Security for the Innocent

Introduction to March 2009 IJWP

This issue contains a variety of articles that do not easily coalesce around a particular theme, but all refer to containing the violence wreaked by those with power in the pursuit of self-interested goals, whether they be political, economic, or religious. This violence might appear in the form of a ruthless warlord raping the economy and natural resources, the kidnapping and murder of NGO workers trying to serve the ravaged and oppressed in such countries, or the unilateral actions of a state to impose its will on others or threaten them with weapons of mass destruction.

Our first article, by George Kieh, examines the roots of civil war in Liberia. He notes that the peace imposed after the first civil war laid the seeds of a second civil war. Too often peace settlements aimed at ending fighting do not contain a process for the resolution of underlying social problems. Thus, they become a temporary cessation of violence rather than a real peace. In Liberia there was scarcely two years between the end of the first civil war and the onset of a second. The lack of  an adequate national security regime led to the competition for state power among warlords.
Throughout this period, little was done to undo the exploitative and corrupt nature of post-colonial rule in Liberia, where the government was as likely to prey on its citizens as serve them. Little had been done to reintegrate traumatized and socially unadapted child soldiers into the society. Real income for Liberians was in decline, and investment in new enterprises is risky when their security is not guaranteed.

The second article by Dave Benjamin discusses security for NGO workers trying to assist people in such devastated social environments. NGO workers trying to aid dispossessed and impoverished people are often taking great risks to their own lives in areas where there is anarchy, warlord turf battles, or unofficial state violence, neglect and genocide. Often such aid workers are viewed as obstacles to the domination of harsh regimes and are targeted by them as meddling. Benjamin argues that such sacrificial and heroic international servants should be provided more international protection, as is the case for diplomats and government officials. Not all NGOs are providing genuine humanitarian service. Some are quasi-political fronts for one party or another, while others may be performing a vital service. Many NGOs are working against a reality in which transnational corporations become linked to warlords for mutual profit at the expense of innocent people who are obstacles to their wealth.

The United Nations Charter has no obligation to protect NGOs because they have no official relation to governments. The UN Charter was a form of imposed international peace between states, but it ignores the issues of warlordism and violence perpetrated within states and fails to define what constitutes a legitimate state. Today this is one of the most serious problems of peace in much of the undeveloped world.

There is a growing notion that state sovereignty is compromised when a substantial portion of a population is dispossessed because of ethnicity, race, or religion. It is a failure of a state to protect its people.

Humanitarian intervention is then considered justified. There is no guarantee that warlords or failed states will protect humanitarian workers. In 1994 the international community watched as UN Peacekeeping troops fled Rwanda and allowed genocide to take place there. The ability of the international community to create an environment of international security everywhere it is needed has been lacking. This continues to be an inadequately solved problem of peace in our time.

In the next article, Filimon Peonidis is concerned with the problems of peace when strong nations or empires flex their muscles on the world stage much the way warlords do within states. He suggests one way to reduce the violence that results from the unilateral behavior of a powerful state towards a less powerful one is through the novel concept of “corresponding citizens.” Such corresponding citizens would be elected by smaller countries, e.g. Greece, to serve within the governments of larger powers like the United States or Britain.

In the September issue of International Journal on World Peace, George Kaloudis wrote about the impact that a diaspora can have on the foreign policy of a state. However, diasporas are less likely to suffer directly from foreign policy towards their state of origin than a corresponding citizen who still lives in another state. Corresponding citizens should be able to provide direct feedback on the implications of the foreign policy of a major power on their own state. Such feedback would constitute a form of international dialogue in a more transparent and democratic international order.

The article by Alon Ben-Meir addresses the insecurity created by states with nuclear weapons, and specifically discusses strategy for negotiating with Iran to prevent it from becoming another nuclear power. Again, one of the chief failures is the inability of larger powers and powers with different cultural expectations to engage in meaningful negotiation rather than using force which causes a greater reaction. Ben-Meir recognizes that at the heart of the matter is the desire of every people to improve their own well-being and that of their society. When threatened, a state, just like a person, reacts defensively. One key to negotiation with Iran is to include, in exchange for agreement to drop its nuclear weapons program, assistance in economic improvement, other guarantees of regional security, and recognition of grievances that have not been addressed.

This article, like the previous one on corresponding citizens, reminds us that the United Nations has failed to prevent the major powers, particularly those with veto power on the Security Council, from behaving much like global warlords. The prevailing doctrines of national self-interest that motivate the foreign policies of larger states are often as inconsiderate of the opinions and lives of others as are the warlords in Liberia or Afghanistan.  In both cases the group on the receiving end of such use of power consider themselves as innocent victims, and that neither a state or international security regime was adequate to protect them from the arbitrary actions of those with greater power. Even if a larger power does not intend to harm the smaller one, it will inevitably be perceived that way unless proven otherwise. It is clear that the United States has not been able to convince Iran that it is not a threat, especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Our last article by Leon Miller begins to address the thorny issue of how to create a political culture acceptable to all citizens in the absence of a dominant power. Can a “civil religion” be developed “from below” that will provide enough cultural cohesion for a democratic state in which there is cultural diversity? He writes from the perspective of Estonia where, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there are about 60 percent Estonians and 40 percent Russians and foreign nationals. How can such a country create unified national symbols? Since the time of Rousseau the idea of a civil religion, as opposed to an official state religion like Catholicism, has been widely discussed. However, civil religion has to be a less comprehensive and more open-ended set of beliefs, and must rely on “truths” that appear much more “self-evident” than many religious and ideological doctrines. In a sense, Marxism was a failed attempt to create a “scientific” civil religion. However, it became closed and stagnant when allied to the power of the state. Can any civil religion transcend these problems?

Miller outlines the case for civil religion. In a comment after his article, I have expressed some cautions to those who would embrace the concept too easily. Interreligious dialogue has not proven simple, and the issues of agreement on positive values beyond the protection of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not easily agreed upon. Miller then concludes the article with more information about the situation in Estonia. One could assume this situation applies to other post-Soviet states, and perhaps in any state where there is not a homogeneous culture—if such a culture were desirable. The creation of a civil religion acceptable to all inhabitants of a land may require jettisoning some of every persons’ particular cultural values or rights, in exchange for a government that can embrace all citizens. Perhaps some of the positive social goods homogeneous cultures have asked governments to provide are more appropriately provided by cultural institutions than governments. In this way government would provide general protection for all people, while each cultural group within a society could shape specific goods that align with their own particular values.

Gordon L. Anderson

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *