January 12, 2009
This essay was published in the online version of Tikkun as part of its January 2009, issue.
As you demonstrated throughout
your campaign, you are well aware that we are at a fruitful moment politically,
a time to fundamentally reconsider the nature of national and international
security, and the best means to attain that security. We are in the midst of a
momentous paradigm shift in making peace and waging war. While there is
widespread international support for multilateral armed intervention to protect
peoples from genocide and crimes against humanity, there is equally widespread
dissatisfaction with the legitimacy, morality, and even efficacy of traditional
Lest we think contemporary
critiques of traditional military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan are limited to “the anti-war Left,”
ponder the implications of three of the nine “representative paradoxes of
counterinsurgency” as described in the 2007 U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field
The writers of the Field Manual pose a stark question of
immense political and ethical importance: they ask us to re-evaluate the power of
violence. They challenge us to take seriously the limits of force to either
maintain security or insure compliance with cherished values, ideals, and
Given the limits of military force
in establishing enduring security in either Iraq or Afghanistan, many governmental
leaders and military officers are exploring the concepts of integrated power and
global citizenship. Refugees fleeing civil war, people dying at the hands of
repressive governmental forces compel us to act collectively. This collective
action is most effective when it is multinational and multifaceted. We can
respond to ongoing unrest with three interrelated initiatives:
These are ways of responding that
allow us to act decisively to protect civilians from genocide and crimes against
humanity but do not take us into the spiral of all-out war, with its devastating
toll on civilians and military forces alike.
These alternative responses to
violence recast the longstanding debate between advocates of just war and
advocates of nonviolent struggle. All our efforts may now be
transformed and augmented by a
third way: joint efforts to prevent war, stop genocide, and repair the damage
caused by armed conflict.
It may be as startling to find
advocates of nonviolence accepting the use of armed force in cases like Darfur
as it is to find substantial numbers of people within the military questioning
the ability of military force to stop violence and establish civil order in
Afghanistan and Iraq.
Does acceptance of the judicious use of force in the case of humanitarian
intervention—and the need for establishing security systems in the wake of armed
conflict—mean that criticism of violence (and its grave cost to perpetrators and
victims) is irrelevant or invalid? Not at all. In the case of the emerging
global security system, while the use of some forms of force is accepted as
necessary, this reliance on limited violence does not have the valence and power
that it does in either holy war or even just war, where force is seen as the
apotheosis of strength and power. In the case of multifaceted, strategic
peacebuilding, while force may at times be necessary, it is never sufficient. The value of
peacekeeping is not in resolving a conflict, but in providing the space in which
enduring security and sustainable peace may be created through the long-term
nonviolent work of obtaining comprehensive political assent and participation.
To find an effective third way
between waging war and nonviolent resistance is not easy. There is no doubt that
it requires the best of us—audacity, openness to new ideas and new coalitions,
astute planning, and creative institution-building. The opportunities, however,
are real, the partners diverse, and the challenges inescapable. May we have the
courage to embrace this moment.
Dr. Sharon D. Welch is Provost and Professor
of Religion and Society at Meadville Lombard Theological School (Unitarian
Universalist), chair of the U.S. committee of Global Action to Prevent War, and
the author of "Real Peace, Real Security: the Challenges of Global
Citizenship" (Fortress Press,
International Peace and Conflict
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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.
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