War Resistance in a international perspective

Originally Published in xxx

There are two basic strategies regarding nonviolent resistance in general and war resistance in particular.

The first one is based on the fact that Power is dependent on cooperation. Power can then be broken by refusing to cooperate. Structures of power are similar to the old Greek temples based on pillars. If the pillars are removed, the support from below does not any longer exist and the whole temple will fall down. Wend examples of this f from the workers movement when employees used non-cooperation with the fabric owners through strikes. The employers could, with support from the state punish the workers but not prevent strikes. In the end they had to accept the demands for better salaries,  shorter working days and better conditions at the working places.

The other strategy is called “Constructive Work” in the Gandhian tradition. By this is meant to create your vision while the enemy is still active. To build alternative energy sources while the nuclear power still exist, to start cultivating organic vegetables while traditional farming is still dominating and to create zones of peace in the midst of violence are examples of constructive work.

Nonviolent resistance to wars have developed enormously the last two decades. In the following I will shortly describe some of the traditional ways people have opposed wars and then try to evaluate some of the new ways the anti-war movements have carried out their work in recent times.

The oldest and most well known way of opposing wars has been to refuse participation. Since the first written sources of history we have cases of soldiers refusing to serve. That be as conscripted soldiers or professionals, before war breaks out or deserting during a war. Many of them have refused based on religious, pacifist or philosophical convictions. But a growing number refuse to take part only in specific wars. For the moment close to 1400 soldiers in the Israeli army refuse to serve on occupied territories. They do accept to serve in a defence of their country, but not to attack other countries. In all times a large part of the peace movement have done important support work for those who face punishment for their refusal to kill on order.

In many cases workers have refused to work in arms factories, transport soldiers and weapons, build forts or other kinds of war-preparations. During many wars the civil administration have refused to collaborate with the army and actions of sabotage of many sorts are well known.

From the Greek history we also know the action carried out by Lysastra and her sisters when they refused to make love with their men before they ended the war.

The other very common way of opposing wars are public demonstrations, protests, blockades and boycotts. There is today a common understanding that these types of actions played a crucial role in ending the Vietnam War. The establishment in USA did not any longer have the necessary support for their aggressive and imperialistic policy in Vietnam. Both domestic protests and from foreign countries grew during the seventies.

The new developments in the last two decades are based on peace work being carried out directly in the war zones. Non-armed interventions of different types have taken place in the Gulf War, in the wars in former Yugoslavia and many other areas of armed conflict. These interventions have been done by different actors and in different phases of the conflicts.

Let me mention some types of intervention and categorize them by who is the intervener. International State Organisations (ISO) such as Organisation for Security an Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Organisation of African States (OAS) or United Nations (UN) have in a number of conflict areas intervened with non-armed observers to inspect elections,  investigate possible Human Rights violations or for fact-finding missions. In addition a growing number of Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) have started to carry out similar tasks. Oxfam, Medical Doctors without Borders, Amnesty International and Human Right Watch does this type of work in many conflict areas.

Other NGOs takes on a more active type of work in war zones. Organisations like Peace Brigades International (PBI) or Balkan Peace Team (BPT) support local organisations in their work by creating “space” for them to work. The “unarmed bodyguards” of PBI makes life a little safer for local activist living under threats. BPT gave practical support to groups in Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo by creating links to groups abroad, to international organisations and support with the infrastructure.

Other groups have worked as living shields for cities, groups and individuals. International activists joined local people and stood on the bridges of Belgrade to stop NATO from bombing them. A large number of peace and human right activist lived in the refugee camps in Palestine to limit the atrocities done by the Israeli army. And forty people stayed with Yasser Arafath in his almost completely destroyed headquarter to prevent him from being killed and to keep the international pressure on Sharon.

All of these cases have been on a rather limited scale and not everyone well organised. Let us regard this as starting problems. After some serious evaluation we can expect more prepared actions and better quality. There are many plans in the pipelines for nonviolent intervention teams on a much larges scale in the future.

The last topic I would like to mention in this short paper is the growing numbers of local activist working for peace in war thorn societies. Many of them work with what I earlier called “constructive work”, namely constructing zones of peace and start building the future while the violence still are used by many actors. This work can be like the Post-Pessimists in former Yugoslavia who act like the peace was already present. With culture of sorts they made life easier to live even when the shelling went on. In Chechnya people tries to create a decent life even if most buildings in the country are destroyed. In the Middle East many groups build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians to show that it is possible to life together. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolishing are surrounding Palestinian houses threatened by demolishing and are supporting in re-building the already destroyed ones. The Peace Zones in Colombia are examples Colombia should export to other countries in war situations.

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Posted in In English, Nonviolence, Peace Research

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