There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
~ A.J. Muste
Can we make peace the way?
A Congolese woman looks out of her hotel window to see a group in the street starting a loud protest, while a large number of soldiers advances on them.
Instead of staying inside and watching, she walks out into the street, alone. She places herself right between the two groups.
From behind come the angry shouts of the mass of townspeople. In front, she sees the well-armed soldiers drawing ever closer.
Through calm perseverance and fearlessness, the woman manages to talk to both sides, listen carefully, and remind each of their interests. Will they hear?
After some time, both groups come to understand that their interests can be served without violence. The townspeople and the soldiers disperse.
This is a true story. It is one of an endless number of examples of nonviolence in support of peace. Did you know that skills like these exist and are used every day around the world? How many violent situations are avoided (and thus don’t become news) through disciplined nonviolence? How would you react in a conflict situation that you saw escalating? What elements of peacebuilding do you use in your own life?
At the end of 2013 CFSC released a booklet, The Four Elements of Peacebuilding, which blends frontline stories like the one above with theory and methods developed by Quakers and other leaders in the peacebuilding field.
For a peaceful world, change is desperately needed at multiple levels at once. That example conflict above arose in part because of many systemic causes of tension and a failure of the world community, including Canada, to address these. Just the opposite, certain economic interests within Canada and internationally too often help to deepen and perpetuate many of the world’s armed conflicts.
We have done much over the years to promote Canada’s responsibility to prevent which to us includes investing in creative local peacebuilding work as well as multilateral efforts to build peace.
We believe in community-based social, environmental and economic alternatives to armed conflict. We’ve seen that when civil society is strong, communities can better balance differing interests, and so prevent the injustices and opportunities for corruption that can motivate armed conflict. These are key parts of a culture of peacebuilding which we’ve written about elsewhere.
We defend human rights and civil liberties because they are the basis of positive security, and we promote disarmament. United Nations-based international agreements are important standards for this work. We also support nonviolent, unarmed conflict resolution and security alternatives.
War as a tool for peace
In terms of intervention, we believe in strategies that are consistent with prevention, but designed to be effective in the midst of violent conflict. Despite the lack of evidence that any war in the last half century has brought about peace and stability, many cling to old ideas about what wars are, how they’re fought, and, most damagingly of all, that some wars are necessary or ultimately useful for protection or for later peace.
Putting aside the terrible human and environmental costs of war, CFSC must disagree with even this most basic assertion that modern wars can achieve an end-goal of peace and stability. Toward this goal, war is simply and consistently an incredibly costly failure, though it may appear to benefit some in the short-term.
Canadian Friends have not found unity with the idea of there being a “just war”. We agree with the spirit of the World Council of Churches’ call to shift our thoughts, efforts, and expenditures to just peace. We agree wholeheartedly with their assessment that, “We must join other communities of faith and people of good will to reduce national military capacities and delegitimize the institution of war.”
Canadian Quaker response to The Responsibility to Protect
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was developed in the early 2000s as an international security and human rights framework, attempting to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
R2P was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly Member States in the Outcome Document of the 2005 High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly (World Summit).
R2P redefines a state’s sovereignty as the responsibility to protect all of its citizens, including protection from threats that originate within the state.
It insists that in cases where a state is unable or unwilling to protect, the international community, under and with the authority of the UN, has a responsibility to intervene and protect. Intervention is interpreted as including armed force “in the last resort”.
What should be the Quaker response to the dilemma posed by atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity? Does the international community have a responsibility to protect victims? How can such a responsibility be carried out? What does our peace testimony call us to “in the last resort”? These questions concerned Friends deeply.
Discernment among Friends revealed that this was an opportunity to show how nonviolent strategies can transform conflict. To do this, there needs to be an understanding of how nonviolent protection works, the types and uses of force and coercion, and the practical nonviolent alternatives.
In 2006, the Canadian Council of Churches asked its members (including Canadian Yearly Meeting) to form a policy on “Protection of Vulnerable Populations” in response to the adoption of R2P as a fundamental aspect of Canadian foreign policy.
Friends decided to spend a year studying these questions at the local level. The final report provides the Canadian Quaker position on Responsibility to Protect and a summary of the thoughts and discussions that led to this position. These sentences capture the essence:
The responses from Friends Meetings were in unity that we could not support “military intervention in the last resort”. Thinking of military intervention as a “last resort” assumes that it is inevitable. It hinders non-military action such as nonviolent inter-positioning. Insisting upon the spiritual imperative of respecting that of God in every person, Meetings showed the effectiveness of the wide range of nonviolent intervention strategies that are available.
This guides CFSC in its responses to violent conflicts in the world. See for example the PDF statements: to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (2007), in opposition to the military intervention in Libya (2011), and on why Canada should not support a military intervention in Iraq and Syria (2014).
What are some of the nonviolent peacebuilding options?
We’ve documented examples of effective nonviolent peacebuilding work from around the world in our book The Four Elements of Peacebuilding. Here are a few of the kinds of peacebuilding activities that Quakers have been involved in internationally:
- Multi-party off the record dialogue – most in the general public would be unaware that mediated dialogue has taken place so its impact goes largely unnoticed. But, as violent as our world is today, it would be much worse were it not for the effective use of this type of nonviolent work, which includes the Quaker UN Offices‘ work of “quiet diplomacy” (i.e. providing a place where UN diplomats, staff, and nongovernmental partners can work on difficult issues in a quiet, off-the-record atmosphere out of the public eye).
- Accompaniment of local nonviolent change workers – Peace Brigades International is an example organization through which international volunteers accompany civil society leaders and open more space for the defense of human rights. Another example is Nonviolent Peaceforce which employs paid staff to build relationships of protective accompaniment and stay in communities over the longer-term. Accompaniers may be local or international. They approach this peacebuilding work as a career.
- Personal transformation encounter workshops – These facilitated workshops harness the power of stories by bringing people together to share and hopefully heal. They empower individuals to face each other and recognize their collective humanity and that both “victims” and “perpetrators” are injured by most conflict situations. Various models have been developed and implemented in a wide range of contexts from the criminal justice system in North America to the post-genocide community building of Rwanda. Methods include Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) and Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC).
- Nonviolent creative action teams – groups learn nonviolent skills to organize communities and take creative actions that stimulate political negotiation. Many forms of theatrical and organized group protest fit in this category. An example is the Turning the Tide methodology developed by British Friends.
- Regional intergovernmental human rights or human security commissions – diplomats representing intergovernmental bodies and not a particular state scrutinize compliance of a state in order to join or maintain membership in a regional alliance or union (like the European Union, the African Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, etc.).
But can nonviolence really work?
For many more examples you can visit The Global Nonviolent Action Database which contains more than 800 stories of nonviolent direct action in over 190 countries, classified into over 198 different nonviolent methods used. We believe many of these techniques are ultimately far more effective than violent interventions and do more in the long-term to promote a sustainable culture of peacebuilding.