Next: UN reform?

The UN needs a fresh mandate, Canadians can start by reviewing our role in Peacekeeping: how about a real Peace Corps and Green Troops to handle the environment

By Hans-Werner Sinn | 1993-01-01 12:00:00


The current campaign to reform the United Nations received its impetus from people and organizations who deplored the U.N.'s armed intervention during the Gulf crisis. The attempt gained strength and momentum with the 28 U.N. reform proposals by 56 ranking international politicians who formed the "Stockholm Initiative on Global Security and Governance" in April 1991. Among the members of the Stockholm Initiative were Willy Brandt, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Vaclav Havel. In December 1991 the German Social Democratic Party submitted a 12 page motion on "Reform of the United Nations" to the German Bundestag. The Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada issued joint recommendations to the U.N. Secretary General, and in July 1992 Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali himself published his "Agenda for Peace." The centerpiece of the Secretary General's 52-page report to the Security Council is a proposal for the creation of a permanent U.N. peacekeeping force.

The emphasis of all proposals on reform of the U.N. has been on making changes at the international level. Only "The Summary Recommendations on Reform of the United Nations for NDP Platform and Policy Development" of September 9, 1992 suggests that in order to improve the U.N. it may be necessary to begin with changes at home. The rationale of the New Democratic Party recommendations appears to be that the people and the ideas that make up the U.N. do not live at the U.N. in New York. The moneys, the skills, the weapons, the policies and practices that need to be converted to U.N. purposes are not housed in the U.N. structure overlooking the Hudson River. The energy and resources that come together in the U.N. belong to national governments. Nothing of any consequence is likely to happen in the New York administrative building if it has not happened first at the national level.

External Affairs, Meet The Public

The NDP Task Force on U.N. Reform recommends to "open up DND, External Affairs and CIDA." This recommendation is in keeping with but more specific than, the other U.N. reform proposals which want to make the world organization stronger by making it more democratic. Opening the U.N. to broader public input, especially by young people with an interest in international service, means to give people access to those national institutions through which nations act internationally, and, where institutions do not exist, to create them. The U.N. needs above all new input and fresh energy to fulfill its mandate, which on paper appears quite adequate.

For Canadian purposes, a review of the policies and practices of the departments by which Canada pursues its interests internationally seems called for: External Affairs, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Far down the political scale, this review should include the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) who for many years have volunteered their international services.

The purpose of the review would be to answer questions such as: What are External Affairs, DND, and CIDA doing now? To what degree do the current policies and practices of External Affairs coincide with the purposes and objectives of the U.N.? How are DND's actual budget of $12 billion and CIDA's budget of $2.8 billion spent? How could the same budgets serve both the interest of the Canadian people and the international community better? What will it take to bring Canadian activities in the field of national defence, foreign aid, protection of the environment and human rights in synch with the aims of the U.N.-if they are not in line already? Finally, what are the NGOs doing in the international field? Is there anything in the experience, methods, and motivation of the NGOs, that could be brought to bear on the civil service?

From Peacekeeping To Peacemaking

A mobilization of the nation's unused or under-used energies for international action is needed to bring the U.N. out from under the lingering shadow of its origins as a military alliance against Hitler Germany. Of the original nations, "The Big Five"-England, France, China, the USSR (now Russia) and USA-have, as permanent members of the Security Council, preserved their special powers as founding nations. Since 1945 the forty-five "lesser powers" (including Canada) have grown greatly in numbers but not in influence. Guided by the "Big Five" and their supporting diplomatic casts, the U.N. has yet to overcome its inclination to equate the ability to make peace with the capacity to make war. The U.N. is in its conception and execution still very much a male organization. The U.N.'s laudable humanitarian objectives tend to be overwhelmed by the impulse to crush such undesirable international characters as Hitler or Hussein-irrespective of what happens to women and children in the process.

Officialdom, at all levels, resists the notion that making war is not the same as making peace. Canada, like other nations, still relies upon its Armed Forces as the pool from which to draw its peacekeepers. Even Social Democrats find it difficult to question the institution of Armed Force. The Armed Forces have been traditionally a pillar of the nation, a source of discipline, courage, order, stability, loyalty, sacrifice and, ultimately, power. To even think that the Armed Force may somehow be inadequate to a given task, including making peace, is likely to be felt as weakening the nation.

Peacekeeping has remained the preserve of the Armed Forces partly because governments maintain a narrow definition and pursue limited objectives in peacekeeping. As it has evolved since 1947, U.N. peacekeeping consists largely of placing soldiers between enemies who have fought each other to a standstill. The Peacekeepers are there to stop the former belligerents from accidentally or deliberately resuming the battle.

Beggars can't be choosers, and in the absence of anything more substantial, military inter-positioning is a useful and necessary interlude. The Canadian Armed Forces have since 1947 acquired considerable experience in placing themselves between hostile troops. But violent conflict, primarily among men, continues to victimize women, children, and the environment throughout the world. There is a growing consensus in the international community that peacekeeping, however useful, is a very limited approach to ending the scourge of war. It is generally agreed that the U.N. would be much more useful if it could anticipate the outbreak of hostilities and prevent them: that is, progress from Peacekeeping to Peacemaking.

A New Profession Is Difficult

It is not difficult to understand that the skills, strategies, and tactics of armed warfare are different from those which are required to make and keep peace. But it is difficult to translate that realization into practice. In the meantime, whenever or wherever there is an international crisis the Canadian government calls upon and sends a few thousand more soldiers into the troubled region.

It is easy for politicians and administrators to fall back on the Armed Forces for use in regions such as the former Yugoslavia, because the Armed Forces are the only national organization with a large enough pool of trained and equipped people. DND has what it takes to recruit, train, and deploy large number of people in far away places: an administrative network, appropriate legislation, training centres, research institutes, teachers, text books, communications, transport, up to date equipment, the people to run it, and a $12 billion budget.

There is a basic assumption, shared by governments, military, and civilians, that civilians are unsuited to deal with armed conflict. At best, in their view, civilians can help in war by staying out of the conflict area and letting the men get on with the job of fighting. Civilians are expected to hunker down, flee, look after the casualties, and later rebuild the devastated areas. Civilians' apparent inability to cope with conflict is still assumed and, maybe unintentionally, cultivated, even by governments known for their progressive attitudes: Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway. These governments have taken the first theoretical and practical steps toward the creation of Peace Corps type services. Norway is going a step further by planning to establish "green" troops which would be linked to the United Nations Centre for Urgent Environment Assistance. Norway's "environment forces will be educated and trained with the aim of handling oil spills and chemical leaks as well as natural disasters and clean up after wars.'"

Some Preconditions For A Peace Corps

On the face of it, the recruitment and training of young men for socially useful purposes instead of war is in itself a significant turnabout in the history of warfare. It seems almost ungratetul to find fault with these proposals. However, the mandates of these first corps are too reminiscent of the traditional civilian wartime assignments and to qualify as a Peace Corps which could boost the effectiveness of the U.N. as a peacemaker. Several changes in the mandate and composition of these initial units would have to be made before they would be useful in conflict prevention and management.

As to their composition: The initial corps are primarily composed of young men who prefer Peace Corps to military service. They are the product of a quintessential male tradition and will, for all intents and purposes, be run in accordance with that tradition. But what we require is a corps that will draw on the best of what both men and women have to offer inlocal, national and international service. Women will have to play a key role in the conception, development, and administration of the corps. About the mandate: The tasks that these first corps are designed to do are the old familiar, civilian jobs of yesteryear: looking after casualties and cleaning up someone else's mess. Needed is a professional corps with the mandate to go into actual or potential conflict situations and try to alter them. In the case of man-made environmental disaster the corps should not only help to clean it up, but have the authority to keep an eye on potential polluters and restrain them.

The tasks of a professional Peace Corps would be as difficult and as dangerous as those of the Armed Force. Hence the corps cannot be established by the stroke of a pen. It would be imprudent to jump from the old attitude that civilians are helpless in the face of violence to the opposite conclusion that they can effectively deal with it. To send inexperienced, untrained people into conflict would be dangerously naive. Apart from incurring unnecessary casualties, a hasty creation of a Peace Corps would merely set the cause of unarmed conflict management back for many years. A preparatory period is needed during which, among others, appropriate legislation would be drafted and present national policies changed in favor of the aims and objectives of a professional Peace Corps in synch with the U.N. Charter.

Pros And Cons

The contention that unarmed civilians are not helpless when faced with war and violence has had and will continue to have a tough time proving itself History, which seems little more than a series of armed struggles between men, apparently speaks against it. The instances of effective civilian resistance which proponents of Civilian-based Defence (CbD), such as Stephen King-Hall, Gene Sharp, Adam Roberts, and Theodor Ebert have unearthed, seem rather few in comparison. Yet recent events in Eastern Europe support the contention that unarmed civilians have a capacity to shape history: consider Poland's Solidarity Movement, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, the unarmed resistance in Lithuania, the nonviolent Wende in East Germany and the aborting of the Russian coup. Unfortunately, the gains that civilians have made in times of upheaval have, by and large, been wiped out by the governments they helped to defend or install. Instead of building on and institutionalizing people-participation, governments tend to restore the Armed Forces to their traditional role as "defenders" of the people. Unarmed civilian intervention has so far remained a fleeting, not a permanent occurrence. Even the much heralded nonviolent liberation of India by Gandhi seems to have done little more than assisted in the birth of two nuclear armed states, India and Pakistan.

There is little reason to expect that civilians will rush to join an unarmed Peace Corps. The prospects of becoming a casualty in a serious conflict are real and discourage anyone from joining an unarmed Peace Corps lightly. Still, once the doors are "officially" opened to unarmed peacemaking as a profession, a sufficient number of people might come forward to carry the concept ahead. So where are the pioneers of a Peace Corps to come from, if history and tradition are against it and unarmed intervention is dangerous?

The NGOs- A Tradition Of Peace And Development Work

To see some of the long term potential of an unarmed Peace Corps it is necessary to look beyond the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces' massive presence, their resources, preparedness, and history obstruct the sight of the tiny body of people who for years have combined development work with peacemaking. I am referring to NGOs, such as Canadian University Students Overseas (CUSO), Inter Pares, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, Match International, OXFAM, Amnesty International and the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP). Dozens of Canadian NGOs have established a tradition of international work where economics, medicine, education and the lessening of social and political antagonisms act as a whole. The NGOs have quietly carried on unarmed intervention in troubled regions by means of peace and development work.

The time may have come for people and governments to take another look at the work of the NGOs and to examine it as a possible source of information and inspiration for peacemaking on a larger scale. The information may prove to be all the more relevant because in NGOs unarmed men and women work side by side often in situations of hardship and danger. It is conceivable that a professional, gender equal, unarmed Peace Corps could be created by using as a model the best of what the international voluntary organizations have to offer in theory and practice.

Development Policy And Peacemaking

The U.N. cannot be made more effective in a political vacuum. The most experienced and skillful Peace Corps will make little headway until at least some national governments bring their development, environment, and human rights policies into line with the purpose and objectives of the U.N. One merit of present NGO work is that unlike government projects, NGOs tend to take their cues from global needs. NGOs have the luxury, or freedom, to be unconcerned with serving any sector of the national economy. By and large the policies of NGOs are already in accord with the U.N. Charter. This is not surprising. Several NGOs are older than the U.N. and have in many respects anticipated the purpose of the world organization. Largely because of the NGOs limited use to Canada's economy, at least in the short run, CIDA devotes only a minuscule portion of its budget to the support of NGO projects. More than 70 NGOs share $90 million, or 0.33% of CIDA's $2.8 billion budget. And yet, because the NGOs deliver their aid directly from people to people, their relatively small projects have a disproportionately large effect upon the people they assist. In contrast, the large sums of CIDA's bilateral, government-to-government aid offer little constructive impact upon the lives of the people in the Third World. In Central America, for example, a significant portion of Canada's bilateral aid ends up in the hands of the military who, in turn, suppress the initiatives of the people who are trying to help themselves. In El Salvador and Guatemala the military "death squads" are well known for their custom of making community organizers and union heads "disappear." The mutilated bodies of those who dare to help themselves are later discovered on dumpsites. Several Central American peoples' delegations have come during past years to Ottawa to beg the Canadian government to stop bilateral aid-to no avail. CIDA cut its assistance to CUSO instead. The CBC reported on June 22, 1992 that the Haitian Military Junta had looted $3 billion from the $5 million Canadian aid account in Haiti and that there was nothing the Canadian government could do to stop the Junta from taking the rest. TIME IS RUNNING OUT AS GLOBAL PROBLEMS ARE FELT LOCALLY

Even if the Canadian government changes its bilateral aid policy and generates the political will to create a professional Peace Corps, it would take some time before a viable corps could be operational. It may take up to twenty years to gather the experience of the NGOs, sift it for its relevance to present conditions, write text books, develop a curriculum, establish training facilities, recruit and train young people, and send them overseas. It will take many pilot projects to validate initial conclusions about what will or will not work in a given actual or potential conflict. Time is needed to assess accurately what skills, personnel, and equipment are required to cope with a given conflict. It will most likely be 45-50 years before the U.N. will be able to deploy an unarmed, gender equal Peace Corps, secure in the knowledge of the results. A fifty year development period is still short when compared to the thousands of years the Armed Forces have had to develop their profession.

Citizens of the developed world have so far taken little note of the effects that the international policies of their governments have upon the people in developing countries. Geography, the difficulty of travel and communication, have shielded First World citizens against the results of their governments' foreign policy. However, the barriers that have protected First World citizens against Third World influences are now coming down

Free trade, globalization of the economy, international competition, diminishing jobs and resources, are carrying the issues which produce violence in the Third World into the industrialized countries. Changing international trade patterns are felt on the local job market. Third World people arrive in growing numbers at the doorsteps of wealthier nations in an attempt to escape the deplorable conditions at home.

Reaching Out

Whether or not the wealthier nations are contributing to the adverse conditions in the Third World, it is in their interest to help make conditions in the rest of the world more tolerable. Treating the world as a related whole is increasingly a matter of practical necessity rather than simply the pursuit of social justice. Reaching out to people in the Third World is an alternative to the far right impulse to use force to keep the people and problems of the Third World out of the richer countries. For the great majority of working people, it is not a workable solution to build a wall around the First World, guarded by armed men and attack dogs. The NGOs have taken the lead in reaching out to the needy of the Third World and meeting them on their own turf. The creation of a new profession that combines development aid with peacemaking would indicate a society that is outward looking, seeking international cooperation. It would also be a step away from an inward directed, escalating struggle for jobs, goods, and services.

The Peace Corps could, much like the Armed Forces, become a training ground for young people and embody some of the most cherished Canadian virtues. Peace Corps Training Centres could serve the local economy, as do Armed Forces bases today. True, a Peace Corps would do without much of today's military hardware and would therefore not preserve jobs in the armament industry. A Peace Corps would, however, require its own type of equipment and therefore generate new jobs in the civilian sector. What equipment the Peace Corps needs, will have to be established by feasibility studies.

At the local level, Citizens Advisory Boards could see to it that the Peace Corps would focus on direct people-to-people assistance. Increased citizen involvement in international exchanges could assure that foreign aid would not project the antagonism between Canadian management and labor abroad, and that foreign aid would not be used by the political party in power to support its ideological friends abroad. Like the Armed Forces a Peace Corps could familiarize teenagers with its aims, methods and objectives.

Diverse National Peace Corps

The size of a Peace Corps, the role which it would play at home and abroad and the process by which it would come into being would differ from country to country. Some countries, like Canada, may prefer a voluntary corps. Other countries, like Germany, may wish to maintain an obligatory national service. To assure gender parity (which is essential to the Peace Corps as discussed here) the countries that oblige their young men to serve society would have to extend that obligation to women. In Germany, where the idea of a civilian service parallel to the Armed Forces has been raised, one General expects that "women will prevent the introduction of a general national service". One implication of abolishing the draft is that it would create serious problems for the German welfare system. German hospitals and old age homes have come to rely on the inexpensive helpof the more than 100,000 young men who annually choose alternative service over the Bundeswehr. On the positive side, surveys indicate that even without a draft most German youth approve of serving their society for a few years.

To combine the best of what the NGOs have to offer in the fields of development aid, peacemaking, protection of the environment, and human rights into one professional service, would make sense. But agreement by all U.N. member states on a professional Peace Corps and its functions will be a long time in coming. There are too many governments with a extremely poor human rights records, who abhor and object to outside intervention. These governments will cling to Article II paragraph 7 of the U.N. Charter, which guarantees that "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter." The objections of the human rights abusing governments makes it all the more necessary that those nations who believe in the enforcement of a universal human rights code begin the preparations for an unarmed Peace Corps now. And as long as the consenting governments are still held back by Article II Paragraph 7 of the U.N. Charter, they can support their NGOs in their efforts to put the brakes on the human rights abusing U.N. members.

Hans Sinn is a founding member of Peace Brigades International and a member of the New Democratic Party Task Force on United Nations Reform.

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1993

Peace Magazine Jan-Feb 1993, page 18. Some rights reserved.

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