Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ain't but one way out

Ben Rhodes is director for strategic communications at the National Security Council, a high official in the Obama administration. He says that the approach to Libya might just provide a model for a way to use the US military to advance US national interests even when our national security is not threatened.
This is Stalinist, Hitlerian, or, if you like, simply brutally imperialistic. If international law meant anything, it would be enforced against any power using military force to further its national interest. It is the Doctrine of Our Oil By Any Means. 

Libya ranks 8th in proven oil reserves. Syria ranks 34. Both featured brutal dictators slaughtering nonviolent democracy activists, except Bashar Assad is still doing so (this video is quite rough, quite graphic, in Arabic, and the uploader is calling for violent revolution, but it is still an example of documented killing of nonviolent activists). 

When Mubarak was opposed, the US did nothing, which was a blessing, since Mubarak's regime was entirely dependent on US military backing. Same with Ben Ali in Tunisia. If decades of US military aid to these kleptocrats couldn't save them, more of the same wasn't going to redound well for the US. 

So our enemies get the military ouster when they have oil that needs exploiting, but if they barely have enough for their own needs, the people are left twisting. What sort of messages do Ben Rhodes and President Obama think they are sending? 

The problem is that these issues cannot be handled by the US nor by NATO. What is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization doing bombing anyone in Libya? The costs to the US, to other countries in NATO, and to Libyans, are tremendous and are a moral failure. This is all about the deadly confluence of the conflict industry and propaganda, moving our species backward rather than forward. While we marvel at the fury and cost of the new storms that our global climate changing is producing we continue the resource usage that causes it, failing to connect the ironically named Irene to our solution to all problems: bomb somebody. 

We need a revolution on a matriotic nonviolent basis. Humanity has one path out: nonviolence. All others are just wandering in the worsening hell of violence, oil capture, violence, conflict debt, violence, income and wealth inequality, violence, and war against the very air, water, and natural paradise Mother Earth has been giving us for our entire evolution. That path isn't easy but all the others are disaster. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Conducting a transformative campaign

We often use the word peace to mean many different things ("Our men and women in uniform are fighting for peace"). Same with violence ("She is violently opposed to that hairstyle"). Certainly force is ambiguous (Q: "Do you advocate the overthrow of the government by force or violence?" A: "Force").

In the field of Peace and Conflict Studies there are several ways we use the word transform. Some hold that transformative mediation is all about achieving kumbaya with parties who had, to that point, been plotting each other's excruciating demise. Others refer to changing the conflict from adversarial to mutual problem-solving in a collaborative learning process. Some simply mean a minimalist goal: that you do what it takes to move a conflict from violence to nonviolence. I used to be a dewy-eyed idealist who longed for the most expansive use of transformation. Now I'm a flinty-eyed realist who sees the futility in most cases of any method beyond simply eliminating the violence. Others can rise to lofty heights of Gandhian glory or true Christianity (remember the Jesus famous one-two punch of nonviolence and loving the enemy?). I'll see about a barebones approach, simply waging conflict without committing violence.

So, you have a conflict. You need to transform it. What are the principles and what are the steps? Let's consider the worst case, living under occupation or under some form of brutal tyranny, which even includes preparation to assist security force defections--though plenty of domestic conflicts in 'free' nations require plenty of liaison with security forces in order to speed success.

The basic principles might include:

  • show respect for everyone
  • always compromise on resource or distributive issues (be a flip-flopper)
  • never compromise on principle (don't be a flip-flopper) (make sure your bottom lines are few and well known)
  • make everyone understand and preferably admit that you are nonviolent--create and defend your image, which will save more lives than almost any other principle
  • develop a BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement)
  • be as transparent as possible (obviously if you are hiding Jews from Nazis this is inappropriate, but if you are perceived as afraid to be accountable you will be branded as sneaky and untrustworthy in the battle for hearts and minds of the citizenry, and you will expose yourself to agent provocateur vulnerability)
  • prepare for the worst
  • hope for the best

The essential steps in a successful campaign might include:
  • develop a provisional goal
  • develop a coalition and sharpen the goal 
  • choose nonviolence as the primary directive and agree to that on a "time-limited offer" basis that doesn't ask for a philosophical or lifetime commitment to nonviolence, but clearly notes it is the exclusive method for this campaign aimed at the stated goal
  • agree on an adaptive management strategy that plans for success with constant reassessment built in
  • recruit
  • media work (alternative, social, mainstream)
  • fundraising from within the conflict zone (be very careful about seeking or accepting external funding)
  • train your people
  • develop increasingly good relationship with security forces to prepare them to defect
  • develop a closing strategy (e.g. decide when to accept offers to negotiate, who will negotiate with what powers of decision, and when to agree to a 'ceasefire' or not)

All these elements and more affect your chances for success--including the individual personality types of leaders on all sides, a factor important to consider as you seek to create the customized solution to your unique conflict. Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) note several of these variables and more, and then add, “Strategic factors like achieving unity around shared goals and methods, establishing realistic goals, assessing opponent vulnerabilities and sources of leverage, sequencing tactics, and navigating structural constraints (including regime repression) are also likely to be crucial determinants of campaign outcomes” (pp. 40-41).

So, you want to stop police from shooting unarmed citizens or you want to shut down a military recruiting station. You want to overthrow a despot or you want to preserve school lunches for poor kids. Every one of theses campaigns shares all these principles and strategies and tactics and more, just adjusted for your struggle. One overall goal is the same in any campaign to protect, preserve or change: winning hearts and minds. Everything should be assessed through that lens. Chenowth and Stephan ran the data and the results are clear that the greater the proportion of the population you enlist as participants, the stronger your chances are for success. 

While Margaret Mead was correct (Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."), that small group's first thought should be how to recruit. These are the combinations of actions and thought that can relieve Jonathan Schell's declaration some years ago back in the Olde Millennium when I heard him speak at a Consortium on Peace Research, Education and Development conference at Sienna College in Albany, "I am tired of going down in noble defeat." Nonviolence is the most winning strategy and will beat the pants off violence if organizers pay attention to the hard work and strategic thought necessary.

Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Special screening of a new film on stopping violence

I first heard about this film on Fresh Air, as host Terry Gross conducted another outstanding interview, this time of the director, Steve James, and one of the protagonists, Ameena Matthews, of a new film, The Interrupters.

I was riveted. I lived in that neighborhood, on the South Side of Chicago, when I was a young man, naively believing I could go help. I was lucky to make it out alive. That was in the heyday of Jeff Fort's rule over the Black P. Stone Rangers. He is now in the supermax federal unit at Florence, Colorado. Ameena Matthews is his daughter. She was formerly "in the life," as an enforcer in the gang. "I ran with the big dogs," she notes.

Now she and others stop the violence. They mediate, they interpose, they confront and they often succeed.  They know no fear.

Come see the film on Friday, August 26, at the Hollywood Theater at 7 p.m. We will discuss the film after.

A call for integrity in Peace and Conflict Studies

When I was an undergraduate studying in the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Northland College in Wisconsin (since allowed to go defunct, sadly), our focus was decidedly oppositional to much of what the US government was doing with regard to our field. Founder and Chair, Dr. Kent Shifferd, had been arrested on campus during the Nixonian descent into persecution of the peaceful (for displaying black bunting over an American flag in response to the bombing of Cambodia--he was arrested while the bombers who burned people alive were paid and given medals). He had hosted conferences for peace groups in the region. He was working to mentor the likes of me--community organizer for peace and peace felon. Dr. Shifferd gave me a skewed opening notion of what this field was, perhaps. I felt it was education for those committed to nonviolently oppose militarism and for those who also wanted to transform all conflict--interpersonal, civic, political, legal, transnational--from adversarial to some form of collaborative problem-solving. He not only oriented me, but I chose him and his program because of that orientation.

Over the years I've slowly learned not to generalize from an n of 1. My anecdotal understanding was not based on asking him to define our field nor upon his stated definition of it. I began to meet Peace and Conflict professors who held to the Just War doctrine, something I felt was clearly a blatant rationalization for mass murder. Others were oriented toward supplying graduates into the State Department or other US government agencies who were formulating, promulgating and implementing foreign policy that served the narrow economic and political interests of a corporate elite sitting on top of a patronage-based war system dedicated to preserving inequality. The word peace fuzzed into meaninglessness in many cases and my sense of a division of values within the field of Peace and Conflict Studies grew.

Still, we are at least, I would hope, all committed to upholding basic human rights. Other disciplines have begun to make serious statements in response to the grotesque governmental abuses of human rights begun anew during the Bush regime (and continue, most distressingly, in the 'new' Obama program). The American Psychological Association has made specific rulings on what is permissible for their members in regard to participation in activities that violate human rights. That was prompted by the revelations that US psychologists had been working with torturers in places like Abu Ghraib.

In addition, US anthropologists began serious reflection on a related issue once it became embroiled in the controversial Human Terrain System project in Afghanistan. Their professional association, the American Anthropological Association, rejected participation in that military collusion.

In the US and Canada, our academic association is the Peace and Justice Studies Association. PJSA has no formal position on anything in this regards. I think we should, since the other disciplines have had to react to egregious violations of good practices, and we would rather be proactive, if possible.

Do I have any brilliant ideas of how this should be done? Nope. But I can begin a list of possible pitfalls for our practitioners, which include faculty, students doing practica and field research, and our graduates. And I can make a barebones bottom line beginning toward an organizational statement. Then I would hope others would make my beginning more intelligent and practical.

Possible situations to avoid:
  • Association with any illegal activity under the international laws on Human Rights, War, Torture, and all Crimes Against Humanity.
  • Providing services that result in the deaths or harm to noncombatants.
Possible language in an organizational statement that might set a minimum standard for our professional activities:
PJSA members are ethically and professionally expected to not seek nor accept employment or engage in any personal or professional practices that would aid in the violation of international laws on Human Rights, War, Torture, and all Crimes Against Humanity, and would be expected to act in a whistleblowing capacity if such practices were discovered or made known to that member. Our members are also expected to refrain from personally or professionally providing services--either gratis or for compensation--that would likely result in harm to noncombatants.

So, I'm sure a legal scholar or organizational genius could rework this toward a more meaningful, practical, legal and logical statement. I certainly invite comments.

Nuclear attribution error

“Nuclear weapons are not the causes of conflict, they are symptoms of a threat environment already predisposed to war” (p. 63).
--Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan
As Dr. King pointed out, most of us are self-centered. We take everything personally. In the extreme, we label someone delusional if they believe President Obama's speech was made in reference to them. But what about when entire nations are delusional?

Einstein and others freaked out because they feared Germany would develop an atomic weapon. They convinced Roosevelt to start the Manhattan Project and we got our nuke--which we then used after Germany had surrendered. On Japan.

Which made the Soviets nervous, since the Cold War was immediately on, so they developed a nuke in response to our nuke which we had developed in response to a nonexistent nuke of Germany's.

Which alarmed China (not to mention Britain and France), since they had ceased to be commie buddies with the Soviets, so they invented and tested a nuke in response to the Soviets who had built theirs in response to the US who had made theirs reacting to Germany, who has never had one.

That got Nehru's knickers in a twist, since he had declared war on China in 1962 over a sliver of the Himalayas where no one lived, so India produced The Bomb in response to China who hadn't been thinking of India at all when they made theirs as a foil to the Soviets who had not contemplated China at all while constructing their nuke to counter America's who didn't develop theirs thinking of the Soviets but to beat the Germans to it, who were never actually seriously in the running.

Well, that fried General Zia's hash because of Kashmir and other reasons to hate India, so he said the Paks would have their nuke even if the people had to eat grass (of course he never had to, personally speaking, which is the norm for great military leaders), even though India had produced their Bomb in response to China, who had produced theirs in response to the Soviets, who had produced theirs in response to the US, who had built theirs to defeat the Germans, who gave up on all this early.

Perhaps the only ones who have nukes based on logic, however tautological, are the North Koreans, who have annoyed almost everyone and so are paranoid because no one likes them because they are paranoid. And the ultimate irony there is that they point at least some of their nukes toward the only people who have been attacked with them so far, the Japanese, who have never tried to develop these immoral, illegal, unsoldierly godawful things.

Sigh. And so it goes. Like a rumor mill that cranks out unnecessary conflict and costs, we've done this writ large with nukes. Will our species make it out of our troubled teenage years? Only if we mature quickly enough to avoid the ultimate self-inflicted wounds such as nuclear arsenals.

Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Watch the backfire

When we were moving from protest to resistance in our campaign to shut down a nuclear command facility (Project Extremely Low Frequency, or ELF) along the north coasts of Wisconsin and Michigan we had a welter of opinions about methods. Most of us wanted to use nonviolence, but some said they were so angry they really couldn't promise anything. After all, we had voted against the US navy project again and again, including a vote in Michigan's Upper Peninsula that counted some 80 percent against the navy project in referenda in all counties of the UP. Yoopers were enraged and back in Wisconsin, where the navy had run into a wall of opposition since it built a 'test' facility in 1969, virtually all elected officials were opposed to it, so when they expanded the system into Michigan and clearly violated their promise to dismantle the Wisconsin 'test' facility once testing was complete ("Hey boys! It's been a lot of years now!") northern Wisconsin loggers, farmers, and small resort owners were also good and angry.

I got many notices, phone calls, and comments such as, "Sorry, not going to join your demonstration. I'm going out one of these days and shoot out the antenna." Like so many other huffs and puffs about the violent things one is "going to do one of these days," no one ever did. Meanwhile, our resistance was ongoing for years. The navy was constantly hoping we might get violent, I think, and when we started cutting down poles that supported the antenna line, they called us 'terrorists.'

Too late. No one believed them. Not our neighbors, not law enforcement, not juries. We were so open, so nonviolent, and so accountable for our actions that we won lots of respect and some hearts and minds. We were never derailed by violence. We had one group come up from a city who evidently thought they were going to show us the real radical way to do things. After we spent a whole year pulling the surveyor stakes out of the forest and confronting the navy at every turn, including sending media release copies to the sheriff telling him where we'd be doing our nonviolent civil resistance, the 'radicals' from Madison finally joined us for one outing and when they did their group photo they all wore bandanas covering their faces. We all snorted. That was the radical way? We thought standing up and showing our faces and speaking as ourselves by name was far more radical and honest. At least the Madison group didn't threaten violence. If they would have, we would have renounced them.

We knew then, and research has borne out, that threats of violence and violence do not make a movement more effective. As a rule, violence decreases chances of success in social movements. Chenoweth and Stephan (2011) measured that factor in several ways in their sample of 323 major social struggles between 1900 and 2006. Their methodology is explained in detail in their new book, but is also clear in their 2008 International Security journal article.

“A ‘negative radical flank effect,’ or spoiler effect, occurs when another party’s violence decreases the leverage of a challenge group” (p. 43).

Violence is a loser or ends in stalemate some 74 percent of the time, while nonviolence succeeds more than 53 percent of the time. The radical flank drags down a campaign and the realists who are not pacifists need to rethink nonviolence as a strategy, if not a philosophy.

Chenoweth, Erica, & Stephan, Maria J. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.