Civilian Peace Service

EDITORIAL, 16 Aug 2010

#125 | Johan Galtung, 16 Aug 2010 - TRANSCEND Media Service

Jondal, Hardanger, Norway:  A seminar on peace service after a symposium where Ministries of Peace were brought up puts this little community of 10,000 in the forefront of peace politics.  Nordisk fredsakademi, the Nordic Peace Academy, is the organizer, under the fine leadership of Laila Bergsagel, Alexander Harang and Synöve Faldalen, who is also the convener of TRANSCEND-Nordic, and the person fronting SABONA; TRANSCEND in family, school and at the work place.  A strong team.  Symposium-seminar, every August.

The seminar reported great progress in the implementation of the general peace service idea, as Nonviolent Peaceforce, NP–in Sri Lanka and the Philippines–and as Civilian Peace Service, with the very impressive German CPS active all over, including in Afghanistan.  Experiences were exchanged.  Mutual inspiration.

There is a broad spectrum of ideas pulling toward nonviolent approaches in violent situations.

No doubt many of them originated in Gandhi, the genius of nonviolence who put that word and vision into practice.  His satyagraha brigade, or shanti sena, were concrete manifestations, organizing people to hold on to, grasp (grahein) satya, standing for God, Truth, and Love.  What did Gandhi mean by that?

God is that guiding light “out there” giving life meaning “in us”.  “The atheism of the atheist” was Gandhi’s famous example.  Truth is what leads to its realization, not just correspondence with any empirical reality, or something correctly deducted from axioms.  And Love unites all humans beyond gender and generation, race and nations, class and caste, geography and history.

The satyagraha brigades were efforts to practice, through:

[1] non-violent defense against a violent aggressor by non-cooperation, civil disobedience etc.;

[2] in-between roles between two aggressors, physically impeding the violence, helping victims, being witnesses to what happened, mediating, bringing them together, reconciling;

[3] positive action, reconstruction, rehabilitation, construction; today often known as disaster and-or development assistance.

Much of this was adopted by the International Peace Brigades launched by War Resisters’ International in the early 1960s, among other tasks as a buffer in connection with the coming independence of Tanganyika, later as Tanzania.

The Norwegian peace corps idea launched August 1960 picked up all three gandhian ideas and added one: reciprocity, not only Norwegians in developing countries, but also vice versa.  What finally was realized by the government some years later was only a one-way development corps, like the Kennedy US Peace Corps.

In the UN the triple peace-making, -keeping, -building is another articulation of the same general idea: (almost) nonviolent intervention-assistance in violent conflict.  Peace-making is close to the second Gandhi point above, and peace-building is close to the third.  But peace-keeping is far from the first point: it is armed.

However, Chapter 6 in the UN charter minimizes violence to defensive use, hand-weapons, whereas Chapter 7 opens for the oxymoron peace-enforcement, “by all necessary means” (the Swiss reason for withdrawing from Afghanistan: we were invited to peace-keeping but the reality was peace-enforcement).

Thus, the Nonviolent Peaceforce, and the Civilian Peace Service, are riding on these waves into the future.  What could they pick up from past and present?  There is a basic problem: now coming from the West, there is always the danger that they could become the continuation of aggressive Western governmental politics by nongovernmental means.  How can this be avoided?

First of all, by demilitarizing the terminology.  Rather than “force”, use “service”, or simply “work”.  Gandhi himself was criticized for the term “brigade”, but he was very attached to the idea of the “heroic nonviolent warrior” (kshatria).  Also avoid terms like “deployment” and “intervention”; rather, use “working” and “assistance”.  Listen with the ears of those who have been killed by, and suffered from, deployment and intervention.

Such Western propaganda terms as “peace process” and “road map”, also when there is none, should also be avoided.  As should “winning hearts and minds”, so often coming from people who have neither hearts nor minds.  How do such terms sound to those who have been exposed to processing, mapping and this type of winning?

Second, through reciprocity.  Two-way service.  Much of the violence in the world has its origin in the West spreading in various ways all over the world, also trying to clone itself with the genes of the Western liberal development model based on economic growth, human rights and democracy.  Good ideas up to a certain point, but there are very many other good ideas in the world.  Thus, invite Muslims to Western countries to explain Islam as togetherness and sharing; there is enormous Western ignorance.  Invite Chinese to explore how the Chinese community-centered model could be applied.  Propaganda?  But, what does insisting on only one model, the Western-liberal one, look like? Let models play!

Third, where there is violence there is a conflict somewhere. At the root of a conflict is some kind of goal incompatibility.  What could be better than organizing one hundred local dialogues on what the conflict is about, letting proposals for unraveling that incompatibility drift up to the higher levels of domestic and global society?  If people have no ideas, you may be sure somebody else will impose their goals.   Let one hundred proposals play!

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Aug 2010.

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3 Responses to “Civilian Peace Service”

  1. Eleonora Masini says:

    Conflicts are all around us even in political life in some countries like mine. They are not called conflicts but they are in words and not only. They are so defused that it makes people concerned unable to strongly react until it will become a real conflict. Islands of reactions are in small social environments such as villages or very small towns but, even if brave, unable to get together to peacefully react

  2. Hans Sinn says:


    Greetings to you and our colleagues of the Nordisk fredsakademi; a seminar on Peace Service after a symposium where Ministries of Peace were discussed places them indeed at the forefront of peace politics.

    It is good to note how Civilian Peace Service, Nonviolent Peaceforce, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict and the Ministries for Peace Initiatives are reinforcing each other.


  3. Antonino Drago says:

    UN Agenda for Peace stated the beginnings of the transarmament, i.e. a period of time in which the armed forces and the non-armed forces mutually compete for capturing the people consensus.
    But at present the non-armed forces are not recognised by the States. Yet, in most Countries the conscientious objection to military service is allowed by a specific law. However, in no State there exist a register of all the objectors to the war. The status of objector to armed defense is a human right to be claimed by loyal means. In Italy some persons started a loyal initiative with this aim. An international inizitive with the same aim is welcome, because only after this register will be constituted in each State, the motivations of the people performing a peace service in the World will be clear to all: not only a naive religious motivation but also a political motivation face to the State.