Keynote Address by Prof. Dr. Theo De Roos

The keynote address was given by Prof. Dr. Theo De Roos, professor of law at Maastricht University, who has been a legal adviser for drafting the Dutch Peace Tax Bill. Although there is no Dutch constitutional statement supporting freedom of conscience, there is recognition of conscientious objection to military service and there are several other precedents of laws recognising religious freedom and objection to a number of taxes/retributions/insurances. 

The text and the explanatory memorandum of the proposed Dutch bill (in an unofficial translation) can be found in Appendix 1. Note that this translation is based on the previous bill (1989) and that some light changes have been introduced in the 1992 version.

The lecture given by Dr. De Roos was followed by a discussion. (The following report was made by Hans Mulder).

David Bassett: What are the appropriate uses for the money that goes to the National Peace Fund?

Theo De Roos: In the bill the destinations are given:

  • research into the situation of the poorest on earth;
  • research into the relations between underdevelopment, violation of human rights, political tensions, socioeconomic structures and military spending;
  • real support of the poorest on the earth;
  • research into the causes of international conflicts;
  • research into the use and consequences of military violence;
  • research into the possibilities of non-violent conflict-solving;
  • support of projects promoting non-violent conflict-solving;
  • information on these domains.

Phil Rimmer: Is there a possibility in the bill to let the money left over from the peace dividend flow to the United Nations?

Theo De Roos: This solution is not excluded. Part of the money should go to non-military solutions. But then one leaves the field of the Ministry of Defence. We choose to bring it under the Ministry of Defence. A commission there decides where the money is spent on, regarding the given destinations.

Christa Voigt: The defence of a country is an existential matter. Is it imaginable that there will ever be a country that decides not to defend itself?

Theo De Roos: Because the security of the people is a need, this means it is an existential fact. The self-consciousness of a country is at issue. One has to distinguish non-violent defence from no defence at all. If one has self-consciousness, one will not allow oneself to be butchered passively, but one can choose to defend oneself in a non-violent way. The individual citizen must be prepared to defend him/herself in a non-violent way. It is a matter of consciousness of the people. And this is only the beginning.

Lynne Weiss: It seems to me the Dutch peace tax legislation does not decrease the amount of money for military spending. I wonder if the legislation will be taken serious then.

Theo De Roos: The eventual objective is to decrease the military spending. If one wants to punt the eventual objective into practice, one has to be pragmatic. The first aim is to let the legislator and the politicians become aware of the fact that they have to make a deliberate choice about the level of military spending. Then they will be reminded that there is a Peace Fund. This can lead us to a more peaceful way of living. Of course this is not an everlasting solution.

Guiseppe Marasso: The most important thing is what will happen to the money you will divide. The Italian peace tax bill has a Fund in which war situations are provided.

Theo De Roos: The Italian proposal is not very different from the Dutch one. The Dutch formula is a bit broader but that does not mean both proposals are opposites from each other. If one concentrates on military spending and attunes the spending of the Peace Fund to this, there will be a clear relation to what one wants to achieve.

Gottfried Thieme: The way the defence is constituted is very important. The point is to change this way of defence completely. One has to have the means to accomplish that. Not everyone has the strength to choose a non-violent defence.

Theo De Roos: I agree with this completely. We live in a schizophrenic reality. However, if there are no people willing to propagate creative and radical alternatives, there will not be any development

Michael Fogler: In the USA we want the people to decide where their tax-money is spent on. The government would be obligated to fulfil those wishes. What is your opinion on this concept?

Theo De Roos: It means a radical change of society. There will be problems organising this concept, because the need of political coordination will remain. Education for example needs to be paid for, but as most people do not want their tax-money spent on education, one has a serious problem.

Pedro Otaduy: How can you be sure there will be a decrease in military spending?

Theo De Roos: Let it be clear: we are aware of the fact that the military budget will be increased by the same amount of money that flows to the Peace Fund. If the peace tax bill does not keep this solution open, one violates the power of parliament to decide where the tax-money is spent on: that means one takes away the real power of parliament. Then the peace tax bill won't have any chance to become a law. In what you say you prove the necessity of political discussion about these matters.

Pedro Otaduy: What and who has to be defended? The rich can defend themselves and the poor people of the world are not capable of doing that. What is your idea about this?

Theo De Roos: Defence only for the rich is unacceptable. It is difficult to answer this question; we do have a model for peace taxation, but, although we have some ideas about it, we don't have a real model for a peaceful defence. Let me remind you that Theo Van Boven was asked to come here today; he wasn't able to come, but he would have been glad to answer this question. He is specialised in human rights that can change the problem of the difference between rich and poor.

Cesar Flores: For the peoples in Central America the problem is not a matter of taxation and war, because people are so poor they can't even afford to pay taxes, but the real problem is that the North decides where our money goes to. If people in the North can pay taxes it is wonderful they pay for development of the Third World. But NATO exists as long as there will be a risk for the North: there will always be a risk for the North as long as Central America remains poor.

Theo De Roos: There is a strong relationship between underdevelopment and international peace. In this matter Theo Van Boven is also specialised: he was fired by the UN because he confronted the USA with its responsibilities regarding underdevelopment. In relation to this matter also a group of Dutch people (6,000 participants) went to the European Commission of Human Rights in Strasbourg arguing that producing nuclear weapons and preparing a nuclear war is in violation of the Right to life as described in Article 6 of the Covenant of Civil Rights and Political Freedoms. They are still waiting for a decision. Also in the proliferation of (nuclear) weapons one can see the difference between rich and poor countries. It is interesting to oppose this in a juridical way.