- on the fiasco of the war machines - and a way to peace

Per Gahrton MEP

article published in Aftonbladet, 4 April 1999

In the editorial of the Dagens Nyheter on 30 March, the appeal of cultural workers against the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia (Aftonbladet, 29 March) was scornfully dismissed and the signatories accused of having no ideas of what to do instead. “Critics of international activity usually do not have any alternatives”(Dagens Nyheter). On the same evening a German TV reporter was criticized by a government representative because he has used the expression “NATO bombings”. Dagens Nyheter follows the new decree: the bombings are called “international activity” - if that follows then anyone against them are also against “international activity”.

This of course is not the case. The Peace Movement has for a long time called for fundamentally different kinds of action - in the spirit of Gandhi. But those in power, who like to hand out peace awards to nonviolence activists such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela seem to not believe in the actions which they award. In Rambouillet the armed forces of Kosovo, the UCK (KLA), played a major role while the pacifists of Rugova were kept aside. The ideology of non-violence was dismissed as naive.

It is easy to despair. As stated by the Italian left paper la Repubblica: the war machine of NATO is run by the former Vietnam demonstrators Clinton and Blair, with the support of anti-missile activists like Fischer and d’Alema.

Fortunately not all friends of peace have been absorbed by power structures. In the Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution (March 1998) one can find a list made by J A Fisher with not less than 85 different nonviolence methods. A central point, she writes, is to support those in the enemy camp who are against the murdering. On one occasion when Serbs captured a city in Bosnia eleven of the men killed were Serbs themselves. People with that kind of courage and sacrifice pay a high price when the bombs fall. I think about it when I read an email from a friend in the Serbian opposition, sent just when the bombings started: “Don’t leave us alone with Milosevic when this is over”, he begs and ends by saying: ”If you don’t hear from me within the coming 24 hours, it means that I have been stopped”.

Milosovic is to be blamed if my friend is now arrested or if even worse things happen to him. But NATO is also responsible - for this as well as for the genocide in Kosovo. Another article from the same journal (March 1999) deals with the effects of foreign interventions. 690 interventions happened between 1945 and 1991, most of them with the expressed intention to create peace. The result is far from convincing. The conclusion of the author, David Reilly: “the likelihood of international war increases when there is a open military intervention”.

Fundamentally different is a non-military intervention. The Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights in Osijek in Croatia has been reporting on how the members of the centre, simply by non-violent actions were able to hinder the deportation of the Serb population in a town in their region [1]. Peace Brigades International has systematically used this kind of intervention when acting as “unarmed guards” for threatened persons in Sri Lanka, Central America and - in former Yugoslavia.

Last year Robin Crews, director of Peace Studies Association [2], suggested that every UN member state should put up a corps of non-violence activists and the European Parliament has this year asked the Council to create the same kind of civilian peace corps.

Naive? Unrealistic? But is it really so naive to give non-violent actions the same chance’s as the violent solutions have been given for so long and with increasingly catastrophic results?

Is it perhaps too late? Genocide is already happening. There is a great number of well trained UN and OSCE observers and more over there are experienced people in a number of NGO’s. Some states already have a peace corps, like Argentina and the White Helmets. It would have been possible to increase the numbers of observers in Kosovo instead of pulling out those who were there.

Now it’s done and what can we do? One cultural worker refused to sign the appeal because she ”could see no other solution than a full ground force intervention” (Expressen, 30 march). Why such lack of fantasy? In view of an extraordinary session of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs on Kosovo, I received a great number of proposals from NGO’s who have not given in to the romance of violence. One proposes: 1. Stop NATO bombings, cease-fire. 2. Un take over of NATO ground forces. Decision of UN for a UN supervised cease-fire. 4. UN rule in Kosovo. 5. Peace negotiations led by a neutral country. 6. Long term financial aid to Kosovo. War resistance international notes that NATO showed little interest in supporting the Kosovo-Albanians during the eight years when they stuck to non-violent methods in the resistance against the Milosovic regime. They demand a complete cessation of the bombings and full support for the opposition in Yugoslavia.

The last point may sound naive since the opposition in Yugoslavia either has been silenced or have to work in secret. Nearly all dictators have stayed in power until they are overthrown by internal forces. External aggression keeps a people together, even those led by a repugnant leader. The opposition in Yugoslavia strengthened when there was a pause in war. This is why Milosovic, just like Saddam Hussein, need to create a crises situation every now and then and it is why the peace makers should not offer him the opportunity to do so again and again.

Nelson Mandela resigned on violence and sat down to negotiate with the leader of a regime characterised as one of the worst the world had seen since Hitler, a racist regime which carried out ethnic cleansing every day. Was he wrong to do so? Should the apartheid government have been bombed by NATO?

What say the followers of the Dalai Lama? The entire Tibetan people suffer an ethnic discrimination no better than in Kosovo. Still he refuses all violence and wishes to negotiate with Jiang Ze Min. Arafat and his people, who were collectively expelled from their country in 1948, should they try to start a war against Israel instead of negotiating with a regime which in their eyes are nearly as fascistic as the one Milosovic is leading. Or the PKK - was it a mistake to declare a one sided cease fire, wrong to ask for a political solution to the Kurdish question? Should NATO perhaps liberate the Kurds with bombs?

For some reason those who defend military conflict resolution are always considered realistic in comparison with the idealistic pacifists. The key question for conscientious objectors was always: “if someone threatens to kill your daughter - would you not shoot then?” Yes, if I had a gun in my hand I probably would. Not because it is the best and most sensible thing to do but because it is the natural reflex. From governments one should expect more, they should not operate led by violence genes bred in patriarchal societies but on the basis of reason, compassion and humanitarianism.

NATO is a war machine. The resources spent on weapons and soldiers are enormous, peace activities and humanitarian organisations live on comparatively next to nothing. If anything is naive it would be to think that all those militaries and war experts don’t like it when their services are being required - not because they are some kind of monsters but precisely because they are very human. As humans they want to use their training and their equipment and act in real, play the visible and applauded role.

“If a gun is put on the wall during first act, it has to be fired before the play is over”. This is basic law in drama and applies not only to films but also to real life. That is why it is logical that all weapons put on the world scene actually are used over and over again before the fall of the curtain. It has little to do with reason or realism. On the contrary, to answer with violence to violence is the easiest thing, every teenager or feeble leader writer could do that. To instead answer with non-violence is so difficult that all the self-assumed knights of the Western civilisation has yet to learn the art.

1. Curle, Adam “Antidote to Alienation” in “Another Way: Positive response to contemporary violence” (Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1995, pp 109-142) [back]

2. Non-violent peacekeeping: the only alternative, working paper for Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, February 1994 [back]


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