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The Recurrent Vision and

the Peace Brigade Movement



 By Thomas Weber, TFF adviser



For as long as there have been wars there have also been plans to stop them. There have been saints who have preached nonviolence, leading political figures and academics who have advocated various grandiose plans to achieve world peace through alliances, world government or international armies, and people who have put their lives on the line, by physically placing their bodies between disputing parties to try to end conflicts, or by taking risks in order to try to end oppression. And while bloody conflicts and injustice exists, even in far away places, there will always be people of good will who will cross borders, often at great personal risk, to intervene as peacekeepers, peacemakers or peacebuilders.

And now the world is watching. Innumerable wars and armed conflicts rage or simmer in different countries or neighbourhoods around the planet, viewable from television sets or doorsteps depending on one's location. Humanitarian aid agencies supported by churches house war-weary people fleeing men with guns. Governments try to intervene in armed conflicts by sending men with guns, sometimes under United Nations auspices, to "help". At times soldiers in these new roles have complained that they feel humiliated because they are prohibited from responding in line with their traditional training. As soldiers and global strategic thinkers show little ability to creatively transform their conflict intervention methods, there are calls for the development of a nonviolent alternative.

A long and rich history of nonviolent cross border interventions, that is nongovernmental efforts at sending peace missions, known as Peace Brigades, Peace Teams or Peace Armies, already exists. These ad hoc citizens' efforts have been sent out since the time of the League of Nations and in total there have been more such citizens' missions than UN Peacekeeping missions. Although this history constitutes a rich source of practical experience, of lessons learned, these people's actions are not as well known. They are underfunded and can send few volunteers to the field, leaving them invisible to global media. This means that the lessons gained have never been drawn together and subjected to sustained scrutiny, which means that inadequate progress has been made in fulfilling the potential inherent in these interventions. To remedy this failing, the first step is to collect the stories of nonviolent cross-border intervention in one place for scrutiny. My co-editor, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, and I thought that it was time that these interventions were looked at seriously and for the last few years have been engaged in a project to chronicle and analyse these attempts. The book where we have attempted to do this, Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders: A Recurrent Vision, presents a new and comprehensive typology providing a framework within which to examine these interventions.

As noted above, the voices for a completely unarmed peacekeeping force have been heard regularly throughout this century. Pacifists who believed in stopping conflicts and protecting victims could hardly have done otherwise but call for such a force if they wished to maintain consistency. But there were practical reasons also. Charles Walker, the American Quaker advocate of a World Peace Guard, suggests that the military may not be the best instrument for securing peace. He criticises the proposals of some military veterans of UN missions who have been pushing the concept of a military agency which includes peacemaking (conflict resolution) and peacebuilding (socio-economic development and reconstruction) functions. A peace force which has been engaged in military operations will find it difficult to talk to the party it has been shooting at. If violence is used, then a peacekeeping force may, in critical situations, "become a paramilitary force with aspects of an occupying army" in which case community relations programs, even those attempted by dedicated officers, cannot hope to overcome or mitigate the community's hostility. Perhaps, as Walker notes, it is an inevitable consequence that "the effect of a military force will be estimated in military terms". And finally, following a survey of peacekeeping possibilities, he concludes that "peacekeeping missions by military forces are likely to serve primarily the interests of the superpowers; and threaten to isolate, exploit or dominate smaller and weaker nations, particularly in the Third World". Walker and other advocates of the unarmed alternative see these problems as inherent in military forces, especially those under the control of a supranational authority where the large powers dominate and have rights of veto.

Current popular dissatisfaction with international "peacekeeping" as it is now practiced through the United Nations, and "peace enforcement" in the NATO mould, is leading to an upsurge of interest in nonmilitary peacekeeping. The governments of Germany, Denmark and Holland have recently stated their intent to develop a new form of international peacekeeping that does not rely solely on armed troops. These governmental initiatives have followed and at times led to nongovernmental forums being established to debate the methodology to be used by such unarmed units. The government of Austria has helped in the financing of a center for the study of peacekeeping with a significant focus on unarmed intervention. Two multinational conferences took place in 1994 and 1995 involving participants from 30 countries, and twice as many nongovernmental organisations, seeking to establish large-scale nongovernmental peacekeeping contingents.

One of these conferences, a consultation in Washington, DC, on the concept of peace teams which was funded by the United States Institute for Peace, was attended by participants from more than 20 countries with experience or interest in nongovernmental and governmental peacekeeping. Several European states (notably Germany, Denmark, Austria and Sweden) are considering or have decided to devote a portion of their defence budget to examining the unarmed option. Denmark, the Society of Friends (Quakers), and groups devoted to UN reform are outlining an unarmed option to operate under the auspices of the UN, sometimes referred to as "White Berets". Further, partisan efforts (that is those aiming to bring about change by identifying themselves with the oppressed) have become accepted as quite normal over the past few decades.

In short, interest in this type of activism has never been higher. United Nations Volunteers have initiated a new peacemakers program in Burundi modelled, in part, on the work of Peace Brigades International. Nongovernmental groups currently sending volunteers to the field (often to provide "protective accompaniment" to local peace and social justice activists or in attempts to bring waring parties together) include Witness for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, SIPAZ, Project Accompaniment, the Balkan Peace Team and Peace Brigades International. Combined, they are currently placing and supporting almost 100 volunteers in conflict zones scattered across a dozen countries. Compared to the mid-1980s when there were only two organisations attempting this work, with a handful of volunteers working in two countries, it is clear that this is an idea that has taken on a life of it's own.

It is somewhat surprising, therefore, that there is currently no single publication which collects into one volume the history of past and current actions of "Peace Teams", the contingents that have made ordinary citizens players in conflicts in the international political arena. Their history is generally traced only through articles appearing in small circulation journals, or internal newsletters of the groups themselves.

Of course, it should be noted that unarmed nonviolent interventions do not merely take place in the international arena or in an organised way. Where many of our cities resemble urban war zones there is much to be said for acting locally. Elise Boulding has talked of a "Peace Team" (being a "multi-ethnic/racial, multicultural group of persons under secular or religious nongovernmental sponsorship, national or international in character, who have undergone specific nonviolence training in conflict areas in their home countries") creating social and physical "safe spaces" or "peace zones" in conflict-ridden inner city areas. She gives the Sisters of Loretto Project in Denver, Colorado as an example. Other examples include the Mennonite's peace monitors at Wounded Knee, the actions of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Washington, and nonviolent community safety and peacekeeping actions (at large festivals, rallies and marches) by the Melbourne volunteer organisation Pt'chang.

While Nonviolent Intervention details the history and activities of citizen-based, international, nonviolent crisis intervention initiatives, it is hoped that it will also provide lessons for those wishing to act nearer home.

Numerous cases of spontaneous interposition that have interrupted conflicts have also been recorded. The most important early account of these examples, of what is now commonly referred to as "people's power" is contained in Gene Keyes' 1978 article "Peacekeeping by Unarmed Buffer Forces" published in Peace and Change. In that paper Keyes reports on spontaneous interpositions in Algeria in 1962, in Aden in 1967, and in China in 1968. Following the French pullout from Algeria, a large-scale civil war seemed inevitable when in towns such as Boghari, "A crowd of war-weary men and women created a human barrier between the opposing forces. When the soldiers pressed forward, the civilians forced them to embrace each other and fraternize." In what was the former federation of Southern Arabia, over 2,000 demonstrators, including women, children and the elderly, "stopped heavy fighting between rival nationalist groups...when they marched through battle-torn streets screaming for a ceasefire". During China's Cultural Revolution a mini-war erupted between two Maoist student factions at Tsinghua University in Peking. Eventually, a contingent of workers, some 60,000 strong, entered the university shouting the slogan "use reason not violence, use reason not violence, lay down your weapons and form a big alliance". The workers stood their ground in the face of extreme provocation and violence and their action eventually lead to an alliance of the fighting factions. More recently, in the Philippines, in Bangkok, in Tiananmen Square in Bejing, Moscow and in Belgrade the efficacy of spontaneous people's power has clearly been demonstrated.

These actions are inspiring and historically important, offering insight into the dynamics of what Keyes calls "massive nonviolent buffer actions", however they do not provide adequate guidance for those planning interventions in areas where the activists have little or no relationship with the belligerents.

For those who have bothered to look at the past it is clear, and now it is becoming increasingly obvious even to those who are not specifically interested in the area, that alternatives to the mainstream style of peace interventions are not merely theoretical - there have been many attempts to think through a nonviolent approach and many examples of this vision have now been attempted in practice - they are also becoming a practical necessity. The focus of our work is to provide detailed examples of nonviolent nongovernmental international peace intervention initiatives undertaken by grassroots activists, and to attempt to distil the lessons provided by these examples for the benefit of those embarking on service in peace teams or those attempting to establish new peace team initiatives. The interventions discussed in Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders include mobilization actions (the voyage of the Lusitania Expresso to Timor), nonviolent humanitarian assistance ("friendshipments" by Pastors for Peace), nonviolent witness and accompaniment (by Peace Brigades International, Project Accompaniment, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Balkan Peace Team, and Cry for Justice), nonviolent intercession (by the anti-bomb Sahara Protest Team), nonviolent solidarity (in the form of the Cambodian Dhammayietra peace marches and the lesson-rich Mir Sada action in Bosnia), and nonviolent interposition (in Nicaragua by Witness for Peace and in Iraq by the Gulf Peace Team).


NOTE The book edited by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan and Thomas Weber, titled Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders: A Recurrent Vision, has just been published by the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace at the University of Hawaii, and is being distributed by the University of Hawaii Press.



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