Readings in Nonviolence: Humanity needs a completely different peace and security system in the future


The world looks like it is going to hell in a handcart whether you look at conflict, ecology, migration and responses to migration, inequality and world justice, whatever. Potential sources of extremely violent hot conflict, such as between the USA and China, are waiting in the wings. Learning lessons does not seem to be on the curriculum as evidenced by NATO’s goading of Russia in advancing membership towards Russia’s borders.

Peace activists are often accused of being unrealistic, a totally unsustainable jibe given that research shows nonviolent struggle to be more likely to achieve its ends than violent, and with better outcomes. But it is the followers of militarism and confrontational approaches who are unrealistic, always taking the same approach ending in disaster and then blaming the other for the resultant mess and carnage.

The following piece by Jan Oberg offers short, practical advice on a global scale for dealing with conflict. You might say it is too simple but the crux of the matter is that, in Tommy Sands’ words, the answer is not blowing in the wind, the answer stares you in the face.

By Jan Oberg

The world’s taxpayers give US$ 2,240 billion annually to their national military defenses. That is the highest ever, more than 600 times the regular budget of the United Nations, and three times the total trade between China and the US. Such are the perverse priorities of our governments; the five largest spenders are the US 39% of the total, China 13%, Russia 3,9%, India 3,6% and Saudi Arabia 3,1%.

Worldwide, governments maintain that they need that much to secure their people’s survival, national defense, security and stability – and that global peace will come.

With the exception of the elites of the Military-Industrial-Media-Academic Complexes (MIMAC), we all know this is a huge fallacy. Today’s world is at a higher risk of war–including nuclear–, more unstable and militaristic than at any time since 1945.

At the end of the West’s Cold War a good 30 years ago, peace became a manifest possibility, NATO could have been dismantled since its raison d’être, the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, fell apart. A new transatlantic common security and peace system could have replaced NATO.

Tragically, ’defensive’ NATO did everything not only to cheat Russia with its promise to not expand ‘one inch,’ but also to expand up to the border of Russia, “not one inch off limit for the alliance,” to quote Marie Sarotte’s brilliant 550-page book, Not One Inch.

The NATO world now postulates that both Russia and China are threats to be met with even higher, de facto limitless, military expenditures.

But wait! How would you think and act if you witnessed a team of doctors do one surgery after the other on a patient who, for each, came closer to death?

You’d probably say that they are quack doctors. Their diagnosis and treatment lead to a devastating prognosis. Instead of health, they produce more of the problem they claim to solve!

Given that the highest investment on peace and security in history has caused the highest risk to humanity’s survival, why don’t we have a vibrant global debate? What is fundamentally wrong with the entire paradigm of security through arms? Where are the critical analyses of the world’s most enigmatic and dangerous logical short circuit?

The dominant security paradigm builds on factors like these:

  • deterrence – we shall harm them if they do something we won’t accept or don’t do as we say;

  • offensiveness – our defense is directed at them even thousands of kilometers away, not on our own territory;

  • military means are all-dominant;

  • civil means – like minimizing society’s vulnerability; civil defense, nonviolent people’s defense, cooperation refusal, boycott – are hardly discussed;

  • our intentions are noble and peaceful, but theirs are not;

  • our defense is not a threat to them, but they threaten us with theirs;

  • ignoring the underlying conflicts that cause violence and war, the keys to conflict-resolution, and prepare instead for war to achieve peace.

This is, by and large, how everybody ’thinks’ and then they blame others for the fact that this type of thinking can not produce disarmament or peace.

Even worse, when that peace doesn’t come, everybody concludes that they need more and better weapons. In reality, this system is the perpetual mobile of the world’s tragic militarism and squandering of resources desperately needed to solve humanity’s problems.

There must be better ways to think. But there is far too little research and debate and the MIMAC elites thrive on war. Thus, decision-makers lack political will.

What would be the criteria for good peace and security?

Conflicts are to be addressed and solved intelligently by mediation, international law, and creative visions that address the parties’ fears and wishes. Violent means should be absolutely the last resort as is stated by the UN. Peace is about reducing all kinds of violence (there are many kinds) and creating security for all at the lowest military level, like the doctor who shall never incur more pain than necessary to heal a patient.

Here some alternative ideas and thinking to promote discussion:
instead of deterrence, seek cooperation and common security; the latter means that we feel secure when they do;

  • go for being invincible in defense but unable to attack anybody else; have weapons with limited destruction capacity and range;

  • make control/occupation impossible by our country’s non-cooperation with any occupier;

  • balance defensive military and civilian means;

  • prevent violence but not conflicts;

  • never do tit-for-tat escalation; do something creative to de-escalate;

  • show that your intentions are non-threatening and take small steps to invite Graduated Reduction in Tension (GRIT) without risking your own security;

  • handle conflicts early; build peace first and then secure it;

  • address underlying conflicts, traumas, fears and interests;

  • educate and use professionals in civilian conflict-resolution and mediation, not only military expertise;

  • develop and nurture a peace culture through education at all levels, ministries for peace, emphasis on conflict transformation instead of confrontation and rearmament;

  • replace outdated neighborhood ethics with a global ethics of care.
    The possibilities are limitless. Conflict and peace illiteracy have brought us to where we are today. It is not whether human beings are evil, good, or both. It is a
    systemic paradigmatic malfunctioning that must change in name of civilization.

We can learn to peace.

Masters of war are hated worldwide. Countries that take concrete leadership in developing new principles and policies for true global peace and human security will save humanity and will be loved forever.

Let a thousand peace ideas bloom!

Prof. Jan Oberg, Ph.D., is director of the independent Transnational Foundation for Peace & Future Research-TFF in Sweden.

This piece, edited by the author himself, was originally written for ‘China Investment’ and is taken here from Transcend Media Service which has an introduction about it origin.

Jan Oberg spoke at an online seminar organised by StoP (Swords to Ploughshares Ireland) in 2022 on ‘EU militarisation, Irish neutrality and the war in Ukraine; The case for peace’. The video of this seminar can be found at