Technological advances have radically changed the nature of war. Ursula Franklin, in her book, Pacifism As A Map, noted that the ‘human component’ of modern armies is small, and the ‘device component’ large. It was no longer enough for Quakers to refuse to bear arms. They had to address disarmament as well.
Speaking after the First World War, Philip Noel-Baker wrote: “Our generation must get rid of the militarization of the world… It is a deep-rooted and malignant disease for which palliatives do not suffice, and of which civilized society may die if it be not ended.”
After the Second World War, Quakers became active in the nuclear disarmament movement, as well as other moves to ban or control categories of weaponry. From that time they have addressed disarmament issues at two levels - internationally and in their own countries.
QUNO (the Quaker UN Office) was the focus for international work for many years. It helped to establish a place for non-governmental organisations at the General Assembly on Disarmament in 1978.
Together with the American Friends Service Committee, QUNO Geneva worked behind the scenes during the negotiation of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, facilitating a series of off-the-record seminars in Jordan with senior leaders from Middle East countries.
They liaised regularly with diplomats and NGOs attending the Conference on Disarmament, the principal international arena for multilateral disarmament negotiation, and helped to organise activities in preparation for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in 2000.
Between 1996 and 2001, QUNO worked with the University of Bradford Department of Peace Studies to organise briefing sessions and off-the-record discussions during negotiations to prepare a Verification Protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention.
From 1997, the focus shifted towards work to limit small arms proliferation and to ban the use of weapons – such as landmines – that cause particular suffering to civilian populations.
QUNO Geneva played an important role in the 18-month period prior to the completion of the Anti-Personnel Landmine Ban Convention in 1997, and helped to reframe the issue as a humanitarian one, rather than a military one. They continue to support the various processes aimed at implementing the Convention.
QUNO Geneva and QUNO New York have worked together to organise, among other things, the ‘Shrinking Small Arms’ seminar in Durban, South Africa in 1999, and a conference for diplomats in advance of the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms in 2000. They also support the work of the International Action Network on Small Arms. Quakers have pioneered what David Atwood describes as a ‘demand side’ approach to weapons control – looking at why groups take up arms in the first place.
QUNO Geneva also worked with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) and the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) in the Geneva Forum. Its current programme, ‘Clearing Paths to Progress in Disarmament and Arms Control’, aims to build partnerships between governments, international organisations and NGOs.
In their own countries, many Quakers are part of disarmament-related peace movement campaigns such as unilateral nuclear disarmament, ending (or at least reducing) the arms trade, and arms reduction.
In Britain, QPSW (Quaker Peace and Social Witness) is a member of Drones Action Network, which raises concerns about the increasing use of unmanned aerial vehicles to attack targets, often with resulting civilian casualties. Many Quakers in Europe are involved in movements against the arms trade, for example, cooperating with other Peace organisations to hold protest vigils outside Arms Fairs in London and Paris.
In the US, the Friends Council on National Legislation lobbies Congress on disarmament and many other issues. Strategic arms reduction and the arms trade are current issues.
Quakers like Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge in South Africa have repeatedly made clear the pivotal role that the arms industry plays in encouraging governments to buy the latest, most powerful weaponry, thus feeding the arms race.
At the same time as working for disarmament, and, ideally, abolition, Quakers advocate alternative, non-military, approaches to conflict resolution. As Ursula Franklin wrote: “No government or nation-state will develop the skills of peace for us. As citizens, it will be our role to focus on peace and justice while we vigorously oppose the arms race.”