Leading Edges of Peace Research

By Dietrich Fischer, Anatol Rapoport, Gene Sharp

In August, three of the most creative living peace researchers came together as a public forum to share their insights about the achievements and promise of studying peace. They are Professor Dietrich Fischer (Pace University), Professor Anatol Rapoport (University of Toronto) and Dr. Gene Sharp (senior scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution). Science for Peace co-sponsored this event, along with the Peace and War Section of the American Sociological Association; the University of Toronto Sociology Department; Now Magazine; Peace Magazine; and Peace Review. Here are excerpts from the three lectures.

War As an Institution

An evolving living system remains "alive" by adapting to its environment. One can explain the process in terms of quasi-Darwinian selection. Institutions that have failed to adapt to changing social environments are no longer with us. Therefore those that are around are those that have adapted.

Of exceptional interest to a system theorist is the survival and continued robustness of war as an institution in a climate of world opinion that is em- phatically hostile to it. Up until World War I, war was romanticized and glorified, at least in Europe, as the highest expression of the human spirit, which was identified, as a matter of course, with the national spirit. Today it is at most rationalized as a necessary evil, practically never glorified or romanticized. Yet war seems to have a bright future. Its way of adaptation to a pre- dominantly hostile social environment has been different in different settings. I will confine my conjecture to the adaptation of the war system to a society that has never been "militaristic" in the conventional sense, namely the United States.

I believe that the war system in the United States derives its vitality and potential for unimpeded growth from three components of what one might call the main stream American ideology. One is technolatry (an analogue of idolatry), that is, worship of technology. Another is business mentality. Recall Calvin Coolidge's profound summary of American civilization, "The business of America is business." Finally, the mainstream American aspiration is to "succeed," whereby its material rewards are valued not so much as a key to unlimited consumption and luxuries as for their certification of victory in competition.

For a substantial majority of Americans, World War II was a satisfying experience. Preparations for war ended the depression of the thirties. There was no war on American soil. All casualties were abroad. Confidence in technology and massive production of materiel as the main ingredients of victory was reinforced. America emerged as a superpower. Moreover, the confrontation with a possible challenger, an embodiment of an expressly hostile ideology, appeared as a welcome invigorating challenge, portending further triumphs. It remained only to separate war from images of slaughter and destruction. This was accomplished through identification of war with a business enterprise. On occasions I have cited a paper dealing with the "economics" of defence, where allocating a given budget to various weapons systems was determined by cost-benefit accounting. At one point the author pointed out the necessity of constructing a proper index of destruction wreaked on the enemy in order to properly "keep score" in a game of exchanging nuclear strikes. Thus General Westmoreland's projection of a "completely automated battlefield of the future" represented the crowning culmination of "progress" in military technology. No less instructive is a brief study reported by Herman Kahn in his magnum opus, On Thermonuclear War, in which he assumes that 60 million civilian American deaths is about the maximum"acceptable" price to pay for "standing up to the Russians." The figure is determined as the threshold beyond which no reconstruction of American civilization would be possible.

These preoccupations are symptoms of the "intellectualization of war," which helps make the war system and its vast infrastructure (industrial, academic, scientific, ideological, political) as well as its career opportunities, acceptable, being part of the country's assets and consequently its growth as evidence of "progress." It is hardly surprising, therefore, that when Von Neumann and Morgenstern's treatise, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior appeared in 1944, it aroused lively interest in military circles. For here was potentially the birth of a new science, directly relevant to the concerns of the military profession - the science of rational conflict.

The Lessons of Game Theory

Game theory can be defined as an extension of formal decision theory to situations involving more than one decision maker, whereby the interests of the actors in general differ. The most elementary problems of game theory deal with exactly two actors (players) whose interests are diametrically opposed: what one wins the other loses. Such games are called two person zero-sum games reflecting the circumstance that the sum of the payoffs of the two sum to zero, regardless of the outcome of the game. Especially attractive to the military mind is the concept of the maximin principle, applicable in the solution of such games. It is consistent with the so called "worst case scenario" according to which the adversary will act not with the view of doing himself most good but with the view of doing you most harm. Indeed out of the 17 papers presented at a conference sponsored by NATO in the sixties, 14 dealt with the two-person zero-sum game.

Research in the theory of games was generously funded by the American military establishment. Much of it was done at the Rand Corporation, a think tank in which strategic analysis and related inquiries were a major field of investigation. It was at that institution that a two-person game, subsequently called Pris- oner's Dilemma was accidentally discovered. Prisoner's Dilemma is not a zero-sum game.Of its four possible outcomes one is preferred by both players to another. However, all three principles of rational solution deduced in the context of two-person zero-sum games, namely the sure thing principle, the maximin principle, and the equilibrium principle dictate the choice of the outcome which is worse for both players than another. The game illustrates in the most elementary setting the difference between individual and collective rationality. This difference, in turn, defines the so called social trap: a situation in which both (or all) participants act in accordance with individual rationality, yet the outcome is worse for both (or for all) than it would have been if they acted otherwise.

Social Traps

Real life is replete with social traps. A person driving to work in the morning is informed by radio which streets are jammed and which are relatively free. It is individually rational to choose the less crowded streets. But if every driver acts rationally, these streets become jammed. It seems rational to a commercial fishing fleet to maximize its catch. But if every fleet does so, the fish may disappear, entailing losses for every one. If a new weapon is invented more terrible than any in existence, it seems that acquisition of this weapon enhances the security of one's country. But if everyone acts accordingly, everyone's security is jeopardized rather than enhanced. These conclusions are inescapable. Yet chronic arms races culminating in wars have been a fixed feature of the international system.

Prisoner's Dilemma, the prototype of a social trap, reveals the ambiguity of "rationality" in social situations and so challenges the implicit claims of the so- called "realist" school of international relations to the effect that its adherents are guided by realistic appraisals of situations in the international arena rather than by ideologies, sentiments, or naive idealism. Research on behavior in social trap situations has become a major field.

Theories and techniques of conflict resolution are at most tangentially relevant to the study of war. This is because war is almost always conceived as a zero-sum game, which is by definition an unresolvable conflict, since the opponents are generally assumed to have no common interests. Only in two-person non-zero-sum games (e.g. Prisoner's Dil- emma) and in games with more than two players, common interests, hence a basis of conflict resolution, can be defined. By introducing a possibility of communication and binding agreements, such games can be regarded as cooperative games. In these a mutually advantageous solution can be arrived at.

The topics I would today group as leading-edge are essentially the same ones that I identified as central many years ago. The difference between my judgment and that of most peace researchers largely accounts for my having gone a different direction.

Conflict in society is inevitable and often desirable. It is basic to establishing and maintaining freedom and justice. We need to face the reality that many acute conflicts exist, on which people feel unable to compromise on their objectives and principles. Those conflicts are therefore not resolvable by negotiations and conflict resolution measures- processes that are useful and that have other positive uses, but not for that. Attempts to stifle some conflicts can be very harmful, resulting both in increased acute conflict, such as terrorism, if unsuccessful, and harsh repression, if the efforts to stifle conflict are successful.

The most serious problems in conflicts arise not from the conflict itself but from the use of violence to conduct a conflict. There exists an alternative technique - nonviolent action or nonviolent struggle - which has replaced the use of violence in many conflicts.

The problem of achieving peace lies in at least one contender in the conflict substituting nonviolent struggle for violent struggle as the way to achieve objec the past, largely through strategic planning;

To adapt the technique for specific purposes in acute conflicts. These include: to resist and destroy dictatorships; to resist and block genocide; to deter and defeat foreign occupations and coups d'état; and to undermine oppression and empower dominated populations.

And finally, to expand incrementally the number of conflicts in which the nonviolent technique has replaced reliance on violence, while step by step undermining and removing those applications of violence called dictatorships, genocide, and oppression.

And all this results in reducing reliance on war and other violence, which is to expand the areas of peace in ways compatible with freedom and justice.

My own research began in the 1950s with a preoccupation about these matters. How could one not simply oppose and denounce war and violence, but also get rid of it? That seemed to me an important question. And it seemed clear to me that violence and war were often used rationally to conduct a conflict and to gain certain objectives. If some of those objectives are non-compromise issues, then one might be able to find another means of conducting the conflict that was not violence and not war.

Such an alternative way of conducting conflicts in fact existed. I chose to call it nonviolent action.

I addressed such questions as "What is that technique of struggle, and what is its theory of power? What are its methods, what is something of its history, how does it operate in conflicts against violently repressive regimes? And if it does succeed, why does it succeed and how - what are its mechanisms of change?" And that inquiry became my book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

I had done some earlier studies on what might be called principled nonviolence - ethical or religious nonviolence, or various types of pacifism. And those are important; but I concluded after significant study that they were separate phenomena from what was now called nonviolent action.

Unfortunately, the practice of calling both such beliefs and the technique of struggle by the single word "nonviolence" was already common, and continues today. It's bad terminology because it's confusing. It's like lumping all food under the one name "food," making it impossible to distinguish strawberries from bloody red steaks. We have to change our terms and throw the word "nonviolence" away except for certain very specialized technical uses.

The agenda: Real Human Conflict

We still need to conduct generalized analyses of the application of the technique of nonviolent struggle to real problems that human societies face. If it's an issue where we may have strong opinions but where alternative resolutions don't really make a lot of difference, we can settle our disputes with compromise, negotiation, conflict resolution, and the like. For example, if you're all in charge of redecorating this room , some of you may want to make it chartreuse, some will want white and some will want pink. You don't have to kill each other to decide what color paint you'll use. It's not that big a deal.

But if the outcome of a particular conflict determines whether your people are all going to be slaughtered; where an invader is going to come in and dominate your population; whether this political or military clique is going to set up a dictatorship; whether people are going to be discriminated against; whether you are to have religious freedom or not: issues of this type are not so clearly resolved by compromise. We need to look at those areas where people would usually say they have ultimately no choice but to fight - and to fight, to them, has usually meant to use violence.

One problem is national defence against external aggression. From 1964 onwards we have attempted to develop a policy that we now call civilian-based defence. It requires advance preparation of noncooperation in defiance against foreign invasion, occupation, and coups d'état. A modest literature developed, and the idea began to have practical impact. The text of the book Civilian-Based Defence was used by the government defence planners in newly-emerging independent Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991 in planning their defence strategies against attempts by the Soviet Union to regain its control.

There's also the question of combatting and removing dictatorship, oppression, and genocide. We have been offering We have been offering courses or workshops on the potential of nonviolent struggle for lifting dictatorship and oppression, such as those now existing in Burma. It is urgent to provide support for the nonviolent democratic struggle groups in those countries through financial assistance, educational activities, and international action and demonstrations.

Finally, another area where nonviolent struggle can be useful is in addressing the problems posed by coups d'état - the unconstitutional seizures of the state apparatus and therefore of society. Many of the dictatorships in the world have come into control of the state by conducting coups, and new seizures of power take place all the time. There is no constitutional remedy for coups d'état. There is a major gap in democratic theory and technique that prepared noncooperation could help to fill. The most valuable contribution will be to spread nondogmatic knowledge of the nature of civilian-based defence against aggression and coups d'etat in a variety of countries, especially adding initially a modest civilian-based resistance component while the major reliance on military means continues.

In order to carry out these tasks there are roles for many people of varying capacities, resouces, and interests, to participate.

Conducting Conflicts Without Violence

The goals of peace research are certainly laudable, but I have to make a confession. I have never been happy with being called a peace researcher, although I have been called that a number of times. It seems to me the term is both too limiting - for example, what about research on dictatorships, genocide, and oppression? - and perhaps not limiting enough. Is everything labelled "peace research" of equal relevance and urgency?

The difference between my judgment and that of most peace researchers largely accounts for my having gone a different direction.

I see conflict in society as inevitable and often desirable. It is basic to establishing and maintaining freedom and justice. We need to face the reality that many acute conflicts exist on which people feel unable to compromise on their objectives and principles. Those conflicts are therefore not resolvable by negotiations and conflict resolution measures - processes that have other positive uses, but not for issues of no compromise. Attempts to stifle some conflicts can be very harmful, resulting both in increased acute conflict, such as terrorism, if unsuccessful, and harsh repression, if the efforts to stifle conflict are successful.

The most serious problems in conflicts arise not from the conflict itself but from the use of violence to conduct a conflict. There exists an alternative technique - nonviolent action or nonviolent struggle - which has replaced the use of violence in many conflicts.

The solution to achieving peace lies in at least one contender in the conflict substituting nonviolent struggle for violent struggle as the way to achieve their objectives. And we know that that is possible because it has often happened.

The increase in such substitutions will be assisted by a variety of efforts:

To make nonviolent struggle more effective in the future than it has been in the past, largely through strategic planning;

To adapt the technique for specific purposes in acute conflicts. These include: to resist and destroy dictatorships; to resist and block genocide; to deter and defeat foreign occupations and coups d'état; and to undermine oppression and empower dominated populations.

And finally, to expand incrementally the number of conflicts in which the nonviolent technique has replaced reliance on violence, while step by step undermining and removing those applications of violence called dictatorships, genocide, and oppression.

And all this results in reducing reliance on war and other violence, which is to expand the areas of peace in ways compatible with freedom and justice.

The origins of nonviolent action

My own research began in the 1960s with a preoccupation about these matters. How could one not simply oppose and denounce war and violence, but also get rid of it? That seemed to me an important question. And it seemed clear to me that violence and war were often used rationally to conduct a conflict and to gain certain objectives. If some of those objectives are non-compromise issues, then one possibility might be to find another means of conducting the conflict that was not violence and was not war.

Such an alternative way of conducting conflicts in fact existed. This other technique for conducting acute conflicts had been called by a variety of names; I chose at the time to call it nonviolent action.

I spent quite a few years on such questions as "What is that technique of struggle, and what is its theory of power? What are its methods, what is something of its history, how does it operate in conflicts against violently repressive regimes? And if it does succeed, why does it succeed and how - what are its mechanisms of change?" And that inquiry became The Politics of Nonviolent Action.

I had done some earlier studies on what might be called principled nonviolence - ethical or religious nonviolence, or various types of pacifism. And those are important; but I concluded after minimal study that they were a separate phenomenon from what was now called nonviolent action.

Unfortunately, the practice of calling both such beliefs and the technique of struggle by the single word "nonviolence" was already becoming common, and continues today. It's a bad choice of terminology because it's confusing. It's like lumping all food under the one name "food," making it impossible to distinguish strawberries from bloody red steaks. We have to change our terminology and throw the word "nonviolence" away except for certain very specialized technical uses.

A second approach is to conduct some generalized analyses of the application of the technique of nonviolent struggle to real problems that human societies face. If it's an issue where we may have strong opinions but where alternative resolutions don't really make a lot of difference, we can settle our disputes with compromise, negotiation, conflict resolution, and the like. For example, if you're all in charge of redecorating the room you're now sitting in, some of you may want to make it chartreuse, some of you may want to make it white and some of you may want to make it pink. You don't have to kill each other to decide what color paint you'll use. It's not that big a deal.

But if the outcome of a particular conflict determines whether your people are all going to be slaughtered; where this invader is going to come in and dominate your population; whether this political or military clique is going to set up a dictatorship; whether people are going to be discriminated against on the basis of their skin color; whether you are to have religious freedom or not: issues of this type are not so clearly resolved by compromise. We need to look at those areas where people would usually say they have ultimately no choice but to fight - and to fight, to them, has usually meant to use violence.

One of those areas is national defence against external aggression. We began to adapt it from 1964 onwards; first under the title of civilian defence and later as civilian-based defence. We organized advance preparation of non-cooperation in defiance against foreign invasion, occupation, and coups d'état. A modest literature - which now exists in a number of languages - developed, and the idea began to have practical impact. The text of the book Civilian-Based Defence was used by the government defence planners in newly-merging independent Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in 1991 in planning their defence strategies against attempts by the Soviet Union to regain its control over these states.

There's other evidence of the spread of these ideas: no grand successes on the scale that I might have expected or hoped, but there have been some.

A second area is the question of combatting and removing dictatorshs, oppression, and genocide. We have been offering training for nationals of countries in the use of nonviolent struggle for meeting specific current needs - as how to remove the dictatorships and oppression now existing in Burma, Nigeria, Tibet, Cuba, Iran, and elsewhere. It is urgent to provide support for the nonviolent democratic struggle groups in those countries through financial assistance, educational activities, and international action and demonstrations.

Finally another area where nonviolence can be useful is in addressing is the problems posed by coups d'état - the unconstitutional seizures of the state apparatus and therefore of society. Many of the dictatorships in the world have come into control of the state by conducting coups, and new seizures of power take place all the time; look at Cambodia or Sierra Leone for current examples. There is no constitutional remedy for coups d'état. There is a major gap in democratic theory and technique that prepared noncooperation could help to fill. Therefore, the most valuable contribution will be to spread nondogmatic knowledge of the nature of civilian-based defence against aggression and coups d'etat in a variety of countries, especially adding initially a modest civilian-based resistance component while the major reliance on military means continues.

In order to carry out these tasks there are roles for many people of varying capacities, resouces, and interests, to participate.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1997

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1997, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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