The security versus the peace approach

By Johan Galtung

Written presumably 2006

Yugoslavia caught international attention through acts of violence late June 1990 when Slovenian border guards close to Gorizia shot at their Serbian counterparts.  And Yugoslavia retained its grip on international attention ever since, according to the rule of bad journalism: violence up, attention up; violence down, attention down.  The “Balkans”, that southeastern corner of Europe on which the West, the “international community”, projects its own somber shadow of centuries of ethnic cleansing and other cruelties, meets the bill.  Everybody sufficiently violent, from the smallest fringe to that very “international community”, can get their instant prime time/front page media fame. Years of patient NGO and UN work for peace will certainly not rival them.

For in the beginning was not the word, but two ways of thinking, competing for our attention: the security discourse and the peace discourse.  They address the same concern, how to cope with violence, like the violence erupting in Yugoslavia in 1990:

The Security Approach is based on four components:

[1] An Evil Party with strong capability and evil intentions;
[2] A clear and present danger of violence, real or potential;
[3] Strength, to deter, or defeat that evil party, producing
[4] Security, which is considered the best approach to “peace”.

The approach works when evil/strong parties are weakened through defeat or deterrence, and/or converted to become good.

The Peace Approach is also based on four components:

[1]  A conflict, which has not been resolved or transformed;
[2]  A danger of violence to “settle the conflict”;
[3]  Conflict transformation, empathic-creative-nonviolent, producing
[4]  Peace, which is considered the best approach to “security”.

The approach works through acceptable and sustainable outcomes.

The security approach presupposes superior strength (of whatever kind, Sun Tzu or Clausewitz), which generally implies much inequality.

The peace approach presupposes a conflict outcome acceptable to all parties and sustainable, which generally implies much equality.

Once again, there is violence.   How we think and speak about it will influence how we act.

What would favor the security approach?

[1]  A culture of dualism/manicheism/Armageddon, like a hard, absolutist reading of the Abrahamitic religions.  The security approach is a secular version of the old Good/God/Christ vs Evil/Satan/Antichrist theme, with an Armageddon type battle as the final arbiter.

[2]  Construction of the Other as evil, with no legitimate goal, driven by greed, envy or maliciousness, somebody with whom one would not negotiate since there is no grievance and hence nothing to solve.  Only way out: extermination/crushing, containment, or, at best, conversion.

[3]  The absence of “diversity with equality” as category, There is an underlying social code of verticality, not horizontality, to be implemented, based on ascribed categories like gender, generation, race, class/caste, nation, state.  Whatever is different is above or below.

[4]  A preference for a structure of inequality, in other words a hard, Hobbesian, reading of the “social order”. The “dangerous classes”, or “dangerous genders/generations/races/nations/states”, is an updating of evil/Satan, underlying the massive genocides of races and nations.

[5]  Monopoly on the “ultima ratio regis/regnum”, in other words the concentration of the means of coercion in the hands of the state, or community of states, defined through that monopoly (Weber), giving legitimacy to “law and order” by force.  States, and communities like the EU, will work out lists of threats and prepare accordingly.

[6]  “To He Who Has a Hammer the World Looks Like a Nail”, in other words the self-propelling force of a security machinery, with secret services to assess capability (how strong) and motivation (how evil), “humint”, with cloak-and-dagger operations to “nip it in the bud” through extra-judicial execution, police operations to round up the suspects, and overwhelming military force to deter, defeat, and crush.

And what, then, would favor a preference for the peace approach?

[1]  A culture of unity of human beings, in other words softer readings of Abrahamitic and some other religions and mainstream readings of hinduism/buddhism and daoism.  Women, with a focus on compassion, the secularism of liberté, egalité, fraternité, would point to the peace approach.  There is no Armageddon as final arbiter, but the ever-lasting effort of human beings individually and collectively to find solutions.

[2]  “There is that of God in everybody”, meaning also that there is a legitimate goal in every party, however violent and repulsive.  The way of identifying valid goals is by mutual inquiry, by asking, in other words by dialogue, and then using that as a basis for togetherness.

[3]  Diversity as a source of mutual enrichment through curiosity, respect and dialogue for mutual exploration and learning.  Reciprocity and symmetry have to be extended to any other party within the limits of reasonable legitimacy as defined by legality, human rights and basic human needs.  Diversity with inequality is mutual impoverishment, and so is equality with uniformity.  The best is diversity with equality.

[4]  A preference for a structure of equality.  Peace assumes high levels of equality.  Democracy and human rights are already great equalizers.  Reciprocity is the norm.  If you  want peace, then give to others whatever they want that you also want.  Consequently, “security” tends to be located to the right politically, and “peace” to the left.

[5]  A culture and practice of nonviolent countervailing power, based on a strong identity, high level of self-reliance and much courage, to counter brainwashing, bribery and threats.

[6]  A culture and practice of conflict transformation, not only for specialists but more like hygiene and healthy life styles for everybody, including the ability to identify valid goals in all parties, bridge creatively the contradictions between valid goals, and build peace.

We are dealing with two approaches to conflict.  The peace approach is generally better.  But the security approach is sometimes needed.

One peace argument is that the security approach only serves like a bandage over a festering wound, reproducing the fever, and worse.  An untransformed conflict will reproduce violence, sooner or later. Failure to solve the issues leads to a spiral of violence and counter-violence. Thus, only in an equitable Middle East Community, not in an unequal Two States formula (or a utopian One State), will Israel find security.

But one security argument against the peace approach is also very strong: parties are not only driven by legitimate grievances but also by illegitimate greed. They must be stopped before they destroy us all.  The day after a peaceful “conflict transformation” the greedy will get at our throat. Thus, only within secure borders/walls will Israel find peace. And the peace approach counters, that is exactly why we emphasize legitimacy. There are always some legitimate grievances; the task is to bridge them. For peace to prevail focus on legitimate goals.

The security list of factors determining the choice of approach is incompatible with peace. But the second list is compatible with  peace; with harmony and diversity adding up to a peace culture. Illegitimate goals like slavery exist, so do illegitimate means like intervention for selfish goals, bolstering unequal,unjust social and world orders.

Hence the need to get a both-and of the two approaches, both a “soft strength” and a “peaceful security”.  One such formula might be:

– peacekeeping by large numbers, a blue carpet, not only blue helmets,
– with defensive weapons,
– but equally trained in police methods, nonviolence and mediation,
– at least 50% of them women, and at last 50% well above 25,
– and an adequate cultural underpinning.

This may not sound “realist” in the old-fashioned military sense, but may be considerably more realistic.  And also considerably less expensive than “peace-enforcing” operations.

The reader will have guessed what we are aiming at. The image of the Yugoslavia “crisis” was basically put into the straitjacket of the security discourse. One party was cast in the role of Evil: the Serbs. With the U.S. focus on individuals and leaders this was reduced to one person, Slobodan Milosevic.  All others were victims, with some mini-satans here and there. Gone were basic conflicts, history, the past, the complexities in favor of the simplicity of identifying that one Evil Actor.  Get him dead or alive, and if alive arraign him into court. The choice had been made.  In favor of the security discourse.

Of course it was not that simple. There have been diplomatic efforts to solve the conflicts, but they quickly came second to the military approach of inner and outer parties.  The military instrument needs the security discourse for its legitimation. Evil and killing come together. In addition, the military approach is costly. There is much money to go around. Security business is good business for the many suppliers to the military machine.

In contrast, the conflict and peace approach is brain- and heart- rather than capital-intensive but may benefit everybody.

So the “crisis” got off to a wrong start from the beginning.  The rest became a ritual.  Have a look at the map of ex-Yugoslavia.  We can identify only one point where a major conflict has been solved: the Slovenes who started the 1990s round of violence got their state and are already an EU member. But then Slovenia was almost uni-national, the easiest case to handle.
Have a look at the rest of ex-Yugoslavia.  The old multi-national conflicts are lingering underneath the new states and the diasporas driven out. And the violence, however it started and whoever are victims and perpetrators in the cycles of violence, have made the old conflicts even worse.  Traumas, with visions of return after defeat and retreat, maybe with revenge and revanche, have been added.  The end of an old war may easily be the beginning of a new.  Themes, indeed, to be explored.


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