Aleppo is the Symptom 10/12/16

Patrick Hiller

Patrick Hiller

Why Aleppo is the symptom of what is wrong with how we deal with atrocities

By Patrick T. Hiller

“Never again!” is once again brought to our attention as we are facing killing and suffering of civilians on a large scale. The Syrian city of Aleppo is under siege and the United Nations warns that the city may be totally destroyed in two months. UN Senior Advisor Jan Egeland noted that “we need to be [ruthlessly] honest with ourselves, and there is no doubt that we are failing an increasing number of civilians in Syria at this point.”

Almost simultaneously columnists in the Washington Post and the New York Times suggest that inaction green-lights war crimes and remaining passive has already been linked to the loss of half a million lives in Syria respectively. The columnists Samer Attar and Nicholas Kristof are no warmongers. Quite the opposite, Attar is a surgeon who volunteers with the Syrian American Medical Society and Kristof’s regular commentaries consistently show his intellect and empathy on human rights and social justice issues. Unfortunately, however, both commentaries are symptoms of a broader problem of how our society is caught in a thought trap, that the only choices we have when facing large scale atrocities are either military action or complete inaction.

The conflict in Syria has shown over and over again how diplomatic efforts have failed at different levels. Sitting in our thought trap, the first thing that comes to mind is that all has been tried, now it is time to bring out the big guns – literally. And when we see the images, videos, and tweets of all the suffering, who would argue against saving people? Let me be clear. At a certain time, in a certain place, a certain group of people can be saved through a military intervention. However, military intervention will always make the overall situation worse and the prospects for constructive transformation of the conflict will shrink. Moreover, while lives might be saved somewhere, additional lives will be taken. And we have to face the reality. A military intervention will always take innocent lives.

A military intervention is the introduction of outside military forces into an existing conflict. This takes place through means including the introduction of weapons and arms, air strikes, and combat troops to intervene in an armed conflict. It is the use of deadly force on a massive scale. Intervention by any name—military, humanitarian, coalitional, treaty organization, peacekeeping–is war, and wars are by nature destructive. There is violence, death, and suffering. In other words, when we are talking about a humanitarian military intervention, we are talking about a complete oxymoron: declaring the intention to defend life, while actively taking lives.

It is time to follow a new path. A path that is not informed by some sort of perceived naïve pacifism, but by rigorous analysis of nonviolent alternatives without a so-called military option as part of the picture. The military option needs to be taken off the table, otherwise all the other approaches are facing a counterforce and are directly undermined.

Just consider this non-exhaustive list of viable, nonviolent alternatives that an increasingly professionalized field of peacebuilding offers and which is informed by a maturing academic discipline of peace science: arms embargoes, end all military aid, civil society support, nonviolent actors, sanctions, work through supranational bodies (e.g. UN, ICC), ceasefires, aid to refugees, pledge no use of violence, withdrawal of military, nonviolent conflict workers, transitional justice initiatives, meaningful and creative diplomacy, inclusive good governance, increasing women’s participation in social and political life, accurate information on facts, separation of perpetrators from support base, banning war profiteering, nonviolent civil resistance, public advocacy, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement, human rights mechanisms, humanitarian assistance and protection, economic, political and strategic inducements, monitoring, and observation and verification. The list goes on.

Unlike Dr. Attar and Nicholas Kristof I have not seen overwhelming suffering on the ground. Moreover, I can’t speak for those under siege in Aleppo and will certainly not judge those who desperately call for help through military intervention. I also want to make sure that “never again” becomes a reality. I am not making moral appeal. I am part of a community of practitioners and academics who are well qualified and have accumulated tremendous experience in providing evidence that the many nonviolent, yet forceful, alternatives are always preferable to military interventions.

The broader public is not yet well informed about all those possible measures. Research shows that people in the U.S. assume that the use of military force is the last resort and that there is a proven decline in war support when alternatives are presented. Many of them are already being used in Syria at various levels. The International Center on Nonviolent and Waging Nonviolence publish an abundance of news and analysis of nonviolent forms of conflict around the world, including on Syria. When unchallenged, all calls for military intervention continue to drown out the voices calling for the multiple viable nonviolent alternatives. If we don’t use them, it is not because they are unavailable, but because of artificially imposed constraints, lack of interest, or self-interest. While no magical solutions, we know they work better.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

Refuse Participation 1/14/14

Fight terror again, and again, and again. Or end it by refusing to participate in its creation.

By Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick Hiller

Patrick Hiller

The cycle of violence. When will it be interrupted? The attack on Charlie Hebdo was another incident of “Terror in [fill in the blank]… attackers part of [fill in name of terror network]”. It was an incident of home-grown terror, since the attackers were French-born second-generation immigrants. It is time to shift away from ineffective, reactive tactics and strategies of dealing with this kind of terror toward conflict transformation, by transforming the structures leading to terrorism.

Let’s be clear. The assassins in Paris did not avenge the Prophet and their horrific violence cannot be reconciled with Islam. They were not noble, holy warriors, they were violent criminals. They killed 12 people and in addition to those lives, the lives of their families were destroyed. Their attacks opened space for further destructive cycles of conflict, support for security crackdowns, and virtually endless military campaigns as we still are seeing in the post 9/11/01 global war on terror. If we continue on this path we “condemn the global community to ongoing terror”, as political scientist Lindsay Heger argues in her piece Redrawing our Strategy on Terror.

Here’s the usual:

At the height of conflict several things take place. First, we tend to see generalizations as we hear in the “clash of civilizations”, “us versus them”, or the “battle between Islam and freedom of speech.” Second, there is stereotyping, as we can see in the generalizations and assumptions about all members of a group. In this case a group as large and diverse as the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Third, there are knee-jerk reactions like calls for “collective detention” or “nuke them” by many so-called internet trolls. These often come with dehumanization of the other group. Fourth, tit-for-tat tactics are used as we can see in the attacks on Mosques in France. Fifth, the issues are changed deliberatively as we can see in US mainstream media commentators using the attack to promote torture or criticize New York City’s Mayor de Blasio’s politics. Sixth, emotions are exploited, fear is installed, and drastic measures are advocated as we see in far-right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen’s call for a referendum on reinstating the death penalty. All these are destructive, but very commonly used approaches of dealing with conflict. All these are ways of us participating in the cycle of continuing terror.

Here are some immediate better ways:

First and foremost, national and international law enforcement and judicial processes for individuals and groups involved in acts of terror.

Second, a call for unity from the international community, political, cultural and religious leaders condemning all forms of violent extremism.

Third, a societal response of answering hatred with love and compassion, as we have seen in Norway’s dignified response to the mass murder by islamophobic Anders Breivik.

Here are some long-term responses addressing broader, structural changes:

First, terrorism is a political problem. The colonial history and the current violent western presence in the Middle East as well as the arbitrary support for some dictators are key to providing terrorists with a support base without which they would not be able to operate and even exist. As we see this support base now goes far beyond the Middle East and has reached the suburbs of Paris and inspires other unconnected lone-wolf terrorists. Lindsay Heger argues correctly that we need to create creative governance solutions aimed at de-linking terrorists from societies. This applies just as much to groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria as it applies to the Muslim immigrant population in France.

Second, terrorism is a social problem. The gunmen were French-born descendants of Algerian immigrants. It is nothing new that there are tensions between the predominantly white, Christian, French society and mainly Muslim first and second generation immigrant populations of African origin. The majority of immigrants belong to the economic lower class of society. Poverty, unemployment and crime are common issues the young, male immigrants are facing.

Third, terrorism is a cultural problem. Muslim immigrant populations in Europe need to be able to freely develop and express their sense of self and sense of belonging. The politics of integration must allow for diversity and co-existence without imposed assimilation and inequality.

Some might argue that these suggestions have flaws, that they are not perfect, that they will never work, and so on. Yes, they have flaws, they are not perfect, and sometimes we do not know the outcome. What we know for sure is that more militarized security, sacrificing our rights, and more military campaigns makes us participants in terror. And they definitely do not work unless our intent is to recruit more terrorists.

Terrorists will be part of us as long as we don’t address the root causes and as long as we participate in it. Terror ends when we stop creating terrorists and when we stop participating in it.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., Hood River, OR, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.

Deterrence A Myth 11/19/14

ISIS, Ebola, Ferguson (nukes?)

By Patrick T. Hiller

Patrick Hiller

Patrick Hiller

Did you notice? Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel just announced plans to massively “upgrade” the US nuclear arsenal. It might have been swallowed by other breaking and ongoing news: ISIS and another beheading, Ebola, Ferguson, or the historic comet landing of Philae – at least one positive story. In addition to local news, stories in my own community of Hood River, Oregon include the transport of coal and construction of coal terminals, blast zone determination for oil trains, or the legacy of the Hanford nuclear production complex, which was part of the Manhattan Project.

Those unique or ongoing events certainly have their place in the news cycle and matter to us at different levels. Does that mean that we should numbly accept new plans by our government to revitalize systems which without doubt are the greatest threat to human survival? Did we forget that our President told the world in Prague in 2009 that America is committed to seek peace and security by creating a world without nuclear weapons, and for that announced intention received a Nobel Peace Prize?

The concerns outlined by Secretary Hagel could have provided an excellent opportunity to significantly implement the needed steps away from nuclear weapons. Cheating scandals on qualification tests or misconduct by top officers overseeing key nuclear programs certainly are worrisome. Even more worrisome is the fact that nuclear weapons still exist and are not considered an abnormality. The more troubling aspect of Hagel’s announcement is the broader nuclear modernization program. Making sure the so-called triad of strategic deliver systems grows, the Pentagon can plan for plenty of new missile submarines, new bombers and new and refurbished land-based missiles. The Monterey Institute of International Studies sums up their well-documented report: “Over the next thirty years, the United States plans to spend approximately $1 trillion maintaining the current arsenal, buying replacement systems, and upgrading existing nuclear bombs and warheads.”

Even the most doubtful among us will see the contradiction between the commitment of seeking a world without nuclear weapons and “revamping the nuclear enterprise” as Hagel noted in his keynote speech at the Reagan National Defense Forum last week.

It appears that the absence of the Cold War and the soothing rhetoric about a world without nuclear weapons keeps us complacent–or can anyone imagine one million people demonstrating against nuclear weapons as they did in New York City in 1982? That same year was the largest exercise in direct democracy (voting on an issue rather than representatives to decide ‘our’ view) when voters in referenda in about half the states decided overwhelmingly to call for a freeze on research, development, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. I think we the people should make ourselves heard again. Conflict transformation experts help us articulate many, some of them are:

First, nuclear deterrence is a myth and ought to be rejected by all people and governments. In the Santa Barbara Declaration by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation the major problems outlined with nuclear deterrence are: (1) its power to protect is a dangerous fabrication; (2) the assumption of rational leaders; (3) the threatening of mass murder is illegal and criminal; (4) it is immoral; (5) it diverts badly needed human and economic resources; (6) its ineffectiveness against non-state extremists; (7) its vulnerability to cyber-attacks, sabotage and error; and (8) setting an example to pursue nuclear weapons as deterrence.

Second, diminish the role of nuclear weapons in security policies. Once the “unthinkable” nuclear option no longer plays a central role in security planning, and once the nuclear weapons are de-coupled from conventional military forces, the elimination of nuclear arsenals can be facilitated.

Third, don’t wait for conditions to be ripe. There is statistical certainty that a nuclear weapon will be used at some point. The only way to make sure it does not happen is to eliminate all.

Fourth, encourage compliance with all international treaties and create new ones that will ban and eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide. We are at a time in history where a Global Peace System created conditions for global collaboration through international laws and treaties. It is time for the United States to meaningfully participate in this system.

Fifth, move our government toward unilateral disarmament. Without a nuclear arsenal we are not making anyone less secure. What if the United States would take the lead in a global “disarmament race”? After decades of international military interventionism the United States might become a loved and respected country again.

Sixth, recognize the role of nuclear weapons in the chain of global violence ranging from hand guns on the streets of Chicago to catastrophic environmental and humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. Violence and the threat of violence on all levels perpetuates violence.

No Russian take-over of the Ukraine, Chinese territorial claims, or even Pakistani expansion of nuclear arsenal makes it any more logical to revitalize our nuclear arsenals. We can reject the myth of nuclear deterrence and we can help the government shift the spending priorities to healthcare, education, infrastructure, the environment, renewable energy, low income housing and many more important areas. Currently our public conscience is lacking urgency with regard to nuclear weapons. We owe it to ourselves and our children to activate this urgency and make the elimination of nuclear weapons a step toward a world beyond war.

Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., Hood River, OR, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.