Violence and Nonviolence in the 21st century

Parihaka 56-1Violence and Nonviolence in the 21st Century

Kevin P Clements

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

University of Otago.


We are constantly being told that the world overall is getting more peaceful. Stephen Pinker ( The Better Angels of our Nature) does have convincing arguments for this assertion. So too the Uppsala data base on armed conflict has been able to document declines in the total numbers of wars being fought over the past 30 years. What these positive conclusions do not reveal, however,is what is happening to the grinding intractable conflicts that persist in different parts of the world. The Horn of Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, Iraq and now the Ukraine and Israel-Palestine are far from peaceful. On the contrary war crimes are committed on a daily basis in all these places.


The levels of gratuitous personal and organised violence remain unacceptably high. In the recent cases of the Ukraine and Israel the antagonists seem to have forgotten their own humanity in the rush to assert their own self interests; their right to self defence, their right to hegemony their right to do whatever it takes to defend their own security and their own power privilege and prestige. In the case of the Ukraine –even though there may have been some initial confusion between the rebels and the OSCE about who was in control of the murder site-there wasn’t   any obvious respect for the bodies of those who had been so arbitrarily killed. They were left to decompose for three days before salvage teams went in and picked them up. We know that the cause of humanity is in very bad shape indeed when there is no basic empathy for the dead or for those that are mourning the dead. Similarly in Palestine/Gaza Hamas have not helped their cause by constantly shooting rockets into Israel, even though each one can be seen as a cry of the unheard. Israel, on the other hand has, at a single stroke, subverted and undermined that long tradition of Jewish humanism and replaced it with a military barbarism that is disproportionate to the threat it claims to be facing and which violates critical rules of war. In fact its inability to distinguish between civilian and combatant ( despite the most sophisticated surveillance capacity in the world) means that it is committing war crimes every hour it continues the occupation and its assaults on civilian targets.


The reality is that two wrongs never make a right. The constant use of violence by both sides will result in the moral and physical destruction of both . There is no future in violent solutions in Israel, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, the DRC or anywhere. Violence and the instruments of violence have even less legitimacy in the 21st century than they did in the 20th. If we are going to develop peaceful people in a peaceful world non violence is the only alternative .   In all these conflicts, even if they are initiated by criminal elements, it is vital to look for conciliatory gestures, initiate ceasefires, separate the warring parties and bring everyone to negotiating tables. The reality is that none of the armed conflicts over the past 65 years in the Middle East have generated real security for anyone. Violent options always generate more misery, cynicism and despair than the nonviolent. There is never any justification for violence again civilians. There are no security gains only losses for both sides. So what do we need to do to make the shift from violence to nonviolence?


In the first place all violent rhetoric on both sides must cease. Naming , blaming, dehumanising and demonising the other side   will never generate conditions conducive to a nonviolent solution.


Second,it is vital that Palestinians and Israeli’s rediscover the olive tree and make conciliatory gestures towards each other so that they might be able to meet together and initiate a different , more generative   conversation about their needs, interests and fears.


Third, it is vital that there be a radical rediscovery of a common humanity so that each side might begin rehumanising the other, reminding each other of the fact that each one of them is precious in their own right. It is vital that Jews and Moslems rediscover the humanity that lies at the heart of all Abrahamic faith.


Fourth, it is vital that there be an immediate verifiable ceasefire and a disengagement of all warring parties so that civilians can begin to reconstruct their homes, their lives and think about living again.


Fifth, what is becoming clear is that the P5 in all these conflicts are both poachers and gamekeepers. It is hypocritical, for example, for the United Kingdom to urge the EU to tighten sanctions against Russia when it continues to export 1.1 billion pounds worth of arms transfers to Russia. It is equally hyprocritical for the United States to call for an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire when it continues to arm Israel and when the US senate votes a 100 to zero in favour of the Israeli right to self defence. The big powers are not acting as custodians of global peace they fund and support war with their arms exports and their mistaken belief in the power of violence to resolve complicated human problems. Its time for a change. Its time we acknowledged that unless the world resolves its problems non violently in the 21st century we will not have a stable and sustainable peace.




About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
This entry was posted in Arms Trade, Building Peaceful Community, Hamas, Israel, Negotiations, P5, Palestine, Russia, The Middle East, The Politics of Fear, The UNited States, Ukraine, United Nations Security Council, Violence. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Violence and Nonviolence in the 21st century

  1. Well said, Kevin. The question is how we get those with the power to listen.


    • Yes that is the question. My sense is that there is such a widespread and deep global anxiety about Israeli militarism-this time around-that the world is saying enough is enough…. Its time to stop the slaughter and to think of something different…. I am an optimist and believe in the ethical sensibility of people worldwide. You have to be extremely callous not to empathise with all those living under Israeli terror at this time. Global consciousness of this will and must persuade the leaders of the world to change!


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