Peace armies fight violence with nonviolence

Could non violent intervention do a better job of bringing democracy to Iraq?


Tijn Touber | November 2005 issue

Not all the news from troubled zones is sad and tragic. The British magazine New Internationalist (August 2005) points to a number of positive developments being carried out as part of citizen initiatives. An increasing number of people are applying to nongovernmental organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce and Peace Brigades International to join civilian peacekeeping armies. In contrast to United Nations peacekeeping forces, these armies do not answer to any national or political authority, which means they can operate with neutrality. Their primary duty is to foster understanding between the conflicting parties, to help them solve disputes on their own. These civilian “troops” also protect noncombatant citizens and offer peace education to show people the overall consequences of war.

If you think it all sounds hippie-ish, naïve or wimpy, you’re wrong. Most participants in peacekeeping armies are not moral crusaders, but rather pragmatic citizens who have come to view nonviolence as the best strategy for achieving peace. And they’re certainly not wimps. The American magazine Peace Power (summer 2005) reports on nonviolent actions by groups like Chicago’s Voices in the Wilderness. Members of this peace group risked massive fines and even prison sentences to personally deliver humanitarian aid to Iraq during the period of economic sanctions before the war, and took part in the “human shield” actions in which more than five hundred foreigners positioned themselves at strategic sites such as hospitals and water purification installations during the bombing of Iraq.

These various peacekeeping groups share a common vision: to get enough people involved so that peacekeeping armies can be deployed at a moment’s notice to help solve conflicts anywhere in the world. The big question, however, is not whether this would be achievable, but if it would be effective. The organizers believe it is and like to answer that question with another: How effective is violent intervention?

Take the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq (with help from the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, and other countries). Since March 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis (mainly civilians) have been killed, bloody attacks are carried out almost daily, malnourishment among children has doubled and child mortality has tripled. The Iraqi population is even worse off now than it was during the Saddam dictatorship and the decade of international sanctions that followed the 1991 Gulf War, and Iraq itself appears further than ever from a stable democracy.

Participants in the Nonviolent Peaceforce say peacekeeping armies are much more effective – and cheaper—than military armies.. They estimate that an army of just a thousand peacekeeping soldiers (one of whom costs thirty thousand dollars a year) would have been enough to stop the violence and genocide that engulfed Yugoslavia in 1981. The peace groups also point to successful historic examples of nonviolent actions: economic boycotts, strikes and mass demonstrations have brought down totalitarian regimes in countries like South Africa, and across Eastern Europe. The Philippine ruler Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986 virtually nonviolently; the same happened to Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

What would have happened if the Americans had not intervened in Iraq? Would the Iraqis have been able to oust Saddam themselves, perhaps even without violence? There is a real chance they could have, according to New Internationalist, because Islam emphasizes that a social contract exists between a ruler and his subjects whereby citizens have the right – even the duty – to refuse to cooperate with a leader who abuses his power. It was this attitude that caused president Suharto of Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation – to be ousted in 1998, almost completely without violence, after 33 years of ruling with an iron fist. ( Suharto had far more blood on his hands than Saddam, yet the U.S. and other Western powers cooperated with him almost until the end.). The same has happened in other Muslim countries: Sudanese tyrant Jaafar Nimeiry was ousted almost wholly nonviolently in 1985, as was Bangladesh’s Hussain Muhammed Ershad in 1990, and Mali’s Moussa Traoré in 1991.

But history also teaches us that successful (and often nonviolent) pro-democratic uprisings originate from within the urban middle and industrial working classes. The economic devastation caused by the first Gulf War and the economic sanctions that followed practically wiped out the country’s middle class, which were replaced by a new class of black market traders who feel a stake in maintaining the undemocratic and violent status quo. This all seems to point to the fact that violent intervention to enforce democracy has been counterproductive.

These new peacekeeping armies don’t just face the challenge of convincing the local population that nonviolence is the best path to peace. According to New Internationalist, that’s a relatively simple task compared with convincing Western powers, whose economic policies and gigantic arms industries maintain the spiral of violence (see box). Western leaders have scant understanding of the power of nonviolence, as has become apparent in places like Nicaragua. When that country’s citizens peacefully rebelled against the punishing economic measures enacted by its president Arnoldo Alemán in 1997, he reversed his decision and restored many of the cuts in social spending. But not for long. The International Monetary Fund, under pressure from the United States, forced the Nicaraguan government to put the cuts back in place, causing the influential Nicaraguan intellectual Alejandro Badana to ask: “Will the people of the North allow the people of the South to succeed though nonviolence?”

More information: www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org, www.peacebrigades.org, www.nonviolence.org, vitw.org

Solution News Source

Peace armies fight violence with nonviolence

Could non violent intervention do a better job of bringing democracy to Iraq?


Tijn Touber | November 2005 issue

Not all the news from troubled zones is sad and tragic. The British magazine New Internationalist (August 2005) points to a number of positive developments being carried out as part of citizen initiatives. An increasing number of people are applying to nongovernmental organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce and Peace Brigades International to join civilian peacekeeping armies. In contrast to United Nations peacekeeping forces, these armies do not answer to any national or political authority, which means they can operate with neutrality. Their primary duty is to foster understanding between the conflicting parties, to help them solve disputes on their own. These civilian “troops” also protect noncombatant citizens and offer peace education to show people the overall consequences of war.

If you think it all sounds hippie-ish, naïve or wimpy, you’re wrong. Most participants in peacekeeping armies are not moral crusaders, but rather pragmatic citizens who have come to view nonviolence as the best strategy for achieving peace. And they’re certainly not wimps. The American magazine Peace Power (summer 2005) reports on nonviolent actions by groups like Chicago’s Voices in the Wilderness. Members of this peace group risked massive fines and even prison sentences to personally deliver humanitarian aid to Iraq during the period of economic sanctions before the war, and took part in the “human shield” actions in which more than five hundred foreigners positioned themselves at strategic sites such as hospitals and water purification installations during the bombing of Iraq.

These various peacekeeping groups share a common vision: to get enough people involved so that peacekeeping armies can be deployed at a moment’s notice to help solve conflicts anywhere in the world. The big question, however, is not whether this would be achievable, but if it would be effective. The organizers believe it is and like to answer that question with another: How effective is violent intervention?

Take the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq (with help from the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, and other countries). Since March 2003, tens of thousands of Iraqis (mainly civilians) have been killed, bloody attacks are carried out almost daily, malnourishment among children has doubled and child mortality has tripled. The Iraqi population is even worse off now than it was during the Saddam dictatorship and the decade of international sanctions that followed the 1991 Gulf War, and Iraq itself appears further than ever from a stable democracy.

Participants in the Nonviolent Peaceforce say peacekeeping armies are much more effective – and cheaper—than military armies.. They estimate that an army of just a thousand peacekeeping soldiers (one of whom costs thirty thousand dollars a year) would have been enough to stop the violence and genocide that engulfed Yugoslavia in 1981. The peace groups also point to successful historic examples of nonviolent actions: economic boycotts, strikes and mass demonstrations have brought down totalitarian regimes in countries like South Africa, and across Eastern Europe. The Philippine ruler Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986 virtually nonviolently; the same happened to Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

What would have happened if the Americans had not intervened in Iraq? Would the Iraqis have been able to oust Saddam themselves, perhaps even without violence? There is a real chance they could have, according to New Internationalist, because Islam emphasizes that a social contract exists between a ruler and his subjects whereby citizens have the right – even the duty – to refuse to cooperate with a leader who abuses his power. It was this attitude that caused president Suharto of Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim nation – to be ousted in 1998, almost completely without violence, after 33 years of ruling with an iron fist. ( Suharto had far more blood on his hands than Saddam, yet the U.S. and other Western powers cooperated with him almost until the end.). The same has happened in other Muslim countries: Sudanese tyrant Jaafar Nimeiry was ousted almost wholly nonviolently in 1985, as was Bangladesh’s Hussain Muhammed Ershad in 1990, and Mali’s Moussa Traoré in 1991.

But history also teaches us that successful (and often nonviolent) pro-democratic uprisings originate from within the urban middle and industrial working classes. The economic devastation caused by the first Gulf War and the economic sanctions that followed practically wiped out the country’s middle class, which were replaced by a new class of black market traders who feel a stake in maintaining the undemocratic and violent status quo. This all seems to point to the fact that violent intervention to enforce democracy has been counterproductive.

These new peacekeeping armies don’t just face the challenge of convincing the local population that nonviolence is the best path to peace. According to New Internationalist, that’s a relatively simple task compared with convincing Western powers, whose economic policies and gigantic arms industries maintain the spiral of violence (see box). Western leaders have scant understanding of the power of nonviolence, as has become apparent in places like Nicaragua. When that country’s citizens peacefully rebelled against the punishing economic measures enacted by its president Arnoldo Alemán in 1997, he reversed his decision and restored many of the cuts in social spending. But not for long. The International Monetary Fund, under pressure from the United States, forced the Nicaraguan government to put the cuts back in place, causing the influential Nicaraguan intellectual Alejandro Badana to ask: “Will the people of the North allow the people of the South to succeed though nonviolence?”

More information: www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org, www.peacebrigades.org, www.nonviolence.org, vitw.org

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