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Towards a Comprehensive
and Proactive Security Policy



By Dietrich Fischer, TFF associate



Some have argued that we can never disinvent nuclear weapons and thus will have to live with them as long as civilization exists. But nobody has disinvented cannibalism either, we simply abhor it. We must now learn to abhor equally the thought of incinerating entire cities with nuclear weapons. The abolition of nuclear weapons with thorough verification is a totally realistic goal - we already have treaties banning biological and chemica weapons - and is necessary for human survival.


Why ballistic missile defence is not the answer

Reagan's defence secretary Caspar Weinberger, arguing for ballistic missile defence (BMD), inadvertently provided a strong argument against it, saying, "If the Soviet Union got such a system first, we would face a grave danger, because they could launch their missiles without fear of retaliation." The same, of course, is true in reverse.

It is doubtful that such a system would ever work reliably, but even if it does not work, a leader who falsely believed it would work could be tempted to strike first. Therefore Russia and China announced they would have no choice but to increase their nuclear arsenals to make clear to a potential opponent that they could penetrate any such system. Thus if the United States were to embark on a plan to build a ballistic missile defense system, this would precipitate a new nuclear arms race.

BMD would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and could unravel the whole process of arms control. Yet even if it worked perfectly, it could not protect against bombs in a suitcase, on a truck, or sailboat.

The main beneficiaries and supporters are US defence contractors, who hope to make an estimated $60-billion.

If the nuclear powers break their commitment under the ABM treaty gradually to eliminate all nuclear weapons, this double standard encourages "countries of concern" (formerly called rogue nations) and terrorist groups to acquire their own nuclear weapons.


Focus on prevention

Rather than waiting until war erupts and then responding with military force, it is far preferable to pursue an "active peace policy" that seeks to detect potential violent conflicts early and transform them peacefully. Conflict itself is not necessarily bad --sometimes it helps change unjust conditions--but violent conflict can and must be prevented.

It is unlikely that two NATO members would go to war with each other. If they disagree, there are numerous institutions, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and NATO itself with mechanisms to resolve differences peacefully. For example, when the UK believed it paid excessive contributions to the then European Economic Union (EEC), Prime Minister Thatcher and President Mitterrand, the rotating EEC chair, negotiated a reduced assessment. Neither side ever dreamt of using its heavy artillery. Such institutions must be expanded, with emphasis on economic and political, not only military cooperation.

Recommendation 1: Hold SUMMIT MEETINGS twice a year among NATO and former Warsaw Treaty members (like the G-8 summits)--with parallel meetings among members of civil society--to address common concerns.

During the 1980s, the greatest fear of a Balkan war focused on Romania with its ethnic Hungarian minority. But a small NGO, the Project on Ethnic Relations, brought senior Rumanian officials together with Hungarian minority representatives and helped them reach an agreement allowing the Hungarians to use their own language in schools and local papers, in return for a promise not to seek secession. This effort, which cost only a few thousand dollars, may well have helped avoid a civil war. By comparison, military interventions can cost billions. Expelling Iraq from Kuwait cost $100-billion, not including the damage caused. Most importantly, preventing war saves many lives.

A similar initiative helped bring peace to Ecuador and Peru, which have fought four border wars since 1941. Although this conflict is outside of the North Atlantic region, similarprinciples apply everywhere. Johan Galtung suggested to Ecuador's incoming president in 1995 to make the contested territory a binational zone with a natural park. The president was at first skeptical, but proposed it to Peru, which agreed, with minor modifications, leading to a peace treaty. Creative imagination can often help find mutually acceptable outcomes.

Recommendation 2: Create a permanent CENTER FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION under OSCE auspices where members from conflicting parties from around the world--official and unofficial--can jointly explore peaceful solutions to their problems, assisted by experienced mediators. Combine it with a TRAINING CENTER FOR PEACEFUL CONFLICT TRANSFORMATION for young diplomats, peacekeepers, teachers, and others.



The safest security policy has many redundant components, so that if one fails, others can back it up.

The United Nations has been remarkably successful in preventing aggression across borders, the main task for which it was created, but it was explicitly prevented from helping avoid civil wars, considered interference into member states' internal affairs. Thus civil wars still abound.

It is recommended to use three successive barriers to help prevent not only international but also internal wars:

(1) Remove the causes of conflict, wherever possible.

(2) If conflicts emerge nevertheless, seek to transform them by peaceful means.

(3) If conflict resolution fails, resist aggression by nonmilitary means, and if that fails by purely defensive military means.

Let us briefly examine these three approaches in turn.


(1) Removing the causes of conflict

A first approach to preventing civil war is to remove the underlying sources of grievance, such as denying minority rights, including the right to use their own language. Sri Lanka's policy of making Sinhalese the sole national language in 1956 caused deep resentment among the Tamil minority and sparked a civil war that continues. Switzerland prints elementary school textbooks for its one per cent Romansch minority in five different dialects. Though costly, this is far cheaper than fighting a civil war.

Recommendation 3: GRANTING MINORITIES A HIGH DEGREE OF AUTONOMY, if they wish, and treating them well, can avoid discontent that may lead to civil war.

Violence erupted in Kosovo after Milosevic withdrew itsautonomy. When the French-speaking minority in the Jura region of the Canton Bern, Switzerland, chose in a 1978 referendum to form its separate canton, this ended a simmering conflict between French-speaking Catholics and German-speaking Protestants. Similar solutions might defuse tensions in Northern Ireland and Turkey's Kurdish region.

Granting people self-determination is no guarantee that they will always make the best decisions, but they will learn from their own mistakes. However, they resent a central authority forcing them to act against their own interests. Self-determination can help avoid such conflicts.

Mutually beneficial trade and cooperation can help reduce international conflicts. The EU, which began as Coal and Steel Union--Jean Monnet's brainchild--has ended the century-old cycle of wars between Germany and France. Similar types of cooperation should now be developed between NATO and the former Warsaw Treaty members, to prevent another Cold War.

Recommendation 4: Expand EAST-WEST COOPERATION through such projects as building a high-speed rail network connecting all of Europe; jointly developing less polluting and energy-saving production methods; expanding the free flow of people, ideas, and goods; joint medical and scientific research, including space exploration; deep mutual arms reductions.

Recommendation 5: BAN WEAPONS EXPORTS to countries at war and to regimes violating human rights (Arias 1997).


(2) Peaceful Conflict Transformation

If conflicts emerge, there are many approaches to resolve them, through negotiations, mediation, or arbitration. For example, the United States and Canada took a dispute over fishing rights before an arbitration panel, both pledging to accept the verdict, whatever it may be. The proposed CENTER FOR CONFLICT RESOLUTION can help defuse potentially violent conflicts at an early stage.

Recommendation 6: Support the INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT to bring individuals who commit human rights violations, aggression, or genocide to justice.

Recommendation 7: To OPPOSE TERRORISM AT ITS SOURCE, help search for just solutions to conflicts everywhere (Galtung 2000) and refuse to pay ransom which encourages more terrorism.


(3) Resist Aggression

If efforts to remove sources of conflicts or to resolve them peacefully fail and a conflict party resorts to the use of force, there exist a whole range of nonmilitary approaches to resist aggression, including noncooperation with an occupation force, and publicizing gross human rights violations to ostracize internationally those who commit them. But there are situations where the protection of innocent lives requires that violence be stopped with force. It has been estimated that a relatively small armed international peacekeeping force of 5,000 troops could have prevented the genocide in Rwanda that cost over a million lives.

Recommendation 8: Create a STANDING PEACEKEEPING FORCE under United Nations auspices that can rapidly stop genocide, repel aggression or respond to natural or industrial disasters. Preventive stationing--as in Macedonia--may sometimes avert war. Such a force should also include civilians to mediate disputes, maintain law, and provide medical services.


A comprehensive security policy

We must seek protection not only from war, but from any threats to human life or well-being, including disease, pollution, poverty, and human rights violations. The 1918 flu epidemic alone took twice as many lives as World War I! New dangers after the Cold War include drug addiction, AIDS, corruption, terrorism and streams of refugees that strain social services.

Recommendation 9: DRUG EDUCATION AND REHABILITATION to reduce demand is essential to eliminate the profitability of the drug trade, which helps finance many civil wars and organized crime.

Recommendation 10: Greater DEVELOPMENT COOPERATION AND MEASURES TO REDUCE POVERTY, INCLUDING DEBT RELIEF, are necessary to avert huge streams of future economic refugees (Tinbergen 1991). Fences will not suffice. Granting ASYLUM TO THOSE PERSECUTED undermines tyrants by depriving them of their best citizens (Galtung 1996).


Concluding remark

The best security policy seeks to identify potential problems early and to avoid or resolve them before they escalate. Waiting until a disaster occurs before reacting to it would be like driving a car with closed eyes, waiting to hit an obstacle and then calling an ambulance, instead of anticipating and avoiding dangers. -------------

Dietrich Fischer <> is a Co-Director of TRANSCEND: A Peace and Development Network, and a Professor at Pace University, Pleasantville, New York. This article is based on a statement prepared for the session on Post-nuclear Security Policies in the North Atlantic Region at the Consultation on NATO Nuclear Policy, National Missile Defense, and Alternative Security Arrangements, Ottawa, September 28-30, 2000, convened by the Simons Foundation and Project Plowshares.



Arias Sanchez, Oscar (1997) "Some Contributions to a Universal Declaration of Human Obligations." Tokyo: InterAction Council.

Fischer, Dietrich (1993) Nonmilitary Aspects of Security: A Systems Approach, A report to the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Brookfield, Vermont: Dartmouth.

Galtung, Johan, and Jacobsen, Carl G. (2000) Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND, With contributions by Kai Frithjof Brand- Jacobsen and Finn Tschudi. London: Pluto Press.

Galtung, Johan (1996) Peace by Peaceful Means. London, New Delhi, and Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

Tinbergen, Jan (1991) World Security and Equity. Brookfield, Vermont: Gower.



© TFF & the author 2001  


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