New Internationalist

Making Peace

Issue 121

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MAKING PEACE [image, unknown] Building a new belief network

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Making peace
The way to peace often passes through a stage
of revolution. Adam Curie explains why.

SINCE the end of World War II there have been about 150 wars — mostly in developing countries — in which 30 million people have died. About 40 of these wars are continuing today. British troops alone have been involved in over 70 military operations in about 45 countries. This is symptomatic of a global war hysteria that is causing Third World military spending to rise even more sharply than that of the rich countries. Every nation proclaims its commitment to peace, but wars keep raging,

Yet peace is not simply the opposite of war. There are conditions of social injustice, economic exploitation and political oppression which, while they are not war itself, are by no means peaceful and often lead to war. This ‘structural violence’ is built into social structures and deprives its victims of jobs, food, health, education, political liberties and human dignity.

Whatever we mean by ‘peace’ — and there are countless definitions — it always involves what human beings do to one another. So I find it helpful to define peace as a relationship — between individuals, groups, nations, races — in which everyone is helped to develop their full potential. By contrast, unpeaceful relationships are those in which one or both parties suffers harm — physical, emotional, economic or cultural.

In my analysis there are three types of unpeaceful relationship, each requiring a different form of treatment. Peacemaking consists of moving by stages from one type of relationship to the next and finally to resolution of conflict.

Stages of Peacemaking
The Stage of Apathy is typified by poor peasants in the Hindu Kush region of Pakistan, who once said to me: ‘We are starving and suffering at the hands of our landlords but it has always been like this —the poor suffer and the rich prosper.’ Here was a conflict of interest between a stronger group and a weaker one but the underdogs were not sufficiently conscious of the nature of the conflict to take any organised action. Underdogs in unpeaceful situations are numbered in hundreds of millions: Indians in the Brazilian Amazon, Aborigines in Australia, ‘untouchables’ and tribal people in India, women workers in the factory sweatshops of the Philippines, Hong Kong and London’s East End. All of us, in some way or other, are underdogs in the Stage of Apathy. Until very recently we, the ordinary people of Europe and North America, had only a very limited awareness of the enormous perils of the nuclear trap into which Cold War politics had led us. But the greatest underdogs of all are women, who continue to suffer from male exploitation in virtually every country on earth.

We need to awaken ourselves — or firstly just to realise we have been asleep— then help to prod others awake. This was why Steve Biko offered — and lost his life. And the black consciousness movement he led has helped many South African blacks understand the root causes of their poverty and oppression. Now they have moved from the Stage of Apathy to the Stage of Revolution. The conflict between weak and strong still exists in South African society but the weak are making vigorous efforts to change the structure of the unpeaceful, unequal relationships of apartheid.

If the Stage of Apathy brings danger for the weak, it is nothing compared to the perils of the Stage of Revolution. Initially the strong will have the ability to crush the weak and may well try to do so. This is precisely what is happening today in Guatemala, where the Indian population — just emerging from the Stage of Apathy— is being slaughtered by the military regime.

The weak, for their part, may wage revolution either by legal and constitutional means, or through illegal but nonviolent acts such as civil disobedience, or they may turn to violence. Armed revolution is the most usual method. I have been associated with one myself — though now I would not be — and have sympathy and respect for the courage, motivation and dedication of my friends who have fought in wars of national liberation. But now I feel them to be both morally wrong and largely ineffective. I have seen too many of them fail in their long term objectives even if the short term ones were achieved: many of today’s despots are yesterday’s freedom fighters and will face a new generation of revolutionaries tomorrow.

So although I realise that revolution will usually involve the gun, I propose two alternatives for moving out of the Stage of Revolution:

• Non-violent action as the equivalent of war. We often forget that the Shah of Iran, armed to the teeth with the most modern military technology, was overthrown in 1978 by mass, nonviolent action. Several thousand revolutionaries were killed— but perhaps not so many as if they had been armed. Soldiers find it hard to keep on shooting unarmed people, particularly fellow citizens. First the air force, then other sections of the military joined the rebels. And the Shah fled. A massive armed state had been brought down by unarmed insurgents.

• Gandhian non-violent action. The Gandhian approach, unlike that used in Iran, is not based on unrelenting hostility towards the oppressors: the Iranian revolutionaries would certainly have used guns had they possessed them (and towards the end they did), but the true Gandhian would not. Gandhians — and I use the word in the broad sense to include people such as Martin Luther King and Chicano leader Cesar Chavez — aim not to vanquish and humiliate their oppressors but to change their attitudes so that they too join in building a more just society. Yet they yield to no-one in their militancy and determination to force change.

Swords to plowshares - All we are saying is give peace a chance. Both these forms of non-violent struggle involve as much toughness, discipline and skill as the armed struggle. They are no soft option of marches, demonstrations and protests that end up safely in one’s own bed.

The Stage of Revolution leads into the third type of unpeaceful relationship: the Conflict of Equals, in which the protagonists are of more or less equal power. Of course power can mean many things. The definition I prefer is ‘the capacity, by whatever means, to make the other person or group think twice before acting’. Superior organisation, patience, courage and determination are all forms of power, and often more successful than simple military might.

In a Conflict of Equals, the rivals are competing for resources, influence or ‘security’. This sort of unpeaceful relationship exists between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, Greece and Turkey, and India and Pakistan. But it also exists on a lower plane— between rival religious and ethnic groups, amongst neighbours, friends and families.

This stage is particularly important because now, at last, it may be possible to reach the root cause of the conflict, resolve fears and tensions and lay the basis for reconciliation between the warring or estranged parties. It is the only stage of the peacemaking process at which it may be possible to use the tools of mediation, negotiation and bargaining, Fears must be allayed, hurt pride assuaged, explanations given, interpretations offered and suggestions proffered. Mediators must totally surrender their own egos— like the Buddha— in dealing with everyone involved in negotiations. Only then will they be able to create a climate of calmness and trust in which rational discussion can take place.

The peacemaking process may move through all three stages to resolution of the conflict. as has happened in many ex-colonial countries, most recently in Zimbabwe. Often, however, there is no movement into the Conflict of Equals because one party is eliminated in the Stage of Revolution. And sometimes this third stage lasts a long time, as in a prolonged guerilla war or the East-West Cold War.

We all find ourselves involved in a wide variety of unpeaceful relationships, some of which we have constructed ourselves. The issues may be race, sex, class, deprivation, apartheid, the Palestinian question or the nuclear arms race. Some are local, others international, but not one of them exists in isolation. Whenever we contribute to the peacefulness, or the unpeacefulness, of a single relationship, the ripples spread much further than we realise.

Adam Curle formerly Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University, has worked on problems of education, poverty and peacemaking in over 30 developing countries.


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