Civilian Peace Service – Why should we play the state’s game?

A critique of the concept for a Civilian Peace Service UK

“Is there a need to develop a UK Civilian Peace Service along the lines of the other European countries”, ask Tim Wallis and Mareike Junge from Peaceworkers UK1. My answer is a simple “No!” and I could leave it here. But because a major part of the mainstream peace movement is in favour of a Civilian Peace Service, I want to argue strongly not to waste time, energy and resources for aims that shouldn’t be ours. We urgently need these energies to (re)build a strong and antimilitarist peace movement.

CPS – junior partner of globalisation
One of the major problems with all proposals for a Civilian Peace Service – and including the proposal for a Nonviolent Peace Force – is the narrow focus on physical violence. In doing so, one of the main causes of war and violence – and the 11 September is a striking example – is ignored: structural violence, so obviously part of economical globalisation. The “root causes of conflict”, as outlined by the European Council in 1998 – imbalance of political, socio-economic or cultural opportunities; lack of democratic legitimacy and effectiveness of governance; absence of opportunities for the peaceful conciliation of group interests; and lack of an active and organised civil society2 – develop on top of these global injustices, of which the European Union (and therefore the UK) are a major part.
A Civilian Peace Service, as it is outlined by Peaceworkers UK, or practiced in Germany, doesn’t address global injustices, but limits itself to dealing with the resulting conflicts within other societies, usually in the south or the east. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing to do – it certainly should be done much more – but we need to look at the objectives of these outside interventions: do they facilitate the empowerment of the global poor and disadvantaged to deal with global injustice? Or are they in fact “pacifying” local or regional conflicts in order for economic globalisation to proceed more smoothly – for the advantage of the global rich? Are they aimed at building globalisation from below, or are they the nonviolent junior partner of globalisation from above?

Learning from mistakes – the German example
The German example is often mentioned, but it is an example of failing to address the problems. Firstly, already at an early stage of promoting the German Civilian Peace Service, the coalition behind it abandoned the critique of militarism, and instead promoted the CPS not as an alternative, but as an ad-on to the military (something which is not outspoken in the Peaceworkers’ proposal, but which is certainly it’s underlying rationale). However, a budget of £8 million – that’s what they got in exchange – doesn’t look bad (although it is just peanuts compared with billions for the military), but what are the conditions? It is politically very problematic, when projects can only be carried out either when there is a bilateral contract between Germany and the project country on development (which means that the government of the project country needs to agree with the project), or the German Foreign Office needs to agree with the project. This makes sure that no project, which is contrary to the interests of German Foreign policy, can go ahead. It is therefore not a surprise that a project aimed to support Turkish antimilitarists and conscientious objectors to develop structures for training in nonviolence, and for building their movement, didn’t get funding from the Civilian Peace Service. On the other hand there are many projects on the Balkans, working on reconciliation and repatriation of refugees – the latter is one of the major objectives of German asylum policy. In short – the German civilian peace service is basically the non-violent arm of government foreign policy, legitimised even more through NGO involvement, and at the same time creating relationships of dependency between the German state and the NGOs involved. After bombing a country we send not only peacekeeping military forces, but also the good-doers via the Civilian Peace Service. Certainly this is a model that should be abandoned rather sooner than later – at least if peace and justice is what we aim for.

Where are the social movements in all this?
In the end it is no surprise that not even once on 56 pages Tim Wallis and Mareike Junge mention social movements – but I didn’t even try to count how often they wrote NGO or governance. But while (global, regional or local) governance and NGOs are part of the concept of globalisation – in which “civil society”, one more of these buzz words, as well as state and economy somehow interact with each other in a “competition of (vested) interests” – social movements are part of globalisation from below, of the struggle against direct and structural violence, for peace and social justice. A Civilian Peace Service is part of the former – a hopeless attempt to “civilize” the forces of globalisation – and therefore it shouldn’t be our task as peace movement – a part of the latter – to work on this – leave it to the state.
Quite contrary to a Civilian Peace Service, our work as social movements often needs to nonviolently escalate conflicts – between north and south, between rich and poor, between powerholders and those who are disempowered – in order to bring down the structures of violence, and to replace them with nonviolent alternatives. Obviously, this can’t be done with state funding – via a Civilian Peace Service – and it is on us to develop our structures, and our resourcers to do our job – this we shouldn’t, and can’t, leave to the state.

Andreas Speck works with War Resisters’ International. Before moving to London he was involved in the German peace movement for more than 15 years.