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Nonviolent action against militarism

Militarism has been the traditional target for the peace movement's nonviolent action. But keeping in mind the issues discussed in WRI's 1999 Seminar, "The Changing Face of the Military", we must remain vigilant of changes. The dictionary definition of militarism includes references to:

  • a strong military spirit or policy
  • a principle of maintaining a large military establishment
  • a tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state

How Militarism Gets Accepted -- India

India adheres to all three of these definitions as it enters a heavy militarisation process, including atomic bomb blasts.

Even ignoring the basic immorality of militarism, India is simply not in a position to cope with such an economic burden. More than half the population is functionally illiterate, and 50% do not know where their daily meal is going to come from. Militarisation is not a small matter, as it brings with it crucial economic consequences. If you do not have money to educate or feed people, how can you buy guns?

Diptendu Mukherji from Swadhina accepted that conflict is human -- but finding a solution through armed intervention is not. This is especially the case in India, where the "enemies" are India's brothers and sisters in Pakistan.

Despite this, there is no shortage of people willing to enrol in the Indian army. The interest is the result of the sentimental blackmailing of people using words such as "motherland" and "nation". This has a particularly strong influence on the uneducated.

They are also vulnerable to the attraction of the military as guaranteeing a square meal. Despite being one of the lowest paid, a job in the military is still a job. Many uneducated do not realise the horror and long-term effects of atomic bombs, perceiving them as fun crackers at a festival. Ignorance is so widespread, that it is difficult to even make a dent. It is not only the poor, but also the supposed elite that demonstrate such ignorance of the consequences of nuclear weapons. Warnings are met with the constant refrain, "everything for our security -- to protect ourselves". What is the meaning of this security? Safeguarding what? The poverty? The illiteracy?

For every 100 rupees spent in India, 26 rupees are spent paying back loans, and 14 rupees go to direct militarisation. The 26 rupees spent paying back loans are dollars, which indirectly go towards militarisation as well. Kickbacks are given to top Indian politicians, which end up in Swiss bank accounts.

War is an attempt to exert power over others. Globalisation shows the same characteristics of overpowering, but in the economic sphere. Only a tiny minority of Indians can afford foreign consumer goods as the gulf between rich and poor is becoming ever wider.

Questions we must ask ourselves include:

  • For a poor country like India, what does security mean? Security from what? To safeguard what?
  • In a pluralistic society like India, what does nation mean?
  • Defence. Who is defending against whom? We hear constant calls to defend the motherland from her enemies, but are these enemies real?
  • Globalisation. Is this genuine international co-operation, or an establishing of ´power over' for capitalist profiteering? What action can we take?

Grassroots collective action against oppression and injustice. Targeting passive victims, who have always had decisions thrust upon them. We must improve people's analytical power in identifying issues that affect their lives.

Encourage the conscious decision to uphold nonviolence in every sphere of life, against militarism in any form, be it political, social or economic, within the family or without. Swadhina is trying to do this in small village situations -- these are the "small islands of hope".

Openings Against Militarism Via Conscientious Objection -- Turkey

The most obvious direct action to take against militarism is to refuse to fight, i.e. conscientious objection (CO). Increasing numbers of countries, especially in Europe, have abolished compulsory military service, channelling their energy at other targets. However, in many countries, forced conscription is still the norm, with those refusing facing heavy penalties. IAMI, an antimilitarist group in Istanbul, have found, that in combating militarism through CO, they have to fight against a general mindset unwilling to accept nonviolence.

IAMI have recently had several successes in different arenas. They organised a festival for the three new COs in Turkey. This was in collaboration with CO, war resistor and anarchist groups, as well as the Party of Freedom and Solidarity. The three COs had not yet heard news of a trial. However, three other member of IAMI were charged and were being prosecuted for violating the infamous paragraph 155. This outlaws "alienating people from military service" -- precisely what pacifists want to achieve. The accused chose not to make a formal defence, arguing that civilians cannot be judged in a military court.

For the first time ever, there was a public panel on a new armaments project of the Turkish armed forces. This was a great step forward, as armaments projects were never discussed in Turkey, even amongst politicians. Usually, information was gained from sources outside Turkey, such as the Netherlands. Further, the self-imposed media embargo on anti-militarist issues was broken by the two main leftist newspapers.

There was also a very successful public declaration by the Turkish generals, in which they used the term "conscientious objection" for the first time ever. Of course, the generals wrote, "there is no concept of ´conscientious objection' in Turkey. However, in attempting to negate it, the generals were inadvertently admitting the existence of the concept.

The Izmir CO group (ISKD) wanted to focus on lobbying the EU to bring up CO in the negotiations on Turkey's possible membership of the EU. CO is one of the criteria set in the Copenhagen contract, so there are possibilities for change. However, on their own they are too small, requiring international support.

Lobbying alone is useless if there is no action or discussion within the country -- this was now the responsibility of IAMI. Izmir wanted to put nonviolence on the political agenda, but there are problems with the term nonviolence -- it is disliked in Turkey, most are not interested in such methods. Instead, they came up with the idea of organising a congress titled "New social movements -- their practice and ideology", possibly linked to a WRI council in Turkey. (This WRI Seminar happened September 2001 titled "Peace and the Women's movement in Turkey: practice and ideology")

As one of the main goals of the Turkish CO movement is legal recognition of the status of CO, it was suggested that we could highlight the need for a rechannelling of resources from the military to the prevention of and response to natural disasters.

Earthquakes in particular probably constitute a greater threat to Turkey than any military action. Other suggestions for alternative service to obligatory military service could include international nonviolent conflict -intervention initiatives. However, it was felt that it might be wiser to avoid suggesting an alternative, Howard Clark citing the Spanish conscientious objectors as a successful campaign that avoided the issue of alternative service.

There was also discussion on whether it would be possible to integrate the CO and anti-militarism campaign with a programme for a nonviolent solution to the Kurdish conflict and to their right of self-determination. Were there solutions compatible to our nonviolence principles? Could they also link in to the campaign against the Ilisu dam, the building of which would exacerbate the conflict with the Kurds?

Were there possibilities of building transnational support for the pacifist movement in Turkey? What role could the considerable Turkish diaspora play in this movement?

Ideas included nonviolent protest actions at Turkish embassies, links to the campaign against the enormous arms trade with Turkey and the Ilisu dam, solidarity work for prospective Turkish CO refugees and fundraising initiatives (the lack of funds is a limiting factor determining how many prospective COs the movement can support).

Militarism And Private Business -- Britain

When "combating" (in a nonviolent way) militarism, we need to target the relevant companies as well as governments. With increasing privatisation and public-privatepartnerships, private companies are making increasing profits out of "public services". Whether it is a "service" to the public to provide weapons of mass destruction or not, this shift in policy in favour of private sector involvement can be seen in the development, production, maintenance & decommissioning of British nuclear weapons. Since 1993, British nuclear weapons production has been under ´goco' operation (government-owned, contractor-operated). While the state owns all the physical sites of production, private companies manage all day-to-day functions of Trident production & maintenance, including decommissioning. The current 10-year deal is worth £2.2 billion. The consortium currently managing atomic weapons facilities is made up of three companies, British Nuclear Fuels plc (100% govt owned), Lockheed -Martin and Circo (involved with private railways, prisons and prisoner transfer schemes).

The increasing transnational interests of these corporations and interweaving of the policy of governments and companies should give activists on both sides of the Atlantic plenty of scope to attack this industry and its ideology.

We can make the transnational nature of these corporations our strength by taking collective global action against them. We must also investigate possible link-ups with campaigns targeting these companies on other grounds. E.g. links to anti-privateprison, (and anti-prison), campaigns in respect to Circo. We could also make use of the widening of our links that link ups with activists working to dismantle the ideological basis of such policies on a range of grounds would afford.