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Billy King


Nonviolence News



June 2007

[Go back to related issue of Nonviolent News]

INNATE recently organised a meeting, held jointly with the Ulster Quaker Peace Committee, on ‘peacekeeping’ where the speakers were Kevin McCormack and Tony Kempster. The meeting was chaired by Clem McCartney who here reflects on the discussion:

Peacekeeping and conflict intervention in military and nonviolent traditions

It was probably a first for INNATE – providing a military man with a platform to describe his work. And it made sense. The occasion was a public meeting with the title “Peacekeeping And Conflict Intervention In Military And Nonviolent Traditions”. Two people were invited to introduce the topic, a retired Irish soldier who had served twice with Irish peace keeping forces in Lebanon and the other a leading anti-war campaigner from England. The audience was mostly pacifists, or people leaning in that direction, and it was an eye-opener for them to hear a soldier talking about working and building confidence in local communities and arguing for the need to have troops using minimum force to stop farther violence. Today there are 800 Irish personnel serving in different missions around the world and there is a United Nations school at the Curragh army camp training people to serve in peacekeeping missions, to which 60 countries are sending troops.

The other speaker also accepted the role of the military in peacekeeping and talked about civilians working alongside them and he summarised some of the current thinking. Many developments are happening in the context of the European Peace Force or Rapid Reaction Force. In 2004 in Barcelona an informal consultation by civil society activists from Europe and Asia explored the issues including how civilians can be involved

While the meeting was thought-provoking there were many issues not discussed. There is a common interest in preventing conflict and protecting civilians from oppression and war but there are very different views on how best that can be achieved. What do we need from peacekeepers? What roles do we expect them to play in a conflict situation? What skills, expertise and, most important of all, what kind of attitudes should they have? And who is best placed to offer those things? A soldier? Or a civilian? These basic questions were not really explored at this first meeting.

It is hoped that INNATE will provide an opportunity to continue this exploration in the future and in the meantime here are a few personal questions and sources of insights into the topic that may stimulate thought.

First what do we mean by peace-keeping anyway? Is it simply keeping the peace between warring parties? How does it compare to peace-enforcement. Clearly peacekeeping is intended to involve a more limited use of force. Peace building, as its name implies, is a more constructive task trying to create an environment in which the causes of hostility are minimised. Can peacebuilding and peacekeeping be carried out by the same people or group?

What is the role of force in peacekeeping? It seems to have a number of aspects. Sometimes in a peace keeping situation it may be useful to have some status and authority and have the capacity to make people listen to you – either those involved in the conflict or the outside world. And the military does have that authority whether we like it or not. But sometimes that authority can intimidate people and they may not express what they really feel but will find other ways to subvert the peace-keeping mission.

Peacekeeping can be a risky business. The situation on the ground can be very tense and one can be attacked at any time. Soldiers are trained for hostile situations and they ultimately rely on their weapons and their armed vehicles to defend themselves. In peacekeeping operations they use the principle of “minimum force” and they hope never to resort to the use of force, but they do keep it as an option. Pacifist peacekeepers reject the possibility of defending themselves by force and feel it is important to do so. They rely on their own humanity and the humanity of their opponents and if they can touch each other at that level they will not be attacked but on the contrary be respected and ultimately have a positive impact. They believe there is a kind of moral force in what they do and that can protect them. Of course it does not always work and we can think of civilian peace keepers who have been attacked and killed such as Rachel Corrie who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza. We are also aware of the irony that the pacifist Norman Kember and his colleagues were kidnapped on a peace-building mission in Iraq and were then rescued by the military. But weapons are also not a guarantee of safety. Until the end of 2005, 2226 people from 100 countries had been killed while serving on UN peacekeeping missions, nearly one third between 1993 and 1995.

The issue of weapons is also important because of the message it conveys. Is it contradictory for someone to talk about non-violent ways of dealing with problems while he or she is carrying a weapon? Does it reinforce the importance of force? If we believe in the importance of non-violence do we need to demonstrate this in our own demeanour and behaviour? And how do local people react to someone driving up in an armed vehicle, wearing uniform and helmet and carrying a gun? Can they be open and relaxed in such circumstances?

These questions point to very different perspectives between civilian and military peace keepers. If that is the case can they actually work in the same team, as the EU envisages? Do their perspectives contradict each other? Does it matter if a peacekeeper is not actually carrying a weapon if the rest of his mission are carrying weapons and protecting him? In the discussion the Irish veteran said “Peacekeeping is not a job for soldiers but only soldiers can do it.” I think that reflects reality, but is it true? Is it a job better done by civilians? And can civilians do it and have they shown that they can do it?

One of the organisations which have promoted non-violent accompaniment and peacekeeping is Peace Brigades International and their website explains their way of working and its rationale

Norman Kember’s group in Iraq is Christian Peacemaker Teams and their website also explains their way of working:

The Mennonite publishing house, Herald Press has published a book of stories of their work with an instructive title: “Getting in the Way: Stories from Christian Peacemaker Teams” (Paperback) edited by Tricia Gates Brown. Information on United Nations Peace keeping can be found at Wikipedia:

The Barcelona Report, “Connecting Civil Society from Asia and Europe:An Informal Consultation” discussed the issue of civil society involvement in peacemaking operations:

The Earagail Arts Festival in Donegal is mounting an Exhibition “Irish Army Abroad; UN peacekeeping” from 10-23 July: It may also be displayed elsewhere.

While Ireland has had a distinguished history of providing unaligned peace keepers, it is argued that the principles of Irish Foreign policy and the role of Irish Military are changing in view of its involvement in the European Union and with NATO, and the use of Shannon for military purposes by the United States. One recent publication is by AFRI: “The Militarisation of Ireland’s Foreign and Defence Policy: A Decade of Betrayal and the Challenge of Renewal”:

Copyright INNATE 2016