Investigating a revolution in military affairs
By Jan Slakov
As a citizen interested in defence policy, I was invited to attend a Department of National Defence policy consultation last February. I was one of the few in attendance who was not an academic, a public servant or a member of the military.

The topic was "The Future of Canadian Defence Policy". It was an excellent opportunity to learn the language and mindset of those having a key role in shaping Canadian defence policy.

Like any specialized field, this one has its share of special lingo. RMA (Revolution in Military Affairs) was explained to me by a general I questioned. New information technology is creating a revolution in military affairs, he said, citing as examples, GPI and weapons that can be programmed to operate with minimal need for direct human action, such as "smart" bombs.

This technical RMA is really more of the same old thing, in my opinion. There is constant pressure to keep modernising (and spending) in order to remain "relevant" (and "influential"). I would rather see investment in an ethical revolution.

Instead of legitimizing the arms race by fitting into it, let's build our capacity for protecting ourselves, and everything we care about, through active non-violence. Even the military should be part of this revolution. Recent scandals and cover-ups show how much we would gain by making the military more democratic and less reliant on the threat and use of force.

Some would say that, by definition, a military force must be undemocratic, hierarchical and authoritarian, and that military power stems from the threat and use of force. But militaries can be more or less democratic and more or less violent, as history has shown.

Areas of agreement and disagreement

Members of the military made points at the conference that, surprisingly, corroborated arguments being made within the peace movement. One said it would be unwise for Canada to increase its military spending just to please the U.S. government. It was pointed out that the U.S. seems to be in an arms race with itself, that it can't keep up with itself in the RMA. Another commented that our military is essentially being used to protect business interests.

When I noted that Sue Riordon, disillusioned by her ongoing struggle for care and recognition for veterans like her late husband, has come to compare the military to a cult, I was told that the military was indeed cult-like and that this is how militaries must operate.

It is appalling that military force would be used to protect business interests. New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has argued that, "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. MacDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnel Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Navy and Marine Corps."

The level of disillusionment -- not just within the Canadian public, but within the military itself -- is so high that we might be able to "civilianise" our military. This could mean many things.

* Canada should take advantage of its demographic diversity and include people on its peace-keeping missions who can relate meaningfully to the cultures of the people in conflict situations. Cultural awareness and sensitivity can go a long way towards preventing violence and ill feeling.

* Our military should be more open and transparent. The National Secrets Act has become a wonderful rug under which to sweep things. Canadians are "protected" from the truth -- not because of some national interest, but because some highly placed military and government officials do not want to be liable for misdeeds.

* We need to change our notion of strength. If we see strength as the ability to inflict deadly force, we will want members of the Canadian Forces to respect hierarchical systems and to be willing to blindly obey those above them. But the more we recognise and learn to use truth force or active non-violence, the less we will need to rely on blind obedience for "strength".

People within the military do, for the most part, want to work for peace, I believe. They can become bitterly disillusioned when they begin to realise that we have been lied to, that "humanitarian" missions have actually been achieving non-humanitarian ends.

One officer noted that Canada lacks an overall coordination capacity for emergency response, for natural or other disasters. He seemed to be warning the Canadian public of the need to build this coordination capacity. He would probably like nothing better than to take his military expertise in logistics, rapid mobilization and disaster relief and work on such a project -- something that would be truly humanitarian.

Military might for a rainy day

One apologist for hyper-militarization argued that Canada has no choice but to operate militarily within the U.S. "umbrella" as we Canadians are quite unwilling to spend what would be required to protect our sovereignty. (That the Canadian military might become little more than an arm of the U.S. military with maple leaves to "protect" our "sovereignty" seems laughable to those of us who fight the enacting of free trade agreements which erode those very rights.)

The argument for "inter-operability" within the U.S. umbrella posits that, unless we smarten up, the U.S. will see us as a liability -- a Club Med for terrorists, a conduit for drugs, and so on.

Space does not permit the discussion of all the possible scenarios for which we must prepare. However, we must determine how we can best help promote security for Canadians and for all world citizens. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance, and our democratic muscles will only strengthen by our use of them.

Preventing the rainy day

Activist/academic Janet Eaton also attended the consultation. She pointed out that, increasingly, media, government and transnational institutions are conducting more-or-less coordinated campaigns to raise public mistrust of anyone who goes against the corporate globalization agenda. Indeed, one of the speakers at the consultation was heard to be doing just that -- maligning those who protested against the WTO, the IMF and the FTAA in the same breath with which he spoke of those who try to wreck computer systems.

On a larger scale, the concerted campaigns to demonize Saddam Hussein, Milosovitch, Castro, and North Korea (the quintessential "rogue" state), justifying attacks against their countries, have been obvious.

Hans Sinn, who has spent decades working for peace, believes that most of the world's young people join the military to get a job and an education, to make a living so as not to die. This need becomes apparent, he says, by the significant number of soldiers who, when they lose the opportunity to use the armed force on behalf of society, will go on to make a living by armed force on the back of society.

"Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a large number of former soldiers and KGB officers have become part of the global crime network, drugs, prostitution, smuggling, extortion," he writes. "In the U.S., the Hells Angels had their beginning as former U.S. bomber pilots. And then there are the militias all over the world.

"One could go on at great length to show how men who served (or seemed to serve) the public by their military skills went on to become a scourge of society once they lost the chance to use their military skills for the public good. It is a classic problem with no easy solution. Today, as in the Middle Ages, former soldiers, militias, mercenaries and armed gangs terrorize, kill, plunder and generally live on the backs of unarmed civilians. . . .

"I am focussing on the militias and death squads, the freebooters, because our Peace Brigades International (PBI) volunteers are encountering them in the daily attempt to protect community activists against being assassinated. Thus [on February 8] the Colombia right wing militia announced that PBI volunteers in Colombia (the site of our largest current project) are now militia targets, along with the community activist to whom our volunteers provide protective accompaniment. Which presents PBI with the classic dilemma of the unarmed civilian: Should PBI call the "official" Colombian army for help? Or should PBI heed the Russian proverb, 'If the dogs attack, you don't call the wolf for help.'

"The Russian proverb reflects the experience of the majority of working people with armed force and the immense difficulty and pain involved in weaning ourselves gradually from our dependence on armed force."

In the long run, our work brings us to the importance of socialization -- that is, building the kind of social fabric which helps people treat each other with respect and gentleness, rather than as objects to be exploited and/or feared.

In By Life's Grace, Fran Peavey tells of the cost to the human spirit to ask one person to kill another. "All societies spend lots of energy teaching their young children not to harm other life -- siblings, neighbours, kittens, birds," she writes. "Then when that same society needs a killer, it spends enormous resources training him. . . to disregard what he has previously learned about decency. . . It is costly to train killers; it is also costly to return these killers to society. . ."

There are examples of "killers" who have returned to society and whose return has been a great blessing. In Canada we have the Veterans Against Nuclear Arms (VANA). Many of us will never forget hearing one of its members, "Giff" Gifford, tears streaming down his cheeks, speak of his participation in the bombing of Dresden in World War II and his subsequent visit to the city to meet survivors.

We need more opportunities for members of armed and unarmed forces (military and peace activists) to meet. And we need to engage more members of the general public in discussions about building security, especially elected officials. What might prove dangerous, we might try to enter into dialogue with those who have crossed the line into lawlessness, even evil -- members of the Hell's Angels, mafia types, death squads, torturers. There is a memorable, troubling but illuminating, Amnesty International film on the training of torturers, Your Neighbour's Son. It was based on information provided by former torturers in Greece.

Can we create meaningful and safe dialogue while the regimes the torturers serve are still in power?

The commanders of U.S. Armed Forces are outspoken in their reluctance to send U.S. troops on peacekeeping missions. My PBI contact tells me this is because troops that are used for any length of time for peacekeeping projects tend to become useless for combat missions and there is much time and expense involved in retraining, re-equipping and redeploying troops for combat.

As long as the public does not perceive this difference, we tend to expect the Canadian Armed Forces to perform conflicting roles, much to everyone's frustration.

The difference between the U.S. and Canadian armed forces appears to be in the respective national self-understanding, he says. The Americans tend to see themselves as a global power pursuing national self interest -- if necessary, by armed force. Canadians tend to see themselves as a member of an international community, relying more and more on international law and the peaceful enforcement of it, if possible by a supra-national agency such as the United Nations.

Canadians need to understand the difference between what the Canadian Armed Forces has done in the past and what they are expected to do in future. It makes sense that they concentrate on being an emergency relief and humanitarian aid agency, with a growing role in international law enforcement.
Jan Slakov is an activist/mother/teacher/translator who lives in Weyburn, N.S. She co-moderates an anti-corporate globalization list (the Renaissance Network list), a national peace/justice list and a local environmental list. She welcomes readers' comments: <jslakov@tartannet.ns.ca> or to D&D.