Breaking Vicious Cycles of Violence: Building Virtuous ones in the Middle East

Breaking vicious cycles of violence and building virtuous ones in the Middle East.

Kevin P Clements

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies

University of Otago.


The Prime Minister’s political justifications for sending a New Zealand military training team to Iraq are:

  • to combat the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
  • to stop their public brutality and
  • prevent them from consolidating and expanding a universal caliphate that would threaten the national sovereignty of other countries in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

The military objectives   are:

  • to train the Iraqi army
  • protect the trainers
  • possibly act as spotters and
  • gather intelligence.

The question is whether a NZ military training mission will contribute anything positive to either of these objectives?

In the first place there is little chance that a modest military   training mission to a predominantly Shi’a army will have any impact whatsoever on the political goals of ISIL or their Saudi and Qatarese supporters.

On the contrary this support will be construed by Sunni’s as the coalition of the willing tilting in favour of Iranian , Iraqi and Syrian Shi’a  interests.

New Zealand will find itself on one side of the Sunni-Shi’a divide and hostage to whatever our US and Shi’a allies decide is in their interests.

John Key argues that the new regime of Haider Al-Abadi is more inclusive than the regime of Nouri Al Maliki. There is little or no justification for this. Both are Shi’a, both have legitimated Shi’a attacks on Sunni civilians and militias and both have turned a blind eye to the Shi’a torture and murder of Sunnis.

The Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al Jafaari who came to New Zealand to request military assistance, is close to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, and supported Muqtadi Al Sadr and the Jayeh Al Mahdi militia group.

These groups have systematically attacked and tortured Sunni . If they filmed their torture and slaughter as ISIL does there would be very little to distinguish between them. Both groups are willing to use political violence, abduction and torture for political and religious ends

So the probability of any political success from this operation is negligible .

So the second question is whether our 143 person training mission will succeed in its military objectives?

I have no doubt that our military personnel are well trained and professional as are our American allies. The fact is, however, that the United States has already spent $25 billion worth of American training and equipment over the past 10 years and a similar amount from the Iraqi treasury with absolutely nothing to show for it.

The Iraqi army remains corrupt, unprofessional and committed to the defence of Shi”a interests. The new Iraqi Prime Minister purged 36 top officers for corruption and unprofessionalism but in fact many of these officers were dismissed because they were Al Maliki loyalists.

Mr Abadi has apppointed new generals (in violation of the Constitution and without parliamentary approval)   who are loyal to him. So the idea of the Iraqi army being under the authority of parliament serving the people of Iraq is a long way from the truth. The leadership of the Iraqi army is Shi’a in orientation, heavily politicised   and serves regime rather than civilian interests. The likelihood of NZ’s small mission making any difference to the graft, corruption, inefficiency and unprofessionalism of the Iraqi army is minus zero.

So if this deployment will not advance either the political or military objectives mapped out by John Key then what will it do?

It will inevitably be complicit on one side of the Shi’a –Sunni divide and we may end up unwittingly supporting dictators like Basher Al Assad of Syria since he is aligned with these groups as well.

Secondly, there is absolutely no doubt at all that New Zealand’s symbolic stand will be noted by those we are now at war with ( even in a training capacity) and this will place military and non military New Zealanders in the Middle East at risk of abduction and worse.

Thirdly, we will be adding to vicious cycles instead of virtuous ones. We need to be using our small power status, our seat on the security council, our connections with a wide variety of moderate religious and political Islamic actors to try and find some diplomatic and political solutions to the challenges posed by political extremism.

One thing is very clear violent solutions to violent problems simply generate more violence. Even though its not easy to discern nonviolent solutions to those committed to violence this is likely to yield more positive long lasting solutions than any kind of military commitment. Lets at least give these a try before we find ourselves on the wrong side of history. The reality is that the Middle East is going through a political transformation at the moment. We will not know how this is going to work out for decades. The best we can do at this stage is listen, provide non military humanitarian assistance where this is asked for and be ready to support the connectors rather than the dividers; the peacemakers rather than the warriors.



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!
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2 Responses to Breaking Vicious Cycles of Violence: Building Virtuous ones in the Middle East

  1. Willy Bach says:

    Dear Kevin

    Thank goodness there are some people like yourself explaining that there are responses to current challenges that are not dependent on violence.I would like to sign onto this too.I especially wish to point out the dismal failure of previous violence.

    I remain suspicious about what Abbott actually means by ‘training’. Any army that needs to train in ‘basic weapons skills’ and does not have its own weapons skills instructors had better not try taking on anyone who is armed, let alone highly motivated ISIS fighters.

    So, Abbott is saying this to reassure us and making it up as he goes.There is a big risk of attacks from outside and inside the base. The only thing that makes it an SAS task is if they are training irregular fighters or special forces. I do not believe they should be doing either of these things and remain alarmed at the media blackout.

    Then comes the unresolved issue of the conduct of the SAS at Swan Island, Vic in regards to SAS threats to harm protesters which included torture and mentioned anal rape. We were promised an inquiry. I have heard nothing and think this government has hoped we would forget. We most certainly won’t. So, are the SAS training special forces in torture as they reportedly did with Indonesia’s Kopassus soldiers who trained at Canungra in Qld? The results of that can be seen in Aceh, the East Timor occupation and the ongoing genocide in West Papua.

    As Alison Broinowski excellently said, this has mission creep written all over it. Tony Abbott will dribble information to us as soon as it benefits his career, not as required by an accountable government. Worst of all, he will time it to coincide with an ISIS atrocity, improperly linking these events.

    I enjoyed Tom Switzer’s article with reservations previously mentioned. Did you hear his programme on Syria with two US academics, Two of the world’s leading experts on Syria, Joshua Landis and Kenneth Pollack, who used the word ‘we’ a lot. ‘We want a weak Assad but not an IS takeover of Syria’ – Washington Beltway talk without room for other views. I complained to the ABC via twitter. Yet there was little concern for the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

    Tom Switzer also says:

    “Australia helped the US government create and train an Iraqi army to the cost of US$25bn. This was, remember, the very same Iraqi army that disintegrated as soon as it faced Isis”

    On Switzer’s comment, I would add this:there are lot’s of disparaging remarks about Iraq Army soldiers dropping their weapons and running. It is assumed that they are worthless,cowardly, undisciplined soldiers; but it could be that they don’t trust their (mainly Shia) officers or the mission they are asked to (ordered to) be prepared to die for. Perhaps Gen David Petraeus’ and Col James Steele’s Shia death squads may have something to do with that too. Our media avoids saying anything like that.


  2. Pingback: TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Nonviolence Charter: Progress Report 6 (Apr 2015)

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