Why the peace movement needs to shift focus, and fast

Peace-dove Traditionally the peace movement has focussed on holding states to account for their injustices through tactics that rob them of their moral authority and social support. Think Ghandi. Think Martin Luther King. This tradition is outdated. Here’s why:

The rise of non-state actors

The first reason traditional pacifism is outdated is this, we are no longer dealing exclusively with states. Increasingly the actors in war include terrorist networks, insurgent movements and technologically empowered individuals. This has been variously labelled as the rise of asymmetric war, the globalization of civil war and the fourth generation of war. Many forcasters are in fact seeing this as the future of war in a globalized, technologized society.

I remember the moment I realized that peace efforts aimed at preventing pre-emptive war in Iraq were doomed to failure. It was the moment I realized that we had no positive agenda for dealing with terrorists. We only had a plan for state actors. We had no plan for countering the violence of violent non-state actors. This doctrinal vacuum made it easy for states to demonize pacifists as terrorist sympathizers. In the years since not much has changed. If peace movement wishes to be relevant for a wired world it needs to adapt. It needs to make this demonization more difficult. It needs to develop counter-terrorist de-escalation capability. It needs to challenge violence in all its forms.

The rise of non-enlisted warriors

The second reason traditional pacifism is outdated is this, we are no longer dealing exclusively with professional soldiers. Concurrent with the rise of non-state actors has been the rise of non-enlisted warriors, of military contractors (aka mercenaries), child soldiers and territorial warlords who lack the soldier ethos. These are people who fight for reasons other than national defence and national pride, who may be utterly uninterested in issues of moral authority, who may be immune to shaming via media exposure, who may be fighting for profit or mere survival. This again points to the need for new tactics.

The rise of non-human soldiers

Beyond the rise of non-enlisted warriors, we are also facing the rise of the machines. Military robotics is spreading like wildfire with technology transfers to police forces and even Hezbollah well underway. How can nonviolent activists appeal to the humanity of soldiers when they are no longer human? This is an even more serious challenge, but we need to catch up and fast.

Non-lethal weapons

Finally we also need to come to grips with the emergence of non-lethal weapons. Ironically, their very non-lethality makes soldiers less hesitant to use them. In fact, there have already been instances of police using military grade sonic weapons on civilian protestors as a form of crowd dispersal. Conversely, protestors are already working on neutralization technologies. But I’m nervous about this. Is it wise to enter into a defacto non-lethal arms race? Have we thought where this could be taking us?

So basically we need a new pacifism. Hopefully this has provoked some reflection. Particularly amongst peace churches and pacifist Christians. But hey, I think there are issues here for just war Christians as well. Maybe you have some answers? Maybe you have better questions?

Related Articles on War and Peace

Military Robots and War Ethics
The New Pacifism
First protest against predator drones at CIA

Christian Prayers for Peace

Prayer for Peace

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


–St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

Related links for prayers for peace