Military Peace Missions and Cultural Awareness

EDITORIAL, 29 Jun 2009

#68 | Johan Galtung

Inaugural Speech CITpax Seminar, European Commission, Madrid, 17 Jun 09

Officials from the Ministry of Defense, Officers from the Army, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Power comes in hard and soft varieties, be that as economic power, exploitation vs equity; military power, offensive vs defensive; or political power (dictatorship vs democracy).  Or as cultural power, legitimizing the three hard forms vs legitimizing the soft ones.  That makes cultural awareness essential in all human interaction, including conquest by killing bodies, or by conquering hearts and minds.  Whether uniformed people can combine the two, with guns in one hand and spades, water canisters in the other, delivering pain and pleasure, is another and dubious matter.  Let us explore.

Culture is more than such superficial aspects as not pointing your feet at anybody or touching their heads, covering heads entering sacred places of the abrahamic religions, not being too direct.  It is also deep culture, the unspoken assumptions about what is normal and natural, and collective memory, of sacred times and places, of trauma and glory.  Following Sun Tzu, who like the Greek gnothi se auton said “know thyself”, why not start with Spanish deep culture?

Francisco Franco once said that Spain is not a dictatorship but a hierarchy.  At his time it was both.  But there were deep trends in the second half of the past century: democracy gradually emerged, also from inside the falange, and Spain secularized like the rest of the West at the time.  The Father in Heaven lost His force as human guide,  the Mother’s intercession lost its significance, the Holy Spirit remained nebulous.  But vertical deep culture is often reproduced, like vertical deep structure moving from politics to economics.  After a short while Spain was guided by a Father residing in Washington DC, a Mother in Brussels, both taking that little sinner after 40 years dictatorship by the hands, informed by the Holy Spirit of democracy and human rights.  The prodigal son had returned to the fold.

Till March 2003 and March 2004; la hora de la verdad, The Choice. Father Washington demanded an attack on Iraq based on insights not available to ordinary human minds, in the name of the Holy Spirit.  Mother Brussels was divided against herself.  Democracy demanded no attack; up to 92% according to late public opinion polls.  Washington won over democracy, verticality over horizontality.  Tio Paco had become Uncle Sam.  Spain was not una, grande, libre, but divided and dependent.  Till democracy won over Washington, after 11M in 2004.

For a people well trained in repairing relations to God the Father after fits of sinfulness, mainstream Spanish politics now had to repair relations to Washington the Father.  A major problem: He may be ill, suffering from the decline and fall of aging empires.  Spain’s answer in some years is predictable: turning to a harder Mother.

Conclusion: obedience to Washington, including accepting the “soft power” US style demanded by Pentagon after the failure of military interventions nos. 240 and 241 since Jefferson.  Hearts and minds rather than bodies.  Will it work in Iraq and Afghanistan?

In Iraq, clans and classical Bedouin values are still in command: hospitality, generosity, dignity, courage, honor.  And the sacredness of women and children–broken by Al Qaeda 9/11, causing antagonism.  To murder them, and some “insurgents”, from 40,000 feet, or by drones, is the epitome of immorality and cowardice.  Like Norwegian soldiers sneaking in on caves in Afghanistan listening for human voices, then calling for a US attack killing civilians seeking cover.  Or bombing using US coordinates, not knowing the targets.  All of this observed by Iraqis through a prism defined by the massacre of 1258, of the same magnitude as the million killed so far, with 5 millon displaced.  Or by Afghans trained on Alexander the Great, English invasions 1838 and 1878, Soviet Union in 1978.  “Here they go again” is the obvious conclusion.  Not easily counteracted these very strong cultures.

That the West is fighting a triple war, against those who resist any secularization (“talibans”), those who resist the fiction of a unitary state run from Kabul (“warlords”), and those who resist being invaded as part of some chessboard game, is already problematic.  Much more problematic are time, space and Islam: for them the struggle has only one ending, the last uniformed foreigner out regardless of time; Islam drawing on the whole space of the 1,3 billion ummah from Morocco to Mindanao; never capitulate to infidels.  Culture at work, again.

Cultures come in many varieties, like collectivist-individualist, and violent-nonviolent.  Military culture is collectivist-violent, so is ETA, so were Nazi Germany and militarist Japan.  Question violence and you question the collective corpus mysticum.  This carries over to the democratic-individualist cultures inspired by hard readings of the abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam with divine, not only state mandates to kill, making USA, Israel, Ottoman Empire and UK the most belligerent countries in the past millennium (defined by the number of wars divided by the number of years of existence).

Contrast that with the buddhist country Viêt Nam.  No divine mandate to kill, but a strong sense of a karma gone wrong, badly in need of repair, not revenge.  9/11 did not come from them.  Or with a China devastated by English opium “trade” and imperialism, yet no revenge.  Reality is yin/yang, demanding understanding, not revenge.

Individualist-nonviolent cultures exist, more as Catalan seny, as negotiating-bargaining commercialism–soft economy, good at nonviolent politics–than as Basque or Castillan heroism.  Do they need uniforms?

Or – take Norway, my country, under German occupation 1940-45.  From the beginning they tried the heart and minds approach, building roads, equalized livelihood under rationing.  And they used force.  We hated them, spat on their roads–and used them.  Some were quislings but then more out of conviction, not because they had been bought.

But the goals are not occupation, but human rights and democracy!  Yes. I hear, mediating Iraq and Afghanistan, the human right not to be invaded, occupied and killed, and enough world democracy in the UN to accord to the Muslim part of the world the veto of some lesser powers.

All of this changes with the change from Chapter 7 peace enforcement “missions” to Chapter 6 peacekeeping operations, PKO.  The job is to reduce violence, often between groups with different cultures.  Cultural awareness is crucial.  As are joint peacekeeping with Muslims, high percentage of women with more cultural awareness and human sensitivity, defensive arms discretely carried, knowledge of police and nonviolence techniques like crowd control, of mediation, and so many peacekeepers that the blue caskets or caps become a blue carpet, leaving little space for war.  The culture invoked would be human decency unsullied by the hard cultures above of “asymmetric war” (a euphemism for resistance against high-tech invasion-occupation).

And yet PKO are not solutions, only stop gap measures, “order” and “stability” where deep changes are needed, like UNIFIL in Lebanon. A deep change would be a Middle East Community of Israel with its five neighboring Arab countries, Palestine fully recognized as a state in accordance with international law.  However, the worse, the most violent country, Israel, the more gratitude for ceasefire, and the less real push for a lasting solution, like the European Community (which, incidentally, was not between Germany and Luxembourg).

How about Iraq and Afghanistan?  For them to decide.  Could be a loose federation for Iraq, that 1916 artefact; and a federation for Afghanistan within a Central Asian Community, with joint UNSC-OIC PKO.

Could be.  But that requires solution and conciliation-oriented peace cultures with lots of peacebuilding projects.  Not a paranoid security culture, filled with manicheism, autism and license to kill, not even able to see the other side of piracy, like Spanish trawling.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Jun 2009.

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