Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Put Down the Guns

If "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity," it seems, to this observer, that nowhere is this more evident than in the use of violence to end violence.

I attended an impassioned and respectful discussion at a community meeting last night  over the best response to the violence perpetrated by the so called ISIL/ISIS  forces. President Obama is asking Congress for authorization to send troops to battle wherever Terror strikes and is deemed a threat to U.S. interests. Typically that would mean at  a minimum where we have troops stationed. Given that we have military bases with US personnel on them in all regions of the world, this essentially means anywhere.

 In terms of constraining the so-called ISIL/ISIS threat Middle East expert, Prof. Juan Cole (University of Michigan) wrote  about "Today's Top 7 Myths About Daesh/ISIL". Item No. 6 on his list is perhaps most pertinent here, but all are worth considering.

        Myth 6. Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War. 
    The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years! But they left the country a mess. Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one? A whole civil war was fought between Sunnis and Shiites that displaced a million people and left 3000 civilians dead a month in 2006-2007, right under the noses of US commanders.

The U.S. is also a major provider of armaments in the world (US firms make up 7 of the top 10 manufacturers including the top 6) and Obama's new budget calls for even more money for a military that spends more than the next ten countries combined. Congress, under the influence of some Dark Age mentality, that more force is better, has contrived a game to elevate patriotism to a simple bidding game on who can pile more money on the military budget than the other side. Einstein, Eisenhower, and numerous others would tell us we're nuts.

Where is the new thinking that can lead us out of this ongoing, if not deepening morass? Certainly nothing portrayed in our mass media which seems to thrive on building fear in the population - it is more visually stimulating to watch buildings being blown up, than diplomats trying to find common ground. This feeds dreams of American exceptionalism and our military responses to violence anywhere, especially those with high tech wizardry. And of course there is ample funding for university research to develop more lethal forms of military hardware. Where is the research funding for other forms of disarmament that won't be profitable to corporations designing clever technological tools of destruction?

A Different Approach

From where I sit we need a major overall of consciousness and action. Some of the principles I would advocate in moving forward include the following:

1)    The U.S. is not the only nation state on earth - wouldn't each of the other 49 states balk at California deciding to take action in our state just because they are the biggest? It thus behooves us to build multi-nation efforts to end violence. If the structure of the UN prevents that effort from going forward, then  nation states that believe that wars cost too much, should either rework the rules of the UN to remove those barriers or create a new global intergovernmental entity. The entity should be designed with shared power (no veto power given to any single nation) and where consensus is the goal. But in its absence a vote of two-thirds or more of nation states could authorize international peacekeeper deployment to protect citizens, cultural and environmental landmarks. If the U.S. simply redirected funds the President is asking for "modernizing" our nuclear arsenal (a really counter-productive idea I'd suggest) towards this effort it would be highly more sustainable.

2)   Stricter arms control should be adopted and not just for nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, but for all military hardware. A global tax on production of weapons should be collected and deposited with funds being used to support global peacekeeping forces. Gun buyback programs should be monitored by an international intergovernmental entity, like the UN, and should be funded by states that export/profit from arms  sales beyond their border.

3)   The global community should be doing much more to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals they agreed to more than a decade ago.

 United Nations Millennium Development Goals

  A good portion of what gets classified as terrorism by government and media arises from the seeds of inequality and injustice. The U.S. and any nation state would be more effective fighting terrorism if they addressed the underlying causes, not just the symptoms. Turn more of the defense budget towards development.

 4)   Employ nonviolent training using examples like the recent Nonviolent Peaceforce project in Syria and related projects with civil society organizations throughout the world. 

 Nonviolent Peaceforce
 
Support efforts of local residents resisting violence like that of Suad Nofel of Syria who has been leading resistance to ISIS since 2013.

Nofel .

And perhaps most importantly start fostering the teaching of conflict resolution and dialogue processes in the schools, so that we graduate citizens who learn how to solve conflicts without weapons.