A Civilian Peace Service

By Hans Sinn | 1998-11-01 12:00:00

It is proposed that a Civilian Peace Service (CPS), made up of men and women trained in nonviolent conflict management, would be deployed (ideally by the United Nations) in areas of conflict and crisis. Such a service has been anticipated by such groups as Peace Brigades International, CUSO, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders. The vision is for it to be a public body, supported by governments to the same extent as armed forces are supported.

There is already some government support for these NGO peacemaking and peacekeeping activities through agencies such as the Canadian International Development Agency. It may be reasonable to establish one large publicly supported peace and justice enterprise. For the NGOs, however, there are risks involved to their independence, organizational structure and leadership. Not even for Peace Brigades International, the organization to which I belong, are things clear cut. When PBI was founded in 1981, we saw ourselves as pioneers of a "World Peace Guard." We knew where we wanted to go. PBI has not developed in a straight line toward its objective. Today PBI is represented in 17 countries, but instead of being known for nonviolent management of conflict between armed forces, we are best known for protective accompaniment and the transfer of PBI skills to native people.

Only once did PBI carry out an inter-positioning project. For two weeks in 1983 our volunteers placed themselves between the Contras and the Sandinistas at the Honduran-Nicaraguan border. In 1982, PBI was asked by the mothers of "disappeared" social activists in Central America to afford them, by their presence, protection from the Death Squads. We found that protective accompaniment was not only in greater demand, but also in keeping with our human and financial resources. To make protective accompaniment effective PBI established an international Emergency Response Network, which goes into action when someone under PBI protection is threatened. Messages from all over the world flood in via fax, email, telegram and telephone to the president or police chief in charge.

In 1991, when the U.N. destroyed Saddam Hussein's armed forces, I was a member of a Task Force on U.N. reform. I proposed that Canada take the lead in creating a professional peace corps capable of unarmed intervention in an armed conflict, or preventing the outbreak of armed conflict. Such a peace corps would be made available to the U.N., just as we do today with our armed forces. The Canadian government's position was, and still is, for the U.N. to have its own standing army so that it would not have to borrow the Armed Forces from its member nations.

In the context of its proposals for U.N. reform, Willy Brandt's German Social Democrats (SPD) put forward ideas about creating a German Peace Corps. In 1994 the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg published a proposal for a CPS which includes a section on training the civilian population in Social Defence. It foresees a CPS that would grow into a 100,000 body of part- and full-time trained volunteers. The proposed CPS would have an equal standing with the present German Bundeswehr. At the same time the German Federation for Social Defence published a proposal similar to that of the Lutheran Church. The organizations decided to speak with one voice as the "Forum Civilian Peace Service."

Gathering Momentum

Now that the time appears to be ripe internationally, the CPS concept is surfacing in different countries. In 1994 there was a meeting in Sweden to create a "Global Peace Service." A similar conference was held in Washington. As far as approaching the U.N. is concerned, the present CPS proposal was preceded by an 1970 initiative, which was headed by Vinoba Bhave, the successor of Gandhi and then head of India's Peace Army or Shanti Sena. Vinoba proposed an "Unarmed Peace Keeping Force" to the then General Secretary of the U.N. The proposal was well received by the representatives of 50 U.N. member nations. The upshot was a pilot project focused on Cyprus, headed by Charlie Walker and Narayan Desai, later founding members of PBI. The Cyprus Project started well, but eventually faltered in face of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. It received favorable mention by the U.N., and in consequence the commander of U.N. forces in Cyprus, General Michael Harbottle, became a member of the International Council of PBI.

An opportunity for the creation of a CPS arose with the opening of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the old East German regime. Within months, Rainer Eppelmann, one of the best known East German peace activists, became Minister of Defence of the new East German government. That government was short lived, and Eppelmann had only a few months to do something creative with the remnants of the old East German armed forces, soon to be absorbed by West Germany. Still, today Eppelmann is one of the strongest supporters of the CPS project.

In 1996 The Forum Civilian Peace Service, represented by the Protestant Bishop Huber and the Catholic Bishop Spital, received support from an all-party committee for a proposed Balkan pilot project. The estimated cost of training and placing 400 volunteers for three years in trouble spots in the Balkan region is about $25 million Canadian. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (the equivalent of CIDA) was to provide the funds, but declined since it was already spending too much on refugees. It will take an act of parliament to come up with the funds. Fortunately, the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party support creating a CPS, and now are the elected German government. Although the defeated former German president, Helmut Kohl, had promised during the 1994 campaign to create a German Peace Corps, he never did.

What is happening in Canada?

In June 1996, after a visit to Germany, I met with some officials in our foreign ministry to discuss a possible CPS initiative. As far as I know, the Canadian government has not pursued the idea.

Today a CPS seems dimly visible on the international political horizon. There are unresolved issues yet to be considered before any Civilian Peace Service could be implemented. Among these issues is the probable casualty rate. How will a CPS cope with, and account for, significant losses in human lives? Unlike the armed forces, the CPS has no way to predict the probable behavior of its volunteers in life and death situations. We don't know, for example, how long a tour of duty should be for CPS volunteers in various conflict situations before rotation is needed to prevent physical or mental breakdown. What will be the relationship between a CPS and the armed forces? Will there be areas of cooperation, or will the CPS go it entirely on its own? Given the differing opinions among CPS promoters on these issues, it will be difficult to resolve these questions. Still, we have come a long way since the Fellowship of Reconciliation created the first Civilian Service in 1919. In that initial Civilian Service young people from various countries came together to undo a small part of the damage done in World War I. We can set our sights higher. Instead of repairing the damage after a war, we can hope that a Civilian Peace Service may some day be able to prevent a war and resolve conflicts before they get out of control by using nonviolent conflict management.

Hans Sinn lives in Perth, Ontario.

Civilian Peace Service homepage: <http:// www.superaje.com/~marsin/ cps.html>

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1998

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1998, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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