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February 2, 1999
With Responses From
Feb 2, 1999
5 Min read time
The Global Action program is practical.
Over the past year, Jonathan Dean, Saul Mendlovitz, and I have discussed the Global Action program with several hundred scholars, activists, and diplomats. No one has said “This is a bad plan; I would not like the world that is its goal, nor do I like the proposed steps for moving from here to there.” Instead, a common response has been, “This is a great plan; I would love to see it work; too bad that that is not possible.”
The Global Action program is a practical, positive agenda for the global consciousness-raising and organizing that must ultimately underpin a stable, enduring peace.
Mary Kaldor and Lora Lumpe respond this way. Kaldor calls the proposal an “eminently rational program for the elimination of war;” Lumpe says it offers “a detailed road map” to a world that she would want to live in. But both then go on to argue that the Global Action approach is not politically viable. In Kaldor's view the program falls short of the radical change that is needed to achieve our long-term goals; in Lumpe's view the program is too ambitious to sell politically. Let me respond to their specific criticisms, and then return to the broader issue raised: How do social change movements mobilize political will, or political viability? What makes some activist efforts succeed and others fail? Kosta Tsipis and Alan Cranston include some helpful suggestions on this matter in their comments.
Kaldor, Lumpe, and Tsipis apply the Global Action proposals to quite different arenas. Kaldor looks at intractable conflicts over “identity politics,” which are generally fought with small arms and concern government control within a given nation. She argues that Global Action's “technical” proposals-presumably the proposals concerning arms reduction and confidence-building-would not stop such conflicts. Tsipis looks at the long-standing conflict between Greece and Turkey, a dispute between nations that occasionally erupts into armed clashes, but is played out mainly in an arms race in which each side imports costly high-tech weapon systems, mainly from the United States and in part with U.S. aid. In commenting that the Global Action approach might work in Greece and Turkey, Tsipis probably has in mind the same arms reduction and confidence-building proposals that Kaldor finds irrelevant.
Kaldor is right that limits and cutbacks in armaments are unlikely to stop the outbreak of deadly ethnic or “identity” conflicts. But the Global Action program is not limited merely to arms-related steps. It includes a wide array of other measures designed specifically to help prevent or end internal conflicts, in which major weapon systems play little or no role.
First of all, the Global Action proposal provides for the development of Regional Security Organizations, which can bring diverse economic and political carrots and sticks to the bargaining table with member nations in conflict. Second, it gives both the Regional Organizations and the UN an array of military and nonmilitary means of identifying budding conflicts at an early stage, intervening politically and diplomatically, and, if all else fails, rapidly deploying armed peacekeeping brigades to prevent or end violence. These means are not “technical”: they represent expressions of political and human concern, outrage, and determination, pursued in a timely and forceful way. Third, it includes proposals for developing an international convention on minority rights, and for UN on-site assessment of fulfillment of the terms of existing human rights conventions. These measures would not preclude ethnic hostility, but they could prevent or alleviate the virulent emotions and systematic oppression which feed on one another and can lead, ultimately, to genocidal behavior. Fourth, the International Criminal Court and an associated international civilian police corps will act across national borders to apprehend individuals charged with crimes against humanity. Finally, the Global Action program as a whole would strengthen standards of nonviolent conflict resolution and democratic behavior throughout the international system. And in all these ways, it would foster the “the construction of a democratic inclusive political constituency” that Kaldor sees as a sine qua non for the end of war.
Lumpe looks at the politics in Washington, and argues that despite circumstances favoring the Global Action approach since 1991, policies and events have moved in the opposite direction; she notes that victories in Washington are won “only on highly specific, disaggregated issues” such as banning one weapon system or cutting off exports to one repressive government. Yet it is precisely because events have moved in the opposite direction that we have attempted to channel our disappointment into the articulation of a positive alternative. And it is because single-issue “victories” in Washington cannot succeed in changing an entire approach to security that we have attempted to put together a package that could.
This brings us back to the question of political will. Among ingredients essential to the success of our program, Senator Cranston underscores “the deep and total involvement of non-governmental organizations.” Tsipis identifies another sphere of potential and critically important support in Greece and Turkey-and, I believe, more generally. In his view, the “academic, industrial, and merchant classes” in Turkey are peaceful and non-expansionist; the Greek “merchant class, banking industry, tourist industry, and most other industrialists oppose the feverish arms race”; and both nations might support Global Action if the program included efforts to engage not just the grassroots, but “the economic and intellectual elites.”
In thinking about how to create the political clout needed to move toward peace, it is helpful to remember how early feminists responded to the claim that “men will never agree,” or civil rights workers to the argument that “bigots will never change,” or environmental activists to the objection that “big business will block it.” Of course, the relative successes of the women's, civil rights, and environmental movements does not mean that any effort for constructive social change will lead to a successful movement. Still, one can take from these and other social-change successes-such as ending slavery or women's suffrage-several lessons:
They all faced seemingly insuperable odds at the outset, posed by rigid institutions, vested interests, and entrenched opinions.
1. They advocated both moral and practical reasons for change.
2. They identified their task as a combination of winning active adherents and wearing down ambivalent opponents.
3. They looked for support in every possible quarter to overcome resistance to change.
4. They pursued many different avenues to the same end-legal change, electoral change, change in social behavior, change in business practices, educational change.
5. They were prepared to continue indefinitely, until the change they sought had been achieved.
Global Action to Prevent War is a platform that sets out the shared goals of like-minded individuals. It does not attempt to identify obstacles to change; it is neither “technical” nor utopian. It is a practical, positive agenda for the global consciousness-raising and organizing that must ultimately underpin a stable, enduring peace.
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