Criminalize War!

EDITORIAL, 1 Oct 2013

#292 | Johan Galtung

Nobody has brought this simple message to the world like the Perdana Global Peace Foundation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  As the leader, Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysia’s fourth prime minister says:

“Peace for us simply means the absence of war. We must never be deflected from this simple objective”.

So they organize compelling exhibitions and conferences to highlight the atrocities and horrors of war, starting with World War I, often in cooperation with Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta University in Indonesia.  A very clear message from the Southeastern part of the world to the Northwestern part: Stop It!  All your rules of war add up to its legitimation; wars get ever worse as measured by the percentage of non-combatant, civilian casualties; from about 10 percent in World War I to 90 percent in the Vietnam and other wars at the end of the 20th century. They dare refer to crimes as “unintended consequences”, “collateral damage”.

Take Norway, a “peace nation”, as example; not the USA an Israel with their gods, the idea of being chosen, and exceptionalism.  See what Norway does against the spirit of UNSC-United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 to protect civilians, promote cease-fire and mediate a political solution in Libya. And against the UN Charter Article 2 outlawing war.

According to testimony by pilots on the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation “Brennpunkt” (in focus), 25 percent of the bombing was planned with goals selected in advance. The rest were chosen by the pilots who from 40,000 feet decided which buildings, roads or people they observed were targets: “We were told to fly into an enormous area the size of Southern Norway and search for targets ourselves. We were used to clearance from somebody on the ground, but did not get it”.

But regime change they got, as well to assure that the Libyan Central Bank would be private, not state, and could not defy the designs of private capital for global dominance. Norway obeyed orders, doing its part.

This is criminal activity, like mass murderers gone amok shooting wildly at everything that moves. Who ordered it? The Labor Party prime minister, the foreign minister and the defense minister in a “red-green” (meaning brown) coalition. Who did it? The pilots. According to the Nürnberg Tribunal the latter cannot claim they only followed orders; and according to the Tokyo Tribunal the former cannot claim that they were unaware of what happened. It is the duty of the former to assess the legality of what happens, and of the latter to know what happens.

The sum of the crimes of the Gaddafi regime and the bombing of Libya is not zero; they are two crimes, to be handled separately. The case is now being made at the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, the International Criminal Court in The Hague (where Norway does not enjoy US protection), and at the Norwegian Constitutional Court. They will encounter incomprehension in Norway: We, the perfect ones? Crimes?

Yet, this is the necessary breakthrough in consciousness. Imagine starting a war between states becoming an international crime in the same way that starting violence within states is an intra-national crime. Would we not apprehend the criminals and arraign them into court?

The Pinochet precedent: globalizing crimes against humanity; a crime committed somewhere is a crime committed everywhere. The criminal can be arrested in any state on the planet in the future, be extradited, or else tried where he is arrested. The Mother of parliaments in London showed the way as it also did for the war in Syria; a solvable crisis.

This would limit their freedom to travel as it already does for some top US and Israeli politicians. Yet beyond that there is another approach: excommunicating such states from the inter-state system, and the UN, breaking or downgrading bilateral diplomatic relations.  Trade is not the issue; state legitimacy, unless that state itself takes action indicting the “warlords”, is. The present system gives a US president the right almost singlehandedly to press the nuclear button.

Where does this madness come from? From the 1648 “Peace” of Westphalia asserting the right of states to (declared) war? That does not explain the concentration of the “right” to engage in mass murder on the top of the state pyramid.  The abrahamic god kills massively–more in the Torah and the Bible than in the Qur’an; to be a king gratia dei, by the grace of god, bestows the same right of kings to their successors, the presidents and prime ministers.  Not strange that we find most belligerence in the Occident. Democracy or not, it does not matter. The “grace of god” was transferred to the people in vox popoli, vox dei, leading to the grotesque idea that democracies have more of a mandate to kill. As if democracies were about killing and not about nonviolent transfer of power and resolution of conflicts.  The exact opposite of, and the remedies, to war and killing.

We are moving in this direction.  As inter-state war becomes rarer, wars will stand out as exceptional, illegitimate and illegal by the UN Charter.  The old laws of nations applied to inter-state wars lose their significance as the world evolves.  R2P, “Responsibility to Protect”, kills on other states’ territory; unlike self-defense by defensive military on one’s own.  Could ulterior motives be behind the dubious idea of killing people to save people?  Have really all other means been used? Not by diplomats trained in promoting the interests of their own countries, but by massive nonviolent invasion from the outside as buffer, protecting some, impeding others? Deep mediation applied to all parties to the conflict, not merely to two of them chosen to fit he abrahamic search for God vs Satan, translated into People vs Hitler and his likes; readily issuing Hitler-certificates?

Not strange if patriarchy and patriotism are yielding to parity and globalism. The Fifth Commandment, Thou shalt not kill, was for the in-group only. But today we are ever more one big in-group. Using states to kill makes the killers outlaws. Criminals. Stop it.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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7 Responses to “Criminalize War!”

  1. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Johan, Is the title “Criminalize War” yours? I can’t understand how this could become a reality, if paying scientists to invent or develop weapons, mortars, bombs, torture and spying instruments, is not a crime.

    How can we criminalize war whilst paying engineers to develop faster and more powerful warships and air-fighters, piloted and pilot-less (drones)? the name of the vehicles only is enough to prove that Governments, with UN “full” support could NEVER think of Peace. (“WAR”ships – air”FIGHTERS”)

    In the UK millions are being spent at the moment in a super-warship that will be ready for action in 2016. This is clear proof that PEACE is something a politician is NOT allowed to consider.

    What we should campaign for is the Criminalization of weapons and military vehicles manufacturing. We should make all military schools illegitimate. Having Defense Ministries should be declared a Crime. We should ask for the Criminalization of Armed Forces, of Embassies having Military Attachés, of public places displaying statues or paintings of famous mass murderers called “hero”

    Unless we erase Militarism from the planet, War will NEVER be a crime.

    As to your comment on Religions, I can’t understand why the fact Qur’an has less explicit violence than the 2 Bibles makes Islam less prone to fighting!and I’m even more surprised to read “….USA an Israel with their gods, the idea of being chosen,….” when the term Holy War is in the lips of all fighting Muslims. All main religions are equally criminal. We should not forget that “Politics” is a relatively modern phenomenon. In the past, Armies were Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim; they did not belong to a specific country.

    And although we can nowadays assert the nationality of an Army, we know that Religions are behind them, still influencing events. This is why American Muslims in the USA Armed Forces are exempted from killing in Iraq or Afghanistan; why Israeli Muslims in the Armed Forces are not sent to fight Palestinians. Same in Kashimir, India chooses to send Hindu soldiers, whilst Pakistan places their Muslim fighters.

    Queen Elizabeth II is Head of the Church and also Head of State. I cannot think of a better example to illustrate the closeness between Religion and Armed Forces. In other words, between Religion and War.

  2. […] The abrahamic god kills massively–more in the Torah and the Bible than in the Qur'an; to be a king gratia dei, by the grace of god, bestows the same right of kings to their successors, the presidents and prime ministers.  […]

  3. ingrid kepler-may says:

    I FULLY agree that war and weapon manufacture should criminalized! there are NO ECUSES for war and killing.

  4. Alberto Portugheis says:

    I would like to add that what Johan Galtung calls “The Pinochet preceden”, a case of a criminal in Chile prosecuted in Europe, it was ALL a comedy, to make people believe we live in a Democratic world and above all, that our politicians, who spend so much time and energy in organizing wars, are actually interested in globalizing “crimes against Humanity”. Obviously Prof Galtung has an idealistic view of “The Mother of parliaments in London”, but I live in London, listen to and converse with local politicians on a regular basis, so, I’m afraid, have a very different view. As to Pinochet, whilst under arrest, he was visited by warmonger Margaret Thatcher and by the global President of Amnesty International, another organization who makes money out of wars, out of military crimes. This is why they did NOTHING (except in appearance) to remove that murderer and torturer from power.

  5. Alberto Portugheis says:

    Dear Ingrid,

    You say “there are NO EXCUSES for war and killing.”, but there are: the excuse is that weapons MUST be sold. If they are not used, manufacturers cannot keep selling.

    Humans will always fight, for all kind of reasons, nothing to do with WAR. It is natural that men and women have disagreements and lose their temper. If they go beyond certain limits, they can be arrested and prosecuted. However, as long as you don a military uniform, torture or kill, invade countries, etc, on orders from your warmongering superiors, the more damage you cause, the more chances you have, unless you’re killed in action, to be promoted, to become more famous, richer, to be called “hero”.

    It is the Law of Cause and Effect. Cause: Arms Trade – Effect: War

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