Global Action to Prevent War, by Randall Forsberg, Jonathan Dean, and Saul Mendlovitz

A coalition-building effort to stop war, genocide, and other forms of deadly conflict.

Global Action to Prevent War is a comprehensive project for moving toward a world in which armed conflict is rare. The program envisions four phases of change, each lasting 5-10 years, to fully implement a wide array of measures to prevent international and internal war, genocide, and other forms of deadly conflict.

Global Action to Prevent War addresses the global problem of organized violence. The world also faces fundamental crises of poverty, human rights violations, environmental destruction, and discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity, and religion. To meet these challenges, many efforts must be pursued. No single campaign can deal effectively with all of them, but efforts to address such global problems can and should complement and support one other.

The Global Action program focuses on violent expressions of conflict, which obstruct efforts to get at the roots of conflict. Specifically, the program increases early warning and early action to prevent the escalation of disputes into armed violence; it minimizes the mistrust fueled by arms races and offensive military strategies; it guards against genocide; and it builds commitment to the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. When implemented, this program is likely to make war rare. At the same time, by delegitimizing militarism, increasing respect for human dignity, and saving billions of dollars, Global Action will help end structural violence. It will strengthen efforts to meet basic human needs, build tolerance, and protect the environment; and it will foster the democratic institutions that must ultimately replace armed force in achieving justice and fulfilling human needs.

Substantial efforts are now underway to reduce and eventually abolish nuclear weapons, but there are no comparable efforts to reduce conventional armed conflict and conventional arms. A comprehensive program to prevent organized armed violence is an urgently needed counterpart to efforts to ban nuclear arms. The program proposed here-Global Action to Prevent War-is such a counterpart. Its comprehensive framework unifies many diverse efforts to minimize the scale and frequency of war, and the costs of preparations for war.

The Global Action program is offered as a coalition-building platform to citizens and governments everywhere. Some components of the program, such as conventional arms cuts or multilateral action against aggression and genocide, concern mainly the most heavily armed countries. Other components, such as those dealing with nonviolent conflict resolution and peace education, can be implemented by individuals and state and local communities, as well as by national governments in all parts of the world.

The Global Action program is a work in progress. The current phase is one of disseminating and strengthening basic concepts. Concerned individuals throughout the world are invited to make suggestions and report activities. News will be reported on a Web site and in occasional newsletters. Every six months or so, a coordinating group will publish updated versions of the program materials. These drafts will be distributed globally to organizations concerned with peace, development, humanitarian aid, and the environment, and to all governments. The goal of this process is to support and supplement the many efforts for peace already under way by uniting them under a common umbrella. The sense of common action, in turn, will reinforce the separate projects and facilitate coordinated efforts.

The ambitious goals of the Global Action program cannot be achieved quickly. Building support for the program will take several years, and launching Phase I will take some years more. But sustained, coordinated efforts can stop the killing, and the Global Action program has the potential to mobilize and focus such efforts.

Program Summary

Global Action to Prevent War aims to make deadly conflict rare by strengthening commitment to the rule of law in international and domestic affairs, enhancing international institutions for conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and peace enforcement, and, ultimately, replacing national capabilities for unilateral military intervention abroad with multilateral defense against genocide and aggression.

The Global Action program proposes a phased process of gradual change, set in a treaty framework. Three initial phases, each lasting 5-10 years, lay the foundation for a final phase which establishes a permanent international security system. The goals of the successive phases of the program are as follows:

Phase I. Reduce the incidence of civil and ethnic wars by radically strengthening UN and regional institutions for conflict prevention, peacekeeping, and peace enforcement; and begin to reduce the longer-term risks of major international war by initiating talks on cuts in military spending and arms holdings, production, and trade, by providing full transparency (open information) on these elements of armed forces, and by making a commitment to freeze or reduce them until joint cuts are agreed (or for at least ten years).

Phase II. With stronger peacekeeping institutions in place, reduce the risk of major international war by making substantial worldwide cuts in armed forces and military spending (up to one-third of the largest forces), combined with parallel cuts in arms production and trade, and by referring disputes to the International Court of Justice. At the same time, continue to reduce the frequency and scale of internal wars by further strengthening UN and regional capabilities for conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and peace enforcement and by using the new International Criminal Court; and establish a tax on international financial transactions to support these activities.

Phase III. Building on the improved means of preventing armed conflict developed in Phases I and II, deepen confidence in the international community's ability to prevent international and internal wars by securing a watershed commitment on the part of participating nations (including the major powers) not to deploy their armed forces beyond national borders except in multilateral actions under UN or regional auspices. This will test international institutions while participants still have national means of unilateral military action as a fall-back. At the same time, conduct negotiations on arms cuts and other steps to be taken in Phase IV, when there is full confidence in international peacekeeping institutions.

Phase IV. Complete the process of making international and internal wars rare, brief, and small in scale by permanently transferring to the UN and regional security organizations the authority and capability for armed intervention to prevent or end war by expanding all-volunteer armed forces at the disposal of the UN and its regional counterparts while making another round of deep cuts (up to one-third, compared with today's levels) in national armed forces. The remaining national armed forces, which will be at most one-third the size of today's largest forces, will be limited to national defense of national territory, and will be restructured, if necessary, to focus exclusively on this role.

This program does not directly address the needs and conflicts that may motivate organized violence. It uses the resources of the international community to prevent the violent expression of conflict-which obstructs efforts to get at the roots of conflict. Specifically, the program increases early warning and early action to prevent the escalation of disputes into armed violence, minimizes military sources of mistrust that exacerbate fear and hostility between nations, guards against genocide, addresses terrorism, and builds commitment to the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

When implemented, this program of carefully coordinated steps is likely to make war rare. At the same time, by releasing funds, energy, and attention from military matters, it will strengthen efforts to rectify injustice, meet basic human needs, and build tolerance; and it will foster the democratic institutions that must ultimately replace armed force in achieving justice and fulfilling human needs.

The Need and Opportunity for Change

The UN and its member states are failing to prevent new outbreaks of armed conflict, and the entire world is paying huge costs for this failure. The statistics are dismaying. According to some estimates, up to 35 million people-90 percent civilians-have been killed in 170 wars since the end of World War II. Thirty wars are now taking place, most inside national boundaries. In addition to the tragic loss of life and limb, these conflicts breed international terrorism, and they have huge economic costs. War's damage to productive economic activity is immense: it lasts for decades, sometimes generations, multiplying the human costs of conflict. In Lebanon, for example, 20 years after civil war broke out, the GDP was still only half of its previous level. Moreover, the large standing forces maintained to deter or intervene in wars cost hundreds of billions of dollars per year.

Despite their enormous resources and vast spending on armaments, governments have been unable to prevent frequent outbreaks of deadly conflict; instead, they react to them. Responding to dislocation, destruction, and loss of production and trade, the industrial countries and voluntary organizations spend billions of dollars on economic rehabilitation of war-ravaged areas, humanitarian aid, refugee relief, peacekeeping forces, and in some cases military intervention. Instead of repeatedly financing these costly forms of remediation, which are nearly always too little and too late, governments and voluntary organizations should be investing in the prevention of war.

Today we have a rare opportunity to mobilize government and public support for a comprehensive approach to war prevention. Effective working relationships among the world's top military powers (the United States, Russia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, and China) have created an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation to strengthen UN and regional conflict-resolution and peacekeeping and to reduce the global deployment, production, and trade of weapons.

This may be a waning opportunity. Unless preventive action is taken over the next 10-20 years, we may see renewed armed confrontation between the most heavily armed nations (the United States, Russia, and China). Moreover, other nations are poised to acquire new armaments that neighboring countries may find threatening. Today, when there is no near-term risk of major war, is the time to prevent the rise of new military threats.


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