Global Nonviolent peace Force: Under construction

IssueDecember 2000 - February 2001
Feature by Donna Howard

We agree then, that the war system has to be taken apart. Trident by Trident, military by military, resource by resource. It is we who must do it, with our hammers and bolt-cutters, our court cases and treaties, our letters and votes, our non-payment of war taxes. With these same hands and hope we must simultaneously build a viable and compassionate alternative to those killing sanctions and NATO bombs. The Global Nonviolent Peace Force proposes to do just that, by offering energetic and enlightened third-party nonviolent intervention on a global scale.

Peace Brigades International, Christian Peacemaking Teams, Balkan Peace Team, Witness for Peace and many others have for decades demonstrated how trained teams of internationals can make a valuable contribution in areas where conflicting parties resort to weapons. Their presence has dramatically reduced the level of violence, saved lives, and opened up the possibility for justice. They have developed sophisticated strategies of accompaniment, monitoring, human rights witness with an international emergency response network, encouragement and support for local peacemakers. What if that fine model were expanded to a global organisation with 200 active team members, 400 reserves, and 500 supporters (hoping to grow to 2,000 active members, 4,000 reserves, and 5,000 supporters over a 10 year period)? The mission of the emerging Global Nonviolent Peace Force is to mobilise and train an international, nonviolent, standing peace force which can be deployed to conflict areas to protect human rights and prevent death and destruction. It hopes, thus, to create the space for local groups to struggle, enter into dialogue, and seek peaceful resolution.

No alternative?

When NATO waged their air war to put a halt to Slobodan Milosevic's brutal aggression, its bombs were welcomed by some who abhor violence but urgently wanted the massacre to stop and could see no other alternative. Its an example worth much analysis on our part. Recently re-elected Kosovar Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova called for international support as early as 1990. Sadly, we in the peace movement have to date been unable to provide a compassionate response that is both large-scale and timely when conflicting parties threaten to take up arms.

We have described this response in theory, standing in opposition to blood-spilling interventions and attempting to answer the question what on earth we think is the alternative when blood is on the ground already. And some have boldly built the paradigm, in response to pleas from the Balkans, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel- Palestine, Mexico, Nicaragua, Vieques and elsewhere.

At this moment in history, with two decades of peace-team development, global communications, and the emergence of an International Criminal Court, to name just a few advantages, it would seem possible to build an organisation that allows us to mobilise the theory and practice of nonviolent intervention as credible alternative to both original brutality and armed intervention.

A global force

The Global Nonviolent Peace Force hopes to build that alternative. It hopes to train and organise individuals for teams with a global governance structure, adequate funding and carefully chosen nonviolent strategies.

The construction process began, appropriately, at the Hague Appeal for Peace last year. Since then, the idea has been reviewed, discussed and critiqued by thousands of nonviolent activists, scholars and military veterans from around the world. Project Director Mel Duncan, Strategic Relations Director David Hartsough and an interim steering committee, work under the NGO umbrella of Peaceworkers to guide the project forward until it convenes for the first time as a global body next year. At that time it will chose its own internal governance and become an international nonprofit non-governmental organisation in its own right.

Currently, an actively involved group of 140 experienced advisers from throughout the world give support and critique. In addition, GNPF is endorsed by an ever- growing list of individuals and organisations which includes His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel peace-prize laureates Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Jose Ramos Horta of East Timor, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Hague Appeal for Peace, and some 180 more. In May the Peoples Millennium Forum at the United Nations included GNPF in their formal recommendations.

Creating peaceful change

GNPF plans to deploy at the invitation of local organisations or nonviolent movements working for peaceful change/resolution when a clear role and reasonable chance of success can be identified. Attempts will be made to gain approval from all sides involved in the conflict. Evaluation will need to show evidence that combatants are sensitive to international pressure and that there is sufficient organisational, logistical, media and monetary backup.

Teams will be tailored to fit the specific needs of the particular situation. Active team members will take part in a two-month general training that focuses on history and theory of nonviolence, nonviolent peacemaking, cultural sensitivity, listening, mediation skills and conflict transformation, and preparation for entering conflict situations. More specific training, equal in duration and carried out in the deployment area and in conjunction with local peacemakers, will follow for individuals selected for a deployed team. This will include language, culture, and analysis of the conflict and discernment of peaceful engagement.

Leaping barriers and scepticism

There is much work to do; please jump in whenever you can. It will take visionaries, critics, researchers, writers, organisers, hard workers, visible leaders from church, state, and the peace community, funders, trainers, etcand these from every part of the world. Enthusiasm and commitment to the project has spread with lightening speed. A slow building process is essential; however, to allow sufficient time for extensive research which will inform decisions about training, strategy, recruitment, engagement, logistics, etc. Final decisions about design elements including name, logo and structure must be temporary until inter-cultural participants can convene and offer truly global perspective.

In addition to research, intense work is being done on fundraising and international organising. We must learn as we go to leap barriers of culture, language, distance, gender... yes, and scepticism.

Three of us representing the Global Nonviolent Peace Force attended the first International Convention on War-affected Children in Winnipeg, Canada, in September, along with young people from areas of armed conflict, NGOs, experts and government ministers representing 143 nations. As an action paper was drafted for submission to the UN special Session on Children in 2001, we found we were alone in using the word nonviolent, the only ones insisting that the best way to keep children safe in zones of conflict was to intervene with the strategies of nonviolence.

Yet as we were able to engage with people during the week, many eagerly identified specific possibilities for such an approach. Betty Akech from Gulu Support the Child Organisation,in Uganda, felt the armed accompaniment her government offers for teams attempting to reclaim and return displaced children is a very dangerous alternative. You don't want military accompaniment, she said. This is like saying come and get us!. We need to run away from the idea of militarised conflict prevention. In our context, I don't think it has worked, reflected George Wachira of the Nairobi Peace Initiative.

Mahatma Gandhi dreamed of a nonviolent shanti sena, a peace army beyond the scale of his campaigns in India or South Africa. At the time of his assassination in 1948, he was about to meet with others toward that end.
That dream did not die with him.