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FALL, 1999: Volume 4 Issue 3

The International Peace Force by Mel Duncan and David Hartsough

July 6, 1999: Tanks rumble into Kosovo. NATO proclaims victory from 15,000 feet above after eleven weeks of pounding bombs without a single alliance casualty. The Serb army demonstrates for back pay in the streets as their butcher leader also proclaims victory. The KLA disarms—sort of. Over a million Kosovar Albanians resentfully return to the rubble of home as Kosovar Serbs are cleansed northwards out of their homes.

The irradiated landscape soaked in blood, strewn with land mines and pocked with mass graves flows with hate. Thousands of well armed multinational troops will attempt to keep the hatred at bay while relief organizations beg for millions to help rebuild from the carnage.

While the technology has dramatically advanced, we end the bloodiest century of humankind the way we began it—with organized brutality seeking to resolve conflicts and assert national and ethnic claims. More people died in wars during the 20th century than in the totality of human history up to 1900. Our world now spends $740 billion of precious resources on armaments each year while keeping over 40 million people in the military. Thirty-five thousand nuclear weapons glut the globe with 5,000 remaining on high alert. The two newest members of the nuclear club continue a five-decade war in the snowy peaks of Kashmir.

Yet this century has also witnessed dramatic advances in alternatives to war. The recent legacy of nonviolence extends far beyond the well-known examples of Indian independence and the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. In fact, the use of effective nonviolent strategies is on the rise. Most of these nonviolent actions have not been carried out by saints and pacifists but by ordinary people. South Africa threw off apartheid through largely nonviolent means. A subsequent truth and reconciliation process has avoided a civil war. In 1991 thousands of unarmed Russians surrounded the White House in Moscow to thwart a military coup attempt. The people in most of the nations of the former Soviet block overthrew their communist dictatorships through nonviolent means. Gains secured by the labor, women’s, disability rights, and environmental movements have come primarily through nonviolent means.

Peace activists are courageously and creatively at work in conflict and violent areas throughout the world. Peace Brigades International, the Balkan Peace Teams, Witness for Peace, PEACEWORKERS, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Christian Peacemaker Teams, SIPAZ, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and others operate in numerous countries including Colombia, East Timor, Guatemala, the Balkans, the U.S., Israel/Palestine, Mexico and Nicaragua. Most are doing small scale, highly specialized activities designed to be an active presence to lower the potential or current levels of violence and support local peacemakers.

Yet when faced with the brutal aggression of Slobodan Milosevic throughout the last decade, international peace activists have lacked a credible, coherent, and comprehensive response. For several years the President of Kosovo, Ibrahim Rugova, sought support for their nonviolent resistance. While some international activists bravely carried out nonviolent strategies with people of the Balkans and still are, many others cited a variety of excuses as to why they could not be expected to help resolve the crisis or, in some cases, reluctantly shrugged their shoulders and supported the NATO attacks. When the March bombing began, many people of conscience faced a profound dilemma of opposing military escalation yet not wanting to ignore genocide.

The indelible blood stains of Kosovo, the Sudan, Rwanda, Burma, and so many other places remind us that we need to bring peacemaking activity to a dramatic, new level. We need to develop a strategic, efficient, and effective nonviolent response to brutality, violence, and genocide when actions focused on the root causes have either failed or are ineffective in stopping current slaughter.

The world needs institutions that encourage large numbers of people to engage in actions that inspire hope and call them to higher values such as the Golden Rule. We need to develop a multiethnic, multi-spiritual standing peace force that would be trained in nonviolent strategies and deployed to conflicts or potentially violent areas at the invitation of local peace movements. The international peace force would have to include thousands of trained volunteers committed to strategically put themselves in harm’s way to defuse violence and create the space for peaceful resolution.

Collectively, we have the capacity to make such a peace force a reality. Many veterans of the nonviolent movements of this century are still living. They have the expertise to shape the force. Thousands of citizens have demonstrated their willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to stop violence and oppression. They will continue to be available. Youth and retirees are longing for commitments that provide meaning to their lives. A World Wide Web, already used to advance the cause of peace in organizing the grassroots campaigns for a ban on land mines and the creation of an international criminal court, provides an instant means for such a force to recruit, monitor and communicate. And the cost for the nonviolent peace force will be infinitesimal when compared to military operations.

At the Hague Appeal for Peace in mid-May, among the meetings in the nooks and corners of the Netherlands Congress Center, a small group of nonviolent activists began talking with each other about the prospects of moving their work to a greater level and developing a standing, nonviolent peace force. Six meetings, often impromptu, wedged amongst the avalanche of activities took place during the conference. Individuals taking part in these conversations came from a variety of organizations and brought a rich diversity of experience to the discussions.

During these meetings, it became evident that most people doing peace team work, conflict resolution and/or nonviolent training had shared the vision at some point in their work of building a standing nonviolent peace force of significant size. Some still entertained the idea. Usually the idea had been abandoned, sometimes because of lack of resources, especially financial, and sometimes because the work in a particular area had become so consuming or specialized that the vision of a larger scale operation was lost. While some people thought there were too many problems, especially a lack of significant money, most people thought that the idea was worth exploring and developing.

The work of exploring and developing is now under way. The goal is to create a well trained, standing, nonviolent peace force that would be deployed to conflict areas at the invitation of local nonviolent movements. Specifics, such as how many people, training, sources of volunteers, sources of funding, decision making, criteria for engagement, and strategies and tactics are being discussed among many individuals and organizations.

Such a task is daunting. The endeavor is replete with problems, contradictions and questions. We must live those questions. In the last 50 years, nations, some of whom were former enemies, came together and created NATO, able to administer sophisticated and strategic responses to armed conflict. In the next 50 years, we must develop an international peace force with similar commitment, cooperation and sophistication that promotes peace over war and life over death.

PEACEWORKERS is circulating a proposal for an international nonviolent peace force around the world to see if there is sufficient interest to move forward now. If you want to see and respond to the full proposal, write Peaceworkers, 721 Shrader St., San Francisco, CA 94117 USA; e-mail: peaceworkers@igc.org

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