chesapeake Bay. America’s Defense Department sees the QE as the Royal Navy’s largest-ever generation of warfighting ship, to be used for airborne early warning and anti-submarine warfare.

Richard ends by posing two questions:

  • Does UK want to prioritise projecting military power to enforce the status quo which Richard sees as being ‘precipitous’?
  • Or should it seek to understand the world and tackle the issues that really make people and states feel insecure?

He reflects: “If we want to change the world, we will have to change ourselves as well.”





Would a Labour-Green supported government fund the manufacture and sale of armaments?

November 23, 2019

The Argus reports that anti-arms campaigners have been gathering outside the EDO MBM weapons factory in the Moulsecoomb area of Brighton to protest against the manufacturing of bomb components used in Yemen.

Residents have campaigned against the factory’s presence from 2005-15 and they gathered together once again after a recent UN report revealed the use of Brighton-made components in civilian bombings in Yemen. Inspectors took photographs of fragments of a bomb used in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a water pump factory in Yemen (above).

The UN found the attack “violated international humanitarian law”. Inspectors reporting to the UN Security Council took photographs of fragments of a bomb used in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a water pump factory in Yemen – an attack which the UN said had violated international humanitarian law

Written on the side of a fragment were the words “EDO MBM” – the name of the arms manufacturer in Brighton. It also bore the bomb part’s “cage number” – which is registered to its factory at Home Farm Business Park, Moulsecoomb.


In June it was reported that Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) won a landmark legal challenge against the government over UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia

They had argued that the decision to continue to license military equipment for export to the Gulf state, which is leading a coalition of forces in the Yemeni conflict, was unlawful. The group said there was a clear risk that the arms might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Announcing the court’s decision, Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton said the Government had “made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so”.


Protests against the holding of arms fairs are held whenever one is planned.

The next one – ‘for professional visitors only’ – will be held in May 2020 at the ExCel centre in London which now belongs to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company.

The UK government’s Defence & Security Organisation has a department dedicated to promoting weapons sales. Its duties involve:

  • organising the itinerary of overseas military delegations
  • facilitating high-level UK delegations,
  • taking exhibition space and
  • providing serving members of the UK armed forces to demonstrate arms companies’ weaponry
  • and playing a major role in promoting UK arms producers at overseas arms fairs.

Arms Fairs promote weapons sales by giving arms dealers the chance to meet and greet military delegations, government officials, other arms companies and a host of individual visitors, many of whom come from regimes who abuse human rights and countries actively involved in armed conflicts.

This snapshot taken from the Trade Fair website shows three out of an astonishing number of similar fairs which are scheduled to take place all over the world next year.