Non-Military Security

conscience promotes a positive alternative to the traditional, tried, tested and failed military model of security based on violence and threats of violence.

Peace is not achieved by increased investment in, and preparation for, war. If we want peace we have to invest in nonviolent solutions to conflict. The endless cycle of violent military intervention and threat can be broken by non-military security initiatives that seek to achieve real human security.

The UK has a wide range of experts in non-military security approaches and techniques; non-military security is more effective and cost-effective at providing long term security for us. Despite this, the government spends only a fraction of what it spends on  war and its preparations on conflict prevention.

Conscientious objectors to war wish to pay for non-military security with a clear conscience. During both world wars and until the end of conscription in the late 1950s, some conscientious objectors were able to perform an ‘alternative service’ which allowed them to contribute to safety and security without being complicit in killing. By enabling conscientious objectors to pay a portion of their taxes into a non-military security fund, we believe that a present-day conscientious objector would be able to pay their taxes with a clear conscience.


what we are doing – moving beyond protest

There are a number of ways in which we can all work for changes to the current militarised approach to security. These include protesting military actions and arms purchases, writing protest letters to government, signing petitions and forms, and joining organisations that campaign and work for peace. Although helpful in expressing public concern, the focus of these activities tends to focus upon what is wrong with current models and campaigns for particular decisions to be reversed.

a critical mass for change

There is, however, a lot more that we have to do to offer concrete positive alternatives to current models of security. Before alternative ideas and techniques are likely to truly influence policy, there needs to be a critical mass of people – both within the peace movement and in government – who have a very strong grasp of what a better model of security might entail.

Over time, government and the peace sector must work together to bring about a cultural shift in the way security is perceived and solutions are sought. Although this process has, of course, already begun within the peace sector, it has moved much further within the environmental and justice communities, and there is a great deal that we can learn from them.

the need for human security

If we think of security as something that ensures that people are safe and free from fear, it is easy to understand how the current military model has failed to provide security.

Human Security takes a global perspective that focuses on civil society. It asks the questions, “what do we need protection from and who needs this security?” The basic premise is that all people have the right to freedom from fear and freedom from want. Because this is applied globally, it challenges many aspects of current political, economic, and military realities.

can it happen?

While it may sound too idealistic to be taken seriously, some very good work has been done in the last 10 years to pragmatically advocate and develop this holistic approach. It combines some of the primary elements of civil society discourse: peace, ecological work, and development/justice. While there is no country which presently operates purely from this perspective, the multi-faceted approach of the Scandinavian countries serves as a good model.

peace support and the uk

A review of the Ministry of Defence website reveals an awareness by the MoD of the need for many aspects of human security. It shows that there is a need for greater conflict resolution, peacebuilding, development, and a more holistic approach to terrorism. The general term favoured by the MoD is Peace Support, and it is best expressed through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool. The Pool (coupled with a similar project focussed on sub-Saharan Africa) is a cross-departmental initiative combining related projects of the Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Projects include election monitoring, security sector reform, and post-conflict dialogue, and are staffed by civilians, military personnel, and NGOs.

lots of challenges for the uk

The UK government is doing some work for peace around the world, however, these efforts are not problem-free. Issues with this “peace” work include: questionable “peace support” spending; budget realities that do not match policy statements; using force to address most elements of terrorist activity; and viewing civilian strategies as optional “add-ons” to military efforts.

new ways to bring about security – a toolbox for change

The various methods used to avoid violent conflict are complex and are normally most effective when used in combination. This means that there are no simple, quick fixes, but there is real potential for input from different groups and individuals with very diverse voices.

Traditionally, we have viewed violent conflict as something to be addressed using one primary tool (the armed forces – a hammer of sorts – applied directly or, more commonly, through the threat of its use) as well as a few others kept close at hand (e.g. diplomatic efforts, etc). If, however, our society and our government could begin to see the mechanisms to address violence as a fully equipped toolbox, the potential for real (and nonviolent) change increases significantly.

applying it where it really counts

We have chosen to use Zimbabwe as just one example of  a country where non-military solutions can be put into practice to bring about security. Each of the tools below will be applied to the current reality in Zimbabwe – one of many global trouble spots. The media has begun to make us aware of the terrible events that have plagued Zimbabwe over the last few years as Robert Mugabe’s government has allowed the people of Zimbabwe to suffer in countless ways (largely at the hands of the ruling ZANU-PF). Those that have spent some time in Zimbabwe, are well aware of the inadvisability of a military attack to deal with these problems. Something else is clearly needed.

nonviolent tools

1. civilian protection

Mobilising trained units of civilian volunteers in areas where there is significant tension is an idea that is growing in popularity throughout the world. Doing this in Zimbabwe would serve to make Mugabe aware that the eyes of the world are on him and his administration.

2. control of arms and weapons control

The UK is one of the world’s largest arms exporters, including exports to the ‘developing’ world. Lower sales and greater control of these exports would result in less weapons getting into the hands of existing and potential combatants.

If the Zimbabwean army had limited access to everything from torture instruments to planes, there would be a reduced potential for violence. Similarly, if former military members, who commit many of Zimbabwe’s political crimes, had sufficient incentives to hand in their weapons, lives would be saved.

3. trained inspectors

Inspectors could be deployed to look for torture, rape, killing, and ethnic cleansing in Zimbabwe, who would report back to the government (or governing body) that commissioned them. Sadly, this would be particularly useful in Zimbabwe where reports of rape, torture, and disappearances are numerous – although they remain largely ignored by Western media.

4. law enforcement

As demonstrated by the UK involvement in Sierra Leone, a properly trained and supported law enforcement and judicial system can make an enormous difference. In Zimbabwe there is currently no accountability for any political crime and this allows the ZANU-PF militias to act with impunity.

5. bringing warlords and militias under control

NGOs, diplomats, properly supported local leaders, and in some cases the armed forces, have been effective in bringing warlords and militias to the negotiating table. In Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF pro-government militia has become an organisation that terrorises supporters of opposition parties and this group must be brought back within the law.

6. back channel diplomacy

Back Channel (otherwise known as Track II) diplomacy is the process whereby individuals or NGOs work behind the scenes when traditional, public diplomacy is not working. In Zimbabwe, the government will not admit to its role in the violence and economic problems facing the country. While this severely limits efforts to address these issues, it is possible that unofficial dialogue could open more doors to progress.

7. mediation training

In any politically unstable situation, it is important that local people serve as bridge builders between official and unofficial stakeholders. Mediation training can help to encourage this and, in this respect, Zimbabwe can learn a great deal about this from its South African neighbour. However, more funding is needed to enable a greater number of Zimbabweans to gain the necessary skills for engaging in such challenging tasks.

8. reconciliation committees

Reconciliation committees see the organisation of public hearings in which victims of human rights violations are invited to give statements about the ordeals they experienced under a particular regime. There have been a number of these in recent years, including in South America and, most famously, South Africa. With sufficient funding, the opportunity could eventually be provided for victims of violence in Zimbabwe to come forward and present their experiences.

9. support for civil society and its opposition to the government

In countries where many social problems are, at least to some extent, the work of the government itself, support for civil society organisations and other voices of opposition are key toward initiating change. In Zimbabwe, there are a diverse number of groups that have been victimised for acts such as providing food for people in towns that voted against the government. Support for such civil society groups provides further support for individuals at the ground-level who wish to show their resistance to the regime.

10. free press and the internet

Promotion of a free press allows more people to hear about what is really going on, both at home and abroad. Although nations suffering under corrupt regimes may be unlikely to benefit from such a resource, the internet is now providing a greater number of opportunities for individuals and grassroots organisations to get their stories heard worldwide.

Thanks to Deanna Douglas (2004) for this article

Oxford Research Group and PeaceDirect’s ‘Cutting the Costs of War’ by Dr Scilla Elworthy is the source of many of the general concepts above. For further information, see

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