Real Peacekeeping or War Control Missions?

Officials often resort to violence far before having exhausted all the other possiblities. In fact, they can hardly imagine the full array of alternatives. Here are a few to keep in mind

By Normand Beaudet | 1993-11-01 12:00:00

It is increasingly important for Canadians to develop a good knowledge of peacekeeping traditions and of nonviolent sanctions. As it is almost impossible to gain a regional consensus on the use of military measures, international intervention through nonviolent means is likely to come quicker, making it more effective in preventing conflicts.

There are more nonviolent means applicable to the war in former-Yugoslavia than I can describe here. This article draws upon various peace magazines, including those by peace organizations in ex-Yugoslavia that are forwarding ideas to the international community on how to stop this war. A one-year research project could lead to five times as many new ways to intervene. My own military experience makes it clear that the use of weapons can only worsen a conflict situation.

Specialists on international conflicts agree that force should be the last means used by the international community to neutralize an explosive political situation. The Canadian government took the view that, nonviolent methods against Saddam Hussein having been exhausted, the Gulf War was the only recourse. But try asking our policy-makers how many of the 198 means of nonviolent actions known had been used in this conflict. You will discover how limited is their knowledge of nonviolent methods. I will point out some options that are generally ignored.

Before resorting to force in such a case as the former Yugoslavia, one prerequisite is a regional consensus on the method of intervention. After all, the adjoining countries would suffer the after-effects of action by the international community. However, in the bordering countries one can find people with ethnic affinities toward all parties to the conflict, which makes it almost impossible to reach a regional consensus supporting international intervention.

Here I shall suggest some nonviolent actions that can be undertaken. These are organized according to level, beginning with the earliest phases of a conflict and considering more and more intense and serious levels.

Measures For Preventing Conflict

There are several long-term actions that can be used as soon as a situation of impending crisis is detected. One type of action is to counteract tendencies in the society for ethnic communities or other rival groups to segregate themselves. Preserving or even increasing the integration of the society should be a goal.

Military measures that are proposed by local leaders should be condemned and encouragement should be given to peace groups and nonviolent alternatives. For example, trainings should be provided in nonviolent action.

Rights must be protected. Victimized populations should be supported with special projects to help them develop a degree of regional autonomy and sufficiency in resources. Also, if groups of conscientious objectors are forced to leave the country, they must be supported in denouncing provocations to conflict. When basic rights of citizens are not respected, other countries should stop giving financial aid to the culpable regime, freeze its assets, and embargo military and arms sales to or from that country.

Finally, Gene Sharp's list of 198 known means of nonviolent struggle should be translated into local languages and disseminated, along with an explanation of these tactics and advice on how to use them.

Measures For Controlling Conflicts

As conflicts worsen, acts of violence toward the civilian population increase. The following nonviolent responses should be undertaken to keep those acts from becoming regarded as tolerable.

Send into the area specialists on conflict resolution and on the consequences of resorting to violence. Set up in the bordering countries an international centre of alternative information that will focus on the peace initiatives of communities taking part in the conflict. Send nonviolent escort teams (Peace Brigades International) to vulnerable regions of the country, giving priority to protecting the leaders of peace, human rights, and humanitarian organizations. Organize and finance meetings of conscientious objectors and others who have fled from the conflicting countries to support them in studying possible solutions; disseminate their conclusions widely throughout the countries that are concerned. Treat these citizens and other representatives of citizen groups as the real representatives of the population. This helps to isolate and eventually to marginalize the warriors. Apply diplomatic sanctions, such as closing embassies and refusing to recognize the legitimacy of officials. Tighten the surveillance of the embargo with the support of unarmed civilians from bordering countries. Assist refugees financially to do this work if they desire to do so. Use physical means to render the borders of the country watertight.

Measures To Control Wars

Once war breaks out, it becomes necessary to undertake more difficult and sometimes dangerous nonviolent actions. Individuals engaging in such nonviolent missions must expect to face risks similar to those of certain soldiers and special agents in a war.

Create a rigid international system of total embargoes of all products to any country, that is the source or the point of transit of arms to the warring country. The imposed penalties must be able to ruin any business forever that violates the embargo. (Note that a military blockade is not a nonviolent sanction, contrary to what we were led to believe during the Gulf War.)

From the moment that war is declared, set up an international tribunal to investigate crimes against humanity. Guarantee that the accused violators will be arrested and will appear in court after the war, even if they are on the winning side.

Organize nonviolent "commandos" (inspired by the actions of Greenpeace or the U.S. Plowshares groups) to neutralize the propaganda of belligerents and destroy major pieces of equipment in their military production plants.

Actively support peace organizations with money, equipment, and the protection of nonviolent escorts. Adopt as an international agreement a declaration that all physical aggression against any nonviolent escort to any party to the conflict shall be a "crime against humanity," with violators to be subject to severe international sanctions. Make these new laws known through such means as short-wave radio, local TV pirating, and parachuting of leaflets into conflict locations. Send in peace activists and conscientious objectors of the same nationality as the belligerents, giving them the role of independent journalists stationed with the troops. Keep these people well-informed so they can counteract the lies that the military machine tell the soldiers.

Send international delegations on well-publicized investigations and peace marches toward such places as presumed concentration camps. Consider the feasibility of parachuting in enormous quantities of supplies and medical material.

Propaganda is essential for selling war to populations, to counteract that propaganda with alternative nonviolent materials-magazines, records, brochures, and the like-that extol peaceful coexistence and the resolution of conflicts.

Identify the key persons in the belligerents' hierarchy and intimidate them by blacklisting them permanently from the use of airlines, from going into border countries, from using the international banking system. Investigate their past dealings and summon them to international tribunals, sending photocopies of these summonses to their parents and friends. Cultivate doubt and internal dissension in the warring group. Destabilize them politically.

If we invest seriously research on nonviolent struggle and on implement mg known nonviolent sanctions, the use of troops and military sanctions is likely to become an anachronism. It is irresponsible to use armies if the methods of intervention named above have not been tried. No soldier wants to risk his life in an armed conflict that could have been avoided. Soldiers are not trained in nonviolent actions. It is irresponsible to assign them to a war zone carrying arms and then forbid them to use them.

Measures Of Defusing Wars By Establishing A Negotiating Atmosphere

The goal of the following procedures is to re-establish communication between the parties to a war.

Furnish mediators, counsellors, and wise people acceptable to the different parties who can serve as judges and facilitate conflict resolution. Never limit negotiation participants to representatives of the belligerent parties only. Include local peace organizations.

Poll the population to see whether the leaders are reflecting the position of the war victims. Publicize the results and point out, when appropriate, that the leaders are pursuing power, not the well-being of the population.

All communication networks should follow strict regulations. Focusing on violent events and failures in the negotiations fuels despair and hatred. A balance is necessary, to include reports of solidarity, cooperation, and successful nonviolent action. Inform the belligerent troops about the areas of agreement between the parties while negotiations are going on.

Once negotiation begins, if there have been military forces involved, their role should end immediately, since even a slight incident can wreck the whole process. Negotiations should always take place when a ceasefire is established. Nonviolent, nonpartisan peacekeeping forces should be the only ones to communicate breaks in the process. If it is proved that the ceasefire has been broken, the soldiers and officers concerned should be required to appear before the International Court of Justice.

Implementing Measures To Maintain Peace

Once a peace accord is signed, measures should be taken to ensure that it is observed. Some of the activities to be carried out by peacekeeping forces are: ensuring and supervising ceasefires; international pacification; acting as a buffer force to separate the belligerents; frontier patrols; investigations; supervision and escort.

It may be unfortunate that the "peace soldiers" carry weapons in these tasks, since if they are fired upon, to return fire only makes their peace mission more difficult. Consideration should be given to eliminating arms in this type of mission.


Intervention into the affairs of another nation should always take a nonviolent, nonmilitary form. Recourse to civilians should increase and more money should he spent on humanitarian aid and conflict prevention.

Normand Beaudet is director of the Centre de Ressources sur Ia Non-Violence in Montreal. Thanks for the translation by Dr. Trudy Govier and Ms. Sally Hodges.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1993, page 12. Some rights reserved.

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