Are we deluded to think that armies will agree to disarm?

The other day I was talking to a friend who is a seasoned activist for Carbon Trade Watch. They have lots of heartbreaking experiences of failures of the international community to address some of the real and very important issues that endanger humanity, so as I was describing the ambitious strategy of the worldpeace2025 campaign, which includes a signature campaign in which we hope to get as many as one billion people to sign, my friend asked a very valid question: What makes you think that armies would disarm even if you got SIX billion signatures?!

Noam Chomsky, in Understanding Power, talks about the failure of signature campaigns to effectuate change:

Well, there are plenty of groups around that are doing things I don’t think are very constructive, even though I’m often a member of them and give them support and so on. Take the nuclear freeze campaign, for exam­ple: I really thought they were going about it the wrong way. The nuclear freeze campaign was in a way one of the most successful popular organiz­ing movements in history: they managed to get 75 percent of the American population in favor of a nuclear freeze at a time when there was no articu­late public support for that position-there wasn’t a newspaper, a political figure, anybody who came out publicly for it.3 Now, in a way that’s a tremendous achievement. But frankly I didn’t think it was an achievement, I thought the disarmament movement was going to collapse-and in fact, it did collapse. And the reason it collapsed is, it wasn’t based on anything: it was based on nothing except people signing a petition.

I mean, if you sign a petition it’s kind of nice-but that’s the end of it, you just go back home and do whatever you were doing: there’s no continuity, there’s no real engagement, it’s not sustained activity that builds up a community of activism. Well, an awful lot of the political work I see in the ‘ United States is of that type.

I agree. I think my friend is right that signatures alone will not stop the governments in their addiction to war. Whatever people sign, it has to get people involved, even if it just means getting a large platform together that can move on certain tactics in order to achieve the movement’s strategic aims.  Change.org has a great set f tools for this type of activism. And of course, tactics must include civil disobedience, such as war tax resistance.

The same is also true of demonstrations. Unless there are huge number of people, they can be ineffective, and sometimes even huge numbers don’t bring results.  Strategies and tactics must be carefully chosen to ensure that a popular and lasting movement for peace is built.

The agreement must be designed so that it gives some teeth (nonviolently of course) to push governments to actually meet up to the agreements and through public pressure and media campaigns, to encourages holdouts hostile to the peace accord to sign. How to pay for such massive campaigns? Let’s take it out of the war budgets. When parties sign, initially a small amount of their usual defense spending is diverted to peace movements in potentially hostile countries which have not signed the peace accord, say like a .01% of what they would normally spend on their standing army. Once two nations are on board it will rise to .02%, until it reaches 100 nations and is at 1% of each nation’s initial military budget as of the signing. All will have to spend a growing percentage on funding peace campaigns in surrounding nations. The UN general assembly will authorize peace groups that can and can’t receive these funds, and must distribute them to a great variety of different groups, reaching every corner of the country, every language group, and every social group in society. Groups themselves will decide what to do with the funds. Of course, if the campaign grows big enough, this may grow to be an incredible amount of money to manage, but peace is of course the reason why the UN was created.

Of course, in each country the situation may be different, and peace campaigns may require a variety of tactics to achieve wide support or to knit a movement that can effectively slow and stop the war machine from producing weapons and filling body bags

Will it succeed? There is no way of knowing until we try, as long as we have no delusions about the difficulties which we face…. But even if it fails to gain widespread support or outreach, a failed campaign may still reap great rewards.  By asking for the truly ambitious goal of complete global disarmament – the dismantling and retirement of every standing army – it may help make other important campaigns, like nuclear disarmament seem more realistic. I think it will be of great benefit even if we only succeed in raising consciousness of one simple point – That the only moral justification for having a standing army is that your neighbours do too, and so by extension, if your neighbours get rid of their armies, you can also do the same. What a relief it will be for future generations.

In order to save huge costs, governments would be wise to fund the global popular movement for disarmament

Many nations get by just fine without an army at all. One argument used for keeping a standing army despite the incredible costs is that you are more likely to have peace if you are prepared for war. The truth is, many of the best armed nations wind up having many more armed conflicts than less armed nations. One reason for this is that military strategists argue that in order to be ready to fight wars, one must actually fight them – that drills and mock battles cannot replace combat experience.  Of course, since the nuclear nations and their allies are far too dangerous militarily to be attacked without risking a nuclear conflict (and all of humanity’s future, for that matter), in order to get combat experience they attack or force a conflict with weaker, nonnuclear opponents. This is one reason why military strategists in countries with little to gain from the invasion of  another small nation may push to fight alongside the US Armed forces. And it means humanity will only live in peace when we do away with armies for good.

So ten of millions of dollars are being wasted every day on this endless nightmare, which will never bring safety or national security. Indeed, it will guarantee that wars perpetuate themselves. If the goal is safety, why not spend some of this money on the peace movement? These are the people who are most likely to reduce the power of the military in the countries of potential enemies. There are already popular initiatives for military reduction in almost every country, with financial support they could push for a far safer world for future generations. We pay for spies who operate in foreign nations, isn’t it a bit suspicious that military advisers do not allocate funds for peace activism in enemy powers?

The answer is of course that armies and weapons manufacturers are NOT interested in the safety of the people they have the duty to protect if it conflicts with their own economic interests. They are far more interested in swelling military spending, a greed which endangers all of us. We must demand reductions of the armies worldwide, especially  in those countries addicted to war.  A few nations are waking up out of this nightmare because the military is an unbearable economic burden, others have long moved down the path of peace. One of our demands even for those willing to reduce their arsenals should be that a portion of military spending should go to redirected to financial and logistical support to popular movements for peace in those countries where militarism is more deeply ingrained. Campaign to reduce militarism in every nation will save us all a fortune and countless lives.

“Mommy, Daddy, what was war?”

When I talk of strategies for peace within a generation, some skeptics raise the question:

What makes you think world peace is possible? People have been fighting wars for thousands of years!

Similar arguments were heard in the 19th century to argue that the abolition of slavery was impossible.People argued that slavery was natural, that it had always existed, that every society had slavery, that it was in the slaves’ best interests, that freedom would bring misery and low birth rates leading to extinction, that freedom would result in bloodbaths and chaos, that abolition was foolishly utopian or impractical, and that improving enslavement was the best way to deal with the problem.

Much like slavery, war has no moral or biological basis, and the fact that it has been an institution for thousands of years is no reason not to end it. If we resist defeatist and simplistic arguments, future generations of children will likely be gifted with peace. This question will be music to the ears: “Mommy, Daddy… What was war?”