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George W Bush's grasp of history and politics
seems to be lacking, particularly his grasp of Iraqi history.
'Conquerors' and 'liberators' quickly become 'occupiers' and
'oppressors'. But Tony Blair's grasp of history seemed also
to be singularly lacking when, in April, he spoke about Britain's
"historic role" in Iraq - a strange use of terminology
regarding the present when in the past Britain was a colonial
power in the area, the power that created Iraqi borders with
all the power imbalances that implied, and the first to use
poison gas, early in the twentieth century.
A year ago it was all going to be so simple.
Unfortunately history, and politics, is complex. We cannot
regret the departure of Saddam Hussein from power; he was
a brutal dictator but in his later years very circumscribed
as to what he could do. And unlike the US and British propaganda,
it looks like he didn't have a Weapon of Mass Destruction
to his name (now whether he knew he didn't but felt he had
to keep face is another question).
And whether the cause of democracy and human
rights in Iraq has been served by the US and British intervention
is unclear and becoming increasingly unlikely. What is clear
that it is a costly and unnecessary mess. With the question
of WMDs basically out of the way (there weren't any), the
only fig-leaf of justification that the USA and Britain had
(though not the reason they said they were going to war) was
that of promoting human rights and democracy. And if human
rights and democracy were not promoted by their intervention,
well, the rationale now of the whole vastly expensive operation
falls apart. The use of torture by US and British forces,
even if it was limited to the cases exposed in the media,
which is unlikely, totally undermines any claim they have
to legitimacy or moral superiority. This is apart altogether
from the example of unilateral action which could be used
to justify wars anywhere on similar flimsy excuses. The extent
to which US interest in Iraqi oil was a reason for the invasion
remains to be decided.
It is clear that the USA and the UK, but particularly
the US, has made numerous mistakes of all kinds, even from
a military interventionist point of view. They did not provide
a secure country for ordinary citizens after defeating Saddam
Hussein's forces; notoriously they were more interested in
safeguarding oil installations and offices. They disbanded
the Iraqi army which immediately produced discontented people
with military experience. They did not hand over everything
to the United Nations; they thought they could do better than
the UN but the UN's legitimacy would have lasted longer, and
their policies might have been far wiser. And, crucially,
they did not get out within a year.
The military interventionist thinking was simple
and it did not work out. So what would nonviolence have had
to offer? Not any easy answers, that is for sure, but in the
long run possibly a greater chance of real change. If opposition
and progressive forces and groups had been encouraged to struggle
towards a popular nonviolent revolution, the engagement with
that process itself would have helped with democratisation.
Economic sanctions on Iraq were mistaken, brutal and counter-productive
to producing a country willing to overthrow the yoke of an
oppressor, though sanctions on military equipment should of
course have remained.
Popular opinion often remains convinced that
nonviolence cannot work against brutal dictators. Ceaucescu's
'communist' dictatorial regime in Romania fell apart because
he no longer had sufficient support even from within the ruling
elite and state forces. Some of the most effective resistance
to Nazi rule and occupation in Europe during the Second World
War came from nonviolent resistance and non-cooperation. Nonviolent
resistance in such circumstances is not easy. And for the
ultimate victory in somewhere like Iraq, the overthrow of
a hated regime and the development of a democratic future,
well, with nonviolence it is necessary to wait for the right
time, and that may take years. But in the meantime the strength
and capability of democratic forces can be building up so
that when the time comes, the people are ready and an alternative
infrastructure is readily developed. It can be worth the wait.
For various reasons, not explained to the world
at the time, Bush and Blair went to war in Iraq and eventually
got their jubilant scene of Saddam Hussein's statue being
toppled and insulted. What a difference a year makes. It would
be good to think that the next time the USA, the UK, and the
world might consider a different approach. But then learning
from history is not something that either the USA or UK seem
good at - they are certainly exceedingly slow to learn. But
hopefully many of the world's people, both those who were
opposed to the war or hesitatingly went along with it cushioned
by the Bush/Blair rhetoric, are wiser than those who supposedly
Northern Ireland; an ongoing impasse The report
from the IMC or Independent Monitoring Commission on paramilitary
activity in Northern Ireland made sad reading. Behind the
scenes, much has not changed in terms of the organisations'
abilities and capabilities to wage violence and intimidation.
They haven't gone away, you know.
However it is simplistic to heap all the blame
onto the paramilitary groups (and republican opinion in general
was scathing on the IMC report; the Andersonstown News, for
example, described the IMC report in one of its milder comments
as "shabby, legally threadbare, intellectually flaccid").
History's hand was a bit on the heavy side for Northern Ireland,
and society as a whole clearly has not moved on in the way
that, for example, South Africa has after ten years (respectively
after the 1994 ceasefires in Northern Ireland and the first
democratic elections in South Africa) despite other problems
there. Northern Ireland remains not at war but not at peace,
with itself, either.
But there are other aspects of the failure of
paramilitary groups to 'move on'. Political inclusiveness
is difficult when it comes to small groupings; the PUP (associated
with the UVF) initially got two Assembly seats, reduced to
one after the last Assembly election. The (now defunct) UDP
(associated with the UDA) did not get any representation at
all. Only Sinn Féin of the political groups with military
wings achieved electoral success and in a sense they are now
being penalised for it (because they are in the suspended
Assembly and erstwhile-government they are being penalised
in a way that others are not, with the possible exception
of the PUP).
But from a nonviolent point of view we can also
say that smaller political parties, or indeed what is now
the biggest party on the nationalist side, Sinn Féin,
have received only limited help to move from paramilitarism
to 'constitutional' politics. There is no nonviolent equivalent
of the bullet or the car bomb but simply moving to the ballot
every number of years is not very satisfactory. There are
other, nonviolent, ways of working and campaigning beyond
the norms of 'party' politics. Campaigning at community level
and nonviolent action to highlight injustices are something
which have not been explored sufficiently by the parties and
groups who are now judged not to have left their past behind.
Blaming the paramilitaries is easy. Helping
them to move on to a better future for all is not going to
be achieved simply by rapping them on the knuckles and saying
they have been bad boys. Violence and intimidation at a local
level is not going to be given up easily by those who have
enjoyed power of a kind and wish to maintain it. We need more
imaginative solutions which would help those still wedded
to violence to explore and create alternatives, in the way
that restorative justice has been trying to build alternatives
to paramilitary penalties for anti-social behaviour. And might
we say that this goes for the British army as well, and those
who support that army.
This month's poem from Lothar Lüken:
Boring old island,
Boring old view.
My arm stiff from holding
This heavy cast iron torch.
Can't even lift these skirts
To relieve myself Into New York harbour.
Can't take any liberties.
I feel so old,
So statuesque - An idea whose time
Has run out.
INNATE coordinator Rob Fairmichael reports on
the western/northern European conflict conference in Dublin:
European conference on "The Role of
Civil Society in the Prevention of Armed Conflict",
Dublin, 31st March - 2nd April 2004
And so to Dublin for a meeting with our old friend, Con Flict.
In this case, a mainly western European conference on conflict
prevention, the first of 15 being held in different parts
of the world feeding in to a big one at the UN in New York
in July 2005. A Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed
Conflict (*1) was formed following the UN Secretary-General's
Report on the Prevention of Armed Conflict in 2001, and this
conference was part of its consultation process.
I find that attending international conferences
in my own country is an interesting experience because away
has come home and the familiar and unfamiliar interact in
a fascinating way, things look and feel different than being
outside my home island. In this case the event was sponsored
by the Irish EU Presidency and it was happening in the salubrious
environs of Dublin Castle. Very nice. I had conferenced there
before but never banqueted in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham,
You could get used to the style and the wine flowing freely
but I won't, fortunately or unfortunately. I would have liked
there to have been more Irish people present but looking through
the scheduled attendance list (with about 30 from Ireland)
this may be as much that people didn't, or weren't free, to
turn up, or come to more than a day or so, as that they couldn't
get places (though I did hear this was the case for one or
two people from the island). (*2)
The support from the Irish government is very
welcome, for conflict prevention and for the conference itself
(both Tom Kitt and Brian Cowen spoke at it), but this is the
self-same Irish government which has backed the USA to the
hilt in its war in Iraq by providing unbridled use of Shannon
airport, with significant consequences for violence internationally
as well as in Iraq. Conflict prevention? That would be very
nice, thank you.
There were eight working groups (which met for three sessions)
on different aspects of conflict and conflict prevention,
and these fed into the Action Agenda plenary process (see
below). An initial draft had been circulated beforehand. Groups
included ones on education and promotion of a culture of peace,
development and peacebuilding, involvement of civil society
in EU civilian crisis management, EU Common Foreign and Security
Policy, interaction between the UN and civil society, and
interaction between governments and civil society. Also included
was a working group on the Irish/Northern Irish peace process
and it was illuminating that just two out of two hundred or
so people from outside the island came to that (a 1% attendance).
In these circumstances you may find yourself wanting to go
to several different groups but you're likely to choose the
one which is felt to be most relevant to you personally. And
the one on Ireland got 1% of the foreign delegates attending.
This is fair enough and I am simply pointing out the fact
that analysing the past and present remnants of the conflict
in Northern Ireland is not top or even middle on most people's
list (though some of those present would have studied it and
visited before); we have had our day in the glare of the international
media and we can be grateful it is over. Norn Iron doesn't
register these days on the Richter Scale of Conflicts, and
we can hope that no seismic shift will put it back on.
But there are still issues to be dealt with,
and one included in the 'Dublin Action Agenda' was for learning
from the Irish, and other similar situations in Europe. The
Northern Ireland working group gave examples of work in the
divided land that is Northern Ireland - on a Belfast interface
where cooperation across the divide has been an important
development locally, on monitoring done by Mediation Northern
Ireland in areas where violence could break out, and mobile
phone networks to communicate across interfaces to dispel
rumours and assist cooperative conflict intervention.
'How many cookies can the Big Bear eat on an
empty stomach?' is an old children's riddle. The answer is:
One, because after eating one cookie its stomach isn't empty
any more. Just one cookie has totally altered how the situation
is described but underlying realities have not changed (the
bear is still hungry). But the similar real problem dealt
with in the working group is that if effective cross-community
and interface conflict prevention work is dealing with problems
which would otherwise surface as violent confrontation, how
can those involved 'prove' their need for ongoing funding
and support? It may seem that everything has just 'died down'
and that support is no longer needed. The absence of conflict
may seem to point to the absence of any need to deal with
potential conflict. Proving you caused the absence of something
is not for the absent minded. And those present from Northern
Ireland were aware of the unfortunate situation, because of
lack of resources, of being forced into having short term
projects with long term aims.
The plenary process regarding the 'Dublin Action
Agenda' adopted by the conference was a fascinating exercise.
Trying to get consensus in such a large and varied gathering
was a major achievement in the time given. Catherine Barnes
and Simon Fisher as the facilitators had a massive job to
do and sometimes I was amazed by their agility and deftness
in dealing with real issues, sticky points, and often uncertainty.
Finding the right words was a bit like building a haystack
shape made out of needles having first found the needles in
individual haystacks. It was done with a mixture of straw
polling, taking comments (principled objections and if necessary
other points), making decisions on the spot or referring it
back to drafting groups. It might seem that conflict-dealing
organisations putting together a statement on conflict is
a bit like the Christian churches proclaiming themselves against
sin; you might expect them to do it, no one is surprised by
anything said, and it's totally ineffectual. But the Action
Agenda had many concrete recommendations; how many will be
implemented remains to be seen but they have been laid down
I found the draft Action Agenda difficult to
relate to at first. Getting a 'global vision' together even
for people from part of a continent is difficult. And there
are now so many people doing so many different things that
getting a handle on it all can be difficult. If I think internationally
then my thoughts are not usually at that programmatic and
detailed level. But the words of the drafts began to mean
more as they were visited and explored. It is impossible to
summarise given that it is in itself a document which has
been compacted; it is on the European Centre for Conflict
Prevention website at www.conflict-prevention.net and I would
suggest a visit to read it there yourself (*3), and other
reports which will be added. Guiding principles include building
a 'Culture of Prevention' and 'Culture of Peace', multilateralism,
a new partnership between civil society, governments and Inter-Governmental
Organisations, the primacy of local ownership ("Primary
responsibility for conflict prevention rests with local actors"),
learning from practice, and accountability. The Action Agenda
makes recommendations to Civil Society Organisations, Governments,
the European Union (this was primarily a conference of people
from the EU area), and the United Nations. It also suggests
public awareness raising in Europe "both to raise awareness
of the impact of conflicts and to build confidence in civilian
alternatives to military intervention."
In the 'Northern Ireland situation' working group I raised
a point about something implicit in the approach of the working
group (and, I should add, the whole conference). The working
group was titled "CSOs (Civil Society Organisations),
transitional violence and conflict-sensitive development:
Lessons from conflict management techniques in Ireland, North
and South". The title of the conference was "The
role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict".
My point was that we were looking only at mediation and meditative-type
behaviour, and not at advocacy. A comment in the group was
that mediation should include advocacy; this is partly true,
a mediator who finds a great power imbalance should try to
redress that balance, for example.
But I was thinking of various kinds of advocacy
including solidarity models and I would feel that in dealing
with conflict no one model should automatically have pre-eminence.
Many of those present might not have felt theirs was the only
game in town, but in not being explicit I felt the edifice
fell into considerable danger of giving that impression. It
would be simply wrong to assume that third party/meditative
behaviour is the only way for someone from 'outside' (or an
insider feeling outside) to deal with an issue without violence.
As a believer in the power of nonviolent action it would be
remiss of me to ignore this area. If we think of how the South
African or East Timorese situations were resolved, international
solidarity with the people oppressed was of very great importance.
And if we think of how violence de-escalated in Northern Ireland,
and why, then a key intervention to republican, and to some
extent, loyalist paramilitaries could have been to assist
them explore non-violent and less-violent ways of working
before they started doing that themselves. So, I am saying
solidarity and advocacy can be as important as, or more important
than, mediation and more impartial third party interventions,
certainly at particular stages in a conflict.
Where to get involved is a difficult question;
it depends on an individual's personality, political views,
the power situation between sides, the stage in the conflict,
the support they have from any group they belong to, and so
on. One of the exercises I use as a nonviolence trainer is
to get people to map different activities they are involved
in on two axes; one is a partisan/non-partisan axis (the other
from pragmatic involvement through to moral/ideological commitment).
In terms of my own involvement I find myself occupying quite
a wide space. Of course in certain tense and difficult situations,
acceptability as an impartial figure may be compromised by
other involvements of a more partisan nature, but that is
something we have to live with, be aware of, and take into
account as necessary.
The point in relation to the conference is that
we were talking about third-party, relatively non-partisan
and meditative type behaviour. This is an area of vital importance.
But it is better to be explicit or we risk writing off other
responses. However I do not want to be seen to be criticising
a giraffe for not being an antelope (and civilian peace services,
for example, would major in standing with oppressed groups
at risk); both giraffes and antelopes are beautiful in their
own way. It should be noted that there was a working group
on 'Advocacy and lobbying' in the conference; I may be mistaken
since I was not at it but it looks like this was advocacy
and lobbying within the context of the United Nations system
and international conflict prevention, as defined elsewhere
within the conference context. (*4)
What was the vision and the reality coming across in talks?
Here are just some snippets. Matt Scott spoke of seeking a
sustainable and credible grassroots network of conflict prevention
professionals (worldwide) akin to global networks on AIDS
etc. Mari Fitzduff (*5) spoke of NGOs mirroring the regionalisation
of cooperation and power but being more trusted than governments,
politicians or businesses. They needed to connect with power,
influencing politicians and leaders (though she did say "Talking
to politicians about conflict prevention is like talking to
teenagers about pensions."); a shift away from the $800
billion for the military could allow people to get the resources
they need, adding alternatives to military policies.
Dan Smith spoke of how post-9/11 agenda issues
do not predominate in the world. The relatively unrestrained
US power projection post-9/11 holds no solution to its dilemmas;
how can you have a war on terrorism, which is a tactic? Terrorism
was first used by governments and is typically used by weaker
parties in a conflict. 'Retaliating first' is a dangerous
strategy, he said, leading to selective attitudes to law and
rights and undermining society building; it diverts resources
from the real problems. He outlined some thoughts about human
security, that it should be an integrated view with social
inclusivity and political integration.
Cornelio Sommaruga spoke of "insane fundamentalists
including market fundamentalists", and the complementarity
of human security as well as state security. Human security
had to deal with diverse circumstances including poverty,
exclusion, violence (e.g. through small arms and landmines),
and trafficking of women and children. Spiritual and human
values should be at the centre, he said.
Sridhar Khatri spoke of 18 identified armed
groups and conflicts, most of a transnational character, in
South Asia, some going for over a decade and one (Naga) for
over 55 years; these conflicts are ignored despite a death
toll exceeding that in the Middle East conflict.
Birgitta Dahl quoted Kofi Annan at the first
UN conference after 9/11, that all the items that were on
the agenda are still on the agenda. She spoke of the need
for the UN to emphasise the role of leading and facilitating
partnerships and coalitions in conflict resolution. The problems
of democratic deficits needed to be addressed.
The South African Foreign Minister, Nkosazana
Zuma, spoke of developments within the African Union to deal
with conflicts, though she seemed incredibly (sic) optimistic
in stating that all conflicts on the continent were being
attended and in process of being resolved. Leonardo Simao,
Foreign Affairs Minister for Mozambique, chair of the African
Union, added more detail on dealing with conflict in the African
Justin Kilcullen of Trócaire hit various
nails straight on the head with a quick global review, on
disengagement from poor countries after the end of the Cold
war, on the decline in European aid, the fact that Millennium
Development Goals won't be met on current trends. The EU policy
on combating terrorism raises more questions than answers,
he said; what does it mean to include counter-terrorism in
all agreements? And he pointed to a possible shift from poverty
programmes to security programmes on the edge of Europe. A
'Coalition against poverty' is long overdue; with the end
of poverty, peace is possible, he concluded.
'Caucuses' (as opposed to Caucasus) present included a number
from the European civil/ian peace service network, who had
their own meeting in Dublin prior to the start of the Castle
conference; the Dublin Action Agenda included a number of
references to civil peace services and calling for support
from governments and the EU (*6). One of the things touched
on in plenary was the lack of action over the UN Decade for
a 'Culture of Peace' (*7) and this was also covered in the
Over lunch and dinner I told numerous people
about the Irish English-language phrase, 'Castle Catholic',
and its origins with our location (it refers back to the time
of the British administration in Ireland being based in Dublin
Castle, and 'Castle' Catholics were those who supported the
British or were in their pay; while it is a historical term
it is still in fairly common usage). It is a little derogatory
phrase referring to a past conflict which echoed in my ears
there in the corridors of Dublin Castle.
The conference ran quite smoothly, thanks to
preparation by various people including the European Centre
for Conflict Prevention, Cooperation Ireland as the local
partners (especially Garrett Casey there), and the Irish government.
I am always amazed at the work international events take.
There was a lot happening in a couple of days and while the
Action Agenda pulled many things together, there was simply
not time to process many things. And of course then there
was the networking; it is always good to meet old friends
and try to understand new acquaintances.
The old adage that you should 'Never trouble
trouble before trouble troubles you' is a piece of common
or folk 'wisdom' which is not necessarily so wise. Certainly
when it comes to community, ethnic, national and international
conflicts it is always better to trouble trouble before the
trouble escalates to such a degree that you get rather more
trouble than you bargained for. I hope that this Dublin conference
made a small contribution to thinking, planning and acting
globally on the issue.
1. The goals are defined as;
To explore fully the role of civil society in
conflict prevention and peace-building
To improve interaction between civil society
groups, the UN, regional organisations, and governments.
To strengthen regional and international networking
between conflict prevention actors.
2 Trócaire's timely 'Development Review
2003/4' focuses on 'The Role of NGOs in Conflict Transformation'
with articles by Iain Atack (on 'Peacebuilding as conflict
management or political engineering?'), Róisín
Shannon, Paul Eavis (on the role of the EU), Paul van Tongeren
(on building international alliances), Geraldine McDonald
and Ian Gary, and Eilish Dillon (on 'Accountabilities and
power in development relationships'). It covers a broad sweep
of relevant issues. 128 pages, ISBN 0790-9403, price €9.50/UK£6.25
3. The European Centre for Conflict Prevention
(Executive Director, Paul van Tongeren) in Utrecht holds the
International Secretariat of the Global Partnership for the
Prevention of Armed Conflict. Korte Elisabethstraat 6 / PO
Box 14069, 3508 SC Utrecht, The Netherlands. Ph. +31-30-242
7777, fax +31-30-236 9268. e-mail email@example.com
and web www.conflict-prevention.net
4. The Dublin Action Agenda was fairly forthright
when it came to the 'War on Terror': "We see some of
the strategies deployed in the 'War on Terror as counter-productive
because, by further entrenching cycles of violence, they risk
being ultimately self-defeating. The 'War on Terror' can also
be used as a cloak under which CSO actors, including those
who promote human rights, are targeted."
5. Mari Fitzduff's book, co-edited with Cheyanne
Church, on "NGOs at the Table: Strategies for influencing
policy in areas of conflict" is being published by Rowman
and Littlefield, 216 pages, ISBN 0-7425-2849-9 at £20.95/€35.94.
This examines "a number of NGOs, diverse in size, location,
and financial means, that have successfully influenced both
policy and program development in conflicts throughout the
6 The background statement includes: "Historically,
the emphasis has been on strengthening the institutional capacity
for military response. The emphasis now needs to be on strengthening
the institutional capacity for non-violent civilian response."
In the recommendations to governments and the EU, it quite
clearly and explicitly calls for support for civil peace services.
7. The relevant recommendation to the United
Nations, in the Dublin Action Agenda, reads: "In the
area of 'Culture of Peace', the main challenge is to implement
effectively UN General Assembly Resolution GA/RES/53/243 and
the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. There has been
a gap between the intentions expressed in the resolution and
its implementation. We appeal to the UN to ensure that intra-
and inter-agency co-operation is maximised and that national
governments take a leading responsibility in implementing
it, both in terms of policies and funding."
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