Global Action to Prevent War seeks alternatives to force and fosters negotiation

Monday, November 12, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

I thank George Kennedy who wrote “Heartland Global Action to Prevent War takes positive steps for peace” and J. Karl Miller who wrote “A strong national defense is best deterrent to war” for sharing their perspectives on war and peace. These are thoughtful contributions to the ongoing national debate over the lessons of the quagmire in Iraq for U.S. foreign policy. They raise questions at the heart of our economic and political survival as individuals, societies, nations and states.

My purpose in joining this survival dialogue is to clarify confusion about the goals and strategies of the National/International Global Action to Prevent War — a coalition building effort to stop war, genocide and internal armed conflict. GAPW includes governmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and grass-roots activists in more than 50 countries.

Much of the confusion resulted from a communication gap between George Kennedy and Bill Wickersham. Wickersham is a member of the GAPW National Steering Committee and a founding member of the Mid-Missouri Chapter; renamed local Heartland Chapter GAPW in March 2007.

When Kennedy came to our July meeting, he and Wickersham discussed the three core components of the GAPW Program. As they talked, the distinction blurred between a broad U.N. professional military force and the limited United Nations Emergency Peace Service initiative.

Kennedy’s column gave the impression that the UNEPS initiative was a strategy “to make war prevention practical,” which is integral to accomplishing the “reduction of armed forces over 50 years or so.”

In response, J. Karl Miller strongly objected to the idea that a capable professional force of armed peacemakers operating under the United Nations could prevent war.

The steps in the Global Action to Prevent War Program statement are currently being revised to establish GAPW priorities for years 2007 to 2010. As described in the draft version, the U.N. Emergency Peace Service “would consist of approximately 15,000 civilian, police and military professionals expertly trained on genocide and conflict prevention.”

The goal is to stop conflict before it “escalates into full scale humanitarian disaster. ... The Service would be individuals recruited from citizens worldwide.”

It is intended to be a rapidly deployable force not hostage to “the unwillingness of Member States to deploy portions of their own armed forces in times of crisis.”

The intent is to have trained negotiators on the ground within 48 hours to seek all possible alternatives to the use of force. A domestic analogy might be hostage taking by militants during a school board meeting. The use of premature force would endanger the hostages. Yet it might be necessary to seal off the area to keep out food and more weapons that could prolong the crisis.

The UNEPS is not to stop the war in Iraq or prevent that war from expanding into Iran. Rather, it is meant to deal with humanitarian emergencies.

As described by Sadako Ogata, former U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees:

“The UNEPS initiative directly responds to the widely recognized need to protect people caught in deadly conflict. ... I plead on numerous occasions for rapid deployment of specialized forces. Without such presence, military elements could not be separated in refugee camps, humanitarian corridors were seldom set up to allow the victims safe exits, and all too often innocent civilians were left in the midst of fighting.”

Supporters of UNEPS are now an emerging international coalition of more than 35 organizations dedicated to military conflict containment, fostering negotiation and seeking diplomatic alternatives before internal violence escalates into civil war. The goal is to gain time: time to prevent internal armed conflict from expanding into regional wars and time to encourage the international community to mobilize against genocide before there is another Rwanda.

On March 5, Reps. Al Wynn, D-Md., and James Walsh, R-N.Y., introduced House Resolution 213 recognizing the value of the United Nations Emergency Peace Service to avert genocide and crimes against humanity. The resolution considers UNEPS to be an American national security interest. It calls on the House to support such a force “as a necessary tool to strengthen the U.N.’s preventive capabilities.”

The resolution further declares that the “United States should use its voice, vote and influence at the United Nations to facilitate and support the creation of a United Nations Emergency Peace Service.” Whether or not this bipartisan resolution becomes law, it shows that high-ranking Democrat and Republican members of Congress can work together to increase U.N. peacekeeping capability.

It can be found by clicking here.

Robin Remington of Columbia is president of the Heartland Chapter of Global Action to Prevent War and a MU professor emeritus of political science.

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