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The changing face of the military was the theme of the War Resisters' International seminar held in Germany in August, which brought together about 40 participants. The focus of the seminar was in recognition of the fact that the changing role of the military since the end of the cold war has created new challenges for the peace movement in it s opposition to militarism.

The military has developed a more "human" face, supporting humanitarian missions, undertaking peace-keeping interventions, mopping up after ecological and other disasters, tackling drug traffickers and international "terrorists" and so on. This change makes it more difficult to raise awareness of the dangers of the industrial-military complex as a threat to freedom and empowerment, and the new role seems to be a problem for peace groups in many continents. But holding the seminar in Europe just after NATO's bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) ensured that the recent NATO action became a focus.

New NATO strategies

The opening plenery contextualised the theme for the participants. It was suggested that the break-up of the eastern bloc and the end of the cold war, new arms developments and pressure on the (then) Soviet Unionen, are explanations for how NATO has become the largest "peace organisation" in the world.

In 1995 when UN failed in Bosnia, the new NATO strategy began to be developped. In its strategic document NATO describes zones of security in the North and West, as well as dealing with problems like refugees, profileration and terrorism, the new NATO wil also be seen in a more global perspective.

Member States will have to adjust in many ways. New military structures are needed in most NATO countries. New and common weapons technology and transition from conscripted to professional armies are maybe the most visible changes. The modernisation of weapons to become compatible with systems within NATO is a particular a problem for the three new member states. In these countries there is a great need for social development - which will become a lower priority in face og NATO's requirements. In Hungary, weapons expenditure will increase by 30%, according to Toma Sik from Alba Kör (a Hungarian peace organisation and WRI affiliate).

Kosov@ as the experiment of New NATO strategy

The Balkan experiences represents a complexity of what the new NATO may mean and is full of dilemmas for the peacemovement. The seminar-participants expressed time and again that the NATO-bombing of FRY and Kosov@ had a very damaging effect on the region.

The failure of the peace movement to address the widely predicted war in Kosov@ was acknowledged by Howard Clark during his speach to the plenery. He said that the 1990 WRI Council in Berlin had made a solidiarity declaration for a Youth Kosov@ Parliament and at the time a seminar in Kosov@ had been planned but was later deemed to be too risky and was cancelled. Then, with Balkan Peace Team (BPT) was established. This project had, and continues to have, a Kosov@ team, now working from Pristina. The BPT is a co-operative venture of eleven NGOs: it was ment to be a larger project and a model for preventing war. We need to continue to work on the possibilities that peace teams offer. Nine years on, Howard commented that there are limitations to the problems pacifists can offer in some circumstances.

Opposing militarism at war

Many of the participants had recently experiences living in countries that had waged war on others. Zorica Trifunovic and Bojan Alexov from Women in Black, Belgrade, and Uygar Abaci from Istanbul Antimilitarist Initiativ (IAMI), shared their experiences.

For several years Women in Black focused on the situation in Kosov@. "When the bombings started, we felt there were nothing more we could do, all public demonstrations were banned. The NATO intervention ruined the whole society. We felt we had to start from the beginning. We don't know any longer how to speak about democracy, human rights, civil society and so on. People are frightened and poor and won't understand these concepts", Zorica said. Bojan, now living in Hungary, added doubts about to what kind of future there would be: "There are overestimates from the West about the level of Serbian opposition. A relevant question is why haven't they expressed this before. But the reality is now who will replace Milosevic? The approach has been as if Milosevic was the problem. Dialogue has been mentioned. But between whom? And about what?"

Turkey is waging a war against PKK and the Kurdish population and has, for a long time, been on the brink of war with Greece - its NATO-"partner". "Militarism in Turkey has got a very special meaning. It is like terrorism and dictatorship being a result of numerous military coups", Uygar told us. "Being a soldier is obligatory, if you refuse to come to the barracks, there are serious consequences. You will be accused of being a terrorist. There is no nonviolence in our culture. Many people and all parties are adapted to the war-situation. So there is no place for peace groups."

Filling the gap?

In the opening plenary Dorie Wilsnack, WRI council member, reminded us that in all the member states, NATO provides the population with feelings of security. When we present the negative sides of NATO, we also have to give some alternatives, otherwise we leave an empty gap of insecurity. What alternatives do we give people's need for security? It is a difficult and a very crucial question, and I am not sure if the seminar managed to suggest an alternative to fill the gap of security or if we only provided the same answers as before. Some of the groups had some good discussions and came up with proposals for strategies like exposing lies made by the military, opening dialogue with different representatives in society, and working with education for peace on different levels including domestic violence.

This article was written by Ellen Elster and appeared in Peace News December 1999 - February 2000