The global phenomenon of war distorts our ongoing attempts to build peace in conflict after conflict and in many different ways. Diana Francis looks at some of the evidence and asks if war can be justified.
Wars are averted by people’s courage, skill and volition. This was the case in 2008 in Kenya, where civil war was averted largely through the efforts of a team of local peacemakers. Even when wars have taken place and have destroyed relationships and lives, there are those who retrieve something from the ashes for the survivors, rebuild infrastructure and livelihoods, and do what they can to repair relationships.
Yet so many wars do break out (as in Georgia recently), so many prove intractable in spite of constant efforts to end them (as in DRC/Congo) and so many recur (as is currently threatened in Sudan), that it is hard for conflict transformers, who know at first hand the suffering and destruction, not to feel discouraged.
Many of us are citizens of ‘civilised’ countries that have been engaged in wars in recent decades. We are used to news of ‘the courage of our boys’ who are ‘fighting for our security’. We are familiar with the language of deterrence. Our taxes, even at times of financial crisis, are directed towards war and the capacity for it. Like it or not, we too are involved in it, albeit indirectly.
The impoverishment of populations and underdevelopment of societies is the seedbed for both local violence and resentment against wealthier countries. Yet global expenditure on the preparation and conduct of war far exceeds spending to address the needs of the poor – who, by Western standards, constitute the vast majority of the world’s population. The recent Copenhagen talks foundered because rich countries lacked the will to meet the requests of poor countries to do more to help them meet the costs of carbon reduction and global warming. Instead ‘the haves’ will spend more on military preparations to ‘defend their resource interests’ against the ‘have nots’, as pressure on scarce resources increases.
It seems that money is no object for war. Military spending rose in 2008 to almost 1.5 trillion dollars, as arms proliferate and new weapons are developed. As Kavita Ramdas and Paul Rogers argue so eloquently, this use of resources makes us ever less safe, as resource scarcity and climate change intensify and inequality widens and instability grows. The resources available for conflict transformation are pitiful by comparison: a tiny fraction of ‘defence’ and foreign affairs budgets and small in relation to those of development departments.
The fact that governments are nonetheless the largest donors makes the larger NGOs heavily dependent on them. Since the values and actions of some of the biggest of these donors are at odds with those of conflict transformation, this financial control can be limiting and compromising. For instance, a vast amount of funding goes into ‘peacebuilding’ after invasion and during occupation. In Kosovo after the NATO action, I was torn between keeping faith with colleagues there and the discomfort of working within such a project of peace-through-war, the imposition of a new regime, rather than real peacebuilding.
How can those who make war in order to impose their will on others ever be seen as promoting cooperative, nonviolent and democratic processes? It is hard to see. As I have argued and Paul Clifford has illustrated, peace can only be built by local people. Those who wish to rebuild their country in cooperation with occupying forces are liable to be seen as traitors. War is – to say the least – not a good entry point for peacebuilding, which should rather be a means of preventing war. Once war has happened, someone has to pick up the pieces, but a glance at current realities in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan will show what an uphill struggle that is. The half life of violence is very long.