Responding to the interview with Robert Helvey in the Jan-Mar. 2008 issue: It's exhilarating to read about a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army -- indeed, any army -- who has become committed to non-violence. Helvey concludes -- brilliantly --that, rather than send our people to fight other people's wars, we should provide the knowledge and skills of non-violence and let them sort matters themselves.
However, it's noted in the article that the promotion of democracy has come to be seen as a right-wing cause.
This is not surprising. Pro-democracy efforts often become consumed by an emphasis on Western-backed free-market capitalism, which, rather than liberating citizens, drives the privatization of state assets and services, World Bank and IMF-driven economic and social reforms, and participation in US-led wars and military alliances. In Eastern Europe, Western-backed democratic reform has intensified high-level corruption and resurrected ethnic division.
This is not to say that democracy, in itself, is a bad cause and should be abandoned. Au contraire. Even those Western nations that the Left often loves to hate, that brand themselves democratic, have made significant strides towards democratic ideals, with relative degrees of open governance and press freedom. Sadly, the most powerful of these governments wreak anti-democratic havoc abroad in the very name of democracy, turning a treasured ideal into opportunities for military contractors, resource developers and other free-marketeers whose vision is limited to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Pro-democracy movements are clearly the way forward and worth supporting. However, if they -- and if we as supporters -- are to do more than replace dictatorships or other abusive governments with ones that might simply be more willing to do business with the West, we need to articulate a vision of democracy where the cornerstones include openness of the public sphere and respect for others -- and not confuse democracy with the freedom to profit.
If there is to be intervention, Helvey's prescription is a powerful one -- equip local people with non-violent options and accept their democratic right to use these as they see fit, no strings attached.
Thanks to Angela Pinchero for portraying the challenges and hope in civilian unarmed nonviolent peacemaking in Sri Lanka.
Nonviolent Peaceforce has two member organizations in Canada, Nonviolent Peaceforce Canada, and Voice of Women for Peace.
As member organizations we make known the work of peace teams in confict zones, provide training opportunities in Canada, and encourage Canadians to become involved in this work.
I wrote the following letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who replied to say he was forwarding it to the Hon. Peter McKay, Minister of Defence.
Dear Mr. Emerson:
I am concerned about the Canada-US Bilateral Civil Assistance Plan relating to the exchange of troops in the event of civil unrest. I would like some clarification. How is "civil unrest" defined? Will there be interoperability with the US in training our troops in crowd control? Will the following be used:Pepper spray?(already in use); Water cannon?Micro-waves? Tasers? Lasers?Forms of poison gas?Armed mounted police or troops in riot gear? (already in use) Overhead helicopter surveillance?
I have participated in many peaceful, nonviolent demonstrations and believe they are an important part of our democratic rights.
When the US troops arrive to help us, where will they be stationed? How long will they stay? Will they be subject to our judicial process if a crime is committed? We already see that suspects in both countries are being denied a fair trial with proper legal representation. Will suspects be liable to Guantanamo-style interrogation and torture? The US does not recognize the Geneva Conventions.
There seems to be a tendency to equate protesters with terrorists. The issuing of secret security certificates indicates an unwarranted paranoia about civil society, driven by US interests. Especially grievous has been the policy of embedding agents provacateurs into protests, as has happened in Canada.
Shirley Farlinger, Toronto